Jan Costenbader

Digital Whiteboards: Choosing the one that’s right for you

I currently teach online and hybrid Mathematics courses in the College of Science and Health. My courses are computationally intensive and often require the professor to write equations or diagrams on a white board. This presents a particular challenge when creating screencasts for online delivery, which requires a combination of hardware and software. I will focus primarily on the hardware for this post, the software is worthy of another complete discussion.


Before going on to the hardware, I should mention some of the software tools. First you need a screen capture software to record the screen and audio. Free screen capture software includes Jing and Screencast-O-matic. The most robust, paid versions include Camtasia Studio for Mac and PC (also from Techsmith) and ScreenFlow on the Mac. (I use ScreenFlow.) Next, depending on the hardware solution chosen, you will need a drawing tool. A great freeware app is Open-Sankoré for Mac/PC/Linux. (Note that the latest version of Open-Sankoré does not work with Mac OX Yosemite. OpenBoard is a workable alternative.) Khan Academy is well known for their engaging videos (PC only) which works with SmoothDraw. On the Mac side, there are a couple of candidates. I use Deskscribble and FlySketch. Of course, there are some hardware alternatives which are included below.


If you are going to capture handwriting, then you need something to write on. Here are some, but not all, potential solutions, arranged roughly by cost from low to high.

iPevo Document Camera

For a mere $69, you can grab the iPevo document camera and point it at a sheet of paper and simply write away. The plus is that you already know how to write on a sheet of paper, this simply records a video of everything, including your hand. The hand is also the downside, as the camera has an automatic white balance and the color shifts as you move your hand in and out of the frame. One of our faculty has used it effectively in a statistics course for Chemistry. Another benefit is that you can use it to demonstrate 3D models or other objects, however, you cannot use it to illustrate or diagram on websites or images you may have on the computer screen. Good or bad, the iPevo document camera accurately captures your handwriting, which is a major benefit.

Wacom Bamboo Tablet

I have one of these very versatile little tablets on my desk right now ($69). It doubles as a trackpad, and can be used with the drawing software mentioned above (Open-Sankoré, etc). It includes a pressure-sensitive stylus, which also comes with an eraser. The biggest difficulty is having to watch the screen and coordinate your hand movements with the tablet. In other words, you are not looking at exactly where you are writing/drawing. Consequently, my handwriting looks even worse than it really is. That said, others have reported great success with it and at the cost, if it doesn’t work for you, it still makes a great trackpad.


Canson Papershow (approx. $200) uses a Bluetooth pen and specially formatted paper that has embedded microdots. The software then transmits the image to your computer screen, which can then be captured by your screen capture software. Like the document camera, you are writing on a familiar medium, meaning, paper, but without the distraction of capturing your hand in the picture. This was the first of these solutions we tried and we used it quite extensively. The downside is that you must continue to purchase packs of paper as you use them, adding to the cost. Like the document camera, your handwriting is accurately represented.

Livescribe Pens

I have the Livescribe 3 Smartpen (around $200). This is similar to the Papershow in that it uses a Bluetooth ballpoint pen and special paper to send the images to your tablet or smartphone, capturing your audio on the mobile device as well. No screen recording software is required. The output is a special .pdf document that has the audio embedded in it. The best way to describe it is to actually look at a sample document. Now the sample document is the downfall of the system. While it has some great features, it requires the students to download the PDF, then go to the PDF player and upload it in order to hear the synchronized audio. As of July 7th of this year, Livescribe no longer allows pencasts to be embedded in a web page, so the two step process is in place to download the PDF and then upload it to the player.

iPad, Android, and Surface Tablets

There are various sketching and screen capture apps on the tablets. My favorite is ExplainEverything. This runs on iPad, Android and Windows surface tablets and is a bargain at $2.99 for the iPad version. The biggest benefit is that is it is an integrated screencasting/whiteboard app. You can export your recordings to various video formats. This sounds like the ideal tool, however, I find it limited by how well it renders my handwriting, which is more of a function of the iPad that a limit of the software. Even with a decent stylus, the iPad does not have the accuracy to render my handwriting all that clearly. Again, some have had a success with it, but for long, complex equations or derivations, it is limited. At the price, and if you have one of the devices, it is certainly worth a try.

Wacom Cintq

Last, and certainly not least, is the Wacom Cintq tablet. ($800). This is, by far, the costliest option but it is also the best solution for my use. The tablet attaches directly to your computer and becomes a second display. You use a special pressure-sensitive pen to write directly on the screen with nearly the same feel as writing on paper. It accurately, and without lag, reproduces your handwriting. Essentially, you can write on anything that appears on your screen; a web page, a blank piece of paper, a PowerPoint slide or any image. I have used this for many hours of screencasts with great results but, again, at a much higher cost of any of the other solutions.


Keeping up with emerging white board/screencasting technologies is a challenge. The playing field changes weekly with new innovations and new technologies. For example, the Microsoft Surface systems are, as yet, untested in our programs, but have potential. There is always the question of what Apple or Google may introduce in their next generation tablets and software.

Choosing a solution for you depends on your budget and usage scenario. You can be perfectly content with a document camera or you may want the more costly, high-end solution. I do hope this survey gave you some ideas and insights into the different options.

Daniel Stanford

Four Ways to Improve Online Lectures

I recently signed up for a subscription to News In Slow French, a weekly news program for French students. Each episode features two announcers who discuss current events at a slow pace, making it easier for non-native speakers to understand. I’ve listened to several hours of old episodes over the last few weeks and there are several things I like about the way the lessons are designed. Here are four practices I’ve observed that I believe have relevance for anyone producing online lectures.

1. Provide Interactive, Just-in-Time Remediation

News in Slow French does a great job providing supplemental information for terms that might be unfamiliar. (See the screenshot of an interactive transcript shown below.) This strategy can be replicated in a variety of formats by linking unfamiliar terms and concepts to supplemental readings and/or videos.

Interactive Transcript Screenshot

Click to view the full resolution image

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Alex Joppie

Building an Airplane While You’re Flying It: Why You Shouldn’t Build Your Online Class on the Fly

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

In Faculty Instructional Technology Services, we’ve established a recommended timeline of two academic quarters to develop an online or hybrid course, assuming the instructor has a normal course load over that timeframe. That’s twenty weeks, give or take. In this timeframe, we can help instructors in planning, development, and quality assurance in creating a professional online or hybrid course.

With less time, we can do less.

This quarter, most of our consultants are working on at least a couple build-as-you-go courses, where instructors are still developing course materials while the course is running. I understand why this happens, particularly in the Spring quarter. Instructors are busy people, and it’s hard to find the time to prep for the upcoming quarter, particularly when there are so few breaks in the academic calendar. It also might be a shock to be asked to spend so much time preparing a course they’ve been teaching face-to-face for years and are not accustomed to needing to do a lot of preparation for each offering.

I’ve never seen a course simply not run because the online materials weren’t ready. The course always gets done in the end, because it has to. But that’s not to say that building a course while it’s running isn’t without consequences. Continue reading

Sharon Guan

Why Do We Educate?

June 8, 2015 is a special day for high school graduates in China. It is the day to witness 10 million students enter college exam sites to try and earn themselves admission into colleges. Students are told that every point they earn on this exam will significantly impact the rest of their lives because whether or not they can make it to a college and what college they get into will define who they will become.

While I still get butterflies in my stomach when I think about my college exam day, I couldn’t find a word to describe how I felt when I saw the picture of the book-tearing event that occurred a day prior to this year’s national college exam day. The picture below is a scene at a Henan Province high school prior to the exam day. Students tore their textbooks, study notes, learning materials into pieces and tossed them in the air like party confetti!

book tearing event

I have heard about students burning their books to mark the end of a painful era of studying, but never as massive and violent as this! In a country where education is seen as the means for everything, what causes this hostile attitude towards the carrier of knowledge and symbol for learning?

If every rebellion has its roots in oppression, maybe the following images can offer us some explanation of the cause.

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Ashanti Morgan

ADDIE vs. AGILE Model: An Instructional Designer’s Perspective

As an instructional designer over the last decade, I’ve come across a number of methods that have been introduced to enhance the design process. From understanding by design (UBD) to rapid prototyping, each approach brings about a fresh perspective that designers are charged with considering as techniques to utilize as he or she hits the “refresh” button.

I, like most designers that have been doing this work for a while, have a foundation in the ADDIE model – a methodology that was first developed in the 1970s for the U.S. Army by Florida State University.  Its focus is based upon a 5-phase approach to design: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. For more information on the ADDIE model, check out an ADDIE infographic detailing the nuances of each phase.

A methodology that’s gaining traction with instructional designers across industries – and for good reason – is the AGILE instructional design process. The AGILE method is a project-oriented approach introduced by Conrad Gottfredson, a performance-support practitioner. It encompasses the five stages involved when designing eLearning experiences: Align, Get set, Iterate and implement, Leverage and Evaluate (Pappas, C. “The Power Of AGILE Instructional Design Approach…”).

In the table below, note the similarities and distinctions of the ADDIE and AGILE approaches to design.

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Josh Lund

Teaching Online…For Real This Time

Online and hybrid learning are so commonplace nowadays that many students have experience with them even before they leave K-12.  However, with the increasing ubiquity of this mode of instruction, there are certain challenges that we encounter along the road to “teaching a good class.”  Looking back to the beginnings of online teaching and learning, the greatest fear many faculty had, and some still do, was that it would be flat, not engaging for students, and that students would lose all sense of a faculty member even teaching the course.  Since that time, we have come a long way in trying to allay faculty and student fears that an online course will have less quality and be a “gimme” course and will be much easier than a face-to-face course would be.  (Well, that last one is an idea we are still trying to discourage.)  A brief look at the distance education/online courses of years past will show how we’ve attempted to alleviate the  concerns of student engagement and reveal that it’s still a hidden issue that could use some work.

The earliest kind of distance education courses were correspondence courses.  Students would get a book to read and a series of tests to take at a testing location. Tests were mailed in and scored, and afterwards a certificate was supplied to the school for the academic credential.  I took one of these courses in high school, and I was the teacher and the student, and because I only read the book to prepare for the tests, I can honestly say I learned little or nothing. Continue reading

Sarah Brown

For the Curious Consumer: Can I use “learning an educational technology” as an excuse to buy Apple Watch?

apple watch

Sort of? I can’t claim that the information I’ll share will help you make a case for your department chair or dean to pony up money for this (or to allow you to use any educational funds already allotted to you for this purpose). But, when I’m making a decision to divert the Game of Thrones action figure portion of my paycheck to an expensive tech gadget, coming up with a professional reason to buy a toy always helps ease the stress of the decision.

Disclaimer: So, yes, I woke up at 2:00 am April 10 to put in an order for the Apple Watch. I didn’t make an appointment to see the watch in person – I knew I wanted the Apple Watch Sport, since my primary reason for purchasing it is to replace my FitBit, and I also knew I wanted the smaller watch face size, since I have chicken-leg-sized wrists. A colleague of mine made an appointment with her husband and said it was well worth it, since they both ended up choosing different watch options from what they had anticipated purchasing.

There are many, many reviews out there (some of which will be linked below, and Mashable’s is my favorite) from folks who have actually had this thing on their wrists for a week or so. My focus here is on helping you – and me – justify the purchase as “for my job as a teacher”: Continue reading

Daniel Stanford

Lessons from My First MOOC: A Student’s Perspective

Earlier this year, I made a resolution to see a MOOC through to the end and earn a verified certificate of completion. I hoped the experience would provide an opportunity to study something completely new while answering a few burning questions I had about MOOCs. Questions like:

  1. How hard is it to earn a verified certificate?
  2. How will Coursera know that I did the work myself?
  3. Will I have to wear a Clockwork-Orange-style eyeball opener to stay awake through the video lectures?
  4. How many ideas can I steal and use when designing my own courses?

Here’s what I learned.

How hard is it to earn a verified certificate?

Not hard. So far, I’ve been able to meet the minimum requirements for the verified certificate by putting in one to two hours per week. As long as I get a perfect score on all the quizzes, I can earn a certificate “with distinction” and never participate in a single discussion or peer-reviewed activity. If I could bear the shame of a distinction-free certificate, I’d only need to maintain a B average on the quizzes. It’s also worth noting that all of the quizzes in my MOOC could be retaken once with no grade penalty, and only a minor penalty on the third and final attempt. Continue reading

Kevin Lyon

Gaming the System: Understanding How Games Can Influence Course Designs, and Why You’d Want Them To

A recent Wired article by Chris Kohler titled “Hey, Video Games: Please Trick Me Into Thinking I’m Smart” caught my attention between levels of the mind-bending puzzle game Monument Valley as I rode the train in to work one morning. I began to wonder if video games (“real” video games and not the ones designed principally as educational tools) really can make us smarter. And if they can in fact make us smarter, I wondered how I could replicate this in my own courses.

I can admit to having moments in class when I was a student where everyone around me seemed to get an idea with ease and I just stared at the teacher, feigning a smile and hoping my cluelessness wasn’t too apparent. It was similar to moments I had in video games, walking back and forth between the same locations, looking at the same objects over and over and simply not seeing anything there; there was no rhythm or pattern that I could discern to do anything useful or that resembled anything I had done in the game before. Overcoming these blocks was often even more dire due to the fact that I have 3 brothers who are extremely talented gamers, and were often several levels ahead of me as I bumbled my way through the levels at half their pace. (I would be teased relentlessly for missing the obvious solutions. Their favorite was to emphatically say “It’s right there in front of you!” without pointing at anything and letting the anxiety paralyze me.)

What usually solved my gaming issue was changing the angles I used to look at things— standing on a different side of the room, looking down from a ladder, or trying and retrying the character’s abilities or items until something worked. (When all else failed, I usually looked for a cheat-sheet or walk-through, a study-guide-like item explaining each step to take to beat the level.) Within the games—trying and retrying or looking at things from different angles—I often learned a new skill that I was ready to employ later in the game to get the next level.

Within the classroom, I usually didn’t get such opportunities. I would simply admit defeat so that I didn’t fall behind going into the next level, and hoped that I didn’t need that particular skill again later. It had never occurred to me then that some of the same gaming strategies might benefit me in class, and that all I may have needed was a different way to look at and do something. Continue reading

Lori Zalivansky

Review: Applying the QM Rubric Course

I have been working as a content developer at DePaul for nearly 5 years. In these 5 years, I have heard rumblings about Quality Matters and Quality Matters Reviews, but never really understood what “QM’ing” a course really meant. When asked what I would like to focus on for professional development, becoming a certified peer reviewer was the first thing that popped in my head. I have quality assured many courses and wondered, “how much different is that from doing a quality matters review?” I was in for an awakening.

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