#windowsfail

5 12 2015

My first twelve years of computer ownership involved Commodore products. Twenty years ago I got my first Windows PC, in order to crunch my grad school data on Excel.  At the time, I was fluent in Commodore-speak, Mac-speak, DOS-speak, and the emerging Windows-speak.  I knew how to program in BASIC, and later in C++. My military training school included a month of DOS, and I could work my way around the C drive with the best of them.  When I arrived at my first assignment, it was during the shift to Windows, and I was an early adopter.

sad faceNow, twenty years after getting my first Windows PC, I spent three hours yesterday trying to do one simple thing – boot into safe mode to uninstall Windows 10.  Never got it to work.  So, my only-three-year-old laptop is a blue screen brick with a big old “bad_system_config” unhappy face icon screen message.  I want to punch it in its unhappy icon face.  But, I doubt that would fix anything.  And, I’d probably get some sort of toxic screen chemicals in the cuts.

When did this happen?  When did tech become so bloated and confusing?  Why can’t I even get to a Format C: anymore?  (I tried it in desperation, but the computer refused to even let me go there).  And, trying Google for help?  Basically two camps – too simple, or too complicated.  Yes, I tried rebooting.  No, I don’t want to rebuild the machine.

I’ve decided it’s a planned obsolescence plot.  Sure, Macs cost more than PCs – but, the six-year-old Macs in the house are running without a glitch while we seem to be stockpiling broken PCs in every closet.  Since PCs are cheaper, they must have terminate code somewhere to cause us to give up and buy new every few years, right?  So frustrating.

It’s all a nefarious plot.  I’m sure of it.





Facing the post-Thanksgiving massive holiday to-do list

28 11 2015

I’m an organized person.  Not a neat and tidy uber-clean person, but organized.  One of those people who makes lists of lists.  Color coded and dated lists.  Lists that aren’t procrastination – I get the items finished and checked off.  I’m motivated by checking items off lists.

But, even as an organized person, I have a secret to confess – I dread the day after Thanksgiving.  It’s not the shopping – that’s all done and stashed (accomplished online, of course).  It’s because the day after Thanksgiving is when all of my holiday and end of fall term/start of spring term lists are programmed to start alerting.  “Assemble lab kits”, “Inventory cookie baking ingredient spreadsheet”, “Program course updates – spring (sublist: 87 tasks)”, and on and on.  Since I take a school “computer break” from Christmas to New Years, and since I have a far-flung cookie-loving family, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my marathon.  It’s exhausting, but being organized helps. Sort of.  Some days I wonder if I might not be better off not seeing the massive day after Thanksgiving lists?  But, I try to look at it as a delayed gratification kind of thing.  If I get my list done before Christmas, then I know that I’ll have fall classes done, spring classes ready to go, and cookies to eat by Christmas Day.

Through the years, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to accomplish what is important to me and my family – and to cut the things that aren’t.

  1. We don’t do many gifts. I pick up little things here or there, but I don’t stress over what to get for whom. I have a huge family – most people get cookies.
  1. Cookies. The list takes days to bake. I have no idea how many dozen I make – certainly more than I could estimate off the top of my head.  I am cutting back this year on the cookies and ramping up on the white chocolate covered pretzels – they are usually the first to get pounced on. (Side note: if I could buy the cookies, I totally would – can’t, peanut allergies, don’t trust anyone else to make cookies.  Plus, it’s something my grandma did, and she’s no longer here to do it).
  1. I make lists for the next year as soon as a finish a project each year. trello 1115The lists are programmed to alert the day after Thanksgiving the next year. As I said above, it’s overwhelming to see them all pop up – but at least I know I won’t forget something – and, I’ll get the sense of accomplishment that comes with marking things off a list.  I make lists of things like which cookies were the last to go from the plate (eliminate them from the line up) and who has which favorites.  I track cookie ingredients and recipes on Excel to make it easy to adjust batch sizes and to consolidate ingredients for a shopping list.  This year I’ve also started to use Trello to track my tasks.  Trello lets me color code task cards and either give each card a due date, or not.  Trello allows me to drag and drop and/or copy cards from list to list so that I can make a working copy without disrupting my original master copy list.  It allows multiple boards, each holding multiple lists with multiple cards per list.  Trello has allowed me to consolidate my holiday and school prep/grading lists from OneNote and Wunderlist to just Trello.  Anything that combines the functionality of two apps into one is a winner for me.  Plus, it’s universally accessible (phone, web).  I’m still faced with a massive list, but at least it’s one that’s both pretty and functional.

And, the things I don’t do?

  1. I very rarely do holiday cards. If people want to know how my year went, there is Facebook. Or, they can email me and ask.  One year I sent out holiday cards June 1st (start of summer vacation – my “new year”).  That was a hit – lots of good feedback on that, but that was before Facebook was a thing.
  1. I don’t put up a tree. We have a small pre-lit shrub somewhere we put on a table. Our kids are 20-somethings now so the tree isn’t really a must-do.  Plus, the kids still live at home (with all their stuff) so there isn’t actually room anywhere for a tree.
  1. I don’t worry about cooking traditions. On Thanksgiving this week our “poultry and potatoes” meal was chicken tenders and fries. Christmas will be pizza (actually, the Papa Murphy’s folks tell me Dec 24th is one of their busiest days of the year so we may be on tradition there).

For me, the holidays are a time of family and faith.  I’ve learned as I age that it’s not about the obligations, or the turkey or the tree, it’s about spending time with the ones you love and relaxing.  The holidays don’t have to match the Norman Rockwell pictures to be valid experiences.

Now, on to that to-do list…





Moving toward content immersion

21 11 2015

Over the past 15 years, online learning has experienced a paradox.  As video streaming speeds have increased and bandwidth limitations have decreased, students are increasingly less likely to watch long instructional videos.  In fact, data gathered from the viewing habits of thousands of MOOC students show that the average time students stick with an instructional video is six minutes – regardless of the length of the video.

In 2007, advances in streaming speeds made it feasible for me to start creating and sharing “lecture tidbit” videos with my online students.  I had a (then) cutting edge (and expensive) home set-up with a microphone headset, wired Wacom tablet, white board drawing program, and Camtasia screencasting program.  My videos averaged 15-20 minutes long.  Students told me they watched them over and over.  Those videos are still accessible and active.  The last time a student told me they watched one of them “over and over”?  At least three or four years ago.

It’s time for a change.

I’ve started to replace the videos.  I’m shooting for concentrated bursts of information, no more than two minutes long.  I’m making the videos part of narratives – more of an immersive experience – embedded within storyline presentations, allowing for not only instruction – but also practice and self-assessment activities.  My first overhaul has been my pharmacology med math activities.  Formerly, the activities were static Power Point and worksheet based.  Now, they are dynamic.

2015-11-17 11.59.10The new activities use video and practice embedded into Articulate Storyline presentations.  Storyline is a pricy program, but Office Mix, a free Power Point add-on, has some of the same rudimentary functions (including self-assessment quizzing).  Other than Storyline, the tools of the screencasting trade have decreased in cost and increased in ease of use and access.  I record video on my phone, using the native camera app.  I have a small flexible tripod for demos.  For whiteboard videos, I use the Vittle video app on my iPad – no dedicated drawing tablet required.  Both Vittle feed and camera app videos upload seamlessly into Storyline. And Storyline, an HTML 5 publishing product, avoids the device limitations of Flash.

Once published, students can access the activities from both desktop and mobile devices. My old Camtasia videos, uploaded to the LMS, were only available on LMS-compatible devices.  Since my college uses an outdated non-mobile  LMS, that was a limitation.  Over time, I had transferred some of the videos to YouTube to increase accessibility. But, YouTube does not allow for interactivity. Storyline activities can be hosted both within and outside of the LMS.  I maintain my own domain and website for maximum flexibility, but most schools will also provide server space to host the activities.

Online education is a field where the only constant is change.  One of the things I love most about working in this area is exploring all of the ways to help maximize student learning.  Moving from text to video in 2007 increased student engagement.  I anticipate that moving to an interactive video/skills mix will provide even greater levels of immersion.





Autumn Images

14 11 2015
Blog1 111415 Oct 30, 8 50 17 AM

Copper Reflections

Blog2 111415 Oct 27, 10 17 57 AM

Strewn

Blog3 111415 Nov 02, 7 49 04 AM

Spiderwebs in Dew

Blog4 111415 Oct 02, 9 30 33 AM

New Life





In Opposition of Predatory Publisher Pricing Policies in Academics #GoOpen #OER

7 11 2015

When I was in grad school, our department chair gave us a mission.  Every time we walked into the medical library, we were to remove from the shelves an issue of a particular journal (I don’t recall which one now) and lay it on a table.  According to him, the library tracked how many journals were used in order to determine which subscriptions were renewed.  The yearly subscription for this particular journal was tens of thousands of dollars per year.

This week, editors of the Elsevier journal Lingua staged a protest – resigning from the publication due to Elsevier’s refusal to allow it to become open access.  In support of the editors, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities had this to say:

“Publishers sell back to the universities the very content they as a group produced, and at steadily higher subscription prices,” the statement said. “The system is fundamentally broken.”

I fully agree.  My graduate degree involved university and grant funded research in physiology.  The research was not published (the initial results were negative and the “great flood of 1997” wiped out the -70 freezer with a year worth of samples and also allowed me extended time off to see what I was missing in my little children’s lives – so I wrote up the initial data, cut my losses, and snatched the chance to take the MS and walk away, closing the door on my PhD).  But, if I had plugged on with the PhD and published, my mentor and department chair’s names in the byline could  have landed us in a decent journal.  A journal where libraries would have to pay a chunk of change to make the work available.

My graduate work was completed at a public, state university.  The research in our lab was funded by grants from the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association.  There were no private, commercial, for-profit funds used in my research – or, in fact, for any research in my department.  So, what is the justification for a library to have to pay exorbitant fees to buy access to read the results of this type of research?  If the university or grant fund is providing the lab space for the research, paying publication fees, and also paying for the finished journals where the research is published – aren’t they triple paying?  By extension, aren’t the taxpayers who support the university the ones triple paying as well?  How is this allowed to continue at such outrageous rates?  According to journal owners, there are costs (not to mention substantial profits – higher, even, than Apple). In actuality, it all comes down to “prestige” – paying for the credentials necessary for tenure in high-stakes “publish or perish” environments.

Libraries can’t afford this anymore.  For example, a browse through the “cancelled journalDSCF0826s” list for the University of Illinois library, where I worked for three years as an undergrad, shows a 2007 cancellation for the International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology – a savings of $9,629 a year.  The 2006 cancellation of Lecture Notes in Computer Science saved them $25,000 a year. In 2005, the subscription to the American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings saved them $21,000 per year.  Together, those three journals could cover the cost of a junior faculty member yearly salary.  What would benefit a student more, access to those three journals – or a smaller English comp class?  At the University of North Dakota (my graduate institution) the university is facing choices between administrative positions and journal subscriptions.  They cannot afford both.

The standard bearers of scientific research are the journals Science and Nature.  I, personally, subscribe to Science.  It’s around $100 a year on the multi-year digital-only plan.  That seems like a reasonable cost to me.  I’ll support that.  Libraries also support Science – you’d be hard-pressed to find a university library that doesn’t stock it on campus.  Maybe the quantity of subscriptions allows a lower cost?  Or maybe the lower cost allows more exposure?  It’s difficult to say for sure, since it takes quite a bit of investigative digging to find the true cost of any particular library journal.  Libraries often negotiate bundled prices which vary from school to school.

Fortunately, the tides are turning.  Last week, the US Department of Education announced a new initiative – #GoOpen.  This proposed policy would require that all research funded by the department be available as an OER (open educational resource).  The policy is supported by the Creative Commons open licensing group.  Although #GoOpen is a P-12 initiative, legislation was also introduced last month to promote OER textbook use in college courses.  Hopefully, the movement will trickle into academic publishing at all levels.

While I support the rights of authors to copyright, and profit from, their original work, I oppose the practice of charging academic authors to publish in journals only to then turn around and CHARGE THEM AGAIN to have their work available in their own school library.  The only party to profit in such a scheme is the publisher.

Last year I wrote an OER Biology textbook, freely available to anyone from my faculty web page.  By the end of 2016, I plan to have four of the six courses I teach using primarily OER resources.  As I’ve stated before, I have no issues with authors profiting from their original work.  I also have no problem with publishers paying their editors and support staff a reasonable wage.  I do however, have an issue with predatory pricing, and I support OER initiatives by making my own work freely available.  US commercial academic publishers have come to see both students and “publish or perish” faculty members as fish in a barrel.  I cannot, in good conscience, support that.





Online Ed: Riding the third wave of tech change

31 10 2015

I recently read an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that got me thinking about the changes in delivery modes that have occurred during my sixteen years as an online educator.  As I see it, we are now within the third major wave of change.

In 2000, online education was a revolutionary idea.  Correspondence courses had been around for decades (maybe centuries?), but doing away with the post office and allowing for real time communication over the dial-up phone lines was an intriguing concept.  We didn’t really know if the mode would take off, but the first wave of change – the move from dial-up to cable speeds facilitated an enrollment explosion.  The increased speed allowed online course delivery to co-evolve with digital photography and videography.  When I first started teaching anatomy online (and included model building), it was not unusual for students to mail me physical photograph prints of their work.  Now, less than 10 years after that course first went live, I doubt any of my students have daily access to a film camera. Content delivery, in the dial-up days, was nearly all textbook based and heavy in reading.  While I provided notes, large image-rich files were discouraged because of bandwidth limitations.  Around 2002, I moved to cable internet.  Oh, the possibilities!2014-05-03 14.58.59

The next wave of change in online education involved the rise of Apple laptop and desktop computers.  Long used in K-12 education, most colleges in the early 2000’s were using primarily PCs in their general computer labs, and most students had Compaq/HP/Dell machines at home because of the lower cost.  In the early days of the PhysioEx and Virtual Unknown lab simulation programs I use for class, only PC CD versions were available.  Students who owned Apple machines were required to travel to a PC-based computer lab to do their work.  Around 2012, both of those programs switched from CD to browser-based delivery, and the PC vs. Mac divide was no longer an issue.  Nothing I do in any of my classes is now limited by machine or OS type.  That wave has largely passed.

The current wave of change in online course delivery involves desktop vs mobile course access.  Although Apple computers never dominated the desktop market, the iPhone and iPad product lines do dominate the mobile world.  And, Apple products do not play Flash-based content.  This means that a student, expecting to complete my online course on an iPad, is not able to do so.  Will that change?  Yes, I’m sure it will.  HTML5 and increasing processing power of mobile devices will certainly give a larger degree of flexibility and accessibility to mobile content in future years.  The main limitation to completing work on the phone will soon be, for most students, screen size.  I recently upgraded to an iPhone 6 Plus for the screen size.  If I wanted to, I could physically do most of my day to day work on my phone, but I certainly wouldn’t want to – my eyes would protest.  However, someone with eyes much younger than mine may wish to work primarily from a mobile device.  The new Windows phones can even dock with an external monitor – can Apple be far behind on that?

When I taught my first online course I could not have foreseen that, down the road, I would be able to take pictures and videos on my phone, and upload them to my courses – where students would then access them on their phones.  As someone who is an early tech adopter, always looking to play with the next new thing, I am excited to see what comes next.  Virtual reality labs, maybe??  Please??





The magic of libraries

24 10 2015

In the 70’s, I attended a very small parochial elementary school and lived in a neighborhood filled with both genetic and honorary family.  There was a wonderful library within walking distance and my nights and summers were filled with the adventures of the characters that lived within the pages.  Books were my portal and I absorbed them all – textbooks, classics, popular fiction – maxing out my library card with every trip. One of my favorite birthday memories was the year I turned thirteen, and qualified for an “adult” card.

My first high school (I attended two) had a huge, old, library full of sunlight, worn wood shelves, and big comfortable chairs.  I escaped there as often as I could.  I was in the library of my second high school when the announcement of the Challenger explosion came over the intercom system on a cold January morning.

In college, I worked in the Biology library of the vast University of Illinois library system for three years, and at the Peoria Public Library for a summer.

In grad school, I spent more hours than I could count in the University of North Dakota medical library.

After graduation, I started reading for pleasure again and checked out my first Sue Grafton novel from the military base library – setting me off into a passionate exploration of the mystery genre that has reached nearly 2000 books read since Excel became a thing not just for research data, but for tracking books read.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

For a while, through the 00’s, Amazon was my go-to for books.  With growing kids and working more than one job, I didn’t have the time to drive to the county library or to track due dates.  Ordering physical books morphed to ebooks in 2009 when I purchased my first Kindle.  My ebook collection now numbers in the hundreds, as does my physical “to read” pile (aka: “The Wall of Books).  That’s an expensive habit to maintain.

Nearly ten years ago we moved to a town that has an excellent library and an awesome ILL request system.  For many years, I checked out stacks of books each summer to catch up on the mystery series I follow.  Then, a few busy years happened and I got out of the practice.

Recently, that local library moved to the 3M library app.  Seriously cool.  Now, a good chunk of my reading is of books I check out online.

I would not be who I am today, and I would have never been able to achieve what I have, without public libraries – most particularly the East Moline Public Library, where it all began.

Libraries are places of wonder, adventure, and education.  May every child (and adult) have a chance to experience their magic. Long live libraries!!

My reading lists can be found on Goodreads (Elliedakota).





Fifteen apps for productive online teaching and learning #onlineed #OER

17 10 2015

Photo Oct 09, 7 26 05 PMLast week, I wrote in support of mobile devices in the classroom.  This week, I’ll explore some apps I use in my own teaching and learning process.  As I redesign my curriculum to emphasize depth of knowledge and decrease reliance on commercial textbooks, I rely heavily on apps that sync across all popular platforms.  Throughout the day, I move continuously between my PC, phone, iPad, and Mac so any app I use must either sync reliably across those devices or must offer cloud access.

Productivity and Organization:

  1. OneNote: My blog posts are composed in OneNote. The unit outlines for my writing projects, including my OER textbooks, are in OneNote. My grading rubrics and keys are in OneNote.  My semester grading checklist, curriculum revision lists, and committee meeting notes are all there.  My academic department started using it this year as a collaboration space.  I was a late comer to the OneNote party – I’ve been using it less than a year – but within a few days of starting it took over as my primary ongoing work tool.
  1. Wunderlist: To-do apps are my weakness – I have no idea how many I have tried – dozens for sure. When I got my first iPod touch back in the day, I tried app after app – eventually landing on Wunderlist.  Whereas I use OneNote for ongoing and long-form projects, Wunderlist is my daily task app.  With repeatable tasks, Wunderlist is what I use to remind me that my textbook order is due each October and that I need to email my students next Thursday to encourage them to start their project.  My grocery list, travel packing list, and Kindle pre-order release date favorite author list are all in Wunderlist.  The benefit to Wunderlist over OneNote is timeliness.  Wunderlist pops the task out to me, OneNote makes me remember to go to the task.  In theory, you can set due dates and reminders for OneNote, but my version doesn’t have the “Task” tab in the menu bar and I haven’t been able to figure out how to add it.
  1. Dropbox: When I was in grad school, in the 90’s, I saved my research data Excel files to floppy disks and snail mailed a backup to my mom.  I also gave a backup to a neighbor.  Later, when I needed to move files between my home and work computers, I used thumb drives.  Now, I use Dropbox – files, pictures, screen shots all go to Dropbox.  My camera roll uploads automatically from my phone to Dropbox. It’s is accessible from all of my devices – including my phone – so sending a file or example photo to a student is easy, even away from my desk.
  1. Sunrise Calendar: Like to-do lists, I’ve lost track of how many calendar apps I have tried. Sunrise is the first one I have found that fully and reliably integrates my work calendar, personal calendars, and Wunderlist tasks in one place.  Sunrise is available as a Chrome extension and as a mobile app.
  1. Pocket: I have a love/hate relationship with bookmark apps/sites. I use Pocket as my “read later” repository.  Unfortunately, it seems I rarely have time to actually “read later” so it’s become a sort of link graveyard.  But, I still send links to it regularly, most frequently from Twitter.  Pocket allows tagging and sorting, but I don’t use it to store active resources.  Items I have actually read and want to save for later are stored in Diigo.  Links I use daily are stored on my start.me homepage.
  1. Relax: My kids are in their 20’s and are at that in-between almost-launched stage. Since I work from home, a good pair of headphones and a relaxing noise reduction program is essential to my ability to focus productively.  On my phone and iPad I use the Relax app.  On my PC, I use YouTube playlists of either focus music or nature sounds.

Content Creation: 

  1. Paper by 53: I write OER textbooks and develop OER activities. Engaging content requires illustrations.  Although open photo resources are available through Creative Commons licensing, I’ve found that I enjoy drawing my own diagrams and cartoon pictures.  I am no great artist, but I’ve been scratching out teaching images since back in the days of chalk on the green board.  One of my fondest memories is of my first whiteboard and the amazing four colors of Expo markers with which I could suddenly draw.  As a science teacher, diagrams and images have always been the bulk of my lectures. The Paper app provides an easy way to include my sketches in my OER content.  Creating the illustrations saves me the time consuming step of explaining what I want to an illustrator, paying said illustrator, and/or spending hours searching through open source images for what I need.
  1. MindMeister: When I outline content, I use OneNote. When I move the outline to text, I use Scrivener.  But, before I get to the outline or writing stage I first need to brainstorm idea links and relationships.  I’ve found that brainstorming is most effective when I use a free-flowing mind map.  MindMeister is a bare bones mind mapping tool that is accessible from both a browser and an app.  Accessibility is key for mind mapping because I often let content simmer and play with organization and content relationships for days, or weeks, (or months) before I head to the outline stage of development.
  1. Vittle: I just discovered Vittle and haven’t used it for any large projects yet – but I intend to. I played around a bit with the free version and then almost immediately purchased the full version.  Vittle is an iPad screen casting app that does, for less than $10, what I used to use Camtasia to do.  Vittle has a whiteboard pad that records audio and video explanations.  As I move my content from long 20-minute ten-year-old videos into short 1-2 minute focused segments, Vittle will be my go-to whiteboard “lecture tidbit” app.
  1. WordPress: I started my blog over five years ago, but it lay dormant for most of that time. Recently, I’ve begun to write about my teaching process and the tools I use for that process.  I also have used my blog to write out longer-form answers for questions I’m frequently asked by students.  Having a blog post, with step by step pictures available allows me to point students to help without needing to repeatedly explain the same thing in multiple emails.
  1. YouTube: I’ve been teaching online for over 15 years. In the early days, it wasn’t possible to share video content because most students (and teachers) were on dial-up internet modems. In 2007 I started sharing my first video lecture content – as Camtasia uploads into my LMS shells.  By 2012, any new video content I created was going into YouTube instead of into the LMS.  Students can access YouTube independently of the LMS, giving them more mobility and freedom to learn in a time and place that is most convenient for them.  My end of term evaluations always  have requests for more videos and YouTube is where most of those videos land.  Moving forward, I’m using Articulate Storyline and Office Mix to integrate short videos with other content (particularly with self-assessment quizzing) but YouTube will continue to be my go-to for longer form materials.

Inspiration and Information:

  1. Feedly: I’ve always been an RSS fan and the discontinuation of Google Reader years ago left me in a bind. I tried a couple of different replacement readers and Feely is the one that stuck.  I’m not a fan of content aggregators like Flipboard – I always feel like I’m missing something when I allow a service to curate content for me.  I prefer to curate my own sources and a RSS reader allows that.  However, I have recently become a fan of the Skimm and NextDraft newsletters so my Feedly reading had dropped off a bit as a result.
  1. Tweetbot: I created my Twitter account over five years ago, and then promptly ignored it. Recently, at a conference, I learned about Twitter backchannels and I discovered a world of content and interaction that brought together like minds from around the world in collaboration.  I’ve had to back off of Twitter a bit recently because it was sucking me in for hours at a time, but I still find ideas and inspiration every time I check it.  For me, the key to using Twitter is to actively curate my lists.  If someone I follow tweets repeatedly off topic, or their main posts are those status things about how many followers they added that week – they’re gone.  I curate my lists heavily in favor of those who share relevant, timely, content.

Reference:

  1. America’s Navy Anatomy Study Guide: My focus is OER content and this Anatomy guide is the best free mobile app version I’ve found. It has multiple modes, including a quizzing mode, that allows students to drill the bones and muscles any time they have a few minutes to spare.  The key to retention is repetition and ongoing drill is beneficial.
  1. PubMed: Writing OER content requires constant fact-checking. PubMed is the go-to for up to date basic medical science research.  While most articles referenced are behind pay walls (grr…), the abstracts are generally sufficient for a quick fact check.  For deeper research, I’ll then go through Google Scholar to see if the relevant article .pdf has been posted online anywhere.

As an online teacher, I spend hours each day using technology as an interface to interact with my students as they learn.  Since online learning is most frequently asynchronous, I am always excited about tools that improve the learning experience for students when I’m not immediately available for contact.  I’m also always on the look out for OER resources and the tools to help me create them. It’s a happy day when I find an online tool that helps me and my students travel our education journey more effectively together.





Through the Google wormhole – In support of mobile devices in the classroom

10 10 2015

SSPX0049Sit back sometime and observe millennial generation young adults using mobile devices.  They don’t spend more than a few minutes in any particular app.  A message may lead to Google which may lead to YouTube and on to Snapchat.  They follow a thread of interest wherever it leads.  They rarely sit and watch a video for more than a few minutes (or seconds) at a time, and most articles are TL;DR (too long; didn’t read). They may watch a longer video if it teaches them to do something (complete a video game level, learn a guitar technique), but they tend to watch only long enough to gather the specific information they need.

If this happens in the classroom? The knee jerk reaction is to ban the distraction and lock up the cellphones.  Are mobile devices a distraction in the classroom?  Yes.  But, that’s not the question we should be asking.  The real question should be:  Is what is happening in a lecture-based classroom worth 50 minutes (or more) of non-distraction?  Is 50 minutes (or more) of complete attention to a lecture even humanly possible?

I left the face to face classroom in 2012 to move fully online.  From 1991 – 2012 I taught science to students ranging in age from high school freshmen to second year medical students.  The bulk of my classroom hours have been spent with community college pre-nursing science students.  The years I was in the traditional classroom aligned with the movement of cell phones from rare car-based devices to ubiquitous pocket-based devices.  Each year I watched the devices become more common, more capable, and more distracting.  The reaction of the high school was to ban them (a ban that was removed the year after I left the classroom).  I never banned them in my college classrooms, except during tests.  As an online teacher now, I have no way of banning them – nor would I ever want to (not even during tests).  Banning a powerful learning tool of any kind seems counterintuitive to me as an educator.

But, they are a troublesome distraction from learning, right?  Maybe. Maybe not.  If, during a lecture, I mention “brain eating amoeba” Naegleria fowleri infection and that leads a student into the Google wormhole to emerge with an understanding of the anatomical relationship between the olfactory nerve, frontal lobe, and the attraction of the protist to neurotransmitters – but missing the portion of the lecture where I went on to cover malaria – what is the impact to the student?  Did they learn something valuable?  Absolutely.  Will it be on the test?  Probably not. Is the problem then the mobile device, or is it the test?

When I first started teaching college anatomy and physiology, in the early 90’s, I felt tremendous pressure to cover every topic a future nurse might need when she or he entered clinical classes.  I taught at night so I my class sessions were generally 2 1/2 hours long.  I talked fast, and I crammed in information as a monologue presentation for at least 90 minutes of each session.  The next session always started with a quiz over what we had covered the prior session.  The book and my lectures were the content.  Students kept their notebooks for years.  It was the days of pre-consumer-internet.  Although the “content is king – cover it all!” method of teaching and learning made a sort of sense in the early 90’s, twenty-five years later why are we still teaching that way?  Why are we still expecting students to learn that way?

Over the past few years, I’ve realized just how ineffective the cram and recite method of education is.  I’m working to change my online course format – progressive ten years ago with its 20 minute lecture videos and randomized, timed quizzes – into something more educationally relevant for today’s students.

Research, using millions of MOOC video sessions, shows that students stop watching content videos after an average of six minutes – regardless of the length of the video.  Research also shows that the attention span of students in lectures is widely variable and that lectures themselves vary in their ability to convey content effectively.

In my online classes I have never had a student tell me “I learned so much from taking that multiple choice quiz!”  But, at least once a week, one of my students says to another student in a discussion area something along the lines of “When you mentioned xyz, it got me thinking and I did some more research and found…”.  In the balance of breadth vs depth of learning, breadth controlled the late 20th century, but depth is showing its value today.  So, why are we still cramming in content?  What students really need is curation, and the chance to explore further the topics that interest them.  But… don’t pre-nursing students need to know about both malaria and brain eating amoebae?  Sure, but will lecture get them there?  Or, are there more effective options?

So, what do these things have to do with cell phones?  Mobile devices have reached saturation.  In most schools, most driving age and older students have smartphones.  The phones are tools, they are no longer novelty devices.  They aren’t playing Farmville or Candy Crush during lectures (millennials don’t meet the demographic for those games).  They are communicating, and – yes – they are even learning.  They are looking up things they are curious about and they are going deeper into content.

If students are drifting off during lectures, maybe lecture isn’t the way to go.  If students are using phones to look up information for 100 question multiple choice tests, maybe it would be more effective to assess using 10 short answer questions instead.  Even better if the student can pick the questions they wish to answer from a list of options.  Banning mobile devices isn’t the way to go.  Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense to put such a powerful tool to work?

Some of my courses are still designed the “old way”, with lecture videos and heavy reliance on multiple choice assessment. But each term I tweak them to move more away from breadth, and towards depth.  Mobile devices may have been the impetus for the change, but I’ve realized how much of a growth experience it is to move out of the lecture/quiz rut and into a more student interest centered approach.  Education shouldn’t be about how much the teacher knows… it should be about how much the student learns.  Whatever tools help the student learn should be maximized to the extent possible.

Next week:  Apps to help teachers teach and students learn





FTP and servers and file structure – oh my!! #yesican @articluate #onlineed #FileZilla #commodore64

3 10 2015

Something I’ve picked up from my mom is the mantra “If other people can figure out how to do this, so can I”.  From the outside, we may seem different.  She buys drills, tears down walls, and builds closets and banisters.  I buy software, tear down curricula, and build interactive learning activities.  If you ask my mom why she tears down walls and fiddles with a design until it works, she’ll tell you it’s because she enjoys building things that people can use.  Although our tools are different, our goals and motivations are the same.  I, too, enjoy building things that people can use – I get that from my mom.  She’d tell you we’re not alike, but we really are.  (Yes we are, mom!)

Back in the early 1980’s, I was obsessed with programming on my Commodore 64.  My interest continued through college, where I encountered the Mac HyperCard and PC DOS worlds.  In the 90’s I left home for the military, got married, had kids, went to grad school… and by the time I had time to think about programming again – the tools of that trade had exploded beyond what I could quickly assimilate.  So, I focused instead on the tech I needed for my career.  I mastered Excel data analysis and Power Point motion tracks.  As a teacher, I became the queen of animated Power Points (yes, I was that 90’s stereotype).  In 1999, I was approached about teaching within the emerging online platform, WebCT.  I jumped at the chance! Two of my favorite things – tech and teaching – combined into one?  Yes!!

In the 2000’s, I dove into screen casting – recording lectures for my online students with my trusty Bamboo graphic tablet and whiteboard program.  It was cutting edge to be able to deliver video lectures at the time.  But, in the tech world, new quickly becomes passé. Recently, I have wanted to gain experience with interactive animation to update my content delivery.  I have my own website and I’ve done some rudimentary interactive programming there, but I wanted something more robust.

This past week I published my first interLRSC medmath1active Articulate Storyline quiz activity.  The program has a bit of a learning curve, but there are videos to help.  It’s enough like Power Point that it was fairly easy going.  Until… I couldn’t get the output to upload to my website.  And… there were way too many files to upload individually and keep in order.  And… my web hosting service wouldn’t unzip folders.  So, I got frustrated and walked away for a few days.

Then, as I looked through pictures of my mom knocking out walls and building a closet from scratch, I realized that just like her – if other people can figure this out, so can I.

So, I started researching ways to bypass the program file transfer protocol (ftp) that wasn’t working.  I came across FileZilla, and memories of an ill-fated attempt to set up a Moodle server about 10 years ago came back to me.  I downloaded the software, pulled up some help files, logged into my web host server, transferred the files, got very nervous, and… IT WORKED!!!  I started yelling my version of “Eureka!” through the house, got called a nerd by my son (who was playing video games at the time – the son of a nerd), and posted my joy on Facebook 😉

As they used to say on a famous 80’s TV show… “I love it when a plan comes together!”.

My first project:  http://www.mycozynook.com/215math1.html  More to come soon – I’m addicted now!








%d bloggers like this: