New Year, New Semester

As the holiday season winds to a close, it’s time to gear up for next semester. Whether your courses begin next week or in a few more weeks, here’s a round-up of posts on reflecting, re-focusing, and recharging in the coming year.

To get us started, here are two great posts from The Teaching Professor Blog. The first touches on the benefits of the academic calendar in terms of tacking stock: “I think there are decided advantages to professions like teaching with clear beginnings, endings, and spaces in between.” The calendar provides us with a valuable gift in this season; no sense in squandering that. The second blog post focuses on the purpose and benefits of reflection. According to the author, reflection offers:

[A] way to take the fragments of a day, a week, a course, several courses, or a whole semester and pull those separate experiences together. What happens in one course on one day may well be connected to what happened another day in another course. What happens with one group of students may be explained by what has happened with other students, but separated by time, space and intervening activity, the links are easily missed.

Here are some reflection questions to help you connect that dots (the questions are drawn loosely from this post):
1. What reading or assignment was most successful this semester? Why?
2. Which unit, lecture, or topic did you really enjoy teaching this term? Which one did you least enjoy? How might you use those insights to rearrange or revise the course contents next time? Did this relationship hold true for your students? Why or why not?
3. What role did technology play in your connection with your students and their connection with the content? Is there room for improvement? Were there hiccups? How could those be avoided?
4. What has surprised you most this term?
5. What do you hope your students are taking away from the course this term?
6. What one piece of advice do you want to offer yourself for the next time you teach this course?

You probably also have some student evaluations rolling your way. ProfHacker has collected all their wisdom on student evaluations: when to read them, how to work with the data, what to do with them, etc.

Reflection helps us go forward confidently. However, reflection (and its relative, the act of recharging) needn’t be solitary endeavors. Here’s one blogger singing the praises of meaningful conversations with one’s colleagues as a way to recharge.

In an age when we are almost constantly connected to one another through social media, texting, and e-mail, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are surrounded by people who are giving us the energy to recharge. Not so. Deep conversations are the true energy source – we are powered up by  face-to-face, real-time, extended discussions and debates with people who share our
passions . . . . I don’t need more electronic connections in my life as much as I need a recommitment to real conversation. I too often eat lunch at my desk and hesitate to ask for time to bounce ideas around with others. I don’t reach out often enough to those people who I know are working on similar projects.

So, where to go with all this newfound knowledge? This is a really thoughtful post on five easy things you can do to your course. Note that the original post (and hence the “easy” label) comes from a discussion of changes you can make to your course over the summer. So, while making all of these changes over winter break is probably overly ambitious, making a few of them in response to insights from your own reflections, student feedback, and conversations with colleagues might be just right.

Holiday Fun

Vacation is in there air, so I thought I’d share with you two of the best holiday elearning / technology-themed posts I’ve seen recently.

The Twelve Days of Ed Tech Christmas:
Edtech gifts, to the tune of the Twelve Days of ChristmasFrom Merry Textmas, Everyone:
You’ve uploaded festive jpegs on LinkedIn
Thrown your cards and postage in the litter bin
Read your granny’s tweets to tell ya that the old songs are the best,
She’s downloaded them from Youtube with the rest

And, just in case the holidays have you feeling a little down, check out this video of Sir David Attenborough reading “What a Wonderful World” (yes, the Louis Armstrong classic). As you might expect, the cinematography is totally stunning.

Twitter: Going beyond the basics

Our previous post about Twitter covered what Twitter is and provided some resources for using Twitter in your teaching. Perhaps you have already dipped your toe into the Twitter waters, but would like to go a bit further. This post will cover ways to use Twitter as a scholar as well as some popular Twitter apps.

On the scholarly research front, professors have used Twitter to ask for research help, crowd-source specific research questions, locate resources / datasets / equipment, assist in finding information related to field work sites, and share ideas or research questions in a soft form of peer review. Twitter is a quick and relatively painless way to access a network of scholars who may care about and be researching the very topics you are interested in exploring.

You can also use Twitter to boost your own professional profile, sharing news of grants, publications, and invited lectures. Your tweets could also promote upcoming events in your department, lab, or research center, as well as trumpet the success of your colleagues or graduate students. This kind of publicity can help connect you or your department with an audience outside of your narrow sub-field: external funding sources, the mainstream media, and prospective students. Additionally, you can use Twitter to stay current with former students.

Many professional conferences have adopted conference-specific hashtags on Twitter. You can track which individuals are coming, see what panels they are most excited about, share information about key receptions, and review or share comments and links. This sort of Twitter backchannel can also provide virtual overview of a conference that interests you, but you aren’t able to attend.

Here are a few Twitter apps to help you get the most out of your Twitter time and followers.

1.  Twitpic: Upload photos or videos and share them directly to Twitter; Twitpic is free and uses your same Twitter login and password, but you may want to review the terms of use regarding your uploaded photos.

2.  Twtpoll: Paid service that lets you author polls or surveys and share them with Twitter followers, Facebook friends or email contacts.

3.  GroupTweet: Create a classroom Twitter group, where anyone who is authorized and has a Twitter account can contribute. This can be a great way to link together class-related tweeting and create a course-specific presence on Twitter. The service is free, with a premium pay option that allows you moderate messages before they are shared.

4.  FollowerWonk: The free access provides summary information for any of Twitter user’s followers and it lets you compare information about different Twitter users. You can examine what’s trending among followers in specific locations, across age or student groups, by topic or even by groups of keywords. There are a variety of paid plans that provide additional analytics capabilities, including the ability to analyze your own Twitter presence.

5. The Archivist: Creates visualizations of twitter use by using the Twitter search engine to search for your specified term. Note that the archivist cannot go back in time to review tweet trends – it will only collect data forward from the date you start archiving. If you are looking for something more comprehensive, you can check out HootSuite, although it is geared more toward business / marketing use.

Are you doing something exciting with Twitter or Twitter apps? Let us know in the comments!

Twitter: Just the (Teaching) Facts, Please

Is Twitter something you are considering using, but you aren’t quite sure where to begin?

Twitter is a public micro-blogging tool that allows you to broadcast and receive 140-character messages from your computer or cell phone. Messages, called “tweets”, are – by default – public and visible to anyone, unless you change the settings. Individuals who have subscribed to you (the act known as “following”) can see your tweet, and you receive a timeline of messages from all those whom you are following. Unlike on Facebook, following is not reciprocal:  that is, you can follow a celebrity, politician, or author without him or her following you in return. You can also join your tweets to a larger conversation by using a hashtag (#), for example #wintervacation. Clicking on a hashtag brings up a list of all the tweets that have used it—including tweets from users you don’t follow.

The key points to remember are that these messages can be created and read on cellphones, meaning Twitter is a highly mobile technology; and that each tweet is limited to 140 characters. That means the writer needs to be concise, but must do so without sacrificing clarity or substance.

If you’re totally new to Twitter, you might want to check out this intro video on Howcast, which nicely covers some Twitter basics.
[howcast url=’http://www.howcast.com/videos/149055-How-To-Use-Twitter’ height=’240′ width=’360′]
(note that the video is preceded by a short advertisement)

On the teaching front, professors have used Twitter strengthen connections with students, continue the discussion outside of the physical or virtual classroom, update students on class news or world news with class relevance, share resources, and apply class concepts (via submitting weekly questions, tweeting while reading an assignment or listening to a presentation, or creating public relations campaigns or other relevant course assignments).

Here is the experience of one marketing professor:

Despite engaging with my online students on discussion boards and over e-mail, I still felt a lack of true connection compared with my experiences with on-campus students. I felt unfulfilled as a professor, and I wondered how my online students felt about their connection with me . . . I decided to find new pedagogical methods to improve online engagement. I quickly saw potential in the rising popularity of Twitter. I decided, for my next online course on strategic electronic marketing, to use Twitter instead of the discussion boards included with my college’s course-management software.

She used twitter to connect her online and on-campus students, having them share their final projects and reflections on dedicated twitter feed.

Her assessment?

*   Twitter’s avatar feature allows for head shots, which helped humanize our tweets. This feature, absent from plain-text responses used on other online discussion boards, helped make the process more personal.

*   Twitter allows real-time discussion among students and instructors. The format allowed me to offer constructive criticism and ensure that their conversations remained on track during the project.

*   Twitter creates a community. It enabled my students to communicate with one another during the semester as they shared their successes and struggles.

*   Twitter can help bridge the gap between online and on-campus students. My on-campus and online students followed their classmates’ tweets and provided one another with advice and support, from suggestions on how to improve their marketing videos to cheering one another on as the teams reached their campaign milestones.

For a local connection, here is a history professor at UT Dallas and her students discussing their experiences with using Twitter.

Intrigued? There are some great Twitter resources especially for the higher education setting: Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter, A Framework for Teaching with Twitter, 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the College Classroom, Twitter for Academia, 25 Ways to Teach with Twitter, and Twitter in the Literature Classroom.

Here are some resources for getting started. This is a primer just for academics: How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To). The article provides some step-by-step directions for setting up lists and using hashtags – both of these are ways to avoid having all your students tweets appear in your timeline.

Likewise, the London School of Economics has put out a guide about Using Twitter in University Teaching and Research, including a table identifying the elements of different types and styles of tweets. A word of wisdom from our friends across the pond: “It is best not to tweet if you’re feeling ratty late at night and never when drunk either!” Indeed.

Students may not be as familiar as you think with the technology. One professor estimated that about half of her students had never used Twitter before. While this is a hurdle, it can also be part of valuable learning experience – especially for courses on journalism, marketing, and communications. In fields where social media literacy is key, your students will need some familiarity with Twitter. On the other hand, you may also have students who create an entirely separate “school Twitter” account, in order to keep their personal tweets semi-private and their groups of followers distinct.

If some students don’t want to or can’t set up Twitter accounts, you will need to consider making arrangements for all course-related tweets to be accessible to them in some manner.

Last, I’ll leave you with this: 100 Serious Twitter Tips for Academics.

Digital Learning & Digital Grading

Is digital learning changing teaching? Or, perhaps more appropriately phrased, in what ways is digital learning changing teaching? The core of good teaching may be immutable, but that leaves a lot of room for innovation. Here’s a rundown on one expert’s opinion regarding six ways digital learning is changing teaching. Most intriguing for me? This:

“. . . we’re seeing a general shift from didactic instruction to more interactive learning experiences. With growing adoption of adaptive tools, leveled tasks, learning apps, and flipped classrooms, more students are doing more asynchronous and self-directed learning.  This means teachers are doing less delivery and more curriculum architecture, [serving as] advisors as well as instructors.”

I’m not sure instructors are doing less delivery with digital learning; after all, who is providing the content and context for those leveled tasks, learning apps, and simulations? But it is true that embracing some of these digital tools can dramatically change the ways in which content delivery happens. I think that’s promising and exciting.

Now on to something that – on the face of it – is less exciting for many of us: grading (cue the gloomy music. . .). Here’s a blog post by a professor who has moved to having his students submit nearly all their work online. Perhaps you are thinking,”that won’t work for me, I teach math / science / statistics / biology / economics / etc.” and my students have problem sets and calculations to submit. This professor? He teaches calculus. His argument is that going digital saves time, saves money and resources, and saves him from suspiciously missing and misplaced submissions. He details how he adds comments to Word and PDF files (accounting for versions and Mac/PC differences), and even how he records short, individualized videos for feedback on student work.

Lectures and Exams

First, here’s a great-rundown on how to record lecture introductions that you can then upload to YouTube and embed in your course shell. You could use this both in an exclusively online course or in your course shell to set the stage for something you do/present in a face-to-face class. She uses iMovie, but you could use any video recording program to which you have access. Note that she also directs you to link to the files using YouTube’s embed code. We have some LearningStudio-specific directions on how to do this, just in case you need more information.

Second, exam time approaches. Multiple-choice questions are a common exam element, both for online and in-person courses. Here’s a great post on writing multiple-choice questions for higher-level thinking. Yes, it starts with the well-trodden ground of Bloom’s taxonomy, but it ends with some helpful and focused tips.

December 2011 Newsletter

The December Koehler Center Newsletter is now out. Contents include:

  • Interesting Snapshot : Academic Rigor at TCU
  • Learning Outcomes: Learning Outcomes and Mental Models
  • Teaching Excellence News: The Impact of Academic Challenge and High Expectations
  • Articles & Books: What Makes Your College Worth $35,000 a Year?
  • eLearning News: Spring 2012 Pearson LearningStudio Shell Requests, Take your Course Shell to the Next Level using Google tools