Thanksgiving survival kit, instructional design edition

How would an instructional designer approach the Thanksgiving meal? Just like this. Now that’s some analysis – design – development – implementation – evaluation I can support! In fact, I think I hear the siren song of pumpkin pie evaluation calling my name . . . .

If you’re looking for some interesting dinner conversation topics, let me point you to Open Culture’s listing of free online courses. There’s still time to brush up on early American history, your reading of Marx, and organic chemistry (I threw that last one in there just to save us all from a total mealtime family fight; you’re welcome). If music is more your thing, here’s a link to download (for free!) Bach’s complete organ works. For your post-meal stupor, you can also check out this amazing library of mathematics clips from movies. Let it never be said that I don’t come bearing gifts!

Thanksgiving also marks the start of the holiday shopping season. Considering a new camera or other gadget? Here’s a quick rundown on cameras and camera types – perhaps you’ll soon be using your own pictures to illustrate points in your lectures and slides, thereby avoiding cheesy stock images and impersonal clip art. Considering something from the kindle family? Both ProfHacker and the New York Times’ David Pogue have written about the latest releases – reviews worth reading, indeed.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Teaching grab bag

The best of internet, just for you:

What to teach? Great post about the arbitrary nature of course / textbook content. Bonus that the author references her course’s own learning outcomes! Looking at the learning outcomes is a great guide when you are thinking about how to mix things up with activities and content. While throwing out the textbook may not be for you, thinking about what you could do in doing without the usual suspects is a great little experiment. Plus–as she points out–the ease and speed of internet research easily allows students and instructors to focus on the interesting, puzzling, and often-overlooked ideas, events, and inventions.

Second, check out the non-profit Khan Academy. Instructional videos from a trusted source, widely used and widely reviewed The Khan academy started when the founder, a former hedge fund manager with degrees from MIT and Harvard, began helping his cousin with math by posting his own videos online. Not all videos are college-level (there’s a fair amount of developmental math, arithmetic, and test prep), but you can also find extensive videos on specific art works (for example, the Bayeux Tapestry, O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree, and Gerhard Richter’s September), biology topics (Photosynthesis: Calvin Cycle, Saltatory Conduction in Neurons, and Cytotoxic T Cells – just to name a few), and topics in organic chemistry, calculus, etc. The videos vary in length; the ones I’ve seen ranged from 6 – 14 minutes. The history offerings are a little thin, and there’s not much in foreign language, social sciences, or literature. However, if there’s an appropriate video on a topic covered in one of your courses, this seems like a great way to get discussion started.

What to do when the best laid plans go awry. On those days when technology conspires to sink a great lecture or activity, what do to do (check the comments on the article). Other than not panicking and taking a few deep breaths, do you have a favorite lifesaver trick for a technology mishap? Please enlighten us in the comments!

When all else fails (or, always). Humor. In the classroom. Do you script your jokes into your lecture or your slides? Go for something off the cuff? Just share a funny comic? Apparently, there are 22 different kinds of humor used in educational settings—no joke (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). The bottom line? Humor done right is good: it creates a relaxing classroom environment and keeps students’ attention. But trying too hard or making offensive jokes? Not funny.

For extra credit. Not a believer in extra credit? Happy to hand it out to students doing extra work? For a round-up of a recent discussion on this topic, there’s this article – and the one referenced in that piece that started the controversy. As the semester draws to a close, extra credit certainly becomes a more pressing topic in the minds of some students. But, really, I just want to share with you this story of a sixth grader making two popular apps (plus giving a pretty popular TEDx talk). He did this just by playing with the iPhone software development kit. Someone, somewhere, give this kid–and his parents and teachers–some extra credit! I’m a total sucker for these stories of students inventing apps, and while the Justin Bieber Whac-A-Mole game and the Earth Fortune-teller app might not have a ton of educational merit, his conclusions are worth considering: “These days, students know a little bit more than teachers [about] technology . . . Educators should recognize this resource and make good use of it.” So, here’s your extra credit question for the comments: how do you make use of your students’ technological capacities?

Educational Technology Survey Data

Two interesting surveys out this morning.

First, the data from Emerging EdTech’s survey on Educational Technologies that Impact Student Learning. Over 70% of their respondents are in secondary or higher education. Although the needs of the two groups aren’t identical, here’s what they said regarding which technologies can make the biggest difference (you can click on the image to enlarge it):

Bar graph of popular educational technologies. Top three: professional development, internet access, mobile technologies.

Second, and more specifically,  Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011 list has been finalized. The top tool? Twitter. We’ll definitely be covering Twitter-related topics in the coming weeks!

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011

Also, check out her cool breakdown of the winners and losers – pretty interesting to see the year-to-year change for some of the tools.

Accessibility, Equal Access, and the ADA (part three)

How do you know how accessible your content is? Here is a 6-step process that will give you a decent sense of things, courtesy of the good folks at the MIT Assistive Technology Information Center:

  1. Turn off images in your browser (make sure image place holders are turned on)
  2. Turn off support for JavaScript
  3. Try to navigate without a mouse, using only your tab key
  4. Try to change the standard font colors and styles in your browser
  5. Try to increase the font size by using the browser (view > text size > increase)
  6. Turn off support for stylesheets

If you’ve done the above steps and your site still makes sense, then you are on the right path. If you’d like a more extensive checklist, complete with examples, the WebAIM initiaive has one.

Here’s a long list of accessibility evaluation tools. Note that if you are going to be checking multiple web pages, a toolbar plugin is the preferred method. A toolbar plugin will allow you to check password-protected pages and pages with dynamically generated content. Here’s a good website evaluation tool – note that there’s also the option to download a Firefox toolbar and a beta version of a Dreamweaver extension. As you evaluate your content, you may find it helpful to consider the standards for federal websites, which serve as a decent baseline for the rest of us.

What does success look like? Here are two websites that have won awards for their accessibility to people with disabilities: The Rose Project and Bay Area Rapid Transit.

Last, for those individuals wishing to dig deeper, here’s a nice look at current case law and higher education institutions – everything  from service dogs to computerized tests to diagnosing disabilities. The links on the left-hand side of the page also provides a great overview of the ADA as it applies to universities.

(This is part of a series of posts on this topic. The first post offered an introductory look at disabilities in the higher education context; the second post covered accessible design principles.)

The price is right

Here are a few free items that might make your eLearning life a little easier.

1. From Enspire Learning, a free ebook on case studies for the medical and healthcare fields. These are snapshots of the custom ecourses Enspire has created for healthcare industry firms, but a clever instructor could adapt the problem-solving paradigm in order to make these scenarios applicable to a classroom setting. (Note that there’s also a free End-of-life Nursing scenario on their demo page.)

2. Mobile email can be associated with sloppy proofreading and short, brusque sentences. No more! Read about free text expansion options – including something super-easy for iOS5 users. Now you can compose your own shorthand for “please carefully review your paper for spelling, grammar, and citation errors” when you answer multiple student emails on the go.

3. Quick tech tip for Office 2010 users: did you know there’s a built-in screen capture feature? The screenshot tool is located on the Insert tab, and you have the option to snag your whole screen or just one open window. The selected image is then automatically pasted into your Office document and the image editing menus appear. Cool, huh? Talk about an easy way to get tables, charts, etc. into your documents or presentations!

Mixing it up

We’re past mid-terms, but not yet into the final stretch. This is the time in the semester when the work can pile on and things can start to feel monotonous – for both instructors and students. Here are a few ways to vary the learning experience.

First, check out the Pikme iphone app. This is a free app that will help insure that you are calling on your face-to-face students equitably. It will randomly select students from a list, using all names once before it repeats any.

Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center has a nice review of the app:

To set up the app, enter a name for a course or group in one of the five available positions. Then tap the class name and enter student names. There’s no way to import a list, but you can attach a photo to each student.

To use the app, select a class to bring up the student list and then shake the phone. It will randomly pick a student without repeating from the list. Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust this to, say, allow you to call on a student twice before repeating the list, so the farther down the roll you go, the less surprised people are going to be.

You have the option to rate student responses on a three-point scale and store the ratings. Later on you can view a student’s average rating, see the total number of questions asked and reset the ratings. There’s no way to see an entire class’ ratings at once – you have to go student-by-student.

The review does note that the app does require a lot of clicks to get things done, so do consider that. You can also find another review of the app at ProfHacker.  Something else about the app? It was written by an engineering professor and two of his students. Talk about useful, applied learning!


Second, what about doing some different in-class activities to help students with their presentations and papers?

Presentation-wise, here’s a great small-group set-up to help students practice their presentations. The article doesn’t specifically mention technology, but you could encourage students to practice with PowerPoint, web videos, or other technology they plan on using. Students could then get some feedback not only about their content and speaking style, but also about how their use of technology was helping (or hurting) their ability to communicate with the audience. In fact, if one had enough resources, the instructor could even get video coverage of each of the four corners, so that students could also review their own practice presentations.

Paper-wise, here’s an efficient workshop set-up to help students with a portion of their final papers. I like that the workshop is narrowly focused (say, on only the introduction or conclusion of a student’s paper) and that the writer has the opportunity to hear from many different readers. A second appealing point is the direction to only give the writer “one specific piece of advice” about improving the paper. In fact, since our student writers often make many of the same mistakes, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be possible to create some kind of shared class list of all the feedback (while simultaneously retaining the connection between the feedback and the paper). Twitter? Something within one’s course shell? A Google spreadsheet? The goal would be for students to benefit both from the comments aimed specifically at their papers, and for them to have access to the whole-class suggestion list. Do you have any thoughts on the most efficient and accessible way to make this happen?