Outsmarting the LMS: Embedding Google Docs

I generally love all things Web-related: social media, digital media, coding, learning management systems. You name it. But there are two things I absolutely hate and will avoid whenever possible. Uploading and logging in. I hate them both. They use up valuable time. They're obnoxious. So, I'm left with two options. I can either bite the bullet and just put up with both of those feudal tasks, or I can find a way around it.

Obviously, I chose the second option.

I have been doing this for a few years now, and it really has saved me a lot of time and frustration. This is why I would like to pass on the golden nugget known as embedding Google Docs in your LMS.

Step One: Convert to Google Docs

Before you can embed a Google Doc in your course shell, you have to have a Google Doc to embed. Most of the docs I  use in my class (e.g., assignment descriptions, syllabi, tutorials and FAQs) originally existed as Word docs. Google makes it really easy to convert Word docs into Google Docs. You simply to go your Google Drive, click upload, and choose to convert the document (see below)

TCU_Shared_-_Google_Drive

TCU_Shared_-_Google_Drive

In the event you want to create a Google Doc from scratch, you can read this help document directly from Google. They've already done the work so I don't have to!

Step 2: Grab the Code

After you have created your Google Doc, you will need to grab the HTML code to add to eCollege. You can see this process in the images below:

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-5 Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-2 Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-5 2

Step 3: Paste and Modify the Code

Now that you have the code in your clipboard, you need to go to the page in your LMS where you want to embed the Google Doc. The following screenshots are taken in eCollege, but there is probably a similar feature in all LMS products.

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_-3

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_-3 2

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_

Notice the extra code I added to the original iFrame code in order to make sure the entire document displays in the LMS. If you do not add the width and height code, it will show up as a small box on the LMS page you created. The width should always be 100%, but the height may vary to ensure the whole document will fit in the frame without extra scrolling.  The end result looks like this below:

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander__and_Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-4

The beauty of this technique is that when I make a change to the Google Doc, it immediately shows up in eCollege! No uploading and replacing old documents each semester. When I copy my course shell each semester, the HTML is still there so I only have to modify the original Google Doc. I don't think I will ever go back! So, give this a try and see how it works for you. You can also watch an archive of this Google Hangout where I showed this technique to some colleagues. Good luck!

Studying with Google Hangouts on Air

A few months ago I wrote about using Ustream to broadcast an online study session with my large class. I used it twice, and it worked pretty well both times. The main hangup I had with this tool was that I had to download a separate program to display my screen to the students. I was able to figure it out pretty easily, but I prefer tools that do not require any downloads.

This semester when I was planning the different activities for the students, I thought about trying Google Hangouts on Air. I actually thought about using it last semester but there were a few issues that made me gun shy. First of all, there is a significant lag between when I show something and when the audience sees it. This isn't a huge deal, but I was worried it might be a distraction to the students. What I discovered is that this is not even noticeable to the students because they don't know when I start speaking. The other issue I had was that students had to have a Google account in order to post questions. Honestly, I did not want to manage everyone getting a Google account, so I opted for Ustream and TodaysMeet for students to post questions.

After some thought, I jumped in with Hangouts on Air, and I could not be happier about this decision. First of all, students who really want to ask a question will figure out the Google account thing. I did not have one complaint or issue arise over this detail, so it turned out to be nothing to be worried about. Here are some of the features that make Hangouts on Air perfect for an online study session:

  • Q&A: Students can post questions to the Q&A tool, and I select them as I answer each question. The beautiful thing about this tool is that once the session is over, the Q&A tool becomes like a set of bookmarks that will snap to the exact part of the recording that addresses each question. Students to have to be signed into Google to post a question, but as I said before this did not prohibit students from asking their questions.
  • Screen Sharing: Hangouts comes with a lot of built in tools, one of which is screen sharing. This invaluable when it comes to putting up slides from class or drawing diagrams. I mean, who wants to just listen to me talk and see my face for an hour? I would much rather hide behind my bullet points.
  • Browser based: Hangouts is also completely housed in the browser, so there is nothing to download (other than the plug-in which accesses your mic and camera).
  • Scheduled Events: You can actually set up the hangout in advance and invite people to view it. This is very helpful for people like me who tend to forget things because Google will send reminders that the event is coming up.
  • Session Recording: This feature only applies to Hangouts on Air, but once you go live it starts recording. This is also a great way to create screencasts with book marks to different steps in the process.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy this tool is to use, and how many features it has built in. I will definitely use it for future study sessions, and I may even find ways to do it better. In case you are interested. Here is a link to the recording from a few nights ago: Online Study Session.

Presenting with LiveSlide

I am always on a quest to find better ways to control my content during class meetings with my iPad. I have tried just about everything, from mirroring with Airserver to SlideShark, and nothing has quite done what I want. Either the tool is too unpredictable (Airserver) or it is too narrow (SlideShark), so I continue to keep my eyes peeled for ways to present my lectures while mobile in the classroom.

The best solution I have found so far is LiveSlide, a simple browser-based tool that lets you remotely control slides from any device. Teachers can use it as I do, to project content to the class while controlling it from a mobile device, or they can share the slides with their students and have them follow along during class. Students can also take notes on the slides for themselves, and the tool has a few interactive features for questioning and quizzes. I have not used many of these features, but I plan on it in the coming weeks.

LiveSlide is incredibly easy to set up. Since it is browser based, there is no app to install. Educators who sign up with their school e-mail will be automatically upgraded to the Elite account for free.

Once your account is set up, you can either create presentations from scratch or import them from your computer or Google Drive. Obviously, I use the last option since I typically create my presentation with Google Slides anyway. I have imported approximately 20 presentations so far, and I have not had so much as a hiccup during the process.

Students can view slides using one of two options. If they want to simply view the slides, they can join remotely using an access key. The teacher can decide whether or not the students can advance the slides on their own or if they must view them at the teacher's pace. The teacher can add quizzes and polls for students to answer, and students can submit questions while the teacher is presenting. I typically log in from my iPad then join the presentation from whichever computer is connected to the projector.

If students want to make a copy of the slides for themselves, they can pay a small account fee and be added to the course. All slide decks for that class will show up in their account, and they can take notes directly on the slides. I have not used this option, so I cannot verify how the students takes notes (writing on the tablet screen vs. typing). I think this will be a great feature when I begin to use it.

My favorite feature of this tool is that teachers can quickly add content and blank slides to a deck while they are teaching. You can add a YouTube video, take or import a picture, or add a blank slide to draw a diagram. I have already surprised myself a few times by drawing impromptu diagrams or importing a picture for everyone to see. This is a feature not available on any other web-based tool I have used.

There are a few limitations to LiveSlide that I hope will improve over time. For one, there are shape tools (circle, square, and line), but there is no way to move the objects around once they have been added, and I can't figure out how to delete them. I don't use this feature much, but I might if it was more responsive. Also, sometimes the tools disappear from the page if my iPad goes to sleep. I have to reload the page for the drawing tools to come back, which can be a little distracting while I am teaching. If I don't draw attention to myself, I doubt the students know what I am doing. :-)

Overall, I have to say I am quite impressed with this little tool. The team that created and maintains this tool is very responsive (hint, hint ... read that last paragraph). You can learn more about LiveSlide from their YouTube channel, which I plan on viewing carefully in the future. I hope to use more of the features in the near future and write more about it.  Keep up the great work Atlas Learning team.

*Note: There are a few tools on the web that use the name LiveSlide. Make sure you look for the one in the Atlas Learning toolkit. There is also a social network called Liveslide, but that is not something I am interested in at this point. :-)

 

Outsmarting the LMS: Creating Drag and Drop Folders

Update! Since posting this several months ago, Google has disabled embedding a Google Site. It's nice to know my Technology Ninja skills are being noticed (which is the exact opposite of what a ninja actually wants to do). I will leave this tutorial in case Google decides to start playing nice again.

Software developers must have a really distorted view of how professors use their time. Maybe they think we teach a few times per week and spend the rest of our time playing golf or drinking coffee while we complain about students. Maybe they think we enjoy spending hours each semester staring at progress bars while our files upload. Who knows. What I do know is that over the last 10+ years in higher education, I have developed a love/hate relationship with every LMS I have been forced to use. I love them because it is the best way to communicate with my students. When they want to know something, this is where they look first. I can post grades quickly, give feedback on their work, and create a safe place to share information.

I also hate the LMS because most of them are outdated, not very attractive (though that is not really such a big deal), and require redundant work from semester to semester. My goal the last few years has been to outsmart the LMS and find ways to work efficiently despite its limitations. I will spread these ideas out over several posts, which may take me several weeks to work through. The first topic I would like to address is creating drag-n-drop folders for documents and other media.

Step One: Creating Folders in Google Drive

The first step is to download and install the Google Drive desktop app. This is a pretty easy step, and the program runs unnoticeably on your computer. Once you have this installed, it will sync your Google Drive from the cloud to your computer. Anything you create from the computer (folders, files, etc.) will also be instantly synced to the cloud. I like to stay organized, so I created folders for each class, and then created folders within each class folder for the different things I would be sharing with students. This includes assigned readings, PPT files, assignment descriptions, etc. I already had some of my files ready for the new semester, so I copied them into the appropriate folders.

Step Two: Embed Folders into Google Sites

This is the step that might be a deal breaker for some people. As you may know, you can share a Google Drive folder with anyone with the link, which is a pretty handy feature when you want to share a bunch of stuff that might exceed the e-mail attachment limit. Unfortunately, Google has blocked the folder view in Drive from being embedded using the iframe tag in HTML. If you do this, you will be met with a blank box in the middle of your webpage. The only way to embed dynamic content from a Google Drive folder is to embed it in a Google Sites page. Sites has a widget for embedding an entire folder. So, for every folder you want to share with students, you will have to create a webpage for that folder. In order to keep myself organized, I structured the Google Site exactly like the folders in Google Drive. For example, I created a page for each class, then I made a page under that page for each folder I want to share. This took some time, but I should only have to do this once. I can always make more pages and folders, but the basic structure is there.

Step Three: Embed the Google Sites Pages

The final step is pretty straight forward. You do not need to know a lot of HTML to embed the Google Sites pages into your LMS. My institution uses Pearson LearningStudio, which allows me to directly edit the HTML. First, I created a tab, or Unit as they call it, for each folder. I then used the following code to embed the webpage on that tab:

<iframe src="http://www.somepage.com" width="100%" height="1000"></iframe>

You may need to adjust the settings of your Google Sites page so the embedded folder will stand out, but that is an easy fix. It should look something like this:

Crit_Investgatn_Teach_Learning_040__Alexander_

The beauty of this system is two-fold. First, any time I want to add or delete files from a folder, I just do it from the Google Drive folder on my computer and the changes are immediately synced anywhere the folder is embedded. I can also edit files and the changes are immediately synced. Second, this code is preserved anytime I copy a course to a new semester. So, I only have to do this once and all of my content follows.

What hacks have you come up with to make the LMS easier to deal with? I would love to hear your ideas.

Video Conference Tools: Choices, choices

Tonight in my graduate technology class, we spent most of the meeting testing and discussing a variety of video conferencing tools. I had a few criteria for choosing the tools we would demo:

  1. The tool had to have at least a free entry-level account
  2. The tool had to stream a video feed in real time
  3. The tool could not rely on installed software on both sides of the call (I strayed from this criterion with Skype)

So, my criteria were pretty simple, but considering the context of my learning environment, each of these was pretty important. I teach in a computer lab, and the computers do not allow installations. I did not have time to install software ahead of time, so I stuck close to applications that don't require a download and installation. The tools I chose were:

You can see the detailed results of our class meeting on Video Conferencing document.

Skype

The first tool we looked at was Skype. This video tool has been around for quite awhile, in tech years. I remember using it in 2006 to conference with people at different universities all over the country, and even then it worked pretty well. The main problem then was the hardware. Webcams were clunky and unpredictable. They required extra drivers and programs to work. But for a free tool, it was pretty amazing. Well, it hasn't changed much since then, and all changes have been for the better.

Because the lab computer did not have Skype or webcams and microphones, I had to demo this tool using to of my devices. So, I displayed my MacBook for the class using the projector, and I called myself using my wife's Skype account on my iPad. The students could see both ends of the call with the devices in the lab, and we were able to discuss most of the features of the tool. Even though this tool requires each user to install the program, it is quite easy to use and has several applications in schools. My favorite is Mystery Skype, which I have not had a chance to do yet. Skype allows for conference video call with up to 10 users.

Google Hangouts

The next tool we looked at was Google Hangouts. I had never actually used this tool before because, well, I don't really have a reason to. I had looked into using it with a different class I teach, but it was not a good match for what I was trying to do. So, I was excited to see how this would work with a class of 7 people. Each person had a Google account for other projects we have been working on, so I knew everyone would be able to join the session.

The process for joining the Hangout was a little more involved than I had thought it would be, but I pointed out to my class that it gets easier after they have done it a couple of times. One everyone was in, we were able to test the different features of this tool. We looked at screen sharing, chat, YouTube sharing, and I even tried on a few of the silly masks and hats. Since the students did not have webcams, we were not able to share control of the meeting, but I think they got the point. One constraint to this tool for large classes is that only 10 people can join a Hangout at one time. Hangouts on Air allows unlimited viewers, but as I will discuss, there are some limitations

After using Hangouts for a few minutes, we switched over to Google Hangouts on Air. I showed them my screen as I set up the live broadcast, then I showed them how to find the live feed. I enabled the Q&A feature (which in order to use, users must be logged in with a Google account)  before I broadcast the meeting, and we were able to post a few questions and answers, which when clicked snap directly to each response without watching the entire video. We also used a stopwatch to monitor the lag time between when I did something on the screen and when the viewers actually saw. We determined that it was about 45 seconds, which was better than the first time I used Hangouts on Air.

One feature I personally like about Hangouts on Air is that the broadcast is automatically recorded and sent to my YouTube account. This removes the Q&A responses from the video, but it quickly creates an archive that others can watch within minutes of the original broadcast. If viewers access the recording from my Google+ profile, the questions and answers are still there. Overall, I am impressed by the many features of this tool. Logistically, I will need to think through how to use the Q&A tool with my class, but compared to other tools it is pretty easy to set up and use.

Join.Me

I first found out about this tool a few years back when I had to train a new instructor in a different state how to use Moodle. Even though she could not figure out the audio call feature and we had to use the phone, it was a great way for me to walk her through the LMS and answer questions about the course. Since then, this tool seems to have gotten even better and it is a great way to communicate with people, especially if you are helping them troubleshoot a problem on their computer or performing a demo of some software that runs on your machine.

Of all the solutions so far, this is the easiest one for collaborating or conferencing with a small group of people. The person who initiates the call is given a 9-digit code, which users can enter to join. The session can either be hosted directly through the browser, or users can install the join.me application on their computers, which allows the extra benefit of different people taking turns sharing their screens. The browser option only allows the session initiator to share his screen, which in this case was me.

Join.Me also has an audio feature where attendees can talk using an internet connection or phone call. Since no one in the class had a microphone, we were not able to test this feature, but when I joined the session from my iPad, the call feature worked great. This tool also has the ability to allow different attendees to control the host computer, and you can send files to the users from your computer. In terms of attendee engagement, there is a chat feature for questions or backchannel jibber jabber. Each session, when using the free account, allows 10 people to join a session.

Ustream

The final tool we looked at, which I have written about before, was Ustream. This is similar to Hangouts on Air, but there are some unique differences that make it better suited from some types of presentations. There are two ways to broadcast to a large audience: Broadcaster and Producer. Broadcaster works directly through the browser and only shows video from the webcam. There is no way to share your screen, which may be a limitation for some types of presentations. Producer is a free application you can download from Ustream, and it does enable screen sharing using yet another downloaded app. This option was a little hard to figure out the first time I was testing it, but it was pretty simple once I got used to it. Compared to Hangouts on Air, the lag time is much better. We tested it a couple of times, and it was around 15 seconds.

This tool does not automatically record broadcasts, but you have that option if you want. The presenter can turn the record feature on an off during the presentation, which might be a good way to break it up into smaller segments for later viewing. Whereas the landing page for Hangouts on Air is the presenters profile on Google+, Ustream lets you set up a "channel" that serves as a hub for all of your presentations. I like this better than the Google+ profile page, which serves as a hub for all my posts and updates. Ustream would definitely be easier to navigate as a student who is trying to find an archived recording because the broadcasts are not crowded out by other content. Recordings can also be migrated to YouTube if you want to embed it in a web page or blog.

Each broadcast also has a Social Stream feature, but users must be  logged into Facebook, Twitter, or Ustream to post questions. I am pretty sure my students don't want their questions showing up in their Twitter feeds, so this may not be a great feature for all people. Just like Hangouts on Air, an unlimited number of users can view the presentation, but it is a one-way conversation. If you are collaborating with a small number of people, I recommend one of the other options.

And the winner is ...

Clearly, each tool we tested in my class has its unique set of features and some limitations. Some are good for small group collaboration, others are good for large presentations. Some are better for screen sharing, and others are good for performances. Just like with all technology solutions, you need to analyze the context in which the tool will be used before you settle on a tool. The context should dictate your choice of tool. This was a great experience for my students, and the whole process was actually pretty fun. I think 4 different tools is the ideal number to test in a 2-hour class meeting, and each student walked away with some good information about the affordances and constraints of different video conferencing tools.

Book Review: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology

I recently finished the book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson. Actually, I have read this book twice. The first time I "read" it was a very superficial skimming as I was considering the book for my graduate educational technology class. Once the semester was underway, I read the book more carefully along with my students. The premise of this book, which I happen to have done some research on myself for a different class I teach, is that the format for American education has evolved according to four distinct eras throughout history. These eras, as one might predict based on the theme of the book, have been shaped in large part by the introduction of technological innovations in society. From the invention of the printing press to the Reformation to the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution, education has always changed in response to broader societal and technological changes. The authors argue that we are now in the midst of the Knowledge Revolution, also referred to as the digital revolution in some parts of the book. This revolution is characterized by unprecedented access to information, ubiquitous access through network-enabled mobile computing devices, and the shifting role of education in our society.

The book is well crafted and the narrative builds the further the reader gets in the text. Since the nexus of society, technology, and education is a particular interest of mine, I was captivated by the way Collins and Halverson framed the shaping of education within the context of these various revolutions. I agreed with most of the trends they described in terms of access to information, learning, and the changing emphasis on formal schooling. A significant part of this book, in comparison to the other descriptions of evolving models of education, was devoted to home schooling. I was not able to ascertain if the amount of time spent on the increase in home schooling was an endorsement of this model or just used to emphasize its potential for becoming more popular in the coming years. Either way, the main message came through clearly, which is that education as we know it is changing and will look very different in the future due in large part to the opportunities created by technology for learning.

If you are annoyed by educational prognosticators, I would not recommend this book. Though the majority of this book is devoted to discussing the past models of education and the current affordances of technology for teaching and learning, the overall message is that education will not stay in current state much longer. The authors assert that educators, and society in general, embrace new models of schooling sooner rather than later. If you love history and like to think about how various forces work together to shape our lived experience and the human condition, you will enjoy the thorough manner in which the authors address this topic within the context of technology and learning. Personally, I found the book an enjoyable and interesting read, and I plan on using the book again in my classes (though not the class I originally intended it for ... that's a different story).

All In: The New LMS

Today I attended a presentation sponsored by Apple about the changing role of mobile technologies in higher education, particularly colleges of education. This is of particular importance to my college right now because we are beginning to talk a lot about how and why to use different types of technology in our courses. Many faculty have been using technology for many years in their courses, but we are starting to see a shift in the role of technology in terms of how students access and use information. The presentation today, given by John Landis, Ph.D., was very much in line with the conversations I have been having with some of my colleagues over the past few months.

I will be honest, Dr. Landis' presentation was impressive. He is a great storyteller and is current on the trends and predictions sweeping through both K-12 and higher education. He understands that technology has traditionally been used to help teachers do what they've always done more efficiently or faster. He knows that students these days can get the same content traditionally transmitted from the instructor on any device, anywhere, at any time. And it's usually a lot more interesting. None of this was new to me, but it was still delivered in a fresh and relevant way. Landis presented a blend of theories, examples, and demos, primarily from his MacBook and iPad Mini, and the technology worked like a champ. He mirrored his iPad display using an Apple TV, and could switch pretty quickly to his MacBook Air to demo other programs. As a pretty heavy tech user, I was impressed that he was able to change speeds in so many different ways without so much as a hiccup.

What this presentation made very clear to me, however, was something I have been mulling over for quite some time. It is this idea that in order to fully leverage the benefits of one device, you must fully employ all of the devices in that particular ecosystem. In this way, Apple is actually becoming a device-based LMS. Just like Blackboard or Moodle have a suite of tools under the hood, Apple has an array of powerful tools that can really change the way teachers and students approach learning. The catch, however, is that one must buy in to the whole ecosystem in order to really see these benefits. For example:

  • I can create a customized, multimedia iBook on my MacBook for free, but it only really handles Mac-based media (.mov, Keynote, Pages, etc.).
  • Only my students with an iPad can download the multimedia version of the book and get the full benefit. Students running Mavericks can also read the book on their Mac, but students with Android or Windows devices are left behind.
  • I can mirror my iPad to my MacBook using AirServer, but it's not stable and does not work over my schools WiFi. If I want to really mirror my iPad, I need an Apple TV.
  • I can sync content across devices with a variety of tools, but the only way to sync ALL of my content is with iCloud, which is only for Mac.

The point is, each tool Dr. Landis showed us does amazing things. I want to try everything he showed us (except for the stuff I am already doing ... I want to keep doing it). But the only way to leverage the capabilities of each tool is to use it as part of the Apple Ecosystem (a term he used repeatedly). Apples are meant to work with other Apples, and there is really no motivation to make them work with Android (Google) or Windows. My workarounds, as I have found, are much more complex than the typical tech-using teacher is willing to mess with. I have found a way to teach from my iPad without using AirServer, which is a pretty awful replacement for an Apple TV. I use Google Docs to host and share course files, which works pretty well most of the time, but it's not as slick as content aggregated in an iBook. I have founds ways to do the things I want to do, but it's always a little more work when I am doing this across devices and outside "the ecosystem."

My take-away message is that Apple, Google, and Windows really are trying to create a system, and already have, where users must be "all in" in order to reap the benefits of their technology. More than ever, their tools only really play well with their own family members, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to lead a balanced digital life across platforms. With the exception of a few apps like Evernote or Google Drive, content on your device stays on your device.

I have no idea which ecosystem TCU will join, but I think they will eventually need to decide. These companies, which control the market, are leaving us very little choice otherwise.

One to Many: Using Ustream for an online study session

I try to be responsive to my students each semester and make adjustments to my courses that let them know I value their opinion. There are some things I don't change, such as assignments or due dates, but there are other areas in which I can be responsive. One such area is providing the students with resources that will help them be successful on the exams. After the first exam, some students were freaking out about the sheer amount of information I was expecting them to remember. In order to focus their efforts, I began sending out learning objectives after class. I think this helped, but some of them still felt overwhelmed.

This is when I decided to hold an online study session. I had been playing around with Google Hangouts, and I thought this would be a great tool to facilitate a study session. However, after some testing and investigating I realized this was not the best tool for what I was trying to do. Google Hangouts only allows 10 people to join, and I have over 100 students. There is also a 2-minute lag in the Live Broadcast between what I am saying in real-time and when the audience actually hears it. This may work well for some types of broadcasts, such as a live event or a performance, but this does not work very well for a question and answer session.

After some exploring, I found out about Ustream. This tool is very much like Google Live Hangouts, in that someone can set up a broadcast and allow viewers to watch through a Web browser. I set up a channel for my class, which I sent out to the students the day of the study session. Presenters can either broadcast from the browser, using the iOS app, or download Ustream Producer and broadcast from their desktop. The browser and mobile app use the camera on your device, and you can only show your face. The Producer program lets you also share your desktop, which is what I used to share documents and slides from the class.

Once I had everything set up, I started broadcasting and recording the review session. The hardest part of this session was speaking to an empty room. Ustream is different than Google Hangouts or Skype in that only allows one-way communication. This caused some awkwardness because I did not get any feedback from the audience. I kept checking to see if the presentation was still recording, which made it even more awkward. The students sent me their questions using TodaysMeet, which is a simple, impromptu chat room. There is no sign-in required, and the room can be saved indefinitely. The recorded presentation is embedded below:

Video streaming by Ustream

The feedback from the students was quite positive about this review session, and the whole process was quite easy. This took about an hour of my time in the evening, and this is something I an easily incorporate into my class each semester. I hope to find more creative ways to host study sessions, but this was a good place to start.

Teaching Naked: The workshop, not the dream

Last week, I attended a workshop hosted by our teaching excellence center called Teaching Naked. This is a catchy title for both Jose Antonio Bowen's book and workshops, but I find it a little ironic considering the content from his presentation. When I think of "teaching naked," I think of eliminating all adornments and superfluous elements from the class. I had a professor at UVa, Dr. John Sanderson, who taught this way. For an entire semester, he taught our Tests and Measures class without the use of PowerPoint, a LMS, or any other instructional tools. He showed a couple of short video clips on the VHS player, and he would occasionally bring some handouts. Most of his diagrams were written on the board when we arrived, and the majority of the class was discussion and lecture. It was an engaging class and quite helpful in my development as a researcher. I had already taken Stats I when I took Dr. Sanderson's class, and he did a nice job of filling in the gaps of what I had missed the first time. He truly taught naked. On the other hand, Dr. Bowen's workshop centered on using A LOT of technology. His approach to teaching could best be described as the "flipped classroom." He presents students with a variety of media to watch, think about, and learn outside of class, then uses class time to engage students in activities that require face-to-face human interaction. I like this approach to teaching and hope to emulate it with the same skill as Dr. Bowen, but I do not consider it "naked." In fact, it is quite heavily adorned with a host of social media tools, to the extent that I wondered how a students, or the professor, would keep up with it all. He talked about e-mail, Twitter, Socrative, Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, Skype, YouTube, Merlot, and several other tools. What he did not talk about at any point in the talk was PowerPoint. In fact, the take-away message from the workshop was, "Stop delivering boring lectures using PowerPoint and start engaging your class more ... during class time."

Some of Dr. Bowen's ideas were not new to me. Socrative, Twitter, YouTube videos, Google Docs. I use each of these tools in different ways to support my teaching and keep students connected to the class. Other ideas where, quite honestly, not ever going to be part of my workflow: Facebook groups, Skype, or MOOC's. But I did take away some ideas I would like to implement either this semester or in the spring. I have already taken one suggestion, which is to send student materials related to class electronically after class is over. This way, they are not reading the paper instead of listening. I also would like to try broadcasting a Google Hangout session live sometime before the next paper is due. I have responded to nearly 30 e-mails in the last two days, each of which ask essentially the same 3-4 questions. I will give the Hangout a try and see if anyone joins in to ask questions that everyone can hear the answer to. This also lets me record the session, so students who miss can watch it later. I have never been that open to devoting time in the evenings in this way, but after spending at least two hours in the last couple of days responding to e-mails, I like the idea of reducing this down to an hour. Show up, let the students ask their questions, and get them to work.

In addition to some new ideas to apply to my teaching, the hour and a half spent listening to Dr. Bowen speak was quite enjoyable. He's funny, intelligent, and has some very keen insight into the way students think and approach school. I haven't decided yet if I will read his book, but I will definitely look through his website for some new ideas. In no time, I will be teaching naked too!

Creating visual tutorials with Snapguide

For the past two weeks, the students in my graduate class have been exploring various ways to provide scaffolding to learners using digital tools. These explorations have been grounded in an article we read by Mayer & Moreno (2003), which describes 9 practical ways to reduce cognitive load using instructional design principles and digital tools. The students have done everything from creating QuickStart guides with screenshots and Word to screencasts with Screencast-o-Matic to "flipped" lessons with Educreations. The main theme that emerged from all of these explorations is that digital tools, while easy to access and use, are still quite complex and rarely work in isolation. Content creators need to understand a variety of tools to create, share, and distribute their digital products. Some people call this digital literacy. Teachers rarely have time to devote large blocks to teaching their students how to use digital tools, which is why it is helpful to have a variety of techniques to record and share explanations which can be viewed outside of class time. This is the beauty of digitally-supported scaffolding. Teachers can continue to support student learning even when class is not in session.

To further explore this concept tonight, the students created visual tutorials with Snapguide. I found this tool when I was looking through the help resources for another tool, InfuseLearning. I really liked the interface, and when I saw the iOS app I was really impressed with how easy it is to use. The students and I agreed this would be a great way for kids to practice How-To writing, and for teachers to send visual instructions home. I remember sending home detailed written instructions for parents when I was teacher, and the science projects STILL did not come back done correctly. I would have loved to have something like Snapguide to visually walk the students through the project.

It's amazing to me how visual our culture is. Now that seemingly everyone is walking around with small computers in their pockets, there is no end to the media people can create about everyday processes and skills. In addition to being visual culture, we are a culture of sharing. Snapguide combined with other tools like Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter give us the potential to learn just about anything.

Here are some examples my students created last night in class:

Check out How to Make a 3D Foldify by TCU Horned Frogs on Snapguide.

Check out How to Make a Paper Bus by TCU Horned Frogs on Snapguide.

Check out How to Create a Foldable Mini House by TCU Horned Frogs on Snapguide.

What tools do you use to learn and share new things?

TCU Lyceum 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to speak about educational technology to a group of 26 principals from around the state. When I say a "group of principals," what I really mean is "some of the very best principals" in the state. All of the superintendents in the state were contacted and asked to recommend their highest performing principals for the TCU Educational Leadership Lyceum 2013, and these principals were among those recommended and accepted. To say I was intimidated would be a huge understatement. I have taught classes to large groups of people virtually everyday for nearly 10 years, so it would stand to reason that I was up for this task. The truth is, I analyzed, planned, re-analyzed, over-planned, and perseverated over this presentation for weeks.

I will be the first to admit my presentation was kind of all over the place. I started with something about the past and future of educational technology ("Let's start by talking about the invention of fire ..."), then I mentioned something about the myths and actual findings of ed. tech. research, and I ended by showing them a few tools/activities that I like to use in my classes. Since this was my first presentation like this, I made the common rookie mistake of trying to do too much within such a short time frame. The presentation was scheduled for 3 hours, which seemed like a lot of time, but once I got the participants involved in some activities, it flew by. As usual, I left the presentation with a pretty good idea for what went well and what I would do differently if I were to get this opportunity again.

Here are my main lessons from this experience:

  1. Less is more. People can only remember a certain amount of information, and they are probably more likely to remember a handful of compelling activities than a bunch of information.
  2. There are no style points. Actually there could be, but if they distract from the One of the main mistakes I made was trying to switch between too many programs. I was projecting my main points using the Broadcast feature in SlideShark. I was mirroring the display of my iPad using AirServer when I wanted to demonstrate something. I was pulling information from several different browser tabs. It got confusing for me, which means it was definitely overload for the participants.
  3. Use activities to illustrate a point rather than making them the point. I knew this as I planned the presentation, and I still gravitated to this error like a moth to a porch light. I usually like to arrange a presentation around 3-4 big ideas, and I have activities that make them come to life. This time, I did that for 2 out of 4 of my main points, so it should come as no surprise that only half of my main points went over well. Anyone who has done this sort of thing for awhile knows you can't just show people tools. One fourth of the audience is two steps ahead and bored, one fourth is with you, and half of them are totally lost. I had to re-learn this lesson the hard way.

Overall, I feel very fortunate to have been included on the program for this amazing group of principals. Their energy and love for students was evident in just the brief time I was with them. They asked great questions and willingly participated in the activities I had set up for them. Many of them followed along and took notes on their personal devices, which I believe increases the probability some of these ideas will live on beyond the short workshop. I am also thankful for my colleagues at TCU who invited me to be part of their team. I look forward to many more excellent experiences in the future.

Lecturecasting with a Bamboo

I recently got a question from a teacher about recording mathematics explanations using a Bamboo from Wacom. I have never used a Bamboo before, but I know people who have and I've seen other tablets like it, so I knew what this teacher was asking. When using a Bamboo, you project your computer on the screen using a digital projector, and the tablet is essentially a big mouse pad that lets you draw or write with a stylus. I have used similar tools before, and there is no projection on the tablet itself. You can just see your marking on the computer or projector.

Since the computer is the "brains" for the Bamboo, rather than an app on an iPad or other tablet, Bamboo users must use a program that runs on their computer. To my knowledge, the are not many computer programs that function as a whiteboard AND let you record your explanation. One would have to use a whiteboard app concurrently with screencasting software. This may become more trouble than it's worth, in my opinion. There is, however, a web tool called Educreations that works as a whiteboard that records pen strokes on a virtual whiteboard. The developers really push the iPad app, but there is a web component to it as well. I have used it with my students, and it works pretty well when there is no iPad available.

Using this tool, the teacer would project the browser page using the computer, and the Bamboo would be the writing tool. I wanted to walk myself through the process and recorded a demo, seen below (Note: I am not using a Bamboo; rather, I am remotely accessing the screen from my computer on my iPad using SplashTop. The iPad is acting like a Bamboo ... complicated, I know.)

The teacher to whom I was explaining this process bought his own Bamboo and teaches in a school devoid of many technological tools other schools have access to. My goal was to point him to something free that offered most of the things he wanted to do. Conceptually, this teacher understands the value of digitally recording complex explanations to students. He can go back and revisit old problems without having to rewrite them on the board, and since the entire explanation is recorded the students can watch it later when they are working independently. I tip my hat to teachers like this who catch a vision and seek out information to make it happen given the resources they have access to. iPads and other tablets are slick, trendy, and honesty, quite powerful, but they are not the only way to implement innovative teaching strategies with technology. No matter what the tool, there is no replacement for persistence and creativity.

Projecting lectures with SlideShark

As I mentioned in a previous post, I used my iPad during the Spring 2013 semester as a control center for displaying images, video, and (don't judge me) bullet points. In my imagination, this made me the coolest professor on the planet. I oozed awesome with every gesture and swipe of the iPad. My students thought I was a dork.

I don't know if that word actually came to mind, but the vibe was definitely tangible in the room. My protocol for projecting the iPad display was pretty reliable, but I was using AirServer over a Bluetooth connection that could only handle a small amount of data at once. There was often a delay between what I was doing on the iPad and what the students were seeing, and sometimes the connection would freeze altogether. This connection would also not handle video or any type of animation. Personally, I did not see this as a big deal, but my students did and said as much on their course evaluations.

This prompted me to re-think how I was going to use my iPad as a portable lectern, or if I was going to do this at all next semester. I revisited a few different options I had explored before, and nothing seemed to do what I wanted. That is, of course, until I happened to read the SlideShark blog. I had used this app a few times already for presenting slides, and I liked it quite a bit. I was able to monitor my presentation with a timer, see my presentation notes, and quite importantly, preserve any animations I had embedded in the slides. The app also handles embedded video pretty smoothly without the need to include the video file somewhere on your device. Everything is computed in the cloud and is downloaded to the mobile app.

Until recently, I still had to mirror my iPad display onto my MacBook via AirPlay by way of AirServer in order to use SlideShark. Even though it was a step up from some other apps I was using, it still got hung up sometimes and would stop advancing the main points I was covering in the class meeting. Apparently this is quite exasperating to undergraduates (though they expect me to be "cool" with their "multi-tasking").

SlideShark has now added the Broadcast feature to it's app, which lets a presenter remotely control slides through the cloud from an  iPad. This means I do not have to connect my device to my MacBook via AirServer. I just have to make sure my iPad and the computer connected to the projector are both online. Here is a brief rundown of the workflow:

  1. Upload the presentation to your SlideShark account
  2. Open the SlideShark app from your iPad
  3. Download the presentation to your device
  4. Open the presentation and click Broadcast
  5. Open a browser on the computer connected to the projector
  6. Go to: www.slideshark.com/meet/username
  7. Your slides will be remotely controlled with your iPad and displayed through this browser window. You can expect a 2-4 second delay between the device and the browser. When you stop to think about it, that is FREAKING AMAZING! 2-4 seconds?! Are you kidding me?!

Of course, this method is not perfect. You can't ...

  • Show the iPad display. This will only show your slides. If you need to switch between apps, you will still need to use something like Reflector or AirServer.
  • This option is not free. After June 15, when the trial period ends, the ability to Broadcast slides will set you back to the tune of $95 a year. That is not chump change in my household, but I think it will be worth the money if I use this tool as much as I think I'm going to.
  • I have still had some problems getting videos to play. The FAQ section says that any format of video other than AVI or WMV will not play in-app. Since I'm a Mac user, this is a problem. I am still testing it out with .mov format, since that seems to be the .wmv equivalent on a Mac. You should also be prepared for a very lengthy upload time, depending on how many videos, and of what size, you include. Additionally, this will eat up your storage space if you upload too many large files with embedded video.
  • You will encounter problems if you try to include active links to web pages. Since the slides are running within an app, the link will open a browser but it won't be visible through the Broadcast meeting in the browser. Oddly, hyperlinks within the document, such as Action Buttons, still work. This enables users to create non-linear presentations, if that's what they prefer to do. I rarely use this feature myself.

If you are interested in using your iPad as a mobile lectern for teaching, I would recommend  testing this and other methods of remotely controlling your iPad in order to see what works best for you. If your school/workplace does not block AirServer over WiFi, this by far the best way to go. If that is not an option, SlideShark may be a pretty dependable workaround.

It's not you, it's me

For several years, I have asked students to fill out a Student Information Survey at the beginning of the semester. I adapted the same survey from semester to semester, but it essentially consisted of the same questions. Sometimes it was worth a grade, other times not. Sometimes I made the fields required, sometimes not. Since I have typically taught tech-integration courses for the past several years, most of my questions were technical in nature. I wanted to know such things as their current tech setup (type of computer/OS, access to other devices, etc.), experience with current tech trends (social, mobile, Cloud, gaming, etc.), the intensity of their love/hate relationship with tech, and how their teachers in the past have used it. I also asked a a couple of questions about how they learned best and about any teaching experience they had. Overall, this Student Information Survey was not very exciting, but it helped me establish a baseline for what I was dealing with. Now that I do not teach tech integration classes anymore, I have found my current survey needs to be updated as well. For one thing, I have started calling it a "questionnaire," which may just be a semantic issue, but it seems to capture what I am actually doing. The most notable change, however, is the questions themselves. Instead of getting descriptive data, I want the students to be introspective about themselves as learners. Based on a few studies I have read lately, I have learned that student evaluations of their professors are based more on their self-concepts as learners than on the efficacy and characteristics of the professor. For example, one study I looked at used a hierarchical regression analysis to investigate the relationship between students' academic self-efficacy and professor characteristics. The result of this study showed that students with high academic self-efficacy tended to give high ratings to professors with characteristics such as content expertise, professionalism, and disagreeableness (i.e., argues, challenges, steps on toes). On the other hand, students with low academic self-efficacy tended to give high ratings to such professor characteristics as compassion, helpfulness, and student-centeredness (though I personally find that trait to be problematic). The Social Exchange Theory is alive and well in the classroom.

In essence, the college classroom is no different than life in general: People evaluate others based on how they feel about themselves.

In response to this belief about my students, I want them to think a little more deeply about themselves as learners and unpack some of the jargon they tend to throw around. One example of psycho-babble jargon students tend to use is "engaged." For example, when I ask the question, "When do you learn best?" they will often respond by saying, "When I am engaged in my learning." My first response is, "Well, yeah, that's kind of how learning works. It's not a passive process." But I have really started to think more deeply about what students mean by "engaged." I always assumed engagement was a trait of the learner, as in, I am listening, taking notes, asking questions, participating in the discussion: I am in engaged.  Based on my experience in one class last semester, however, I suspect many students have a completely different vision for what "engaged" means. I now believe they see this as a trait of the instructor, as in, you are doing things in class that I deem worthy of my attention. The professor is engaging the students. It all comes down to locus of control. In a perfect world, both of these conceptualizations of "engaged" are true, and the professor is carefully thinking about how to present ideas in an organized and compelling way, while using strategies to draw the students into the process. At the same time, the students buy into this and are internally motivated to participate. Both parties fully understand their role in the process and take it seriously. Of course, I have no idea if any of this actually true, or if I just obsessed about it way too much and displaced a lot of my own insecurities onto the students.

This is why I am asking new questions. I want to know how my students evaluate themselves as learners, how they describe "engaged learning," and how they know if they have learned something or not. I am also including a question that asks them to rate themselves at multi-tasking. This item alone will probably explain 90% of the variance in test scores. In case you have never read my reflections on teaching college students, I believe multi-tasking is a horse apple dipped in a cow pie and sprinkled with bird droppings.

My purpose in asking these questions is two-fold. First, I want my students to honestly think about themselves as learners. I am not expecting light bulbs or fireworks, but I do want to push this issue to the forefront. Second, I want to know their (mis)conceptions about learning and teaching so I can address it. Once I know what they think about these important concepts, I can show them research that either confirms or refutes their beliefs. More importantly, it gives me the opportunity to make the class not just informational, but also transformational. Any time a person has the chance to reflect and say, "I used to think ..., but now I know ..." it opens the door to personal growth. Isn't that what all teachers hope to engender in their classrooms?

So, what strategies or activities do you use to learn about your students? How do you use that information? Is it valuable? Take a minute to let me know what you think.

I used to hate Twitter until I started loving it

I opened my Twitter account in late 2007, about a year after the company started. I wrote my first tweet in early January 2008. I must have gotten inspired and posted another one 3 months later, after the twins were born. Then silence. In that time, the company and its brand grew like crazy. Celebrities were battling to see who could get the most followers. Athletes were displaying their intelligence for all the world to behold. People were losing their jobs over ill-advised tweets. One reporter even used it to tattle on the President for saying, "jackass." And all this time, I refused to use it. It wasn't just refusal, but a complete loss for any real reason to use it other than feeding my ego and trying to look hip. I will just come out and say it, "I hated Twitter," and I refused to use it.

Yet, I still managed to get 31 followers. This is approximately 1 million less than Ashton Kutcher, but it still feels like a lot. I actually know most of the people who follow me, and I wonder if they are disappointed that I don't post more. Probably not. To date, I follow no one on Twitter. I have no idea how clever Jimmy Fallon, Conan O'Brien, or Ellen DeGeneres are because I don't read their tweets. I assume they are just as clever in 140 characters as they are in 1 hour on television.

Fast forward to Spring 2013. I am teaching several classes at a wonderful private university in Fort Worth. I have many students and many, many papers to grade. I am constantly getting e-mails, and I constantly have information I need to e-mail my students. Our learning management system has an announcement tool and mass e-mail function, but they don't work great. Some of the students don't check eCollege very often, and my mass e-mails to the class many times end up in the Spam folder. The announcement tool is clunky, and it takes about 10 clicks and a login to post something, and that is just for one class. Yet, several of my students suggest, quite honestly, that they would like to get more frequent updates about events and assignments, especially when items were posted to the grade book.

Clearly, I needed to do something different. Enter Twitter. It hit me one day that I could just as easily post something to Twitter and embed a widget on the home page of my course eCollege shell. Now I can post announcements from my phone, iPad, or MacBook, and they immediately go to the feed on my homepage. No logging in. No saving. No e-mailing students to announce a new announcement. The students can actually follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my Tweets. I will confess this is probably the one area of technology where I can honesty say they know more than me. Whatever they do, they can get my announcements and updates in a format that works for them. If they prefer to check eCollege, that works. If they like to get updates via e-mail, they can get that. If they want push notifications on their phone, foggedaboudit. Services like Twitter take the content and let users decide what they want to do with it and how they choose to receive it. Since the process is so easy, I'm much more likely to post class announcements than if I know I need a 5-10 minute block. The 140 character limit forces me to be concise. No more wordy, rambling announcements with 20 updates and 10 links. The announcements are short, simple and easy to remember. I can also include links to other documents or resources.

So, I do not consider myself a "tweeter," but I have found a use for this tool 5 years after creating my account. I am eager to see how this works when I start using it from the onset of the semester. I don't think it will lead to better learning or more student engagement, but it will keep me connected to the class in a way that makes sense to them. And if there is less complaining, I'm in.