Kevin Lyon

Quizzes You Can Take to the Bank

One of the biggest questions faculty have as they move their courses online is how assessments will work when they can’t see their students taking quizzes or tests. Questions inevitably arise about students sharing answers or taking tests together, since the instructor isn’t there to see the students while they take the tests.

While there are services out there that will monitor students as they take the test, often referred to as online proctors, these come with an added cost and still need to be scheduled, eliminating one of the main draws for students—that they can work based on their own schedule—even at 3 a.m. These services tend to work best in high-stakes tests as well, meaning major exams for the course rather than weekly tests or quizzes. (We won’t get into that territory today, however.)

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Melissa Koenig

Adaptive Learning in the University Classroom

In May of 2014 The Journal asked the question, “Adaptive Learning: Are We There Yet?”. In this article, John Waters gives a nice overview of what adaptive learning is. Waters defines adaptive learning as “an approach to instruction and remediation that uses technology and accumulated data to provide customized program adjustments based on an individual student’s level of demonstrated mastery.” Often found in K-12 classrooms Adaptive Learning models were developed to be able to facilitate personalized instruction based around learning outcomes. Most frequently this type of instruction takes the form of intelligent tutoring systems that “learn” the student’s strengths and weaknesses and provides them with a custom set of activities.

As one can imagine, this form of adaptive learning is best suited to lower order skill sets where memorization or “drill and kill” activities might traditionally be used. Using an intelligent tutoring system provides support for students who may struggle with concepts while not penalizing those who have already mastered them. Many of the textbook publishers have developed robust intelligent tutoring system specifically for these types of classes. Continue reading

Sharon Guan

Jokes, Infographics, and Instructional Design

I came across a Chinese joke the other day talking about how hard it is to be a foodie in the Qin Dynasty. With a series of cartoon images, it shows a hungry foodie time-traveled to a restaurant in the Qin Dynasty. He tried to order one meal after another just to find that none was available because they were either not invented or not imported yet.

At a first glance, it is a merely a joke made for fun; but if you pay a bit more attention to the content, you will find that it embeds quite a bit of knowledge in terms of the development of food culture in China. It reminded me of note cards I made for high school history class when we were learning about the dynasties in China and the development of agriculture. If I add the chart of dynasties, these series of cartoon image would present a vivid image of food history in a country that prides itself for its culinary culture:

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Alex Joppie

A Review of the New and Improved Voicethread

Voicethread is a tool that FITS has recommended to faculty for several years. For the past two years we’ve had a site license, giving all of our faculty and students access to the pro features, but we’ve been shy of promoting it too widely. While it’s a great tool, there were some oddities to the workflow of using it, which meant that we were more comfortable helping faculty use it while working closely with a FITS consultant rather than putting some resources online and hoping that instructors would figure it out on their own. It was on “the secret menu,” one might say.

Recently, Voicethread has provided some updates that might make it a little better for a wider audience, but it still has its quirks. For those instructors who may have been introduced to Voicethread in the past and decided it wasn’t right for you, I offer this review of the new version of Voicethread.

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Josh Lund

Instructional Design Models

You may not know what an instructional designer is, but there are lots of us out there. You may have worked with one before, or you might even be one. We are known for being a sort of technology multi-tool; most of the people we work with come to assume that we have a magical solution for many problems just waiting on our utility belts that can be handed out to anyone in need. Some of the time, this is indeed true. They are called “Best practices” for a reason. They become that way because they have repeatedly worked to solve common instructional problems effectively. However, just as often, we are given problems that might not have an immediately obvious solution, or might have several possibilities that need to be evaluated for their efficacy in a given situation.

In situations like these, we must move beyond the technology at play and focus on what is really important: designing activities and assessments that are functional, that are useful to and tailored to the learner, and that accomplish the goal set out beforehand. In these times, we turn to instructional design models to provide a framework for our thought process as we design something new.

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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). In GLE courses, students are exposed to a virtual team experience and are better equipped for the globalized workforce.

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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.

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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).
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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.

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