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 was recently panned by Microsoft as the free "Fake Office" program.
Marketing never came so easy. Now Zoho has registered the domain name for
"" 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.

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


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
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." 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, 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. 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

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 presentation from my materials.

The result is at:

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 has posted a YouTube video on how to create easy DIY lighting.

Thinking Like an Innovator

I came across a great video from 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.

Plagiarism: Preventing or Punishing?

I stumbled across a great set of presentations from Douglas Johnson who serves as the Director of Media and Technology for Mankato Public Schools in Minnesota.

Of particular interest is a presentation titled "The Fence or the Ambulance: Are You Punishing or Preventing Plagiarism in Your School?" When you view the handout he has posted online you will see Doug's Qualities of LPP (Low Probability of Plagiarism) guidelines.
Here is the list:
  1. LPP projects have clarity of purpose and expectations.
  2. LPP research projects give students choices.
  3. LPP projects are relevant to the student's life.
  4. LPP projects ask students to write in a narrative rather than an expository style.
  5. LPP projects stress higher level thinking skills and creativity.
  6. LPP projects answer real questions (which students would ask).
  7. LPP projects involve a variety of information finding activities.
  8. LPP projects tend to be hands-on.
  9. LPP projects use technology to spur creativity.
  10. LPP projects use formats that use multiple senses.
  11. LPP projects can be complex, but are broken into multiple steps.
  12. LPP projects are often collaborative and produce results that are better than individual work.
  13. LPP projects have results that are shared with people who care and respond.
  14. LPP projects are authentically assessed.
  15. LPP projects allow the learner to reflect, revisit, revise, and improve their final projects.
  16. LPP projects are encouraged by adults who believe that given enough time, resources, and motivation, all students are capable of original work.

Each of these points is accompanied by a paragraph which gives context and strategies.

The presentation handout then goes on to present grading rubrics and assignment instructions which would be delivered to students.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bloom's Taxonomy updated for the Digital Classroom

I found a presentation by Joshua Coupal on which explains Bloom's taxonomy of learning as it relates to the digital classroom. If you haven't yet seen - it is a free way to create dynamic and interactive presentations (rather than the same old PowerPoints).

Joshua Coupal created a great presentation which also demonstrates extremely well how might be used.

Check out his presentation at:

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

11 Reasons Why a Tablet is Better than a Whiteboard

I came across a great article written by Jim Vanides of HP in which he argues 11 Reasons Why a Tablet PC is Better than a whiteboard.

Three key points are the ability to continue without erasing, the ability to capture and share notes from your presentation, and the ability to face your audience (rather than facing the whiteboard).

Great article on points I've similarly argued in the past. (But... if an expert from HP says it, it might carry more weight. *grin*)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charter Cable Out of Service in St. Cloud

Something is gone horribly wrong again with Charter Cable. I can only get to a few websites (like Google) with almost all others resulting in a "Network Timeout" message. I can't even check my email or send a message to complain (even is failing to load) - so... I decided to "say something" here. It has been down for 2 hours so far (maybe more... I only checked after I got home from work).

Monday, June 29, 2009

New Studies Suggest eLearning Advantage over Traditional Classrooms

The article "The Evidence on Online Education" posted in today's Inside Higher Ed website suggests that online learners have definite advantages over face-to-face learners.

Evidence suggests that the students in well-designed "blended" classes perform the best, followed by online students, followed by face-to-face students.

This is an improvement over past studies which have suggested "no difference" between face-to-face and online modes of delivery. The key factor appears to be the "time to study" which is more flexible using online delivery methods.

MnSCU eFolio Summit

The 2009 eFolio Summit will be held on August 5th and 6th at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

eFolio is an web-based software application which allows any resident of Minnesota to create a free, online portfolio.

The summit will cover how the eFolio site can be used in assessment of student learning, in building program pages to support accreditation, and tips and techniques for building content in the application.

The website for more information is:
2009 eFolio Summit

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

OpenOffice as substitute for Microsoft 2007

OpenOffice is a free, open source software suite which provides virtually the same productivity tools as Microsoft Office 2007. The software uses the familiar menus structures of the Microsoft 2003 Office suite. In May 2009 the OpenOffice version 3.1 was released. For students on a tight budget, this is an easy and legal way to get productivity software for completing assignments.

The "hitch" is that for best compatibility, everyone should save their documents in the 2003 "Compatibility" mode. At this time, instructors should do this anyway as not to disenfranchise students using older computer systems and software.

OpenOffice Ninja is a site with articles to help users of OpenOffice get the most utility from the software.

Inkscape - open source drawing program

Inkscape is an open source drawing program available on SourceForge.
What GIMP is to Photoshop, Inkscape is to Illustrator.

Tuxmagazine has an "Introdcution to Inkscape" (pdf) which helps new users get started.
Additional tutorials are available from Inkscape, InkscapeTutorials, and a step-by-step lesson in how to create a logo with arched text is available at Sixthings.

Inkscape is available in multiplatform (Windows, Mac OSX, Linux) and is also available in a portable version to run off a USB memory drive.
There is even a plug-in which assists in creating 2-D animation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nursing by Cell Phone

I just heard a great program on Minnesota Public Radio (The Story - by American Public Media).

The show was an interview with Jo Holt, a student in nursing school.

She is using patients' own cell phones to record photos and detailed voice instructions for follow-up care once patients leave the hospital (especially relating to wounds and dressings). This helps the patient understand exactly how to care for their own health - providing easy and individualized patient care.

Also - this use of technology could help patients communicate back with doctors and nurses to determine if a follow-up visit is needed.

When I heard it ... it made so much sense.
It could probably extend to dental and other health professions - to help patients know "what to look for" in the follow-up care.

Here is the link:
Nursing by Cell Phone Story and Podcast

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Video Tutorial on Audacity

I've put together a 25-minute video-based learning object on how to use the free, open-source software Audacity. Audacity is a program which allows you to do audio recording and editing, and also allows you to do multi-track production (if you want to fully produce music).

The Introduction to Audacity video walks you through the install process, presents an audio-production model, and shows how to use some of the editing controls and effects available in the tool.

Audacity is multi-platform (Windows, Mac OS, Linux) and is also available in a version which runs off a USB Flash Drive, called Audacity Portable.

Monday, June 01, 2009

FREE Audio Books!

You and your students can download hundreds of audio books for free!
Finding the free books is very easy with a set of lists compiled by the site
You also can go into iTunes and do a search on "audiobook" or "ebook" and then sort the column titled PRICE to be ascending (the free books will list first).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia

The Consortium of College & University Media Centers has a set of Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia (pdf).
While these guidelines are not part of copyright law, they are agreed upon standards which can guide the non-commercial, educational uses of multi-media.

An important point in the use of multi-media in online courses is that materials must be password protected and prevent students from downloading the work (which normally means using a streamed media server). If the network cannot prevent downloads, then the materials can be placed on a secured network (password protected) for a period of 15 - and then removed (and students must be advised that they cannot make any copies of the multimedia).

Guidelines for the amount of work are also provided. The following assume that non-commercial, educational uses are being made and that materials are not copied by the students to their own computers.
  • Motion media: 3 minutes or 10% whichever is less.
  • Text materials: 1000 words or 10% whichever is less.
  • Music, Lyrics, and Music Video: 10% or 30 seconds, whichever is less.
  • Illustrations and Photographs: 10% or 15 images from a collection, whichever is less.
  • Numerical Data Sets: 2500 cells or 10%, whichever is less.
The site also provides a caution against using materials found on the Internet and labeled as "public domain" - because most often these works are protected by copyright and mislabeled (intentionally or otherwise).

Also - a reminder that any sources and materials must be attributed to the copyright owner. The © symbol followed by the year of publication and the name of the copyright holder is expected. (© 2009 James Falkofske)

It is recommended that multimedia productions include a notice on the opening slide or title which indicates "certain materials included in this presentation are under the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law and have been prepared according to the fair use guidelines and are restricted from further use."

Friday, May 22, 2009

LSC Workshop for Online Course Peer Review

Inn on Lake Superior - lake side

2009 May Faculty Peer Review Workshop by LSC

Summary of Notes – James Falkofske
The last two days I was in Duluth, MN attending the Online Faculty Peer Review Course Design Workshop presented by Susan Brashaw and Amy Jo Swing of Lake Superior College. Here are some notes from the workshop about their faculty peer review process for online courses.

Peer Review is Strictly Voluntary Participation

  • Instructors are invited to participate, but there is no requirement (due to labor contract concerns of “on-ground” versus “online” responsibilities and review).
  • About 60% of the online faculty members have been part of the review process at some point.
  • Faculty volunteer to have their courses reviewed; they aren’t eligible for this until they have had the training.
  • A coordinator (Susan Brashaw) is given release time to recruit faculty, recruit courses for review, handle paperwork, and provide training to reviewers. Also, the coordinator helps “teach how to teach” online (which is more than having technical training on how to use D2L tools). This was seen as a critical factor in the ongoing use of the peer review process.

Review Process

  • Rubric adapted from the Maryland Online Quality Matters Rubric while still under the FIPSE Grant (which required results be public and sharable). LSC allows others to use, adopt, and adapt their rubric. The LSC rubric is simplified to meet the best practices and needs of LSC.
  • LSC review process uses local faculty only (no outside reviewers), and instructor / designer must approve the review team prior to review.
  • Reviewers receive 2 to 3 hours of instruction prior to their first review. Faculty are only eligible to become a reviewer after one of their own courses has been reviewed.
  • Three reviewers are assigned to review a course, and one is designated the leader who meets 1-on-1 with faculty designer and has other reporting responsibilities. The leader receives a $300 stipend for this activity.
  • Instructor completes a checklist – helping reviewers identify where certain standards are being met in the course.
  • A passing score of 60/70 means course is “certified;” otherwise the course is scored as “in progress.” Roughly half the courses are given “in progress” scores upon first review.
  • Even if a course is “certified,” the reviewers provide recommendation for improvements to the course design, flow, and appearance. The review process examines structure and design much more than “quality of content.”
  • “In process” courses can have the leader of the review team review the changes to determine if the course then meets certification standards.
  • All the information is held as confidential; review team signs statements of non-disclosure; faculty may choose to share results with administrators, but administrators alone cannot request results from any review. All documents (paper and electronic) are “shredded” after one year.
  • Since starting 4 years ago, 53 courses have been reviewed and 21 reviewers trained (review of roughly 15 courses per year)
  • Reviews are only made for fully online courses; there are thoughts of expanding the review process to hybrid / web-enhanced courses

D2L Best Practices Notes

Much of the workshop was sharing of best practices for online instruction and course design; I enjoyed hearing that other faculty were using the same types of online activities which I recommend, and I was able to provide some technical assistance to participants in specific D2L settings and tools.
  • The LSC Presenters felt this was especially important: D2L Site Administrators should turn on all possible tools for faculty to control themselves; this allows faculty to be innovative and be able to have maximum control over the presentation of their online courses. This includes changing navigation bars, creating custom widgets, and modifying course run dates.
  • Provide faculty with a “Starter Course” from which they can copy & paste ideas they want. The course provides brief “how to” instructions for embedding different types of content, changing D2L tool settings, etc.
  • The processes of satisfying the rubric can be simplified by creating special tools that faculty can cut and paste into their courses (the official Virtual Campus Student Support Widget as one example)
  • Faculty and students need to have access to technology tutorials which demonstrate how to use tools (D2L, wikis, photo editors, etc.) for online courses.
  • Encourage students to express creativity using Web 2.0 tools, but don't make the use of Web 2.0 tools a requirement for an individual student's assignment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

D2L Setting Custom Content Homepage

D2L Content Settings showing the custom homepage settings.

If you use Desire2Learn and want to help guide your students through your course week-by-week, you can set a custom Content Homepage for each week, by picking which Content Topic should open automatically when students click Content.
Students will always get to see a Table of Contents link - so that they always access any Topic from the course.

Go to Content > Settings > then use the checkbox for Create a Custom Content Homepage. Then choose which File should be loaded automatically by using the button Change File.

D2L - Creating Private Discussions

Why Create a Private Discussion?

If you are using Desire2Learn (D2L) then private discussions will allow you and your students to communicate confidentially within the online course site. Rather than receiving emails from unknown personal accounts (and likely ignoring the emails), or being asked to reply to a cryptic email which lacks basic details (such as which course, which section, which student), a private discussion area allows you to easily manage your 1-on-1 communications with students.

Setting Up Private Discussions (pdf) - how to set up a 1-on-1 private discussion with each student.
Video Demonstration of Private Discussion Process (Flash)

Not only does this help keep your email box clean, but it also assists with FERPA issues, so that students who have private concerns are not feeling compelled to post them in a public discussion forum.

Are Students Ready for an Online Course?

Some students sign up for online courses thinking they will be a breeze, since they "won't even have to go to class!" Other students sign up - because their work schedules don't allow them to take classes when the face-to-face sections are offered.

This results in some students in the "virtual chairs" not having the skills, tools, are attitudes required to succeed.

Here is a self-assessment checklist I wrote in JavaScript to counsel students if they are ready for the online environment.

Here is an exercise I created for students to assess their ability to use Microsoft Word formatting and tools.

Here is a site which offers a free keyboarding / typing test - for students to check how fast they can keyboard.

Here is a site which offers a free connection speed test for student Internet connections.

What Sections Should Your Syllabus Share?

A syllabus for an online course needs to account the integration of the technologies being used and also should be much more thorough than a syllabus for a face-to-face course in order to avoid the small questions which students will have (which might raise their anxiety). Over-explaining is encouraged in an online course; students who are nervous will get the answers they need, and all others can quickly skim through the documents feeling reassured that if they have a question later, they will be able to find the answer quickly.
Here are some specific sections you might include as headings in your syllabus for an online course.

  • Instructor(s) and Department Contact Information
  • Instructor(s)'s Teaching Philosophy and Course Pedagogy*
  • About the Course
    • Course Description (University Catalog)
    • Prerequisites
    • Competence Statement and Course Learning Objectives
    • Required Textbook and Resources
    • Are You Ready for This Online Course?
    • Course Methods
    • Measurement of Learning Outcomes
  • College / University Policies
    • Drop/Withdraw
    • University Grading Policy
    • Disability Services
  • Communications
    • Questions and Answers about the Course
    • Email: When to Use and What to Include
    • Major Life Trauma
    • Return of Assignments / Feedback
    • Attendance and Course Communications
  • Instructor Policies and Requirements
    • Preparation
    • Quality of Response
    • Professionalism and Respect
    • Collaborative Work
    • Plagiarism and Copyright
    • Course Incomplete
    • Late Work
    • Extra Credit Policy
  • Technology Expectations
    • Backup Copies of Assignments / Save of Returned Assignments
    • Online "Snow Days"- What to do if the IMS is down (alternatives)
    • Technology Requirements and Expectations
    • Computer Hardware and Software
    • File Management
    • Document File Names
    • Campus Resources
    • Other Free Resources
  • Evaluations and Grading
    • Required Competency Activities (if these are not completed; student fails course)
    • List of Assessments and Instructions for Completion
      • Course Orientation Assignments
      • Chapter Quizzes
        • No Trick Questions - Obvious Answers are Correct*
      • Exams
      • Discussions - Participation and Posting Expectations
      • Weekly Research and Analysis Activities
      • Peer Reviews
      • Written Papers
      • Projects and Presentations
    • Grade Scale:
    • Bonus / Extra Credit Opportunities
* Students in online courses might not get as much of a chance to see your personality or to gauge whether or not you are a "trickster." If you like to play "Devil's Advocate" in Discussions, or if you use humor to try to make your points - disclose that to students right up front - so that they know you are not making fun of them. Also - to reduce testing anxiety, it is helpful to clearly state something like "when taking quizzes and exams, you will not face any trick questions. If you are very well-studied, the answers should be obvious. Don't 'over-think' a question; always pick the answer which works best in the widest variety of situations."

As a separate document, a Schedule of Assignments should be created which indicates specific due dates, readings and topics, and activities/assignments which needs to be completed. Rather than burying this information in a syllabus, placing this information in a separate document makes it much easier for your students to reference.

Making Your Documents Accessible

Here are some videos which will walk you through the basics of making accessible documents.

Please view ALL of the following videos to ensure that you know the skills needed to make your Microsoft Office documents accessible.

These videos require the Adobe Flash Player. The player is available as a free download (if not already installed on your computer).

For other videos - scroll down beneath the video window.

Video: Preparing Your Documents for Online Use (3 min 40 sec) | Handout: Making Your Word Documents Accessible (pdf)

You should convert your content documents to the PDF format so that they open directly in D2L. Microsoft Office documents uploaded directly to D2L create browser security errors; they also force a student to own Microsoft Office software to use the files (or to having to use Microsoft Internet Explorer and additional special plug-ins before files will display).

Video: Security Issues Caused by Microsoft Office Documents in D2L
(0 min 55 sec)

NOTE: If you have worksheets or other homework which students must complete using Microsoft Office programs, then it is appropriate to post those files directly in D2L with additional instructions for students on how to properly download and save the files for editing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

D2L Tips and Tricks

The following are some of my favorite tips and tricks.

  • Encourage Undocking: Remind students that they can use the "Undock" icon to view documents in a new window free of the D2L navigation. This allows better use of the screen real-estate, and when they close the window - D2L still remains in the background window.
    Undock icon
  • Multi-Edit Content Topics: If you need to update short titles or dates inside content titles, you can multi-select the topics for change and then use the "multi-edit" button. This saves time over opening and saving each individual document.
    Multi-Edit icon
  • Edit in Raw HTML: For those who are tech-savvy, you can directly edit your HTML codes in the built-in HTML editor. This allows you to link to external CSS style-sheets, so that you can create ADA accessible documents which are also rich in color and design.
    TIP: The HTML editor allows you to resize the editing panel to any size you desire. Bigger can be better.
    HTML Editor showing Raw HTML mode icon
  • Discussion Deadlines: if you have weekly discussions, set the availability of the discussions in the FORUM level rather than each individual TOPIC.
  • Quizzes Mixed Up: Build all of your quiz questions directly in the question library. Then, when you make your quiz, you can use a Random Section folder which will give every student the questions in a different (random) order. Much less worry about "hey, what did you get for question 3?"
  • Quizzes as Homework Worksheets: Online quizzes are essentially insecure. Unless you have someone standing over the shoulder of your student making sure they don't use their cell phone, another computer, a walkie-talking, text note files on an iPod or MP3 player, or any various other ways of scheming the system, students who "cheat" have an unfair advantage over the rest of the class. Instead, consider the quiz tool as a way to ask really tough homework problems. Students solve the homework and then post their answers into the Quiz tool. They get automatic grading, feedback when they've guessed incorrectly, and the ability to "redo" by using the quiz's ATTEMPTS (suggest using LAST ATTEMPT or AVERAGE OF ALL ATTEMPTS). Multiple attempts are very helpful in giving students incentive to go back and study harder - to make sure they know the materials before going onto the next topic / chapter.
  • Launching Other Websites in New Windows: If you are linking to any external website, you should open the link in a new window. Many websites "reload" themselves into the outer-most browser frame - thereby "taking over" the browser and breaking the connection to D2L. When opened in a new browser window - you don't have to worry which sites misbehave. Use the LINK property to OPEN IN: NEW WINDOW.
  • Gradebook PASS/FAIL Item Type: Online students tend to procrastinate. Breaking up any assignment into a series of "completion exercises" (all or no credit) helps motivate students to keep on task. The PASS / FAIL grade item type allows you to easily award full or no credit. I suggest using the GRADE ALL item to set everyone to PASS, and then individually setting to NONE those students who did not complete the assignment (or FAIL to those who missed the deadline and didn't do the assignment sufficiently).
    5 pts P/F - Select a Topic (Week 2)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in 8 credible sources for the topic (Week 3)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in Preliminary Outline (Week 4)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in Draft of Point 1 (Week 5)
    10 pts P/F - Turn in Bibliography (Week 8)
    10 pts P/F - Turn in Draft of Full Paper (Week 10)
    60 pts - Turn in Final Version of Paper (Week 12)
    (notice that student will "fail" assignment unless they do all the completion exercises)
  • Grade Attendance as a NEGATIVE BONUS Item: If you take deductions for missing class, then the best way to handle that in the gradebook is to create a numeric type grade item which is set to type BONUS. Since Bonus items are not added to the denominator when calculating Final Course Percentage, any score (positive or minus) is not a "graded" item. D2L allows negative scores, even in the Bonus item. Use the Comments balloon in the grade to keep track of the specific dates and times missed, and then enter a negative number to reflect how much of a deduction so far (cumulative).

Tips for Online Course Content Design

Photo of a garden with trees and plants with a walking path down the center.
Here are some of my tips on Course Content design for online courses.
  • Falkofske's Growing Your Garden Analogy-Perennials, Annuals, Cut Flowers: Make your content very granular and keep mindful of the "lifespan" of each piece of information you are presenting. This will help you avoid excess editing each time you offer the course.
    • Perennials: Permanent Policies, Procedures, and Proofs - what information will stay the same unless there is an "Act of God?" Theories and concepts normally persist over time. For example, when is the last time the theory of gravity was updated? What about the last time a major campus policy was changed? Didn't it take great effort and years of development? Isolate your "relatively" permanent information into separate documents. To twist a phrase, then you can "ed-it and forget it."
    • Annuals: Applications, Assessments, Activities - what information needs to be updated on an annual cycle to improve the quality and accuracy? Schedules of due dates for learning activities, assessment descriptions and grading (including quiz and exam questions), and current applications and uses of theories and concepts should all be updated at least once a year. Separate these items to constrain the editing to specific documents which you know need regular updates (such as the "Course Schedule").
    • Cut Flowers: Current News and Controlled by Others - have you every built a hyperlink to another site only to find that when students tried it later in the course, the link no longer worked? Any content which you did not create (or control) should be separated out as a "cut flower." These are items that should be edited / written immediately before they are needed, so that they don't "wilt and die" before students need them. I suggest putting your "weekly links" into a News item. This will help avoid outdated links in your course content and also provide you with special incentives to create News postings with the "latest and greatest" links for the current week's assignments. It also gives you an opportunity to scan the industry news feeds to find articles which pertain to an aspect of your course (showing the topic is noteworthy and newsworthy).
    • Think "Transplantation" - is it easier to transplant a 45-foot tall Oak tree, or a rose bush? If you decide that you want to re-use content in a future semester (or different course), or if your textbook changes, or if the course learning objectives change, how easy will it be for you to prune and transplant the content? It is a lot easier to create lots of small objects (which are easy to sort and shuffle) than creating a few large documents. Example: rather than a 50-slide Powerpoint on the whole chapter, what about seven 10-slide PowerPoints with one for each major topic?
  • It is YOUR Course, Not the Publisher's: too often instructors base their entire course design on the Chapter Numbers in the textbook. This creates a myopic view. Things that aren't in the textbook seem like they "don't fit / don't belong" in the online course site. Instead, start with the course Learning Objectives and use them as the Titles for the sections / units in your course. Focusing on the learning objectives and their related assessments allows the textbook to become a "resource" and not the "course." There will be less renovation of the course if the textbook changes or if a different textbook is adopted.
  • Over-explain Everything! In a face-to-face class, it is easy to get audience feedback and determine if instructions are confusing or too sparse. In an online class, trying to "save time" by giving brief instructions results in a lot of time expended in answering questions and concerns, or worse, having students complete assignments in the wrong manner (because the instructions were open to interpretation). If you worry about providing too much detail and "boring" students, realize that students can easily skim through your content. This design tactic also serves as a CYA - if a student issues a challenge to a grade; if everything is explicitly placed in writing - it should be easy for any third party to determine what the expectations were for the student.
  • Make it Accessible! When explaining an assignment, always write instructions as though you were explaining them over a telephone. Rather than "click here, then click here," use language like "click the Content Link, then find and click Manage Content." Also, learn how to use the simple operations in Microsoft Office software to make your documents accessible. These are:
    • Create Well-Structured Documents: use the Styles > Headings to indicate the outline-based structure of your document (Heading 1 for title, Heading 2 for Major Sections, Heading 3 for Sub-Sections, etc.).
    • Use Text Alternatives for All Visual and Auditory Information: add ALT TEXT to your images (right-mouse-click, choose SIZE, then ALT TEXT) to provide blind users with image captions which are machine readable. If you have a particularly complex image or diagram, add a paragraph beneath the image which explains what principles the image is illustrating (this benefits sighted students as well). If you have a video or audio podcast, make sure that you post a text-transcript of the recording (often, textbook publishers have these available for the asking).
    • Add Column Headings to your tables: If someone cannot see your data table, they need to know the layout before they hear the data. Making sure that you have headings for each of your columns is an accessibility requirement. If your table has a particularly complex design, add a paragraph directly before the table which explains the layout and structure (again - as you would describing it over the telephone).
    • Save in Universally Accessible Format: I strongly recommend using the Adobe PDF file format for online files. This format preserves document layout (if instructors want a multi-column layout), preserves images, and allows documents to be viewed without the cost of special software (the Adobe Reader is a free plug-in). Adobe has added special features to the Reader so that it can work directly with assistive technologies (like screen readers, Braille devices, etc.).
  • Descriptive Title Links: Ever click a link and not know what is going to load? Frustrating? Did you ever get a "file" instead of a web page (and not know how to view the file)? Make sure that your hyperlinks have "human text" contextual labels (Creating Accessible Adobe Documents (.pdf) instead of ). If the link brings you to anything other than a web page, indicate the file type which will load (such as .pdf).

Tips for Online Discussions

If you are running an online discussion, here are some tips to consider to have students interact more effectively.
  • Dual Deadlines: have the initial post due by mid-week and then follow-up posts by end of week. This ensures that students have something to react to as part of their follow-up activities.
  • Hyperlink the instructions. If you have instructions or a grading rubric, create a hyperlink which is easily accessible to all students. It is best is this document can open in a pop-up window. (For HTML gurus, this is the target="_blank" )
  • Problem Solving / Critical Thinking without the details: If students are asked factual questions, there is very little to discuss after one student answers correctly. If instead students are given "case study" questions in which they are given only part of the information, then students will need to analyze what questions they can answer, what additional information they will need, and what course of resolution they recommend.
  • HELP ME!!! It is very powerful to both students and instructor to create a Questions discussion in the course. This allows the instructor's answer to be "heard" by the whole course - rather than just one email recipient. Additionally - student peers will often jump in and answer the questions (allowing other students to get back on task more quickly). I normally have 3 discussion threads for Questions and Answers:
    • Questions about the Content: what students don't understand in the textbook, articles, handouts, videos, podcasts, and supplementary resource materials.
    • Questions about the Assignments: what students seek for clarification.
    • Questions and Tips about Technology: how to navigate and use the course more effectively.
  • Students Answer Their Own Questions: I ask that students post very specific questions AND also give me what they feel the correct answer is. This allows me to congratulate them when they are on the right track, and similarly it helps me identify where they might have gotten off-track. It is also a huge time solver, because I can properly scope the answer to the specific need... rather than writing huge blocks of text to try to re-explain the content.
  • Private Discussions Instead of Email: I set up private 1-on-1 discussions between myself and each student. I have students use those areas instead of email, since I know immediately the student's name and the course when a question is posted. Also - this allows me to quickly see a history of interactions (no searching through old email).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Hulu - brings you Dr. Horrible

Neil Patrick Harris was featured in an online musical called "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" - which is now available at

If you didn't see this when it came out last summer... you ought to see it now.

Also check out the official Fan Site for Dr. Horrible's Sign-Along Blog.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hardware, software, and underwear

James says...
Hardware, software, and UNDERwear,
should be kept clean,
and then thrown out and replaced at least every three years
to get rid of the holes and to improve performance.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Webinars for Online Learning Tips and Techniques

I am presenting some webinars relating to Online Tips and Techniques on Thursdays until the end of summer. Anyone from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System is welcome to join in on the sessions (email me for details). Here is the list of dates and topics. The sessions run Thursdays from 12:10pm to 12:45pm.

Date Topic
4/23/2009 Google Blogger (free tool)
4/30/2009 Audacity Audio Recording and Editing (free tool)
5/7/2009 Modifying Word 2007 Paragraph Styles
5/14/2009 Adobe Presenter Turning PowerPoint into Flash-based Lectures
5/21/2009 7 Basics for Making Your Word 2007 Documents Accessible
5/28/2009 NO SESSION
6/4/2009 Using and Creating YouTube Videos for D2L Sites
6/11/2009 NO SESSION
6/18/2009 Blemish and Wrinkle Retouching in Photoshop, and other tricks
6/25/2009 Google Groups – Free Tools for Collaboration, Editing, and File Sharing
7/2/2009 Skype Online Phone Conference Calls for up to 10 Callers (free / low-cost)
7/9/2009 Speech Recognition in Microsoft Vista – Turning Speech to Text Transcripts
7/16/2009 Introduction to Creating Tutorial Videos with Adobe Captivate
7/23/2009 Student Readiness for Online Courses – A Model for Orientation and Certification of Online Learners
7/30/2009 Respecting Copyrights: Strategies and Resources to Keep You Out of Trouble
8/6/2009 Creating PDF Handouts from PowerPoint Files
8/13/2009 Podcast Your Classroom Lectures with a Pocket-Sized Voice Recorder
8/20/2009 Virtual Office Hours: Tips, Tricks, and Technologies
8/27/2009 Creating Custom Cartoons for Courses (free tool)

Blackboard vs. the World... continuing Saga

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has now preliminarily rejected all 57 patent claims by Blackboard. This is great news for any school using the software by Desire2Learn -- the company which continues to fend itself against lawsuits by Blackboard over patent infringements.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mineral Oil Cooled Computer

This is a very interesting idea - cooling your computer with mineral oil. The main advantage is no noise (no fans whirring in the background). This might be especially useful in audio and video recording applications in which the background noise needs to be kept at a minimum. Also, the mineral oil distributes heat to a wider area, and a submersible pump can ensure that the oil circulates and dissipates the heat.

Video by Puget Custom Computer Systems.

Here is a demonstration using Vegetable Oil. Because vegetable oil can turn rancid, I would suggest the mineral oil suggested above.
Video from Tina Wood and Laura Foy.

More information on this topic from Tom's Hardware - Cooling with oil.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How NOT to do PowerPoint

Here are a few fun videos about how NOT to do PowerPoint.

Don McMillan - How NOT to use PowerPoint

Alexei Kapterev - (Avoiding) Death by PowerPoint

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Talent = 10,000 hours plus luck

What does it take to succeed? What is talent? Finally - you have your answer! (not workplace safe)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Batteries, Batteries, and Where Will They Go?

Wonder what to do about a dead battery? Can it be safely tossed out with the wilted lettuce and over-ripen cucumber? Or, does it need to be treated as highly-hazardous material?

TWICE magazine has put together a guide on how to dispose of and recycle batteries.

Common Cartridge Standard for IMS Materials

Common Cartridge is a new standard which allows content developed for one Instructional Management System (IMS) to be exported and imported by another. Moving beyond the SCORM standard, the Common Cartridge allows better integration of collaborative tools and activities.
Here are some FAQs about Common Cartridge and also a Chart of Common Cartridge as it relates to an IMS.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Music Tools

More tools for music...
Making Music Blog
Musician's Friend - great low-cost gear
American Musical Supply - more great low-cost gear
Denemo - Open Source Sheet Music Editor
Audacity - Open Source Multi-track Sound Recording and Editing

Sounds of Silence

As the school term ends, I'm starting to think about summer evenings writing and recording music. Apartment living has its drawbacks, and a major one is that inspiration can't over-ride the rights of others to sleep in peace, and the "daily buzz" of life tends to get picked up on microphones.

As I was surfing around for new ideas on building a small "voice box" to sound-insulate the microphone from the rest of the apartment, I stumbled on some other great resources relating to soundproofing.

Here is some links to consider if you are building your own audio recording studio in a home, basement, or garage.

Construction Tips and Materials for Floors and Walls
Soundproofing Supplies - Residential and Commercial
Tips and Materials for Soundproofing an Apartment
Soundproofing Basic Theory
Portable Sound Control Booth - Homemade
Double Studwall Technique
Practical Sound Proofing including Windows and Ceilings

Friday, March 06, 2009

Access to MySQL Conversion

I'm doing some web design experimentation with Joomla, Drupal, and Moodle. As I am exploring these open-source applications, I also have an interest in converting some Microsoft Access databases into MySQL.

The big application would be a simplified, self-service helpdesk system which would allow users to pick a major category, sub-category, and task for which they need tips / advice. I think this is easier to build and populate in Access and the "push" into a MySQL database. (Or at least those are my thoughts for the moment - unless other can recommend some really easy GUI-based MySQL interfaces which allow CSV imports.)

Here are some articles I've come across relating to converting Microsoft Access to MySQL.
MySql: Migrating from Microsoft SQL Server tool Access To MySQL
Drupal Taxonomy Quick Find module
Joomla FAQ Extensions
Joomla MultiSites Extensions (helpdesk as separate site from main)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What are Digital Tablets?

Digital tablets are computer input devices, very much like a mouse, but very much cooler. The tablet allows you to use an electronic pen, and this gives you much better control and resolution when drawing on the screen.

A simple application is signing your name on an electronic document.
With a mouse, your name would look childish or undecipherable.
With an electronic pen and digital table, the familiar motions of a ball-point pen are recorded to your screen.

A better application of this technology is a digital whiteboard. Using your laptop computer and an LCD projector in a classroom, you can use your digital tablet to take notes and project them on a screen. After class, you can make your handwritten notes available as an electronic file.

There are many vendors in the Digital Tablet marker, but one of the better known vendors is Wacom. Here is a company "pitch" video for their Bamboo Tablet line.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Faster Bookmarks

Screenshot of a page of hyperlinks segmented into a table by category of type of link
I have a new homepage on my Internet browsers.
I've decided to create a webpage which has my most frequently accessed links, and I've saved it to my local network drive (so it follows me around campus). This allows me to create quickly access my bookmarks regardless of which computer I'm using, and yet it keeps my set of links private (stored on my campus network drive/not on an open website).
Part of the reason for "hiding" this - is that I have so many usernames and passwords, I can give myself reminders of my usernames for the sites I am accessing.

Click the image above to view a full-screen version of my bookmark setup.

If you already are using a social-bookmarking tool, another suggestion might be to make that your home page.

I use SeaMonkey (web browser suite) to edit the page. It has a built-in webpage editor called COMPOSER which allows you to easily create web pages without knowing HTML coding. Then the page can be saved wherever you wish.

This idea might be extended to online course sites, since faculty could create a series of resource links for students and then upload the HTML file into their course management system to share with students.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Video "Helicopter" Overhead Shots

I did a bit of video atop a paint-roller extension pole. I strapped the camera to the top of the pole and did a few quick overhead clips to demonstrate the potential for this project.

The video is a bit shakey because I'm walking and also the wind was gusting to 15MPH. On a warm, still day - the quality could be much better.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Video / Photo Shooting Table

Shooting Table Setup and Lighting - Video shows the setup and use of a video and photography shooting table constructed out of 3/4-inch PVC plumbing pipe and a translucent white portable filing box (for hanging file folders).

Overhead Laboratory Camera Mount - Video shows the setup and use of an overhead "tripod" for mounting a small camera or video camera to document laboratory procedures from an overhead view.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Video Equipment Projects

Professional video gear is outside the budgets of most instructors.
Here are some innovative projects for "home-brew, do-it-yourself" construction of projects to extend your filming tools.

Radio Control Pan / Title Rig -- RC controller moves camera for aerial shots.
$14 Camera Stabilizer - shoot handheld video without the roller-coaster results
PVC Fig Rig stabilizer - shoot handheld video
Underwater Housing - for small video cameras (plans)
Underwater Camcorder Housing - Larger cameras
Near Infrared Filter - heat signatures'
Helmet Camera - Hands-free recording for point-of-view videos
Camera Crane for $60 - for very lightweight DV cameras
Camera Jib Crane and Tripod for $200 - for heavier cameras.
Track Dolly System for $100 - smooth "rolls" of camera along a path
Homemade Dolly for $50 - another version using PVC
Make a Greenscreen for Chroma Key - substitute background images (weathermap)
Timelapse Panning using an old clock motor
Microscope Video in Macro Mode
In Car Headrest Camera Mount
Dash Cam Mount
Bicycle Camera Mount
Motorcycle Camera Mount
Giant Tripod
Tripod Dolly - Rolling base for video
Camcorder Clamp Rig - clamp your video camera to most surfaces
USB Webcam Telescope - Turn an old USB camera and a Zoom lens into web-telescope
Build a Teleprompter - Less than $50 requiring software
Microphone Blimp / Boom - less noise and wind on your recordings

Photo Construction Projects

Photography can be a central part to the design of a technical or health course, in order to show steps in a process, details of tools and materials, and to contrast and compare different items.

Taking effective photographs can be made simpler with the right tools. One of these tools is a "shooting table" on which items to be photographed are placed and lit.

Commercial Shooting Tables
B&H Photo Video - Shooting Tables
Adorama - Still Life Photo Equipment

Here are some links to construction ideas and parts for building a shooting table.

Monday, January 05, 2009

More FREE Software for College Students

Here are a few sites with recommendations on FREE software for college students.

College Crunch Free Software Guide - descriptions and screenshots
Campus Grotto - simple list of links
Microsoft DreamSpark - free development software to highschool and college students
Bill Mullins Blog on Best Free Software - links and descriptions - Free software that runs from a USB Flash Drive
Make Use Of Portable Software - 100 portable applications for a USB Flash Drive

Computer Programming in 3D

Screenshot of an animated character wearing ice skates on a frozen winter pond outdoors
I stumbled upon a site from Carnegie Mellon University which is a FREE programming environment which allows students to learn the concepts of object oriented programming through building and animating virtual world scenes. After downloading and unzipping the program, you are given a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the application. It is quite fun, and you can build your own animation within minutes.
To get Alice, go to the downloads area of

Alice runs on Windows, OSX and Linux.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Effective Demonstration of Video -

I am not a fan of "talking head" uses of video in online and hybrid courses. I feel that audio is a better vehicle if you aren't demonstration a process or procedure.

However, video can be essential to the success of students in an online course.
View a great set of FREE videos which are very effective at teaching techniques to students at The videos have the instructor explain the process, then demonstrate the process, and then provide sheet-music instructions for viewers.

Even if you've never drummed before, this site will get your fingers tapping!