Monday, January 03, 2011

Charts and Guages in Excel

As part of some institutional research, I am exploring ways of using common tools to create "dashboards" for data.

Here are some fun links I've discovered which talk about "hacks" to get speedometer style gauges from your data (mainly using MS Excel).

Gauge Chart using XY Scatter Chart (AndyPope.Info)

Gauge Chart by Overlaying a Pie Chart on a Doughnut Chart (chandoo.org)

Other Dynamic Dashboards (chandoo.org)

Excel Template for Gauge (Microsoft.com)

Other Dashboard Ideas (MyExcelTemplates.com)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Website Accessibility

Recent lawsuits by the National Federation of the Blind against universities with inaccessible websites and course management sites once again raises the importance of universal design.

Here are some links relating to accessibility of websites and academic course web pages.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Facebook adding "remote log out" security

If you're receiving SPAM messages from your Facebook friends, don't blame them entirely. Spammers and hackers are creating applications which are asking Facebook users to enter in their Usernames and Passwords so that they can "authorize" applications and games to post to their pages. Well... once they have the credentials - they take over your account.

Facebook is adding a capability of Remote Log Out - so that you can see all the devices and connections logged into your account and "log out" specific devices and instances. This is also handy for people who store their passwords and then the preying eyes of roommates and family members simply go to Facebook have an automatic "in" to the site under your account.

Check out the article link for more details.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fair Use - Center for Social Media

The Center for Social Media has developed a great series of tutorial on the doctrine of Fair Use under the Copyright law.
The site also contains sets of Best Practices for using materials for Media Literacy, using Online Video, using materials in Documentary Filmmaking, and many other areas.

Of particular interest might be the video "Remix Culture" which addresses best practices in Fair Use for Online Video.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Are You Ready to Teach Online?

Baker University has an excellent tool for faculty who are interested in teaching online.
It is titled Am I Ready to Teach an Online Course?
The self-assessment examines the technical skills, attitudes towards online learning, teaching style, and communication style of the prospective online teacher and then provides feedback about then answers provided by the candidate.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Confident Conference Presentations

I want presenters to be successful, and I actually feel pains of embarrassment in my stomach when a presenter flounders or ends up losing an audience part-way through their hour-long session.

Many times when a presentation ends, I ask myself "ahhh… yes… so what?”

Presenters need to be customer-oriented when they design their presentations, and the greatest opportunity for improvement is to focus a presentation around learning objectives and a call to action. After you filter away all of the other distractions and boil it down to "what should audience members learn" and "what are the benefits to doing it differently" - the presentation is much more likely to maintain an alert audience.

I am in the midst of helping plan and run another large state-wide conference, and I have decided to jot down some notes of advice for presenters. Effective presentations will:

Develop an Elevator Pitch: “Why should we care?” and "How will what you are going to tell me make me better off (richer, safer, happier, smarter)?" How can you convince YOUR intended audience in 30-seconds or less to listen to the rest of your presentation? How can you convince them that what you are about to say will be original, beneficial, and useful? What is the main point of your presentation, and how can you summarize it to start off your presentation? Being able to package your presentation into this short set of statements will help you funnel in just the core ideas and information your presentation needs and filter out everything else. If most of the audience members already have expertise, don’t waste their time with the basics. If most of your audience members are novices – don’t make them feel stupid by using unfamiliar language or concepts.

Use Learning Objectives to direct a Call to Action: A great presentation normally has both a set of specific learning objectives (what should the audience have learned during the presentation) and also a specific call to action (a challenge to do one or two new things based upon what they have learned). These are the beneficial “take-aways” participants get for spending their time in your presentation. When you are building your presentation, use these along with your Elevator Pitch to help focus and filter the content you choose to present.

Utilize an Attention Getter: what humorous image, video clip, anecdote, or story will help demonstrate the point that there is a problem and that it is the audience’s responsibility to fix the problem?

Appear Organized: Tell the audience what you are about to tell them (introduction), then tell them, then tell them what you told them (summary). This helps audience members understand the outline and structure you will be using in your presentation – and it helps them know where you are heading and why.

Engage the Audience: Normally the people in front of you are smart, experienced, and have much to share on the topic. Make the audience part of the experience. Ask them challenging questions. Ask them to share their own observations and experiences.

Anticipate the Objections: If you are asking people to change process, procedure, or habit, you need to anticipate and refute alternatives. If you don’t anticipate and handle common objections or concerns right up front – you’ll lose a large share of your audience as they mentally try to come up with arguments against what you are proposing.

Be Well Rehearsed: There is nothing more embarrassing to a presenter that to look shocked or confused during their own presentation. Rehearse your presentation many times from start to finish, and memorize the structure and key points you want to make (don’t verbatim memorize you’re your audience members will throw you off when they ask questions).

Not be Read: Reading your PowerPoint slides is highly annoying and serves no purpose. Use “blank” or black slides when you want the audience to concentrate on you and not the screen. Mix it up! Maybe change the pace of your presentation with just one word or phrase on the screen – to rapidly change through slides, and then slow things down by adding more words and phrases. The PowerPoint is there for your AUDIENCE to know the structure of what you are say – NOT a reminder to you of what to say (you should have figured that out in your rehearsals).

Consider the Sight-lines: Standing in front of the projector screen is an obvious mistake, but not so obvious is blocking the view of a portion of your audience. When you have something important to show, stand off to the side of the screen and gesture with your hand or a laser-pointer to call attention to specific parts of the slide.

Be Heard: In the theatre, you’re asked to “speak to the cheap seats” (way, way, way in back). You don’t need to shout, but you do need to speak much more loudly than you normally would, and you need to enunciate much more clearly than normal conversation. When one is available, use a microphone. Microphone etiquette: if you are wearing a lapel microphone – be sure that you are not touching your chest or holding papers against the microphone. When you are using a handheld microphone – hold it off to the side of your mouth (by your cheek – pointing toward your mouth) – so that you don’t “slam” the microphone with your breath sounds or your “popping P’s.”

Show Confidence: Great eye contact, loose shoulders, big smiles all communicate to strangers that you are confident about what you are going to say, and that wins you some credibility. Also – if you are well-rehearsed, you should be confident about what you are about to say.

Pace the Handouts: Don’t load up your audience with a bunch of reading materials at the start of the presentation. Audience members will be so busy reading that they may just ignore what you are saying. A few sparse handouts which give the main ideas are best – and then more detailed information can be provided at the time for questions and answers (or after the presentation concludes).

Request Feedback: No matter what, you should have your audience give you some critique and feedback. Maybe your “super-great” presentation left most people confused or bored. Isn’t that a very useful thing to know? Also – the critique helps give you insight into how others interpreted your presentation’s points. Always ask open-ended questions such as “what was the best part of the presentation?” and also “what needs to be improved in this presentation?”

Friday, March 05, 2010

Fun Use of Vocal "AutoTune"

There are vocal effects "stomp boxes" for singers, the same way that guitar players have "stomp boxes" for special effects for their instrument sounds.

Here is one of the funniest (and best) uses I've seen for the "auto-pitch correction" (or Auto Tune) feature on one of these boxes.

The way the device works is that it takes a musical input and changes the speech to match the pitch of the input.
This funny video features politicians and newscasters saying outrageously stupid things -- set to music. Awesome!

Monday, March 01, 2010

BLIO eReader for Textbooks

I saw an interesting webinar for BLIO eReader. The software-based product was developed by KNFB Reading Technology, Inc. This is an electronic book / textbook reader program which allows students to use their own digital ink to highlight passages and to also type electronic notes. There are built-in tools for text-to-speech synthesis, and there are also tools to synchronize spoken words with typed text.
 

Unfortunately, one of the main selling points is 508 and ADA accessibility - and the person presenting the webinar linked to and displayed materials which outright failed to meet 508 accessibility (video clips without closed-captions, interaction activities which required mouse-based navigation, lack of ALT text captions in images, etc.).
 

The company uses a proprietary software application (rather than Adobe Reader which would have been a preferable implementation - for accessibility and market penetration reasons). This looks like a product that has some merit for the future, but it looks as though it needs to get some solid textbook partners involved in offering titles AND to have those partners ensure that the media and image materials make best use of accessibility features in the tools.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Top Tips for D2L

Top Tips for Using D2L from RSP / ITeach 2010 Super Roundtable "Embrace Your Inner Geek"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Demonstration of SkyDrive folder

This is a demonstration of the SkyDrive folder holding presentation materials relating to Podcasting and also relating to Stepping Up PowerPoint presentations.

James' Skydrive Public Folder




Hibbing Presentation:

Online Looping Music Editor

Dubstep Studio (Learning Jam001) - use the CLICK TO MIX button to hear the composition.

I stumbled across a FREE online editor to create loops-based music. The site provides a large number of Midi-loop phrases, and you "paint" the loops along a timeline to indicate when each sound loop should play. After the creation is made, you can embed the music or provide an email link to friends to "remix" your creation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Case for Developmental Courses offered Web-Based through Customized Training

Colleges and universities which cater to open access and open enrollment are finding that more students are testing at developmental levels.

THe work-around to getting students prepared for college-level coursework is to enroll students in developmental courses at the same time the students are enrolled in program-based courses. The reason is financial; students need a full load in order to quality for full financial aid, and many students would elect not to attend if they weren't eligible for financial aid.

The problem is that "credit-based" courses have to be charged at "credit-based" tuition prices, which make the developmental classes extremely expensive to take, and even more expensive if the student gets overwhelmed (trying to do a full load of courses while being academically ill-prepared), and some students fail-out of the system. When they do fail-out, they are responsible for paying back the financial aid they have received, leaving the students in a far worse situation than before they come to the campus. Additionally, these students have marks on their transcripts which will limit their ability to be accepted by other institutions.

Developmental classes should be about a student improving their communication and math skills for their own self-benefit, as separate from a program of study. Students should be able to take their developmental courses before they are applying to a program of study -- to ensure they have the root skills which will give them the potential for success in the courses within the programs.

One Possible Solution

Developmental courses could be moved out of the "credit-based" side of higher education and instead be delivered as a customized-training or outreach type of course. These courses should not have a grade, but they should have regular assessments to allow students to understand where they are in their skill development and track their successes and progress.

Nothing should end up on a transcript - and students should be able to repeat the developmental courses as much as they need to develop the skills to be successful for collegiate work.

Developmental courses can be designed by a team of subject-matter experts - who are paid to create self-encapsulated learning objects which help students acquire and practice the skills they will need in their future academic programs. If the courses are developed in a careful and thoughtful manner, the course content could "run itself" -- allowing the teacher of the course to leverage his/her time to providing feedback and guidance to students, assessing their progress, and providing additional small-group study sessions online (through web-conferencing).

Students would reflect upon and assess their own progress with the assistance of the instructor. Self-assessments would help students understand where they are placing (on knowledge and skills tests), and the automatic feedback could give students suggestions on which content in the course might be useful to review.

While suggested assignments would be offered - the course has no grade, so the assignments would be optional. Students who are eager to learn will take advantage of the personalized feedback from the instructor, and students who have "life happen" will not be permanently penalized with low marks.

This requires a major mindset change from a community college being an institution which delivers degree programs to one of a college serves the learning needs of its communities.

By separating out the developmental courses "before acceptance" to the college, the side-effects will likely be better retention (students who gain success are likelier to continue), improved rigor (instructors will not feel the need to "dumb down" a course), and better results for all learners (if the instructor does not have to slow content delivery to a developmental level - then all learners can cover content in a broader and deeper manner and use more course time for problem solving and critical thinking.

Twitter as "Social Bookmarking"

The more I participate on Twitter and see how others are using it, the more I am coming to realize that the professional use of the tool is not to tell others when you are in the bathroom, or which cab you entered, but rather to share links to interesting articles and stories you've read.

This "social bookmarking" use of Twitter is something that will likely grow -- since it becomes a useful informational resource (rather than simply a "social status" tool to let your fans know "here's what I'm doing and where I'm at").

When you are following someone, you can get a quick and instant digest of the links they've been sharing. This makes it easy to catch up on your reading in a controlled and thoughtful manner.

Fake Office

Zoho.com was recently panned by Microsoft as the free "Fake Office" program.
Hmmm....
Marketing never came so easy. Now Zoho has registered the domain name for
"FakeOffice.org" and has taken a bit more control over the publicity machine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Course Evaluations

A faculty member recently asked what should be done in online course sites about course evaluations (when students provide feedback about a course after grades are posted).

Most Instructional Management Systems allow the construction of surveys which can collect results anonymously.

Here are some questions I would consider as part of a course evaluation in an online course site.


(Likert scale – from Never to Sometimes to Frequently to Always)

  1. The course topics and learning objectives matched those found in the college catalog.
  2. The course content was delivered in an organized and structured manner.
  3. The course resources (textbooks, online articles, media resources) were appropriate for a college-level course.
  4. The assignment instructions and grading criteria were clearly stated.
  5. The instructor was respectful toward me and other students in the class.
  6. The instructor was knowledgeable about the content and its related applications.
  7. The instructor was willing to answer questions within a reasonable timeframe.
  8. (Open ended questions / essay style)
    The part of this course I enjoyed the most was…
  9. The part of this course which was most difficult was…
  10. This course could be improved by…
  11. (Self reporting)
    On average, the number of hours I spent studying and completing assignments for this course was ___.
  12. I feel the grades I received on assignments fairly reflected the amount of effort I put into those assignments. (Never Sometimes Mostly Always)
  13. This class had been a good investment of my time and my tuition dollars. (Agree / Disagree)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Marco Images in Webcamera


There are lots of web-cameras on the market, but I was able to find a bunch of Hue webcams on clearance, and I grabbed a bunch.

The camera has a manual-focus ring, and I tried dialing it all the way out (for closest focus). I found that I could get it into a "super-macro" distance (within 1/2 cm of the item). Here is an example of my F1-Help key on my keyboard.

The application is that the lens of the web camera could be mounted into a telescope or microscope to capture the images for those optics.

More Free Tools for Educators and Students

I've received a link to a site which provides a new list of free tools and websites for educators and students.

http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2009/09/100-free-productivity-tools-to-get-you-through-school/


The categories include:
  • Class Helpers (study tools and resources)
  • Time Management (advice and tools)
  • Shortcuts for forms, passwords, and hotkeys
  • Organization
  • Networking
  • Workplace Success
  • Blogs with Advice
  • Money Matters
  • Unwinding (fun and entertainment)
  • Personal Wellness

Friday, August 28, 2009

Up Your Productivity with Twice the Desktop


In the market for an LCD television? Make sure that you get one which has computer inputs (VGA/PC or DVI). Run a cable from the TV to your laptop and work on a second desktop.

According to an article in USA Today, having the second monitor increases your work productivity by as much as 50%.

I've used dual monitors for almost a decade, and I can really feel the slowdown when I have to work on one screen.

If you would like to try using a dual screen with your laptop - simply borrow any LCD monitor and connect it to the external video port. On my campus website I have added a link to provide instructions.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Skydrive for 25GB of Sharable Web Space

Skydrive

Microsoft is offering 25GB of online web space in their Live.Com accounts. The space is called Skydrive, and you can set each folder to different permissions (private, public, networked friends, specific email addresses).

This might be a great way to distribute self-generated media to students without all the extra hassles and delays associated with posting content on a campus web server. Also - the site handles the login / password authentication for you -- making the distribution as easy as setting up a list of email addresses which can access the content.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adobe Offers Free Curriculum in Digital Video

I just stumbled upon a site within Adobe which offers a free curriculum in digital video. Follow the link above for more information.

Quoting from the Adobe Website:


The Digital Video project-based curriculum develops career and communication skills in video production, using Adobe tools. You can use the Digital Video curriculum in career and technical education courses as well as courses involving video use in academic courses.

The Digital Video curriculum develops knowledge in storytelling, capturing and editing video and audio, and finalizing content for DVD or web through emphasis on design, communication, project management, and video technology. Key skills are developed in a spiral as each project adds more challenging skills on foundation proficiencies.

The Digital Video curriculum aligns to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students (2007).

Fun Animated Movies for Free


Devolver (formerly Dfilm) allows you to create quick and easy animated movies. The story-lines are short and the amount of dialog is limited, but you can select different backgrounds, settings, characters, and music. Check it out!

Monday, August 17, 2009

High Tech Cheating

Cheating Goes Graphic Design


There is a new wrinkle in cheating - thanks to easy and inexpensive graphic design software. Students are scanning in labels of soda bottles and then replacing the label with one full of formula, crib notes, and vocabulary. Yet one more reason to replace traditional multiple-choice exams with assignments which require problem solving and research.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

HTML MailTo Link Generator

I was helping to migrate webpages for our campus website. For security reasons, we were temporarily doing away with an online forms-registration system and replacing it with a simple "email" which contained the necessary information. Well... making sure that the email contained all the needed information was a dice-shoot, so I stumbled upon a site which helps you generate a complex HTML mailto: tag - so that the body of the email is pre-filled with certain information. The website I used was http://www.cha4mot.com/t_mailto.html
It has a simple interface with options for TO:, CC:, BCC:, SUBJECT, and BODY. Great find!

Monday, July 27, 2009

ScreenJelly - Fun, Free Screen Recording

If you need to explain to students how to turn on "Track Changes" in a Word document, or to print PowerPoint slides as "handouts" (rather than one per page), or how to navigate an online website or database, sometimes "showing" works much better than "telling."

ScreenJelly.com is a website that allows you to create "show & tell" videos. Whatever is on your screen can get recorded into a Flash-based video. Link to the video or embed it in your courses or blog sites.

The application allows you to record up to 3-minutes at a time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blogs and Surveys Enhance Face-to-Face Course Commnication

Two professors at the University of Westminster in London have completed research which shows that face-to-face communications in classes can be made more efficient when supplemented by surveys and blogs.

The professors provided surveys after tests and assignments to get feedback from students. Students also post entries to online blogs about these assessments; the listings are then read by tutors who reply back to the student. Tutors are using RSS feeds to aggregate the blog postings, and this allows quicker individualized feedback to students. In the student, each student was assigned a specific tutor for the course (which allows the student to build a relationship with that tutor).

The communication processes are made more efficient while still providing the face-to-face contact that the students expect.

Federal Government Encourages Free Online Classes

As reported at InsideHigherEd.com, the Federal Education Department is planning a program to provide Federal funds to community colleges and high schools who are willing to create free, online courses. Part of the effort would be to support job training programs.

Colleges which participate would be responsible for tracking and reporting on student progress and outcomes, including employment-related outcomes.

Creating high quality online courses will enhance opportunities for learners in rural areas as well as those who are under-employed (and seeking career advancement). I am hopeful that these initiatives to offer free online courses will shift the pricing model of online deliver from one of premium/luxury pricing to one of "self-service/discount" pricing. Too few institutions are using strategic design and economies of scale to deliver skills and knowledge. After all -- how different is the course College Algebra from state-to-state and from institution-to-institution? Rather than having each institution re-invent the wheel, creating highly engaging content which receives ongoing and thorough peer review will lead to more consistent outcomes among learners.

Once the curriculum for the free courses is developed, the next vital step is to ensure they are being taught by highly talented and engaging faculty members who will provide the needed guidance, personalized feedback, and careful assessment which students need to be successful in their online learning environments.

Prezi.com Presentation Tool

Normally at conferences I’m already “up” on most of the Web 2.0 tools being shown, but I was surprised and happy to learn about a new one called Prezi.com.

It allows you to create more dynamic presentations, with the great application of doing “mind maps” which allow users to drill down into details.

After the webinar that I gave yesterday on “Student Readiness for Online” – I decided to build a Prezi.com presentation from my materials.

The result is at: http://prezi.com/134940/


Use the arrow keys in the bottom of the screen to navigate, or simply click your mouse on an object and use the mouse scroll-wheel to zoom in or out of objects.

The site provides 100MB of file storage at no cost (text is very tiny of course), and full year licenses are $39Euro for 500MB and $119Euro for 2GB of space. Even with the free site you can download your presentation to a ZIP package which has an Adobe Flash application (so you can off-load your content even if the site goes out-of-business).

Since it is a free tool – it would be useful for faculty and students alike.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Do It Yourself (DIY) Lighting

Martin Catt posted a great DIY article on how to create your own video lights out of aluminum cake pans. The advantage of the cake pans is that they can be grounded for safety. Also - they are light weight for easy mounting to light stands.

Richard Wright demonstrates how to rebuild "brooder" style clamp lights into video lights which can mount to traditional light stands.

Cool Lights provide a demonstration for adding barn-doors to outdoor halogen and clamp lights.



The site CreativityToSpare.com has posted a YouTube video on how to create easy DIY lighting.

Thinking Like an Innovator

I came across a great video from Brainpark.com which gives tips on "Thinking like an Innovator." The video should be mandatory viewing by all faculty and staff in higher-education.

The video is embedded below; I suggest that you use the Full-Screen toggle to view the video.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Online as Utility

I just replied to a Facebook question about the online / hybrid / face-to-face modes of teaching.

For those of us who grew up with computers from an early age, we just expect to have the information and resources available on-demand.

Online course sites will become a "utility" in the same way that we expect to have electricity to turn on the lights. It is something that all users will expect to be there - and the control will be more in their hands whether they want to "flip the switch" or not. Just like electricity - they will consume online course sites at different times and rates based on personal preferences -- and they will become instantly frustrated when they are missing or inaccessible. (Ever attempt a PowerPoint presentation with a blown-out bulb in the LCD projector? Multiply times 30 students in a section.)

We're over-thinking the questions relating to online education. There has always been distance education; the only things that have changed are the tools we use to accomplish the task. I think that the "trinity" is actually "on-site / off-site / independent." Instructors who are not willing to support the service of Online Course sites are basically removing the fuse and ensuring their students sit in the "virtual" darkness.