Friday, November 17, 2006

Role Playing in Online Courses

James in Diary of Anne Frank, approximately 1983
Back in high school, I enjoyed being active in theatre and choir. (I'm on the left of the image; show is Diary of Anne Frank.)

A powerful method of evaluating that students can apply what they have learned is through role play.

In an online course, role-play can take place in many forms.

The most direct and simple form is to have the student interact with you, the instructor, directly.

As an example, in my business management class, I might write off an email pretending to be an angry subordinate who is challenging the authority of the manager (the student), or I might pretend to be an important client who is facing "option anxiety." Having the student play a role in the interaction would help me to better classify their understanding of and application of the materials from the course.

Another instructor I have recently talked with is interested in putting students into an online "negotiation" with 3 to 5 players per round. Each player will have a list of negotiation points that he/she is trying to win, and the higher the number of points won, the higher the score for the assignment (everyone fails if there is no agreement at the end of the round - to avoid stall tactics). Using online discussion boards is a way to track the points agreed upon (won) and those left unsettled.

With the use of SKYPE ( ) - role playing via the Internet becomes much easier. Skype allows online conference calls of up to 5 users, and this allows for multiple role-players in a single activity online.

I even saw a "game" in which the online course home page looked like a manager's desk in a corporate office. The "phone" connected the user to "voicemails" (text-based) requiring urgent actions, the computer connected the user to "emails" and documents, and the calendar had a "to do" list that needed to be accomplished in that sitting. The instructor played multiple roles to provoke the student's action - as well as provide feedback on progress. I would believe that this would be time consuming, but also (likely) a very powerful learning activity.

More Pedagogy and Method Blogs

I am stumbling onto a few more blogs that deal with similar issues (pedagogy, technology, and instructional design). Here are some links.

I encourage you to explore other views, ideas, and methods, and I will do the same (then report back here).

Get Your Students Listening!

One issue that faculty commonly face is connecting the materials from the textbook to examples that students can "touch and feel." Often it is important to students that faculty make the content relevant in an up-to-date and "locally connected" manner. Management and marketing are two curriculum areas that can benefit from connections to local business information and content available via the web.

In every major metropolitan area, savvy businesses are setting up podcasts (web-based radio shows) that inform and educate prospective clients about the news, theories and applications, technologies, and opportunities in their industries.

The benefit to podcasts is their portability. Many students have MP3 players or iPods to which they can download podcast content and then listen to the materials during exercise routines, in traffic congestion, and during breaks at work. The audio format can be especially helpful to students whose learning style preferences are spoken language.

Not every student will have access to portable audio players, and students with hearing impairments might not be able to benefit from the content (unless it has been fully transcribed, which is seldom done), so the use of podcasts should be as supplemental material to the course (not required in activities or assessments).

Faculty teaching business topics might want to investigate:

When possible, it is best to feature locally produced podcasts. Finding local businesses and organizations that offer these online audio segments is a bit of a hunt.

For Minnesota, one site that offers links to local content is:
Many of these are music, humour, and adult podcasts, but there are also some with academic appeal.

In the Minneapolis metropolitan area, here are some podcasts examples.
(Note: I have not financial or other ties to any of these sites, and these are offered as examples without endorsement.)

GENERAL ECONOMY and POLITICS - Minneapolis.Org: Features about the quality of life, activities, and events in the Minneapolis area (and main site) Chamber of Commerce

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS - Technomic Asia: the China Business podcast

MARKETING - Marketing Edge: Marketing and Public Relations - Public Relations Week

SMALL BUSINESS - Small Business Administration

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Easy Photo Editing for Online Courses!

Yes! Another cool Google tool. Picasa is free download program from Google that allows you to quickly and easily crop, size, and perform basic editing on a photo (brightness, contrast, color-balance, red-eye fix).

There are also built-in filters to allow some "quick and easy" artistic modifications to your files.

Download the file from >> MORE >> EVEN MORE

Picasa screenshot main interface Picasa FILTER selections

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lost in Translation?

Screenshot of Faculty Training webpage translated into Spanish - click image to load larger version.

Do you feel that some of your content is getting "lost in translation?"
Get ready for another great Google tool!

Google Language Tools allow you to translate text or web pages into Arabic, Chinese, English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese via a simple interface. Above is a sample translation from English into Spanish.

This is a wonderful application for beginning language students as well as those who might be studying music, business (human resources), or nursing.
This is also a helpful application for students who speak English as a second language; they can use this tool to translate your content into their native language - in order to more quickly understand concepts and ideas.

Best of all - the tool is free!

GoogleEarth is Rock Solid!

Screen capture showing downtown Minneapolis in 3-Dimensional view from 300 feet above street level via GoogleEarth.
Screen capture showing mountain ranges in Arizona via GoogleEarth.

I've "noodled around" in GoogleEarth now for a couple of weeks. For someone who is geographically challenged (like myself), being able to see a 3-dimensional view of a city skyline is so much more helpful than a flat 2-d "top down" view.
The first image above shows the Management Education Center building in Minneapolis (highlighted in gold) in a rotated view on Google Earth.

Only buildings in downtown areas of major metropolitan areas are in 3D relief, but you can still "fly" over the 3-dimensional landscape as though you are in an airplane.
One of my favorite features is a "spin the globe" where you drag and release the mouse - and the landscape below keeps moving - again, like a virtual flight!

The second image shows mountains in Arizona. Although you can see the 3-D relief in the image - the actual 3-D rendering in the live application will have you sitting for hours on the computer just "traveling" the geography.
This free site can assist in teaching about urban planning, geography, biology, history, and countless other subjects. Allowing students to view the terrain paints events in a much more interesting light.

Check it out at and click on MORE>>

Friday, November 03, 2006

Software Suite - StarOffice

The current academic discount price for Microsoft Office 2003 Professional is around $180 ( ).

If you or your students are looking for a more affordably priced, Microsoft-compatible software suite, consider Sun's StarOffice (
Not only does this software emulate the look and feel of Microsoft Office, but it also reads, writes, and edits files in MS Office file formats.

Additionally, StarOffice can create PDF output files (normally an additional cost, for Adobe Acrobat PDF Writer at $150 for academic discount).

Being able to create PDF files is extremely beneficial for online course development. Most computer users already have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader program already installed on their computers (either through direct internet download from or as part of the installation process for other software packages which have documentation in PDF files).
PDF files tend to be much more accessible to persons with disabilities, and the bundling of this functionality right within StarOffice allows you to share written documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint-like presentations with your students simply and easily.

$330 worth of software utility for a $70 price seems like a very "smart decision."

For the truly "geeky" computer users, this software can run on Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Mac OSX, and it also complies with teh OASIS standard file formats that have been widely adopted by the European Union.