Co-Teaching Online

It seems that Spring semester classes have just begun (and they have!), but this also means that scheduling the for the Fall term is well underway. If you are presently co-teaching a class or considering doing so in the fall, check out this article on Strategies for Success for Online Co-Teaching.

The executive summary? Multiple instructors can often provide more immediate feedback to students, meet the needs of diverse learners, and offer varied perspectives to students. Instructors can also help each other by providing concrete instructional feedback; by engaging in reflective discussions about teaching, learning, and the course objectives, thereby fighting the isolation that may accompany being an online instructor; and by sharing scholarly resources. Effective communication, fidelity to the stated learning objectives, and a commitment to equitably share the workload are key.

Mixing it up

This is a post from the Pearson blog about providing different types of feedback to your students. However, the real gems of the post are the three different tools they review:

1. VoiceThread – Touting itself as “conversations in the cloud”, VoiceThread offers a way for you and your students to communicate about a slideshow; your slideshow can include video and audio files, documents, spreadsheets, and web content. There is no software to install, and the program accepts comments via voice, text, and audio and video files. Pearson suggests this like “your discussion board on steroids”. The cost is $99/year for 1 instructor and 50 student accounts, with departmental pricing also available.

2. xtimeline – Timelines are great ways to relate the causes and effects of various events, evaluate parallel events, and organize information. xtimeline is a free, web-based timeline program that allows the author to create a timeline on any subject. Images can be imported from the web and text can be written by the author or added from online sources. Multiple students can work together on one timeline and embed code is provided, so timelines can be added directly to your course shell.

3. Mind42 – Representing clusters of ideas and inter-related concepts can be tricky – even more so online and collaboratively. Mind42 offers a web-based visual thinking application; data is stored in the cloud. There are many different style and color options to allow for the customization of different nodes and their relationships. There’s also a publish option that provides a read-only view, complete with embed code. The free option has a limit of 5 maps per user at any given time.

If you are using any these – or end up trying one – we’d love to hear about it!

Phone Hackers

Do you worry about your smartphone being hacked? Or do you surf the internet with abandon in public places? I admit that I often do the latter (and rarely the former!).

Apparently, we should be judicious with our installation of apps and carefully read terms of service. The very paranoid among us may want to serially replace their SIM cards.

What do you think? What do you do to keep your smartphone safe? Have you thought about what sort of data could be compromised?

Café versus Cafe

One is a lovely place for a leisurely, sunny lunch – and the other is just a dark, misspelled word for “cave”.

I kid, but, hey, I was a French major once upon a time. But, seriously, do those special characters break up the flow of your writing when using the default U.S. keyboard? Good news – especially if you’re a Mac user. From ProfHacker:

CharacterPal . . . provides a small reference for typing the character you want. Once you download and install the widget, you simply find the character that you’re looking for, hover the mouse over that character, and it displays the keyboard combination that you’ll use to generate it. In addition to keyboard combinations, the widget can also show you the HTML code that corresponds to your choice. All that, and it’s free!

If you’re a Windows user, you can go widget-free via the character map (accessories  → system tools → character Map).

Now go enjoy some crème brûlée!

iBooks, Group Work, & Science Goodies

Things in the edtech world that caught my eye this week: the Apple iBooks announcement, the New York Times’ piece on group work (okay, that was last week, but, hey, classes started, things were busy, etc.), and some neat science tools.

First, iBooks. Big announcement from Apple this week that they are going to enter the digital textbook publishing arena. The goal is to make interactive, easy-to-update digital textbooks available on iPads, aiming at the K-12 market as well as higher education. iPads, of course, aren’t cheap. This pricing structure may be a major hurdle, given K-12 budgets in the US; interestingly enough, Apple is suggesting that the students themselves – not the schools districts – would own the books. I’m not sure how that is going to play out. The books themselves are to cost less than $20, and publishing giants like McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have already signed up to let their titles participate.

In terms of something that may have a greater immediate impact on higher education, Apple has also introduced software, iAuthor, for individuals who wish to publish their own textbooks. MindShift offers a great breakdown on what is iAuthor is:

[A]n authoring tool that greatly facilitates the layout of e-book content. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to add text, photos, video, Keynote slides, and even HTML widgets to build an iBook  . . . [F]or the time being at least, this app is Mac (OS X) only. The app itself is free, and after building an e-book, one can upload it to the iBookstore. The textbooks that are built to sell or give away in the iBookstore will be subject to a review process, Apple says, and the company will take its normal “cut” of sales as well as demand exclusivity to their sale. One can bypass the iBookstore by simply emailing the file to another person, who’ll be able to open it with the iBook app.

We’ll talk more about that exclusivity issue in a minute. But this does sound like a decent way to design a course reader, no? In addition, the iTunesU features have been bulked up, allowing for the distribution of more course content, including videos.

Here’s the Apple promo video:

And now for the critical perspectives. Hack Education asks some tough questions about the revolutionizing quality of partnering with established textbook companies, the validity of textbooks versus primary sources, and, as promised, that exclusivity issue. These are all important points, and she’s summed them up very nicely. Also, here’s a great breakdown of the pros and cons of each of the new tools.

Second, on collaboration. Oh, group work: do you love to hate it – or hate to love it? Or are your feelings less complicated? Last Sunday’s New York Times opinion piece by Susan Cain on The Rise of the New Groupthink offered an interesting perspective (also, note the mention of Apple – I’m thematic like that!). In the face of organized groups in schools, workplaces, and worship spaces, the author notes that “privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption” are associated with better individual performances. Group brainstorming runs directly counter to those sessions of sweet silent thought, a fact most upsetting for the creative introverts among us.

Of course, as a society, we may wish to use group work to develop communication and collaboration skills (perhaps even making the accomplishment of the task a secondary goal), since these are, to some degree, necessary skills in our society. We may also benefit from the minds of others to generate fresh ideas, correct our misconceptions, or prevent errors related to our own blind spots. Luckily, she identifies one area where teamwork is especially productive: digital collaboration. There, “protection of the screen mitigates many problems of group work”. Collaborate away!

Last, if you’ve made it this far, it’s dessert time! Two neat science-y tools I found this week: 1) An iPhone app that turns your phone into a seismograph ($.99, found via this list of science iPad science apps); and 2) a free graphing calculator on the web (found via Hack Education)- going far beyond what you’ll get if you just punch an equation into Google, and accessible across many devices. Treats to the first person who inventively combines these goodies! (Let me know in the comments, and we really will hit you up with something.)


Or, you know, almost organized, digitally.

New year, new semester, new resolution to get organized and keep on top of things? Or perhaps you’re ready to make just one technological change that would help you in one area? I have a couple of goodies that I think are worth considering when it comes to getting and staying organized.

First, here’s a lovely round-up of data storage options, nicely broken down by media type. I’m wondering if people have used – and have feedback on – Diigo, SlideShare, Authorstream, or SoundCloud?  Also, keep in mind that if you are here at TCU, you have the option of using your personal network space (the M: drive).

Second, how about when you find a great link using the browser on your smartphone or tablet, but want to review the site more thoroughly when you’re at your computer? What do you do? Bookmark it on said device and then look at that device while manually typing in the address when you’re back at your computer? This might work, but it’s more complicated if you find something on your computer want to review it later on the go on another device. Do you then email the address to yourself? I confess I’m guilty of this on occasion. You can share links through Diigo (mentioned above), but our friends at Profhacker have reviewed SendTab, a way to send links to different devices without the cumbersome email step and without making some kind of permanent comittment to saving the link (via bookmarking, pinning, or favorite-ing). SendTab works via free browser plugins and an iOS app that is $0.99. (Note that there are some syncing issues if you’re using FireFox as your browser.)

Third, if you are using LearningStudio dropbox, this next tip may not be as relevant, since LearningStudio automatically attaches the student’s name + the name of the file to all documents you download from dropbox. However, if you’re using the TurnItIn website, doc sharing, or distributing or saving student files in some other way (say, drafts over email), teaching your students (and yourself!) to use a standard file-naming convention may save you many organizational headaches. After all, sorting out numerous files all named “sociology paper” or “Analysis Review” is no fun – and is even worse if the student hasn’t actually written his or her name in the document itself. One professor noted:

The difference between grading forty files named “paper1.doc” and those same forty files named “StudentName Course PaperTopic.rtf” really adds up over the course of the semester. (Of course, you have to be very specific in your instructions, else you will literally get files named “StudentName Course PaperTopic.rtf,” quotation marks and all!)

I’d also add that some great ideas come out in the comments to this post, in particular the tension between starting your file names more generally with the course and the semester (easier for sorting when one is front of one’s computer, and best for comparing different version of your own files from year to year) and starting your file names more specifically with the particular content “week4labslides” (best for mobile devices whose small screens don’t make viewing long file names easy).

Last, if you have a quick tech organization tip, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Pop Quiz!

Not really. But perhaps that grabbed your attention?

Quizzes are a great way to give rapid feedback to the learners (and to the instructors!). Quizzes also provide verification that learners have, in fact, engaged with specific pieces of content.

This being the start of the semester, it’s the perfect time for a syllabus quiz.

Does this experience sound familiar?

I can ask if anyone has any questions [about the syllabus]. I can look for nodding heads or confusion on faces, and I can address any issues in class. And if I really want to be a stickler, I can have students sign a page stating that they have read and understand the syllabus. . . . That isn’t good enough, I’ve found. I still have students come to me saying that they didn’t realize such-and-such and that it would affect so-and-so.

Syllabus quiz to the rescue! Maybe we need a superhero graphic?