The Students are Coming, the Students are Coming!

These may be the dog days of summer, but the start of school is just around the corner. I don’t mean to be a vacation killjoy: although the first few weeks of the term are busy and stressful, I actually like the excitement and novelty of it all.

In the coming weeks, we’ll have a handful of posts up about relevant back-to-school teaching and technology topics. You can also peruse our entries from last August for posts on everything from Pearson LearingStudio announcements and instructor bios to tips about Google use, uploading audio files, and your syllabus layout. It’s good reading, I promise!

In the meantime, let’s talk about the students.

First, it doesn’t look like the mindset list has been updated yet for the class of 2017, but last year’s list is still there. I promise an update when the new list goes up. As informative and entertaining as the mindset list is, I can’t help but feeling that it also tells us a fair amount about the authors’ own mindsets.

Moving right along, here’s a great graphic illustrating the twelve must-have skills of modern learners.

If students need these skills, this really means that they need to be provided opportunities to practice these skills. How do the big (and small) activities in your courses help students develop these mindsets? Are there ways you could tweak your course activities in order to include one or two of these elements on the way to meeting the course learning objectives?

For example, to give students the opportunity to develop empathy and global stewardship, you might ask them to think about the supply chain for products they are using or the products in their project proposals. What are the ramifications of those choices? Are changes desirable or feasible? To give students practice in developing effective oral and written communication skills, you might consider blogs, tweets, memos, or project pitches as alternatives to the standard papers and presentations.

This list purports to summarize what online students want. However, the key findings – more collaboration, multimedia feedback on a regular schedule, and clear waypoints and guidelines – need not be limited to online or blended learning students. In fact, I think these would be helpful for all students. Best, the brief article lists some concrete ways that instructors can incorporate the above practices.

With all the discussion of digital natives, it’s easy to assume that students are already experts in the learning technologies you are using in your course. This isn’t always the case. In fact, one the questions we are asked most frequently is how students view instructor comments in the Pearson LearningStudio gradebook. In general, without over-explaining or talking down to your students, it’s safest to assume that they may not be familiar with all the features of whatever digital resources you’re using; this goes for first-generation college students and others. As the instructor, you’ll want to provide a basic introduction, and then make sure that help and how-to documentation is available as students set out to work independently.

In closing, I want to share with you this intriguing TEDx video on the fallacy of designing courses with the average student in mind. The speaker is Todd Rose, faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Rose reviews the experience of the U.S. Air Force in designing fighter planes: after intensive research, the Air Force discovered there was no such thing as an “average” fighter pilot. You see where this is going, right? Rose has some great insights about how damaging the notion of “average” is for learners and how we can best nurture the potential of every individual in the classroom.

If you want to think about Rose’s points further, David Hopkins has a nice slide comparing the average fighter pilot and the average student.

Templates for Student Research Posters

Whenever I see student research posters, I’m always amazed at the wonderful work our students do: these posters are really detailed and complex.

Throughout my education, the emphasis was largely on the components of good research questions and the varieties of data collection, manipulation, and analysis. Figuring out how to communicate my results was a secondary topic, if it was addressed at all.

And yet, presenting data is a very different skill from analyzing data.

Enter Colin Purrington and his downloadable templates for conference posters. Purrington, a former biology professor at Swarthmore College, provides some truly elegant poster templates. The page is long, but it’s useful, well-written, and quite clever. He also offers a wealth of design advice, including tips on layout, logos, typesetting, color choice, and other things which – when done correctly – can make a poster sing. There’s even an example of what not to do, and several suggestions about how to solicit feedback on your poster.

In helping your students put together their posters, you can share posters you’ve made, posters from conferences you’ve attended, as well as other online examples. But there’s nothing like a well-designed template (or five!) to help students clearly present their findings and teach them the very specific academic skill of poster creation. Successful poster design really is part of acculturation into the academy, requiring that students not only master the skills of summarizing their research and making wise design choices, but also gain an awareness of disciplinary norms and presentation styles.

Although Purrington’s examples and templates favor conference posters for the hard sciences, it would be easy enough to adapt the templates for many social science research presentations.

There’s no need to re-invent the (conference poster) wheel. Note, however, that you must cite the developer of the wheel in some instances. You may use Purrington’s templates without acknowledgement; but should you use text directly from his page, you’ll need to do the right thing. On that note, I originally found out about Colin Purrington via a post on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Percolator blog.


We’ve mentioned infographics before and we share them with you quite frequently, but we haven’t yet devoted a separate post to the process by which one can make an infographic. As the revelry of fall fades away, Thanksgiving seems ever-distant, and the reading keeps coming, why not mix things up with an infographic?

Infographics are visual representations of data built around a theme. In telling their story, infographics usually have a mix of several small pictographs, a fair amount of data presented in chart/graph form, and a few short paragraphs and key sentences.

Consider my favorite (meta-) example:

Edudemic has a nice summary of the background and educational theory of infographics in their Ultimate Guide to Infographics. They’ve also gathered an informative assortment of education infographics. While the story each infographic tells is interesting, the ways in which the creators have used color, data, images, fonts, and manipulated the size of different design elements provide great examples for those of us thinking about making our own infographics.

You can use the resources below to create one (or multiple) infographics to start discussion with your students. What a great way to illustrate different perspectives, time frames, or sub-topics in a quick and engaging format.

Alternately, it seems to me that creating infographics could be an intriguing exercise for students. Derek Bruff, Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, has a nice two-part blog post in which he lays out the logic behind an infographic assignment he gave his statistics students in the spring, the ways in which he prepared his students to look critically at visual presentations of data / information, how he created and refined the grading rubric, what tools his students used, and the terrific infographics they produced (post one and post two).

Without further ado, the infographic tools: lets you easily create your own infographics. Using their simple interface and templates, you can upload your own data (in Excel or csv format), add video if you’d like, and then share your product on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, the web, or grab the embed code provided underneath your finished infographic and put your design anywhere you’d like. If, for example, you’d like to place your infographic in your Pearson LearningStudio course shell, you can do so by pasting the embed code into the HTML view in the visual editor, as our documentation illustrates. is another infographic generator. Although it may not be as user-friendly as other options, is specifically designed to help create comparison-based infographics. You can use their provided templates and then enter a pair of Twitter or Facebook accounts, hashtags, or webpages about which you’d like to produce attractive statistics. I think the comparison feature is a nice angle, and certainly a real aid in framing a data-driven visual story.

For a bit of navel-gazing, or perhaps as part of a larger project about society or self, Intel’s What About Me? infographic engine offers to create an infographic based on your Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook profiles (or a combination of all three).

If the options above aren’t quite meeting your needs, you might take a peek at this list of 20 Web 2.0 Tools for Creating Infographics. If you’re still searching – either for theory, examples, data sources, or infographic tools / tutorials – Daily Tekk has a list of 100 Incredible Infographic Tools (these are broken into separate topics, thankfully!)

Last, if you’re using infographics in your course or considering doing so, we’d love to hear from you!

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.

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!

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.)


Happy Halloween! I’ve rounded up some fun links for you today.
All treats, no tricks – I promise!

1.  A virtual cadaver. This is, well, exactly what you might think. Here’s a concise description:

An interactive anatomy study table that allows students to find out what the inside of a human body looks like without making a single cut. Instead of using a scalpel, students use their finger to make “incisions” in the 3D projection of a human body. The table offers doctors and students an incredibly accurate and detailed image of skeletal and muscle systems . . . . Touchscreen technology allows students to spin, drag, and make incisions in the digital flesh, examining different body parts more closely. In the future, students will be able to take home scans that they looked at during class and view them on their iPad or other mobile devices.

Now that is cool, huh? No price listed, alas. But it could be pretty nifty for patient education and for teams of healthcare providers who could collaborate and demonstrate their particular concerns before, say, the patient is open on the operating table.

2. Six E-Learning Demons to Avoid. Hokey? Yes. Useful? Absolutely. I’d also add something about not Frankensteining your online content by mashing together items with different styles, design themes, clashing fonts, etc.  Of course, none of our wise readers would be guilty of such horrifying behavior!

3. Innovative uses for eLearning tools. Think of that pillowcase that became a candy bag – or, as the author suggests, the screwdriver that protects you from zombies. You’re a pro at re-purposing! You can also creatively use the items in your eLearning toolbox. Don’t let habit or the stated function be your limit. The author mentions how he uses PowerPoint and quiz software (note that you can’t do this sort of slide view with quiz option in LearningStudio) to do things other than to make presentations and give quizzes. What’s your pillowcase / screwdriver – what tool are you successfully using outside of its stated purpose?