Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Creating an online personality

So you want to teach online? How will your personality transcend cyberspace? How will you create the right avatar to represent you and create a professional yet inviting style? In a recent blog post, Catherine Blanchard offers some important tips on creating an online personality that bear repeating. Her steps include:

1. Creating a personality for the voice of the course at the beginning of the design process, rather than trying to ‘inject’ personality further down the line

At the Center for Academic Technology (CAT), we generally advise faculty to keep the structure and layout of the course template the same for the sake of consistency and clarity for our learners. But that does not mean that faculty cannot be creative in terms of how they organize and present their course content. A key suggestion here is to aim to create a believable personality for your course that is conveyed through its instructional design and use of graphics.

2. Set the right tone

The course speaks to your learner and aims to hold their attention, so the tone of voice needs to be just right. Too patronizing or disengaged and your learner will cringe away. Too stuffy and formal and your learner will feel like they’re reading from a textbook. Strive for warmth, professionalism and personality.

3. Go beyond writing in the first or second person – create a person

Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer (2003) state that personalization ‘induces learners to engage with the computer as a social conversational partner. Think about this, would you listen to someone who comes across as arrogant, dull and perhaps even a bit thick? Perhaps not! As such, you might consider creating a social conversational partner that will engage your learner – someone they wouldn’t mind sitting next to at a day-long symposium.

4. Agree upon your style guidelines

Turn your course’s personality traits into style rules. Imagine how your social conversational partner might speak, so instead of ‘Course objectives’ introductory screens could begin with ‘Next Steps’. Instructional and graphic design need to agree on these style points beforehand. The writing tone, images used and the overall design need to be consistent.

5. Check the details!

Always, always, always remember to check the details! Make sure your style is consistent at every level – don’t lose your learner by overlooking details such as the writing style, use of image captions and audio.

For more great tips, check out the Spicy Learning Blog at:

[1] Clark, Ruth. C., Mayer, Richard. E. (2003). E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Edition. P.180. ISBN: 0-7879-6051-0

(Source: Adapted from: Creating an online learning personality -

Monday, February 27, 2012

Interactive Whiteboards

The Center for Academic Technology (CAT) at The University of the District of Columbia makes available several Interactive Whiteboards (IWB’s) also called Smartboards to faculty members to support the use of high quality educational technology in the classroom. An IWB is a presentation device that is touch sensitive and designed to synchronize with a computer and digital projector. Users can display the computer desktop, computer applications and internet websites on a large screen, which can be seen and manipulated by those present. Anyone using the IWB can make notations to the screen using a finger, mouse, stylus or other tools and save those notations to the presentation. The first IWB was manufactured by SMART Technologies Inc. in 1991.


IWB Blog1


IWB’s enhance organization and allow faculty the ability to deliver interactive lessons that can be saved and reviewed at a later time. They may be used to share information for mini-lectures, demonstrate activities, show video clips and images to enhance a lesson and much more. They may also be used by students to engage in the learning process.

The literature tells us that learning and the construction of knowledge is reinforced when learners review, manipulate, and engage with the curricular content. Interactive Whiteboards provide rich learning opportunities for engagement and support learning and social activity.

Still, a recent New York Time post suggests that the high cost of IWB’s may be a concern as administrators with limited or reduced budgets find it difficult to make large purchases. Additionally, some argue that Whiteboards facilitate learning that is teacher-centered, rather than student-centered.

While such arguments may have some merit, a high quality Smartboard can cost less than $2000.00, as such, I would argue that the investment is well placed in terms of engaging learners with educational resources that are current while providing useful tools to enhance learning. Additionally, I would argue that IWB’s like any technological resource can promote positive or negative outcomes depending on how it is scaffold into the pedagogical approach. Having a well-conceived strategy for using IWB’s, that aligns pedagogy and course outcomes will ensure that it is always a value add to the classroom. To lean more on how to use an Interactive Whiteboard in your classroom, please go to

Monday, February 20, 2012

Create Educational Content for Mobile Devices Using Mobl21

Mobl21 is an award winning mobile application from Emantras that allows Faculty to create content that can be easily accessed by students from a mobile device. Some examples include topical study guides, flash cards, exams and quizzes that can be created with Mobl21 and made available through a desktop widget, social networking sites, the iPhone, and the iPod touch. Other access points including Facebook, iGoogle, Android and others are under development.


Mobl21 image 1


What’s great about this resource is that, providing study tools to students on a mobile device allows them to study at their own pace and potentially, perform better on summative course assessments. According to developers “The application enables the use of multiple media types - video, and audio - utilizing Apple's core technology architecture.” Once content has been created and published through Mobl21, educators can measure performance through assessments and track content access of learners.

For more information visit:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Accessible Books for Individuals with Reader Disabilities

As we continue to find solutions to make our classrooms and courses more accessible, it is important to also think about the text we use in these courses. Electronic text are not a new phenomenon but how can we make those digital materials more accessible? While screen readers and Magic Zoom are great technologies, what do we do for those old fashioned hard text books? This blog post will focus on a couple of solutions to that problem.





Bookshare’s mission is to ensure that the world of print is accessible to at the touch of a button for those with disabilities. This online library of digital books not only allows users to access books in a timely fashion but gives users access to a broad spectrum of topics and subject areas. Working with volunteers, publishers and other partnerships the organization has over 134 thousand digital books, textbooks, periodicals and assistive technology tools.

The access of the digital material also covers a broad range of ages from books elementary school students to educators at colleges across the country. Volunteers are always needed to scan and proof read digital books for their readability.

For more information how to access the digital repository of books please follow this link:


google books


Another great tool accessibility tool for digital books is Google books. This service was created by Google in 2004 to allow users access to full text books that Google has scanned and converted to text using an optical character recognition device (OCR). The current repertoire of online books far exceeds a million as a result of collaborations with partners such as the Library Project. The Library Project aims to make it easier for people to find relevant book and especially out of print materials.

Google books also has a blog to keep you up to date with new additions to Google books as well as other exciting events such as featured reading from authors. Check out their blog here:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Are The Major Disability Categories?

Did you know what the major categories of disability types include?


Blindness, low vision, color-blindness




Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control


Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information

When designing an online or hybrid/blended course, please keep accessibility in mind.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Using Smartphones as Learning Tool in and Outside of the Classroom

Think about it….today's smartphones have enormous computing power. That ability opens up numerous opportunities to use them in our pedagogy for teaching and learning. What follow are some common and cool examples.

Cobocards is a collaborative flash card webapp that allows users to create flashcards for review, or to study individually or in groups. There are ready made flash cards in a pool of more than 3.000 topics.

Flash Cards ++ - Another flash card generator used to help students self- assess their retention of information. Students can study on the go, create image flash cards using an iPhone's camera, create or download flashcards on their smartphone or iPad from Quizlet or FlashCardExchange. Moreover, FlashCards++ collects data about students study habits to help them monitor their progress in learning new material. ($3.99 at the App store).

Quizlet- A smartphone flashcard application with a very large database of flash cards (over 9 million free sets of flashcards covering every possible subject). It reinforces learning through study, games, and memorize tools. -

Flashcard Exchange: A web-based repository of flashcards for learning. Covers numerous topics, languages, and colleges. The website boasts some 45.7 thousand flashcards in their library.

Poll Everywhere allows faculty and students to gauge audience feedback – instantly. Poll Everywhere replaces clicker proprietary audience response systems that require hardware with standard web technology. It is quickly becoming the easiest way to gather live responses in many venues (conferences, presentations, classrooms, radio, tv, print - almost anywhere). It works internationally with texting, web, or Twitter. It is free for an audience of 40 or less, and has a low pricing structure for larger audiences. In less than a minute, you can create an account and design a poll.

Project Noah is a smartphone tool to explore and document wildlife. The App allows anyone to map nature via the smartphone. Project Noah, facilitates the ability to upload photos of plants and wildlife from anywhere – essentially creating a map of the natural world and contributing to scientific research in the process. In addition, Project Noah (NOAH) also allows users to snap a photo of something, for example a bug or a tree, and the application will send back an identification of the exact type in as little as 24 hours.

Animoto- Animoto for higher education provides an array of tools for creating videos in your classroom. Professors are able to mix relevant messaging, statistics and quotes among the pictures or videos to educate and inspire students.

Qik - Instant video sharing available on most all popular smartphones. Allows users to capture a moment and share it instantly across many mediums.

Scvngr – This game-based App is about doing things (challenges) in various locations to earn points that may be converted into real things such as: food, beverages, gifts, passes, etc. Players earn points by checking in, posting a tweet, photo, or performing any one of the listed activity challenges that have been identified by the institution, business, or individual who created the challenge. Numerous Universities, cities, museums, restaurants, brands, and nonProfits are building challenge sites to engage those who may like to play. The challenges and opportunities for innovation and creativity are limitless.

How do you stay current when the sands shift everyday? Check out Gizmodo ( to stay on top of Apps, Mashable ( to learn about technology in general and the field, and Europe’s Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies ( to understand the pedagogy of teaching with new technology and to quickly identify the latest and newest ranked applications.

Source: Mark Frydenberg, Wendy Ceccucci, and Patricia Sendall (

Friday, February 10, 2012

Removable Memory Stick for Mobile Devices

Did you hear? The new AirStash mobile device memory stick is for sale (not cheap) and includes a removable SD memory card. The USB stick has been available for years as a way to transfer and carry documents on the go between multiple devices, except mobile ones such as the iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, or android smartphones. Now the market has a new contender; the AirStash. Made by Wearable Inc., and distributed by Maxell and a few other retailers (, this new memory stick is marketed to users of Apple products, Amazon’s Kindle fire and many android devices. The cool factor is that the AirStash has built-in WI-FI to beam files, video, or play music simultaneously to multiple devices (up to 75 feet away). It’s a clever little devise with pros and cons and looks like any USB stick although it uses a removable SD memory card. The 8 GB model will run $150.00 while the 16 GB model costs $180.00.



Things You Should Know About Challenge Based Learning

Envision a scenario in which you may want to encourage students to move from a general discussion about an important topic or issue to the generation of a solution driven project designed to address the problem or issue in a meaningful manner. An example might be a situation in which learners are supported in their progression from a general discussion about an issue that is personally meaningful to them like the rising cost of higher education to a project designed to deliver more cost efficient learning resources to students through the campus bookstore. Enter Challenge-based learning (CBL).

According to Educause (2012) Challenge- based learning is an instructional initiative developed by Apple for use in K-12 environments. In 2008, a group of 29 teachers working in concert with an educational team from Apple, Inc., conceptualized a learning strategy that would more directly engage learners as scholars, practitioners, social actors, researchers and agents of change (Johnson et al, 2009). So, where in collaborative based problem solving initiatives learners are presented with an already well developed problem to solve, in challenge-based learning (CBL) students are presented with general concepts (or a Big Idea) from which they will generate the challenge(s) they wish to address (Educause, 2012). This project generation process is based on discussion, question generation and research followed by the identification of relevant solutions (i.e. the project), action and assessment.


Blog CBL 1


Initially popular in k-12 environments, CBL is finding greater popularity and use in the Higher Ed Community. For example, Ball state University used CBL to enlist community support around ethanol fuel production and La Sierra University has used CBL to support student led competitions related to entrepreneurship, marketing and customer relations (Educause, 2012).


Blog CBL2


By going to Apple’s Challenge-based learning site and setting up an account, faculty and students may access an array of multimedia resources available to facilitate the CBL process. Participants may choose from existing CBL initiatives to participate in or create their own. Wonderful examples of completed CBL projects can also be found on you tube. To sign up for a free account or to learn more about Challenge-based learning, check out the sources below or go to


Educause (2012). Things You Should Know About Challenge Based Learning. Retrieved from

Johnson, Laurence F.; Smith, Rachel S.; Smythe, J. Troy; Varon, Rachel K. (2009).

Challenge-Based Learning: An Approach for Our Time. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

As a professor, do you use Social Media?

Chances are the answer is a resounding yes! Faculty Focus has conducted a survey on social media use among higher education faculty and has some interesting results. The survey includes assessing faculty use of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Among many, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are considered "the big three" in social media. The results of the survey follow.

Social Media Trends

750 million. The number of active Facebook users, which means if Facebook was a

country it would be the third-largest in the world.

90. Pieces of content created each month by the average Facebook user.

175 million. Twitter accounts.

140 million. The average number of Tweets people sent per day (February 2011).

120 million. LinkedIn members (as of August 4, 2011).

More than two per second. The average rate at which professionals are signing up to join

LinkedIn as of June 30, 2011.

Not surprisingly, Facebook is the most popular social media site for the people who participated in the faculty survey: 85 percent of participants report having a Facebook account; 67 percent report having a LinkedIn account and 50 percent report having a Twitter account. Nearly 45 percent of those who took the Faculty Focus survey said they visit Facebook daily, while those who Tweet daily was much lower (16.5 percent). LinkedIn had the fewest (6 percent) daily visits among higher education participants.

Last year’s Faculty Focus survey, found that Twitter usage represented more than a third (35.2 percent) of the 1,372 respondents said they use Twitter in some capacity. That data demonstrate an increase from 30.7 percent in 2009. It’s reasonable to conclude that Twitter usage is continuing to increase among higher education faculty. While the sample of the Faculty Focus 2011 survey is small (N=840) the findings are useful and not surprising.

Do you have a Social Media Account?




Faculty use social media accounts for both personal and professional means. LinkedIn was found to be highest for professional use only. Facebook, was found to be used for both personal and professional uses by 46 percent of the respondents and Twitter was used for professional and personal communications by 25 percent of those responding.

In many instances, especially with regards to Twitter and Facebook, faculty reported that they create separate accounts: one for friends and family, and a separate account for work-related networks or communications.

Source: September 2011, Faculty Focus Special Report: Social Media Usage Trends Among Higher Education Faculty (Magna Publications

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tools and Techniques for Improving Learning and Course Accessibility for all Learners

How might we make our classes more accessible? Why not think about recording and capturing the lesson and providing a transcript.

You can simple start this by using a lapel mic, headset with mic, any type of digital recorder (iPod with voice recorder, iPhone, iTouch) or moving to the more hands-on approach of using Garageband, Audacity, a narrated Powerpoint, Power Sound Editor 1, or mp3DirectCut. Some institutions may have available applications such as Blackboard Collaborate11, Mediasite, Tegrity Campus, Echo 360, Panopto, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, or Camtasia Relay. The nice feature of these applications is that they are full-service, meaning they capture, compress, and synchronize with little more than a few clicks.

Once you record or capture the lecture in a digital format, the next step in making your content more accessible is to transcribe what you said. This step can often be costly, time consuming, and difficult – but not impossible.

Keith Bain (a thought leader in this area) suggested recently that faculty consider CapScribe, Dragon Naturally Speaking, Media Access Generator (MAGpie), or InqScribe as tools for converting speech to text. Many computer operating systems also include a built-in function to convert speech to text.

If you wish to take a short-cut and want to add engaging content to supplement your course, I suggest using NBC Learn to compliment to your lesson plan. The nice feature of using NBC Learn is that they have already provided the recording, video narration, and full transcription. They even include study cards!

In addition to the accessibility factor, the latest neuroscience research tells us that we learn best when we repeat events over and over in our mind, when we couple the experience with other senses or emotions, and when we struggle with new information or information that is contradictory to what we previously believed. Therefore, to help all learners, we may strive to provide multiple means to digesting course content and reinforce learning by providing audio or transcription.

The literature supports this assertion and suggests that students who use multimedia to study do better on quizzes and exams than students who do not reinforce the experience. Moreover, when it comes to accessibility, it is not an option, it is a legal requirement. So go ahead - Create a voice recording, a podcast, a narration of your power points and providing a transcript of your event. You might find that your students remember, learn, and begin to build a strong foundation to scaffold more complex thinking.

Bain, Keith., is associated with the Liberated Learning Consortium and adjunct professor at Canada's Saint Mary's University.

Bart, Mary


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Developing Student Self Assessment Skills (Repost)

By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD in Teaching Professor Blog

Our interest in more learner-centered instruction has changed the way many of us think about teaching as well as what we do in the classroom. We are devoting more energy to getting students involved during class. We are trying to give them more opportunities to practice those learning skills that expedite learning. We let them summarize the content; rather than doing it for them. We try to have them ask more questions than we do. We design activities which encourage them to learn from and with each other.

But as two articles highlighted in the February issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter point out, those changes have not been accompanied by corresponding changes in assessment practices. The evaluation of student work remains completely under teacher control. Now don’t stop reading, because the point is not that students should be grading their own work. That’s an abrogation of legitimate instructor responsibility and that’s not what this is about.

What we’re talking about here is the fact that students do need to develop self assessment skills. They need to be able to look at their own work and with some accuracy assess its merits. That includes the work they do in our courses. As authors Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick point out, students already do make judgments about their work and performance. They write something in a paper and ask themselves if they’ve written enough, if what they’ve written makes sense, if they’ve said what they think the professor wants them to say, if they put the references in the right format, or if their solution is correct. And they answer those questions which means they are giving themselves feedback. So, why, ask these authors, aren’t we intervening during this process and doing what we can to improve their self-assessment skills?

How could we intervene? Well, we could do what we still do more than we should—tell students how they should assess their work. But that’s another version of the information transmission teaching model and it doesn’t work nearly as well as letting students practice the skill we wish them to develop. So, students need to participate in activities where they look at their own work and the work of others. They can develop what Sadler calls “appraisal expertise” by generating assessment criteria, making rubrics or looking at potential criteria and assessing their relevance. They develop the ability to self-assess by reviewing examples and applying assessment criteria to those examples. Sadler advocates “intensive use of purposeful peer assessment.” (p. 548) Looking at the work of others prepares students to look critically at their own work.

Of course the grading issue complicates the development of these skills. How likely are students to share honest evaluations of their work with the teacher who is the ultimate assessor? If you were in their shoes, would you point out weak parts of your paper to the teacher? Probably not, but you might do it if the paper could still be revised, and there are some ways of interacting with the teacher about your work that do address these self-assessment skills. What if the student generates two or three questions about the work that they would like teacher feedback to address? What if after receiving teacher feedback, the student prepares a short memo that describes how that feedback is going to be addressed in the next piece of work and then in next piece of work identifies examples of where the feedback has been acted on.

I think fears about students’ motivation to get high grades (even if they don’t deserve them) has caused most of us to conclude that students can’t be a part of the assessment process. I realized after reading these articles that leaving them out means they may never fully develop these critical self assessment skills on their own and we should explore practical ways they can be involved.


Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35 (5), 535-550.

Nicol, D. J. and Mcfarlane-Dick, D. (2007). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), 199-218.