Ashanti Morgan

Courses without Borders: Global Engagement with Students Abroad

DePaul University’s Global Learning Experience (GLE) is a relatively new initiative that was established to provide students with opportunities to engage in collaborative projects, mediated by technology, with students abroad. GLE exposes students, some who have never traveled out of the country or considered studying abroad, with an opportunity to journey to another country via their GLE course without leaving the state.

GLE activities and projects are designed by faculty partners (typically one professor at DePaul and a professor(s) at an institution abroad) and range from concepts such as the creation of interactive, collaborative virtual tours to innovative 3D design projects. Students have a chance to work with their peers around the globe and learn cultural similarities and differences that impact (or don’t impact) collaboration and development.

Some of the residual benefits for students include building an international network of peers and working on teams globally. It’s no secret that companies, educational institutions, government agencies, etc. are eager to find talented graduates with diverse experiences. The University of Southern California Annenberg developed an infographic which suggests that “today’s global economy demands a more unique and effective working environment. Virtual teams consist of employees who are the best people for their jobs, but who are not geographically close to a company’s headquarters”. (USC Annenberg, School of Communication & Journalism). Students are exposed to a virtual team experience and are better equipped for the globalized workforce.

Continue reading

Sarah Brown

The List App

You probably don’t need to hear me wax poetic about the beauty of lists and the immense satisfaction of checking off list items. We love lists, for reasons documented in several studies: lists are calming because they put things in discrete categories and have a specific, predictable endpoint, both things that make human brains happy.

You may have already read my colleague Kate Daniels’s excellent post about Wunderlist, an app she uses both for personal task organization and to stay on the same page with others on shared projects. I’m also a Wunderlist user, so I concur with her evaluation of this particular tool.

But, I just downloaded another new list app, appropriately named The List App, that adds a social dimension to list making. Created by B.J. Novak (who you likely remember as Ryan from The Office, creator of the WUPHF service) and a team of developers, The List App allows you to create and share lists. You can also follow the lists of celebrities, news organizations, and friends.

Continue reading

Jan Costenbader

Keeping up with the Joneses (Technology)

“What then, is the Singlularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.” –Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, p.1. Penguin Group, 2005

Ray Kurzweil predicts that this Singularity will occur sometime in the first half of the 21st century. I don’t think I am really ready for it! I have enough trouble keeping up with the simple changes in educational technologies that impact my institution and my work on a daily basis. These rapid changes affect me in a couple of ways. First, I need a strategy to stay abreast of the latest and greatest tools. Second, I need a reasonably quick way to assess these emerging technologies and determine if further investigation is worthwhile. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted by bright, shiny things and sometimes will go down the rabbit hole and consume inordinate amounts of time trying new things without any regard to their usefulness and impact, simply because they are new. While I don’t have any really good answers to my dilemma, I can share a couple of recent activities that may help formulate a mini-strategy for dealing with technological change. Continue reading

Kevin Lyon

Everything old is new again: Utilizing Microsoft apps for easy updates or interactive content

Many instructors are familiar with the popular cloud-based file back-up and editing sites available today. For years, we’ve all played with Google Drive’s integrations with Docs, Sheets, and Slides, or used Dropbox or Box to upload and share versions of our files between computers. With Microsoft’s updates to Office 2016 and integration with OneDrive (available as free or paid options, depending on storage amounts), the old familiarity of Microsoft Office we’ve been so comfortable with using gets a big boost in cloud-based functionality with file sharing and editing. This boost is one that can truly make things easier for developing courses too, since embedding documents that automatically update in the cloud is easier than ever.

To start with an example, many of us have used Word for things like posting a syllabus, a rubric, or an assignment sheet. These documents often go through frequent updates and many versions, sometimes even during the course of the term as we find that something needs to be added or removed. For instructors who teach multiple sections of a course, or for Instructional Designers who work with scores of courses per term, reposting every edit to these documents for each course that needs them can take significant time, not to mention the worry of the wrong version of the document being posted in one or more places.

Using the embedded document through OneDrive helps to eliminate missed edits or updates since instructors or designers can put the embed code for the general syllabus, rubric, or assignment sheet into the correct location in the course, and the edits can be made in one document in the cloud, to be quickly and automatically pushed to all the courses. Each time the course is copied and updated, the embed links stay in place, and automatically changes the content as soon as the document is updated. Better yet, these edits can be made by the instructor or the Designer, or even by a teaching team who is sharing documents across courses in a program. Every course gets the most recent version immediately with minimal time and effort. (While Google Docs can do this too, it often takes several minutes, even up to 15 minutes, for updates to go live on the pages. With OneDrive, the updates are immediate, often just requiring a page refresh).
Continue reading

Daniel Stanford

The Best Video Conference Tool for People Who Hate Video Conference Tools

For years, faculty have asked me to recommend a tool that would make it easy for them to conduct online video conferences with students. Every time I tried to answer this question, I felt like one of those announcers selling an experimental drug with dangerous side effects. “Do not use Connexium™ if your students are unable to install Java on their computers. Do not operate on low-bandwidth connections or enable video sharing with more than two participants while using Connexium. Connexium is not a virtual whiteboard replacement and cannot be used to record meetings. Ask your instructional designer if Connexium is right for you.”

That all changed when I started using Zoom. Zoom provides the key features most faculty ask for with almost none of the unpleasant side effects that come with other tools I’ve tried. Here are a few examples.

  • Minimal setup and installation – So far, we’ve found that students can join a meeting even if they’re in one of our computer labs or using a computer that doesn’t allow them to install desktop software. (Some of our students connect from locked-down computers at their workplaces, so this is an important feature.)
  • Up to 50 participants per meeting – This is true even for free accounts. For larger meetings, it’s $54.99/month to upgrade to a limit of 100 participants.
  • Android and iOS mobile apps – In my experience, these apps work very well and include the most important features available in the desktop version of Zoom.
  • Screen sharing and remote control – All participants can share their screens and hosts can even take control of a participant’s machine if needed.

Continue reading

Melissa Koenig

The Extra Credit Game

A couple of years ago Sarah Brown wrote about gamification strategies and the new wave of activity trackers—many of which have game theory elements built into them, e.g. leaderboards, badges, levels, etc.—and how these elements helped her re-imagine how she approached running.

While there is much talk about how adding these types of elements into classes may help to engage our students, the question, at least in my mind, is how much of this do we really want to add to our classes? Does everything have to be a game? At what point are we dumbing down the educational delivery method in order to make it more fun? And if we do this what message are we sending our students? If it isn’t fun, is it not worth doing?

I think these are large philosophical questions that bare a closer look, at some point, but, even given these questions, I do think there are ways to make parts of our classes more fun. At the D2L Fusion Conference (June 2015) in Orlando I was able to sit in on a session conducted by Vincent King-Spezzo, an instructional designer at Valdosta State University, about gamification. What was interesting about his presentation was the way he implemented game theory in his class. It wasn’t used for learning the “meat” of his course, but as a way for students to earn extra credit points. Continue reading

Sharon Guan

Learning by Messaging: Social media apps and the classroom

On the first day of class, I asked my students, “How many of you have a smart phone?”

Everyone raised their hands.

“Great!” I said. “Take them out—if they aren’t already—because you will do a lot of messaging in this class. Go to and download the app to your phone.”

After the students created their accounts, I gave them my phone to scan the bar code for the class group I created within the app.

Within 15 minutes, all fifteen of them were in the Chinese 104-101 WeChat group. After the setup, I began explaining what WeChat is, and how I’ve used it in previous classes.

WeChat is a mobile messaging app developed by a Chinese company called Tencent Inc. According to DMR, as of Aug 22, 2015, there are 800 million active users. It’s user-ship has surpassed Twitter and continues to grow rapidly and globally. It is threatening the global social media market and has been referred to as the potential “Facebook killer”.

In my Chinese language class, I use WeChat to serve the following purposes: Continue reading

Ashanti Morgan

Making Online Content More Accessible: Simple Techniques to Support All Learners Online

With the growing demand for blended and online content, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with considerations such as what type of content to include, identifying new websites or technical applications to introduce, and ensuring that the course design meets the needs of all learners.

The sheer nature of working at a distance increases the need to create opportunities for learner engagement and decrease ambiguity in communicating information. Thankfully, there are a number of different solutions that incorporate audio and/or video components that assist with humanizing the look and feel of your course. Introducing this type of media into course design means ensuring that all learners are able to access auditory resources.

One of the advantages of taking a blended or online course, especially for learners with specific needs, is the infinite number of times you can playback or review a concept until it’s mastered. For learners with special needs, diverse and/or preferred learning styles, English language learners (ELL), or English as a second language (ESL) students, incorporating transcripts, subtitles, closed captioning, etc. to audio and/or visual content in a course is invaluable. Faculty have also found that learners without special needs find having these resources embedded in the course a bonus. Continue reading

Sarah Brown

Web design is…dead? Maybe it’s just resting its eyes?

Web design is dead,” declareth Sergio Nouvel of UX Magazine. I’ll admit that this clickbait headline drew me in—if web design is dead, what about instructional design? But, as expected, the “big reveal” of the article wasn’t anything earth shattering: web design may have met its demise, but from its dead cocoon husk emerges a new field, experience design. And in my view, experience design = instructional design for non-teachers, so this is good news to me.

While the grand finale of this article may not seem like much more than a semantic differentiation, I appreciated Nouvel’s thoughtful description of the trajectory web design has taken in the past few years, especially now that we carry computers in our pockets and wear them on our wrists. Users still access websites through their full computer-based browsers, but that’s rapidly shifting, so much so that the venerable New York Times forced its staff to use only their mobile site for a week to emphasize the importance of mobile.

More importantly, Nouvel’s description of the transition from a focus on “the design of individual web pages” to the “design of an ecosystem with a focus on user experience” mirrors what I’ve seen in my job as an instructional designer. Establishing a quality template for content—one that is readable, easy to edit, and designed to look like a high-quality website—takes time. I’ve worked in my college for a few years now, and it’s only in the past 6-8 months that I’ve had a consistent starting point that has worked for most faculty and that’s flexible enough for customization. Continue reading

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. Continue reading