Your Internet Costume

Happy Halloween! This Halloween post may not be as gory as last year’s Halloween blog post, but the issue of one’s internet identity (real, imagined, or embellished) seems like a good fit on a day of costumes and mischief.

First, check out On the Internet, I am a Ballerina, from the Texas Wesleyan Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. I would like to take this moment to assure you that no matter what you find about me on the internet, in real life I am a ballerina. And a professional chef. And an award-winning undersea photographer. Kidding. Or not. Trick or treat, right? In all seriousness, the post above has some great tips and resources that you might share with your students to help them manage their digital identities – an increasingly important concern for those seeking employment or graduate school admission.

However, it’s not just about the students. I know a faculty member who had a prospective department Google his name, find his wedding registry from several years prior, skim the registry for the information the registrants had listed about themselves, click on the link to the bride’s travel blog, and then spend some time reading the blog. All’s well that ends well: the blog was fairly innocuous, the applicant did get a job offer from said department, and life has proceeded swimmingly. But the eerie part about the whole scenario? All this happened when the faculty member was in a heightened state of awareness about his digital identity and privacy. How about those of us a few years distant from the job market? I know I’m not as a vigilant as I once was. Or how about those of us who found our jobs years before this was such a concern? Perhaps it’s time to give the above link and embedded resources a peek. For a faculty-specific take on this, Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center has a great piece on your online persona as a faculty member. ProfHacker has also covered the subject of creating and maintaining a professional presence online.

If you’re a Twitter user, here is some specific insight on managing your academic Twitter identity.

If you’re a Facebook user, you might find this short independent video about Facebook and your internet identity interesting:

If you’re a believer in the whole the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense strategy, this is a nice summary of what you might want to put on your faculty website. If you’ve already set up a website, the suggestions can serve as a good checklist. In addition to helping you control your own digital identity, a good faculty website can help your students, colleagues, and interested community or media members learn about and contact you.

Regarding your students, here are some strategies to let your personality shine through in your course shells. Note that you don’t have to wear a costume or create an online personality out of thin air (“this year I want to be . . . Beowulf Professor!”). Rather, all you need to do is share the most engaging version of yourself. An easy way to get started with this is to include a sparkling instructor bio with a photograph or some audio / video footage of yourself. More specifically, the Koehler Center has some information, tips, and templates for creating instructor bios.

Now that we’ve gotten the essential pieces out of the way, I want to leave you with a little metaphysical candy treat. Below is a video from Alan Levine, the Vice President and Community Technology Officer of the New Media Consortium. The video is longer than most we share here, but it’s a great philosophical exploration of our online, offline, and in between identities – and the way we actively shape them and the way they are shaped for us. (Is this the process of being disembodied? Or unified? Who’s wearing the costume now?)

Threaded Discussions and Case Studies

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to look inside a few course shells and see some very inventive ways that our professors are using the the LearningStudio threaded discussion tool. Threaded discussions are great for online courses, as this is a way that students can interact with each other and engage with the material. Threaded discussions can also be used in face-to-face classes to continue or to prepare for an in class discussion; to support the evaluation of sources, theories, or methodologies; or for other course-specific goals.

I’ve noticed that quite a few faculty members are framing threaded discussion questions around case studies. What a wonderful way to allow students to apply course concepts, to place all students into the role of both teacher (as they share their approach to the situation) and learner (as they read and engage with the responses of classmates), and to provide students with opportunities to work beyond the stated objectives (for example, researching the pros and cons of a suggested course of action) or to improve their performance (by breaking their response into more manageable pieces/posts and seeing the work of successful students).

A well-written case study is an act of digital story-telling, drawing the students in and getting them invested in using their new-found knowledge to asses a given situation. Here are some other attributes of successful case study scenarios. In particular, I think it would be helpful to look at this list as one formulated a case study discussion question and then again as one moderated or monitored the discussion later.

Good discussion questions tend to beget good discussions. Nothing invites a quick skim of discussion board responses like asking your students what they found interesting / surprising / new in a given set of readings. As the instructor, you may gain some useful insights from this, but your students likely aren’t applying any skills, nor are they really getting to know one another or thinking deeply about the content. Questions about the application of new material, how course knowledge will change a student’s thinking / approach to a problem, hypotheticals and counter-factuals, practice taking the perspective of an “other”, and requirements that students acknowledge and then balance competing priorities – all these can be embedded in a case study. Best, case study prompts built around the above approaches offer the opportunity to put course concepts in context and for students to meaningfully engage with one another in discussion post after discussion post.

Note that the Koehler Center workshop schedule will include training on the LearningStudio threaded discussion tool; Spring 2013 dates will be posted soon.

Teaching with Videos

We write about videos with some degree of frequency. And, well, why not? Videos are great ways to introduce yourself or the course, transition to new content or concepts, and address class themes and discussion points. In addition, the right video content can provide an experience beyond the classroom walls or course shell.

Consider this infographic about the impact of video in education, courtesy of the networking / communications / collaboration company Cisco Systems:

Inforgraphic provided by Cisco systems on benefits and prevalence of videos in education

If you’re considering using or creating a video for your course (perhaps as part of a flipped classroom experience or experiment), this list of different styles for integrating video content into your course may help you think about your goals and starting point. In particular, instructor-created video can be much more than a recorded lecture. Note that the last video integration style mentioned might also be read as “Video Engages Interested Others” – meaning community members, colleagues, university administrators, etc.

This is a list of 15 eLearning video tips. Some of them, such as using actors, probably aren’t practical on the individual course level. However, the points about having a transcript available (an important accessibility concern), the optimal length of videos, and establishing the context for your video are all well worth reading. Aimed more at faculty producing their own videos, this list of video tips for faculty is a great pre-recording checklist. I just love condensed tip lists like this: it’s as if someone has already made the mistakes and is now sharing their pearls of wisdom, saving you from mediocre results!

Note that the Koehler Center has some information about recording your own content and uploading it to your Pearson LearningStudio course shell.

Of course, not all videos need to star you or your students. There are several animation options that allow you to upload an image of your own or work with selected sets of avatars. Need a comical take on two molecules joining together? Want to create a funny little animation of two historical or literary characters to start a class discussion? This is a summary of five easy animation tools; these tools are aimed at young students, but that means the learning curve for the new tools should be quite feasible. In the context of creating your own animations, I’d also be remiss not to mention Xtranormal – perhaps the most popular easy web animation tool.

If integrating existing videos is your preference, this list of curated educational internet video sources is a good starting point. In addition, the Koehler Center has collected an extensive list of internet streaming video resources that may be helpful. Last, I just found out about the website Documentary Heaven the other day. The site gathers and embeds documentaries available elsewhere on the internet, serving as a sort of clearinghouse for streaming documentaries.

If you are thinking about working with existing video, this is an intriguing article from the Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary about recording your own audio commentary to accompany video resources. Providing your own audio track means that students can stop the video, take notes, rewind, re-watch, and re-listen to your insights as many times as needed. This is a great alternative to the pace of in-class film screenings, with the added bonus of allowing you to use class time for other learning activities. Likewise, you can also ask students to create a commentary of their own for short segments of videos – a great way for them to demonstrate their skills and apply course content.

If you are TCU faculty and have a Pearson LearningStudio course shell, here are the how-to guides for embedding audio and video content in your course shell.

As always, we’d love to hear what video resources you’re using and how you’re using them!

Backing up your Data

Whenever I think of losing electronic data, I’m always reminded of this story about a graduate student who had her purse – containing a thumb drive with the only copy of her thesis data – stolen. The miraculous part of this story is that the determined and desperate grad student retraces the thief’s steps based on charges made to her credit cards, goes dumpster diving, and finds the purse with the thumb drive still in it. 

I love a cosmic good luck story. Luck and dumpster diving are, however, horrible data back-up strategies. At this point in the semester, the work you’ve done (lectures, handouts, simulation directions, exam questions, essay prompts etc.) is starting to accumulate. Equally important, your students are starting to accumulate grades. It’s never too early to back all this up. I’m also of the school that there are never too many different secure places to have your data backed up. If you are TCU faculty and have your gradebook in LearningStudio, here is some documentation from the Koehler Center on exporting your LearningStudio gradebook. This is a wise thing to do before making any changes to your gradebook or to assignments that are linked to the gradebook, after entering grades, and at set intervals throughout the semester.

Where would you put your back-ups? For TCU student data, such as grades, keeping things within the TCU network is the safest option. You can use local space on your personal TCU computer and TCU network file space (the M: drive).

Items related to your own teaching and research are, of course, welcome on the M: drive as well. Note that network space there is limited – although you can request a quota increase if needed. We’ve also written about various data back-up solutions before, including Dropbox (note that this a stand-alone product, not to be confused with the electronic assignment submission tool of the same name that is found within LearningStudio course shells). This is a nice, short piece about Dropbox in educational contexts, and here are five specific ways you can use Dropbox.

I wanted to draw your attention to Dropbox in the context of this post on data back-up because Dropbox is currently giving away an extra 3GB of free storage for two years to anyone with a .edu address. There’s also a school-based incentive program in which the more people from your school that sign up and review the Get Started Guide, the more space all Dropbox users at your school earn. Here are the specific terms of that deal. Whether or not you’re interested in those incentives, the 3GB is there for the taking, even for existing Dropbox users. Here is the sign-up page.

Educational Android Apps

We’ve shared a fair amount of iPhone and iPad apps with you recently. While most of the apps we’ve reviewed also work on other devices, this Android-focused list of educational apps is a nice, specific collection. I especially like that the list is broken down by age level and app function. Gamma rays, guitar chords, and graphing calculators – bring it on!

If you’re interested in more apps, you might review the list of mobile and tablet apps collected by the Koehler Center team. We’ve highlighted both discipline-specific apps and apps for note-taking, reading, writing, organization, studying, and collaboration.

Mid-Semester Course Evauations

As we approach the middle of the semester, fall is in the air (well, at least it was last weekend). Perfect timing, of course, for a mid-semester evaluation in your courses.

ProfHacker offers some sample mid-semester evaluation questions. Whether you use their general questions or tailor things more toward your course content, format, technology use, etc., the basic benefit remains: mid-semester course evaluations give you the opportunity to address / explain / fix things for your current students while you still can. SPOTs are helpful, certainly, for thinking about how you’ll work with the next group of students – but since they come at the end of the semester, they are generally less beneficial for the individual students themselves. The mid-semester evaluation is an opportunity for your present group of students to have some agency in the structure of their own learning experiences. Do they know they can make an appointment with you if they have class during office hours? Do you need to define new terms more frequently? Do they like your use of cartoons? Good to know!

If you’re sold on the idea, but would like to read a little more about mid-semester evaluations before you give it a try, you may find our earlier post on mid-semester course evaluations helpful. Also, the Koehler Center’s Take Your Course Shell to the Next Level series has addressed Making the Most of Mid-Semester Evaluations. In addition to providing a sample Google Forms Mid-Semester survey template, that article also suggests the option of using an online survey site, such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey. You can still use those survey generators, but note that TCU has recently partnered with the survey research firm Qualtrics to provide an integrated survey tool accessible to faculty and staff through my.tcu (select Main Menu > Qualtrics).

Cool Tools (On the TCU Campus)

If you’re here at TCU, I recommend checking out the monthly brown bag sessions offered by the TCU New Media Writing Studio on free digital tools. I attended the first one of these last week; you can find upcoming dates listed on the New Media Writing Studio workshop schedule.

In the hour-long session, three presenters shared how they each use a different tool to improve their teaching and research. Discussion was informal, with plenty of time for questions, clarification, and examples.

The tools covered were:

Join.me: A simple, quick screen-sharing tool. The individual sharing his/her screen downloads some basic free software, while viewers need only navigate to the join.me webpage and enter a designated nine-digit code to see the shared screen. Clearly useful when viewers are not in the same physical location, this tool also has broad applicability for face-to-face classes. For example, the instructor or student presenter can bypass plugging a personal machine or thumb drive into the projector by navigating to join.me on the classroom computer’s web browser, entering the code, and then projecting the shared screen – progression through the presentation or other content is actually controlled from a personal laptop or tablet elsewhere in the classroom. The ability to manipulate content on the classroom projector while not standing at the podium allows for greater flexibility regarding how classroom space can be used: students and the instructor can sit together in a circle or around a seminar table. Likewise, students who bring their own devices to class can enter the designated screen sharing code and then view the speaker’s content on their own screens – no need to face the front of the classroom at all! Last, screen sharing, instead of directly attempting to load files on the classroom computer, can also help to avoid version or software compatibility issues that might arise from attempting to open content created on a different machine.

Diigo: A link aggregating and organizing tool, complete with sharing and social networking features.  In order to use Diigo, you place a small toolbar on your browser, and then save and tag websites that catch your eye. You also have the ability to share your links with groups you create or preexisting Diigo groups you can join. Likewise, you can see other links saved by individuals who also saved your initial link, allowing you to perhaps discover relevant, related content. The ability to search your links by tag (or keyword) is what makes Diigo so versatile; a saved bookmark can generally exist in only one folder, but a given Diigo link can have multiple tags. You can then search your all your links for a specific tag or search all user-saved Diigo links for a specific tag. Additionally, since your Diigo bookmarks live in the cloud, they are available to you no matter your location or device. Basic Diigo membership is free and comes with unlimited bookmarking and some advertising; upgraded plans with no advertising and increased highlighting, note-taking, and searching powers cost $20-$40 per year (note that there are also educator upgrades available).

PBworks: We’ve written about wikis on this blog already, but a good tool bears repeating! PbWorks is a wiki hosting service that allows you to create a free, basic wiki for educational / non-commercial use. Wikis are great tools for organizing your teaching and professional materials. Instead of collecting items in folders or sub-folders by class or year, you can put up a wiki page with your notes or upload and link to relevant files. A wiki organized topically like this means that if you cover the same topic in multiple courses over a period of years, there’s no need to go hunting for content – it’s all linked together, based on relationships you establish among the files and wiki pages. Likewise, as you gather materials for research or professional projects of your own, a wiki can help you store and organize files, web links, and your own typed notes. While the wiki grows over time, you never need to worry about losing your notes or files, as these are no longer stored on your local machine; you can access your files from home, work, or using your mobile / tablet device. Complete with tagging features, the ability to search the contents of the entire wiki, and privacy controls (including allowing comments and sharing editing rights), wikis have some real advantages over simply storing files or taking notes on your local machine.

If cool tools like this have piqued your interest, you might be interested in the multimedia and teaching tools collected by the Koehler Center team. We’ve broken these tools down into audio, video, collaboration, digital storytelling, graphics, presentations and slidecasts, social networking, mobile and tablet apps, and an exciting grab bag of other web 2.0 tools (maps, calculators, study aids, etc.) that defy neat classification. You’re sure to find something interesting!