Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Google Custom Search

Sometimes I come across something and I have to share it. Since I've spoken with everyone in my suite I've decided to take my information out to the web. I came across something I've found to be very intriguing for an online course and student research. I do have to say that I never would have found this if it wasn't for Twitter, but I won't go into details. There is a high probability that when you assign a research assignment for an online student, or face-to-face for that matter, one option a student invokes to begin the project is to use an online search engine. I would venture a guess and say that judging by their success, students are more than willing to use Google's search engine. The regular search engine, assuming they don't go through Books or Scholar, opens them up to the World Wide Web and all its glory...and pitfalls. My thoughts are this type of inquiry requires students to have the knowledge of how to discern what is and isn't a reputable source for them to draw information from as support for the logic in their project. Going off of recent trends in critical thinking skills, I am assuming this is a daunting task for some. What if you could create and embed in your LMS (for us Moodle) a Google search engine that you control the sites it searches? You would be able to go out and vet the sites ahead of time, or drive students to libraries, books, journals, etc...and the entire time it appears to a student as if they are searching Google. Google has the option to create a custom search engine that does just that. You create it, you tell it which sites to search, and you share it with your students. I embedded one into Moodle just a few moments ago and it worked out perfectly. As much as I direct and provide information on how to investigate online sources inevitably students are relying on questionable material as primary forms of information. A tool such as this isn't full proof, but it offers another option to the arsenal. Part of me feels conflicted, as though I am doing some of the work for them...which I am, but I don't have to let that be known.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I have become completely enamored with animation for an online course. I don't know if it is a phase and will pass like my long hair in high school (wish I could grow that now) or if it has staying power. I am leaning toward it having staying power because when I reason it out in my head animation in an online course works, it adds a function that is worthwhile. Hear me out as I work through this. If you can create a short animated video that easily embeds to your online course would you? Or let me ask it this way , why wouldn't you? To date the ways I've seen colleagues use them and the way I've used them I think have aided in grabbing the students' attention and conveyed important message in a unique fashion. The animations I've created have been brief introductions that I place at the very top of my course in Moodle, right in the eye line of the students when they first enter the course. I've even placed them above the scrolling marquee (see previous blog post for that). I worry that the video with a marquee is sensory overload, but so far student feedback has conveyed that it grabs their attention when they log in and they feel compelled to read the marquee and watch the animation. The content I've added so far has been very brief. I've been setting up that week's material and reminding them of upcoming activities. I see this as an alternative to the plain text messages they would receive through a mass email or announcement page. It breaks up the mundane and adds some character and life to an online course. I like Toondoo when it comes to creating comic strips, but so far has been an easy animation freeware tool that works well in Moodle. There are many limitations to the free version, mainly in how creative you can be, but never the less it provides an engaging element to add to a course. Much of an online course can be text heavy. We require that students in an accelerated format read mass amounts from a textbook, journals, discussion posts, blog posts, wiki posts, etc...(and I am an advocate for all of these as instructional tools) that I would advocate that anytime you can enhance a course's design through alternative means you grab them. A brief animation that delivers a custom message is one way to break from the norm and still deliver content. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I know, it has been an inordinate amount of time since I last made a blog post. I planned on giving you some elaborate detailed reason as to why, but my life isn't that exciting. Each week I'd have my plan mapped out and blogging was on there... but wasn't reached. The good news is that I have been exploring the vast world of freeware tools and have some more to share. In this post I wanted to draw attention to a source that both excites and scares me at the same time. Have you ever been working with a student or a peer and tried to walk them through a process and dreamed of a day when you could just access their computer and do it for them, remotely? Ok, maybe you don't sit around and ponder these dilemmas, but someone did, and out of that came lets you share your computer with anyone you choose. There is a free and pro version. I've only experienced the free version and was enticed and frightened at the same time. I was frightened because when when you give control or accept control of someone else's computer you literally have control of it all. You can access their files, you can use their web browser, you can change or alter content, etc... I would argue the upside to this freeware tool outweighs the negative; besides, it isn't so bad when you let someone totally control your computer and you can't do anything about it. Of course I say this sarcastically, but I would assume that you would only accept the invitation to share through if you know the person, which should go without saying. Once you get past that little nuance you are all set to begin sharing. The benefit this freeware tool brings is that there isn't a file to download and you aren't bombarded with spam once you create an account, but you are able to genuinely collaborate with another person, in a one on one setting, and assist them in working through an issue. The couple of times I have used it I was amazed at how well it aided in solving what was otherwise a complex problem. I envision a student contacting their stats or accounting instructor with a dilemma, one that might easily be resolved with a face-to-face meeting (I know, easy in the same sentence as stats and accounting typically doesn't appear). If the two are miles apart the next best thing to do is share the computer of the person in need. You are able to communicate and share files through as well. I had it up and running in less than two minutes, it was simple as reading and clicking.This tool is just another way to break through distant barriers in education and collaborate to solve a problem. Click here to go to the website.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Web 2.0 Resources

Sorry for the delay between posts...this work thing was getting in the way a bit.  With the amount of information available that pertains to Web 2.0 and the available applications it is difficult to grasp it all. I know that one aspect I struggled with early on was where to go or how to find what is available. I would spend hours surfing and reading and end up with one or two possible leads.  Since then I have found a couple helpful websites that embrace the concept of the read, write, collaborate web and gather possible Web 2.0 tools. These sites have been instrumental in me finding new material and staying up to date as best I can. I thought I'd share them, so here they are.

1. Go2Web2.0 houses a variety of possible online applications. Some are free, some are paid and some are both. The initial interface is sleek and brings some of applications right out to the forefront. By clicking on any one of the tags in the column to the right you can begin to narrow your search to specific topics. I like how the brand names are presented too. If you are like me who like to follow more than I do post, tracking them on Twitter can keep you up with additions and new topics. You can get there by linking here

2. The next one is a perfect example of how to use a wiki (pb wiki to be specific). Digital Research Tools (DiRT) categorizes and compartmentalizes a vast array of Web 2.0 applications. I have been using this site for over a year now. I would encourage you to subscribe to the updates as well. The site has a very clear process for adding material and making edits, giving it some credibility and making it reliable. You can being by linking out by clicking on links under Types of Tools or under the "page" section to the right. Here is the link

3. The third one is tied more to a person and then the site, but they both offer insight into Web 2.0 applications directed toward education. Wesley Fryer (which I follow him on Twitter and have found some exciting tools because of it) has developed his own wiki (pb wiki again....hmmm...I see a trend) to outline his expertise. Mr. Fryer is available to contract with for seminars on the features found on his wiki (which there is over 140 pages of information) both face-to-face and virtually (at least that is what his website says). I like to click on the word collaboration from the front page. From there I begin linking away. He has a couple of other sites that you can link out to as well (one is his list of apps for the iphone, if you have one it is worth checking out). Here is a link to his site if you are interested

4. This last one is again a pb wiki site that stores links to a variety or Web 2.0 tools that cover a multitude of educational needs. The headings on this site make the navigation simple.  The site is named Teaching with Technology Index. If you click on wiki in the upper left corner of your screen that will take you back to the home page, but the link I've provided will take you directly into the index of applications available. Here is the link if you are interested

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What About This Screencast Thing?

What is this screencast thing? A theme laced throughout some recent questions I've faced. I recently took part in the KCPDC event at Johnson County Community College where I presented on this topic, so I thought it would be fitting to share it here as well. I have been dabbling with screencasting for over a year now and have a growing affinity for it. In short, a screencast is self created video. I know it sounds simple, and in many respects it is. Sure there are intricacies to consider that make it a useful tool for education, which I'll preview in a bit, but the concept is that simple. Assuming you have a microphone of some sort available on your computer, a screencast is you capturing your computer screen's image with your voice narrating along. I've used screencasting to supplement our transition from Blackboard to Moodle and found them to be overwhelmingly beneficial. I was able to take complex aspects and record video tutorials that illustrate steps and processes for our instructors in the new system. I also, and this is a personal view based on research and collaboration with others, feel that screencasts create a more dynamic online environment and bring the instructor's voice directly into the online classroom, which creates a better sense of community and connection with online students.

What are some variables to consider when contemplating using screencasts in your online course (or on ground, up to you)? One is that adding video and voice to a course broadens the mode of delivery of information. Some students may retain content better when it is delivered visually or orally. This doesn't mean that an online course should abandon text, quite the opposite. Screencasts should be in supplement of text to resonate with a broad perspective of learners. In short, it offers diversity in delivering content. I am an advocate for multisensory learning, particularly in an online environment where there isn't the face-to-face connection (unless you want there to be through Dimdim or Skype...different topic for a different blog). Another perspective is that recorded content (one reason I am an advocate of podcasts as well) allows some versatility for students, it actually gives them some control. Think back to formal lectures where under great duress to not miss information you wrote down everything the instructor presented as quickly as possible. There was little time to fully digest or contemplate deeper what was begin said and how to make connections to the overarching scope of the course (I admit I am making a generalization particular I am remembering one particular course, but the concept isn't too far off). With a recorded video, a screencast, the student has the ability to pause, rewind, write down thoughts, record questions, and control the pace. There is the limitation of needing access to the video, but if they can enter their online environment for class then you should be able to grant them access. I would also then suggest that you consider time. In some respects you will be limited in regards to time depending on where you plan to host the video, but generally speaking a screencast should be concise and to the point.  A final thought on this aspect is how to incorporate screencasts into your pedagogy. If you design your curriculum with screencasts and they are merely there as passive entertainment, then you'll have passive retention and students will have little use for them. Weave discussions around them, create specific tutorial for specific concepts, tasks, or assignments in the course. Highlight key terms or correlative relationship with course text or reading and use the screencast as an illustration.

With all this said I figure it would be worthwhile to comment on some that I use (I know, I should have done this earlier, but I wanted to keep you hanging on with suspense as long as I could...did it work?). My favorite is Screencast-O-Matic. Extremely easy to use  and versatile. Next, Screenr. Screenr connects with another obsession of mine (Twitter), but is simple to use as well. Another one I am a fan of is Jing. I love having the little Sun on my desktop...if you use it you'll know what I mean. Again, it is very user friendly with great support. The very first screencast tool I used was CamStudio, so I will always have a special place for it. But compared to the others I find it the most complex to use (that's not to deter you though). CamStudio is in connection with CamStasia, which I have never used...but I always hear positive feedback about that one as well. With the exception of CamStasia all these are freeware tools, as of today anyway. If your an instructor contact me and I have some tutorials I can share with you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Scrolling Marquee

I've had an instructor ask about a way to grab student's attention with a "scrolling ticker or something like that?" Good question. Inundating students constantly with e-mail alerts can quickly become dysfunctional...that isn't to say that you can't effectively communicate with e-mail, but what if there were options? One option I find unique and eye grabbing is to embed a scrolling marquee in your course. I can hear the questions now...a what? A scrolling marquee. Very similar to what you see when you sit in Vegas at a betting agency trying to curb your nerves as you just realized that the star pitcher you banked on is out with a thumb nail injury and now your vacation home is down the drain (not that I've actually lived through this...but I've heard), that kind of scrolling marquee. That doesn't mean you need to fill it with up to the minute scores, but that does mean you can embed it in your course and fill it with useful content. It immediately appeals to users' senses as they enter the course and draws attention to the information. The one that I've used in my courses is gURL. When you link to the site scroll down to the bottom half and you can get the embed code for a scrolling marquee that travels horizontal or vertical, up to you. You can even tweak the code and adjust the font size and style, message, font color, which direction the message enters, etc...Envision your students entering your course at 10:30 p.m. after they have worked all day, managed through dinner, kids' homework, took a quick shower while putting a load of laundry in and then decided to sit down and enter the course you labored over to do some work. You need to be able to cut through the distractions and convey essential bits of information to make them as successful as possible, I think this can help. If you are uncertain how to embed content in Moodle this video can help, Embed Video In Moodle. I know it has video in the title, but it will work for this. This is a subtle adjustment that can make your course more appealing and interesting for students.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Online Instructional Tips

Online Instructional Tips

As an online instructor part of your job is to stay as current and up to date as possible with how you deliver, develop, and communicate content. With the speed in which technology changes staying current can seem daunting. What does this mean for you as an online instructor?  How can you better develop strategies to deliver to your students a quality online education? Below are some helpful hints, insights and thoughts to consider. Some may be options you already implement, and some may be aspects you’ve never considered. Either way the intent is to conjure up new thoughts and ideas.
 Be Visible in Class
Online courses offer students remote access and by their very nature are distant, but they don’t have to feel that way. Students will appreciate camaraderie and relationships built online as much as they would in a face-to-face course. As an instructor you can achieve this by making your presence known. How can you go about this?
  • Access your course daily. The expectation isn’t that you spend hours online each day, but checking your course multiple times a day is important. Typically our students are more active in the evenings or weekends. Making sure you check in multiple times a day and are able to respond if necessary in a timely manner is encouraging to students.
  • Keep in mind that even though you may read a forum post, instant message, or email the students may not know that. Communicate as often as possible. Inject stimulating questions or insight into forum posts to spur on the topic and let them know you are active. This can entice better forum posts and open up dialogue, but don’t control the conversation unless you have to. Let students develop their thoughts with your coaxing along.
  • If you set up a forum specifically for them to ask questions make sure you are checking it often. It might be in your best interest to subscribe to that forum so any updates are emailed to you…your Baker email account of course J.
Communication is Key
Communication is imperative for students, maybe even more so online. With Baker’s LMS system, assignments, email, and Web 2.0 technology there are a multitude of ways to communicate and reach out to students.
  • Assignment feedback is critical. Students need to know how well or poor they did on an assignment. Here are some helpful hints on how to provide feedback:
    • Write out specific comments in Grades within Moodle.
    • Add comments to their document. Utilize the track changes feature in Microsoft Word to provide feedback directly on their document. Then make sure to upload it back to Moodle for them to access
    • Respond to forum posts. Don’t hesitate to step into a forum and inject your experience and knowledge. Another great way to motivate forum responses is to ask a question based off of responses or trends within that forum. If you do this early and often students will get in the habit of checking back and looking for them. That also motivates them to read through the posts.

  • Set up online meetings. Moodle has a Chat feature that allows you to instant message in real time with students. In Moodle you can send students messages directly through their profile as well. Also, there are Web 2.0 online meeting sites that are free you can link to. These sites (such as Wiggio, Dimdim, OpenHuddle, Skype) offer various features that will allow you to share documents, communicate with text or audio, link to websites and share a whiteboard.
  • Utilize email. Moodle offers two ways to reach students through email. One is the News forum. You can post there and it will archive the message in the course and you can set it to email to students. The other feature is for you to add Quickmail. Quickmail gives you, and students, access to all the participants in your course’s email accounts. Once or twice a week sending out email updates, reminders, or just friendly conversation to students in your course reminds them and notifies them of your presence in the course.
  • Web 2.0 expanded collaboration online. One of the intents of Web 2.0 was to make the internet less about one way conversations (where users read information) and more about collaboration (users read and discuss information). Between blogs, wikis, Google Docs, and social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace) you can create environments where documents are shared, edited, and collaborated over. Moodle offers blogs, wikis and chats…but don’t be afraid to bring in outside sites that you are comfortable with.
  • Utilize videos, podcasts, or screencasts. Creating a video or podcast has become significantly easier. Offering students instructions or supplemental notes for a course through audio or video adds a layer of instruction. Plus, it promotes a layered form of learning; students’ cognitive abilities are engaged through a multisensory format.
    • How do I make a podcast?  Here are three easy ways.
    • How do I make videos or screencasts?
      • If you have a webcam you can record a video in YouTube. Dong this creates a visual connection and allows you to communicate verbally, instead of just textually.
      • Using a webcam you can make a screencast. A screencast is when you record audio and visual elements of what you have on your computer screen. It may be as simple as a welcome announcement or as complex as writing a research assignment, either way it offers another layer of instructional methods. Here is a list of freeware for screencasts:
    • Adding video is another way to bring in contemporary images, build discussions, and keep the course intriguing to students. Take advantage of the many video search engines to find material that correlates with your course and then design activities/assignments around them. What are ways to utilize video:
      • Show a video and ask students to critique/analyze it using specific concepts from the course.
      • Ask students to synthesize the video’s premise and correlate a connection to a specified course topic.
      • Use the video merely as support or illustrate a topic of interests in your course.
      • Build forum posts and course discussion around the interpretation and examination of the video.
      • Let the video demonstrate or express content. There are videos from professionals and academics that convey material, similar to what a formal lecture does. Great places to find reliable, academically sound videos are news agencies’ websites and (YouTube’s educational site).

Keep an Eye On Course Design/ Aesthetics

Course design and layout is important for students. Appealing to various levels of learning through verbal, logical, visual, spatial, and content design is crucial to the success of an online course. What are some general tendencies or habits you can develop when assembling your online course?

  • Is there consistency with your design? Designing through the use of repetition and ordered structure minimizes confusion. It will orient students with the layout of the course, which allows an emphasis to be put on content and not navigation.
  • Do you have images, various font size, colors, or sections labeled? Moodle gives you an array of resources to enhance the visual appeal of your course. You can remain consistent and still integrate imagery while you tinker with the font color or size. Clearly labeling sections and using space as a marker makes for easier navigation too.
  • Does your syllabus match up with the wording in your course? It is important that there is continuity between what you have in your syllabus and in your course. Explicit, clear directives and instructions are crucial.
  • Do you utilize audio/visuals? These greatly enhance the delivery of content and allow the development of multisensory learning. When using these modes of delivery make sure to include necessary links to software needed or that you clearly explain the use or function of the audio/visual content.
  • Is there opportunity for students to communicate if there is a problem? This is important to cut down on frustration and confusion.
  • Are the goals of the course, week, and topic clear? It is important to introduce the relevancy or objectives for each topic and make them clearly available in the course.
  • Is related content grouped together? It isn’t advantageous to bounce students around the course for information or content.
  • Is your contact information and syllabus easily accessible? Placing this information in the very top of your Moodle course is the perfect location. This section always remains at the top and is the first place students see when they drop in the course.
  • Do you deliver activities and/or assignments through various modalities? Moodle offers an option for quizzes, forums, wikis, blogs, lessons, and uploading various documents (spreadsheets, excel files, Word documents, etc…). Each aspect can offer a different level of learning. Feel free to explore outside of Moodle as well for useful resources.

I hope these thoughts help you in your design and development. Sharing ideas and perspectives is one way to stay up to date and motivate new ideas. One way I thought I could help is writing this blog. The blog is designed around me trying out new features and sharing my experiences. My intent is to relate the content back to education and how it can benefit our students. I plan to update it at least twice a month…but maybe more.

Clint McDuffie
Online Resource Coordinator