Monday, February 28, 2011

Flash Seminars -- A New Concept in Learning

In a recent post, we spoke of the great coverage the New York Times has done on education.  Not to be outdone, the Washington Post recently posted a story on a concept called "Flash Seminars."  No this isn't about computer programming, it's about using empty classrooms to have impromptu lectures.

Over the past few years, the idea of flash raves or mobs have become fairly popular.  Here, students choose a time and place and congregate.  Check out this one from UNC Chapel Hill.

Flash Seminars are a bit different.  The idea came from a student at the University of Virginia.  The article describes them in the following way:
Once or twice a week, students at the state's flagship public university collect in some idle classroom or lounge for a "flash seminar," an ad hoc performance of pedagogy.
The time and place, professor and students are always different. But the goal never varies: "to find learning outside the classroom," said Nelson, 22, a senior from Westwood, Mass., who is majoring in political and social thought. "To find other people who really value being a student."
There's a nice tech tie in if you switch from the idea of a face to face lecture and consider screencasts or 5 minute lectures (see the University of Wisconsin's 5 minute lecture site).  At UDC, we have Wimba and Echo 360 which integrate with Blackboard to allow professors to record lectures and deliver them to students. 

Here's a screencast that shows students how to upload an assignment.  Whether it be a lecture, demonstration or other visual experience, screencasts should be in every pedagogues technology toolkit (read about toolkit theory).

Please stop by the Center for Academic Technology to find out more about these tools.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visualization Tools for the Classroom

The ability to communicate digitally is becoming a much sought after skill.  For the last couple of years, I've facilitated a workshop called "Intro to Visual Communication" which explores ways to use Web tools to convey information to students.  See the slides below:

Adobe, undoubtedly looking to sell some product, recently released a white paper (free registration required) on the evolution and impact of digital communication skill development in post-secondary education.  The report discusses the United States National Technology Plan , the International Society of Technology in Education's National Educational Technology Standards, and models and technology initiatives from across the world.   

From the introduction:

This paper explores the evolution of digital communication skills development in post-secondary educational institutions around the world. It considers how expectations of and opportunities for effective digital communicators extend well beyond the domain of graphic and visual artists, videographers, and web designers.
Today, competencies that have traditionally been expected from art and design professionals are now expected from professionals working in such disciplines as journalism, education, and medicine. The emergence of new post-secondary fields of study such as informatics, medical imaging, instructional design, and educational technology, featuring digital proficiencies as core components of discipline-specific epistemology, further extends the notion of what it means to be a proficient digital communicator. 

There are many tools which assist with visualization.  I'm not going to get into the super technical ones because their learning curve is quite steep.  However, I'd like to use this post to discuss a few that are not only highly functionable, but easy to use.  

Many Eyes Screenshot
1. IBM Many Eyes:  Allows you to upload a data set and view the results using IBM's visualization tools. You can also choose pre-existing data sets and use the tool to explain various phenomena via visualizations as opposed to long winded, wordy explanations.
[Honorable mention: Kidspiration or InspireData, two products by Inspiration Software which are marketed to the K12 market, but can be utilized in any classroom.  These software tools are not free, though you do get a 30 day free download to test it out first.].  Webspiration, a tool for concept maps and other visualizatons is one of my faves.  It's mentioned in the Poweerpoint above.  The online version is free, while the downloadable software is not.
2. Inanimate Alice: This is an initiative that started in England which uses digital storytelling to teach 21st century skills.  Complete with a free teacher's pack, educators can use the service to invite students into the world of digital storytelling. 
3. Piggy Bank:  Created by MIT, Piggy Bank is a Firefox extension that turns your browser into a mashup platform, by allowing you to extract data from different web sites and mix them together.
Piggy Bank also allows you to store this extracted information locally for you to search later and to exchange at need the collected information with others.
Capzules screenshot.
4. Capzules: Allows you to mesh video, images, sound, blogs, and documents to share a dynamic multimedia experience with students.
Here are a few examples: 
     a. A Brief History of Apple
     b. Paul Revere's Ride
     c. A History of Distance Education 
5. National Library of Virtual Manipulatives: Provides math based simulations for K-12.  Kudos to Utah State University and the National Science Foundation for pulling this together.

Hopefully this post has whet your palette when it comes to visualization tools.  For more cool web-based tools, see this post.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Technology at UDC

See Dr Suzan Harkness, Asst Dean and Director for the Center for Academic Technology being interviewed by Higher Education Today.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Using Respondus Lockdown Browser

What is Respondus LockDown Broswer?
This application is a custom browser that locks down the testing environment within Blackboard and WebCT. When students use Respondus LockDown Browser they are unable to print, copy, go to another URL, or access other applications. When an assessment is started, students are locked into it until they submit it for grading. To learn more about this product, visit
How do I Setup Respondus LockDown Broswer?
To access Respondus LockDown Browser look under Control Panel.  Then choose Course Tools and finally Respondus LockDown Browser.
Respondus Lockdown Browser then displays all of the tests currently contained in that course.  You then have the option of making that test only available via Respondus Lockdown Browser.   
Be sure to make the download link for the browser available to students.  If they use a non-UDC computer, they must install the software to access the test.  
Modify Settings for Desired Tests

This video demonstrates Respondus Lockdown Browser to Students:

Other Useful Links:

-          Quick Start Guides for using Respondus LockDown Browser
-          Respondus LockDown Browser Demo Movies for Training
-          Frequently Asked Questions about LockDown Browser
-          The Administrator Area of – product download information for admin and support contacts (requires login)
-          Information sheet: 10 Reasons to Use Respondus LockDown Browser

Finally, if you have any technical questions about LockDown Browser, please don’t hesitate to open a support ticket at .

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Intro to Wimba Workshop --- February 15, 2011

Wimba Classroom combines interactive technologies with instructional best practices, allowing educators and students to build relationships.  Wimba classroom, available within Blackboard, is a live, virtual classroom environment with robust features that includes audio, video, application sharing (see video) and content display. 
This workshop will introduce participants to the latest technology which enables instructors to conduct class via with audio, visuals and desktop sharing using Wimba Classroom integrated in Blackboard.  Time permitting, we may discuss Wimba Pronto (instant messenger) and Wimba Voice.

At the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:
1. Navigate the virtual classroom and identify 3 features to employ in the classroom
2. Create a live classroom and load content to be used in the presentation

Powerpoint Slides are available here (and below) .

For more in depth instruction on Advanced features in Wimba, view this presentation from North Dakota State University.To view a YouTube video Introduction to Wimba Classroom Live”

Monday, February 14, 2011

So the NYT is into Education Now?

Over the last few months, the Times has had a few really good stories about online learning.  In no particular order:

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

This story looks at how students are growing up in a digital world and increasingly distracted in other parts of their lives.  As a college educator, I already see these students in my classroom.  This is REAL!

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Technology 

As someone who does a lot of professional development for faculty, I often cringe when someone who uses little technology in their personal lives attempts to take the leap into online teaching.  This article provides some basic pointers for becoming a more effective user of technology.  I assure you, it will help you in the classroom too,

For Your Files, Lots of Room In the Cloud

Everyone SHOULD be talking about the cloud, but folks are still walking around with USB sticks thinking they are cool.  I mean, they are great backups if the Internet is down, but anything more is simply passe.  This article discusses strategies for using the cloud to store files.

Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension

This article outlines comprehensive programs by MIT, CMU, Cal Berkeley and other institutions to raise the quality of online courses.  It's worth the read just for the Bill Gates quote:
“We should focus on having at least one great course online for each subject rather than lots of mediocre courses,”

Replacing a Pile of Textbooks With an iPad

Will the iPad revolutionize textbooks in higher education?  This article examines the issue.

In a Digital Age, Students Still Cling to Paper Textbooks

This article kinda counters the one above.  Interesting perspective either way.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Student Engagement in Higher Education

This is a repost of an Educause article shared with faculty in the spring newsletter the Center for Academic Technology had in the Spring of 2010.  The post mentions the National Survey of Student Engagement, the full report is worth the read.
10-20-2010 1-57-22 PMAccording to their website:
The NSSE annually collects information at hundreds of four-year colleges and universities about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college.

What Is Student Engagement, Anyway?

by Linda Deneen
When EDUCAUSE Quarterly asked me to be a columnist on the topic of student engagement, my first question was, “What is student engagement?”

To answer this question, I started with the word “engagement.” Several dictionaries could not provide a definition that seemed to come close to what I think people mean when they talk about student engagement. Finally, I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary and found this definition: “the fact of being entangled; involved or entangled conditions. Obs.” It is interesting to me that the best definition I could find is now obsolete. Presumably our extensive use of this word in higher education will revive this definition.

So let’s turn next to the definition of “student engagement.” Wikipedia lists multiple definitions and cites many academic articles written throughout the 1990s and 2000s. This is convincing evidence that the definition of student engagement is itself complex and broad. George Kuh’s definition illustrates this complexity:
The engagement premise is straightforward and easily understood: the more students study a subject, the more they know about it, and the more students practice and get feedback from faculty and staff members on their writing and collaborative problem solving, the deeper they come to understand what they are learning and the more adept they become at managing complexity, tolerating ambiguity, and working with people from different backgrounds or with different views.1
A notable and enduring study of student engagement, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), has been administered since 1999. According to the NSSE website, “The project will involve in-depth investigation of institutions that show a pattern of improved NSSE results over time to identify the activities that led to improved performance and to draw lessons to inform improvement efforts on other campuses.” Many institutions, including my own, use the NSSE survey as one instrument in an overall assessment plan.

Since I am writing this column for EQ, it is best to ask how technology can contribute to our efforts to engage students. The most recent issue of EQ (vol. 32, no. 4, 2009) provides this definition: “Student engagement is a rendezvous between learning and the digital tools and techniques that excite students.” I encourage readers who want more information about student engagement and technology to spend some time with this theme issue.

Another resource on student engagement and technology is the “EDUCAUSE Student Guide to Evaluating Information Technology on Campus.” The four sections of this guide are Academic Experience, Administrative Experience, Student Life, and Services and Fees. All four of these areas offer ways to engage students with the institution. Students must interact with the institution to be admitted, to enroll in classes, to pay their tuition and fees, to learn successfully (both face to face and online), to participate in extracurricular activities, to do research, to graduate, to find a job, to continue their education, and to participate as active alumni. Certainly faculty members play a keyrole in student engagement, but customer service staff and learning environments are also critically important.

How do learning environments support student engagement? At my institution, IT staff supporting faculty share a fundamental belief that pedagogy should drive learning environments, and not the other way around. We avoid technology for the sake of technology and actively seek those technologies that will improve teaching and learning. Technologies that enhance student engagement are of particular interest to us. For example, clicker technology caught on early here, and we moved swiftly to set a standard for clickers, believing that a standard would save students money and improve support. These devices have been particularly helpful in large classes, where it can be difficult to engage all students and move beyond the sage-on-the-stage model. Although faculty members began using clickers to check whether students grasped facts and vocabulary, they quickly moved to more challenging questions that promoted higher-level reasoning and critical thinking. According to LeAne Rutherford, who facilitated an Archibald Bush Grant group on increasing the level of higher order questioning,
“Technologies that encourage students to engage with their course materials and to take an active role in learning promote retention and understanding.”2

Finally, why do we want to engage students? Who among us does not believe that engagement with the institution attracts students, ties them to us, makes them part of our community, and motivates them to succeed in their academic careers? My own relationships with faculty mentors, fellow students, social opportunities, and institutional services throughout my years as a student pin me firmly to higher education.

Entangling students in our institutions in multiple, positive ways helps them to remain with us, learn more effectively, enjoy their student experience, and prepare for life outside higher education.

In subsequent columns, I will address some aspects of student engagement in more detail. I look forward to engaging with you, the readers, on this interesting and important topic.
  1. George D. Kuh, “The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations,” New Directions for Institutional Research, vol. 2009, no. 141 (March 9, 2009), pp. 5–20.
  2. LeAne H. Rutherford, personal communication.
© 2010 Linda Deneen. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 license.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Creating and Managing Groups in Blackboard

Blackboard 9.1 has multiple ways to engage students in group activities.  Moreover, the grading and assignment capabilities have been streamlined so there are less ‘clicks’ involved to complete a group assignment.

Before you can create group assignments, you must first setup groupsusergroup.jpg.
Go to the Control Panel and open the panel *USERS AND GROUPS* then select *GROUPS*

You can form a single group or form groups for all of the students:

When creating groups, you also have the ability to select which tools and interactions will be available for the group.  You can always modify these options should you choose to add a tool later.


This is how the groups will look. You can add group assignments or grade participation within the existing group tools.
Once the groups are formed, you will have the opportunity to create projects for individuals or for groups.  See the links at the bottom of this post for more information on group work.

For more information on Groups and Blackboard, view this annotated version (also below)of the Blackboard 9 User Manual.

If you need further help, please call the 24 hour Blackboard helpline at 202-274-5665 or toll free: 877-736-2585.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

K12 Technology comes to Higher Education

College professors don't like to be called teachers.  At least most of them don't. The word 'teacher' often connotes 'K-12 classroom leader'.  And there IS a difference between the K12 and the college classroom.  One of the trends which is narrowing that difference is the use of technology.

For instance, school districts have widely adopted smartboards for K-12 classroom use.  Engaging students via the use of technology.  However, many of these students may walk into a college classroom and see chalk boards and not smartboards.

While faculty cannot change the infrastructure of their institutions as it pertains to instructional technology resources, there is a growing number of open resources available to teachers.  The federal government funds a website,,  which provides a suite of tools for classroom use.

The site offers ready-to-use lessons, quizzes, rubrics, web posters, and more. In my experience,  I don't use every tool I play around with online, but I typically get a few good ideas in the process.  The K12 'technologies' aren't a perfect fit for higher ed, but with some tweaking, they can be.

Speaking of which, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, K12 Inc, the largest online curriculum provider for K-12 courses is teaming up with Blackboard (no explanation needed) to offer remedial course to colleges.  According to the article:
The companies say their plan will offer a new way for students who lack basic skills to get caught up. Blackboard would sell online courses that are designed and taught by employees of K12. The courses would be delivered on the Blackboard course-management system. It is the first time that the company has sold full courses, rather than just software to deliver them.
So now, the teachers may invade higher education.  Katherine Boswell, director of community college policy for the Center for Education Policy and Practice, is quoted as saying:
For so long we’ve been embarrassed about” how many students need remediation ... [W]e don’t like to talk about it.
So what do you think of this? Are college professors unable to teach remedial courses?  Is it a good idea to outsource college courses to virtual colleagues?  What do you think? 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Information Literacy Competencies, Standard One

The next few posts by Rachel Jorgensen, Information Literacy Librarian, will focus on explicating the five information literacy concepts as defined by the Association of College and Research Libraries, a subdivision of the American Library Association.
Each competency is comprised of the main standard that is further defined by “performance indicators” and “outcomes.” In this way, ACRL has fully defined and developed each standard and provided benchmarks for teaching, learning and assessment.
Standard One: The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
Standard one has four performance indicators:
  1. ”…defines and articulates the need for information.”
  2. ”…identifies a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information.”
  3. ”…considers the costs and benefits of acquiring the needed information.”
  4. ”…reevaluates the nature and extent of the information need.”
Outcomes for this standard include:
  • The ability to create a thesis statement.
  • Develops lists of keywords for research.
  • Understands the difference between types of materials, such as primary vs secondary, scholarly vs popular.
  • Able to communicate research criteria, research plan and can modify this plan and criteria in response to outside factors.
On a practical level, this is one of the easier standards to teach, as the skills are concrete (creating a subject statement, devising a list of keywords from that subject statement, brainstorming a list of possible resources, organizing the resources by type and associating type of resource to research tool, such as the library catalog, article database, etc).

However, this activity of differentiating and defining can be the first and last hurdle for students – many do not get past this point and end up using whatever they can find. Because of this it becomes difficult to move students towards the more abstract information literacy skills, such as understanding the legal and ethical use of information.

In order to make sure students can clear this first hurdle, the Information Literacy Program focuses on providing learning opportunities for students, as they enter UDC as Freshman, as well as students at higher class levels. The program does this by providing instruction sessions for classes, working with the Freshman Orientation program, providing one-on-one assistance to students and offering workshops that target particular research-oriented and critical thinking skills.

Despite its age, the ACRL ‘s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education is the primary document for the field of Information Literacy – it guides information literacy programming and curriculum in most academic libraries and is the foundation for other documents, such as the Middle State Commission on Higher Education’s Guidelines for Institutional Improvement, which includes a publication on “Developing Research & Communication Skills: Guidelines for Information Literacy in the Curriculum.”

For more information contact Rachel Jorgensen, Information L iteracy Librarian @ 274-6116.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Intro to Softchalk Workshop

This post will complement today's Softchalk workshop. 
Softchalk is a powerful web lesson editor that lets you easily create engaging, interactive web lessons for your e-learning classroom. Think of Softchalk like Powerpoint on steroids. You can display content (text, video, audio) but can also include assessment questions to gauge student learning. Like Powerpoint, Softchalk is more fun to to show the finished product than to build it:)  

However, if carefully planned out, you can create reusable learning modules that can inform, entertain and assess (the scores will be displayed in Blackboard) students semester after semester.

Here are some examples of Softchalk produced lessons:

A lesson about eye anatomy that includes pop-up text annotations, interactive pop-up comprehension questions, widgets, you tube videos, and flash cards and hotspot image activities. This lesson features a user-created "personal style" for page design and styling.  
View Lesson (HTML)

A lesson about Hurricanes that includes pop-up text annotations, interactive pop-up comprehension questions, embedded media, and a Hotspot Image Activity.
·       View Lesson (HTML)

A lesson about Thomas Jefferson that includes pop-up text annotations, interactive pop-up comprehension questions, a WebQuest, and Word Search, Matching and CrossWord activities.
·        View Lesson (HTML)

ESL - English as a Second Language
An ESL (English as a Second Lanaguage) lesson that includes audio, pop-up annotations, quiz quesitons, labeling and sorting activities.        

A lesson about Quadratic Equations that includes pop-up annotations, web links, quiz questions, and a sorting activity.
Softchalk Screenshot
Workshop Description
SoftChalkTM allows faculty to create interactive learning modules to engage students online.  Designed for educators, you don’t need programming experience, SoftChalkTM provides the template — you provide the content.  Self-assessments can also be added, with six question types: (including multiple choice, short answer, and matching) as well as learning games, and pop-up annotations.

At the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:
1. Create a storyboard to facilitate the design of a learning module
2. Navigate the menu options of SoftChalkTM
3. Import content and build a short learning module using SoftChalkTM
Other resources: