Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Give the People What They Want

Drew Lapp, a product/interface designer and user experience researcher, wrote a blog post that resonated with me, “Design and the Art of Listening.” Over the years, with more design experience, gained trust by faculty, and a desire to move beyond a task list, I listen more. Listening closely and actively to faculty, students, and administrators have enabled me to propose ideas that put me in the position of a co-collaborator. By listening, I am able to empathize and offer an idea for a solution that is relevant and (hopefully) addresses the root of the issue. It’s amazing how much information can come from individual meetings with faculty, hallway comments by students, and discussions in department-wide meetings, just by listening. As I move amongst these user groups, I start to hear common complaints, challenges, and gripes…a designer’s dream! I get fired up to find that solution, but not so fast. As Lapp says, “…much of the time people aren’t able to tell you what they want right away. Sometimes it takes a while to get the answer; sometimes they aren’t able to articulate it themselves. So how do you figure this out? You listen and you listen some more.” Exactly. Back to listening, but now I can ask more intelligent and refined questions that start to get to the heart of the complaint or issue, so that eventually I can, as Lapp so eloquently says “give the people what they want.” Isn’t this the designer’s ultimate goal?

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Ashanti Morgan

Get in Sync! 5 Tips to Better Domestic and International Collaborations

Collaborating across the globe is gaining much-needed traction thanks to the access we have to technology tools and internet connectivity. While there are some countries that still suffer from digital inadequacies, the proliferation of mobile device and tablet accessibility is changing the game and thankfully, beginning to level the playing field.

Social media and other mediums have shown the humanizing impact that integrating video into a conversation can have that somehow, makes us feel connected to those that we haven’t seen in years and/or live thousands of miles away. And now, other industries are starting to take notice.

The academic and business world as we knew it decades ago is evolving to new heights. With more online courses at the collegiate level increasing to the exponential growth of global virtual conferencing in the workforce, our brothers and sisters around the world are much easier to engage on a regular and consistent basis.

Make no mistake, if you’re going to connect sizeable groups of college students or colleagues in a meaningful and engaging way, it takes time and strategic planning. Unlike social media, in academia, business corporations, healthcare, and other industries, structured and formal real-time (live) video interactions can take weeks, maybe even a month, to execute flawlessly. Continue reading

Veronica Johnson

Embracing Adjunct Faculty

For the past year and a half I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of great faculty members at DePaul University.  I design online courses for the School for New Learning (SNL), DePaul’s online school. As a result, I rarely get the opportunity to meet in person many of the adjunct faculty that I am constantly collaborating with. A few months ago I attended a SNL spring professional development and some of the faculty members present were adjunct. At this time I was finally able to put names with faces. I almost felt like a superstar because so many people were saying with so much excitement in their voices, “Oh so you are Veronica! It’s finally a pleasure to put a face with a name!”

Although it was a pleasure meeting some adjunct faculty members, I have heard how sometimes there may be a struggle in making them feel as though they are essential to the growth and development of a learning institution. I can see how this can be plausible especially when adjunct faculty are teaching online. I taught for 14 years in the K-12 sector and the task of developing educators in that field is quite easy.  Every day they are physically reporting to work, and at least once a week teachers are required to meet for collaboration or professional development. However, when a faculty member is teaching online part time how do you get them to strengthen their teaching skills? How do you motivate adjunct faculty so they will want to participate in the events that are sponsored by the learning institution? These were some questions that I have had for a while and this past August my questions were answered when I attended the Distance Learning & Teaching Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. While at the conference I had the opportunity to attend a workshop facilitated by Brad Garner and Mike Mendenhall of Indiana Wesleyan University. The purpose of this workshop was to give strategies on how to motivate adjunct faculty members. Below I have listed 6c’s to follow and if this is done correctly then it will ensure that adjunct faculty members will be successful when teaching online.
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Sarah Brown

On School Supplies

This year, I missed shopping for school supplies.

(If you’re a parent, you can stop reading here. I get it. The journey to procure the specific list of items denoted by your child’s teacher seems horrific. A colleague was just telling me about how her child’s school decided to go to a color-coding system, where each student needs to have a specifically colored folder for each subject [orange for Social Studies, blue for Math, etc.], along with other color-coded items. This sounds miserable. This is not the experience I was feeling fun heart flutters about.)

When I was a high-school teacher, shopping for school supplies was the exciting part of back-to-school time; you know, before the panic-inducing part where you have to think about an entire year’s worth of curriculum that you need to plan. School supply shopping was also a space to see what new, unblemished organizational items I could use in my classroom.

In an effort to recapture that feeling, I went to one of the traditional office supply chains to see what new “technologies” they’re peddling (because, of course, even the pencil is technically a technology). My findings: 

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Daniel Stanford

Intro to Google Quizzes

I’ve been working on a side project recently to help young people improve their financial literacy and job skills, and I needed to create a quiz that would be accessible to anyone with the link. I’d heard from a colleague that Google recently rolled out a feature allowing Google forms to be turned into quizzes, so I decided to give it a try. The process was easier than I expected and, in less than 30 minutes, my “ultimate credit score quiz” was live for the world to see.

Screenshot of Daniel’s credit-score quiz that uses Google Forms

If you’re accustomed to having students access your learning materials within a learning management system like Canvas, Blackboard, or D2L/Brightspace, you might wonder why you’d ever want to create quizzes outside your LMS. I had a similar perspective until I began working on projects that included students outside of my institution. For instance, through DePaul’s Global Learning Initiative, I frequently work with faculty who are collaborating with foreign instructors and students.

Before the rollout of Google quizzes, the only way we could provide our non-DePaul collaborators with access to quizzes was to add them to our LMS. This process is time-consuming and tends to reinforce the feeling that, as an American institution, we’re requiring our partners to learn our systems and do things our way. Because Google quizzes can be accessed by simply clicking a link (no login required), and because many Google products are widely used in many countries, we now have an option for online, auto-graded assessments that feels more open and familiar to students outside of our institution.

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Kevin Lyon

“Please, do take it personal…”

A few weeks ago, I attended the Brightspace Fusion 2016 conference.  While the conference itself is hosted by the team that develops our LMS (Learning Management System), many of the sessions focused on strong use of technology in general, as well as tested strategies for engaging learners, whether online, hybrid, or in traditional classrooms (in other words, these ideas apply regardless of the LMS you may be using).  If I had to pick one theme that stood out to me most, it would be the idea of personalized learning and instruction.

I know what you may be thinking now—we’ve been hearing about this for years and it still doesn’t seem to be that common, and most people push back by saying they don’t have time for creating individualized items for every student in the class.  I couldn’t agree more; that’s why the point here isn’t necessarily making many individualized items for each and every student, but personalized to different styles of learning, or even to your personal style of teaching your subject.  From what I see, the point here is that much of the content for courses is ubiquitous now—anyone can search online for countless bits of information, textbooks, how-to guides, websites, or videos on a topic; because of this, the real art and strategy of teaching is not so much in what we present, but how we present it.  The personalization is as much about the instructor’s style as it is the learners’ styles—the questions we need to answer are “How knowledgeable and authentic is the instructor? How can an instructor use their personal experiences or examples to make the content more accessible?”

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Jan Costenbader

What Are They Saying?

It’s just after your first class and the students are filing out of the room and you happen to be standing near enough to catch a few of their comments. You only get snippets of the conversations, but you hear…


In a face-to-face class, your presence is partly defined by your demeanor, persona and actions while in front of the class.

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Sharon Guan

Create a Trailer … for Your Course…by Yourself

An intro, to let students know what will happen in the class; a highlight, to capture the meaning of the subject; a heads-up, on what to expect; and maybe, a rationale, for the format in which the course is delivered.

To accomplish all of these in a quick and engaging way takes more than a syllabus or a course homepage. It requires condensing the course description and combining the presentation with multimedia or special effects…like a movie trailer.

According to a report by the Chronical of Higher Education, course trailers have become increasingly popular with the growing use of social media. The report cited Harvard University as an early adopter of course trailers because students there spend the first week of the semester “shopping” for courses they may want to take. So course trailers are a big help for boosting student interest and attendance.

Here is a course trailer for CS50 at Harvard University, a course that focuses on an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming:

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Alex Joppie

The Year of Virtual Reality

If you haven’t ever had a virtual reality experience before, you probably will in the next twelve months.

Virtual reality is coming online in a big way. VR headsets for high-end gaming PCs started shipping this past spring. This fall, Sony is launching a VR headset for its PlayStation 4 game console. Beyond gaming, Google has been experimenting with VR for two years, using phones and a cardboard holder. The low-tech, low-cost solution was designed to get VR into the hands of as many people as possible, and Google has already managed to get many developers on board with cardboard, creating games, simulations, and more. Google has created K12-focused Expeditions, where users can get the full 3D and 360-degree experience of being somewhere very few could ever go–like the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef, and even the surface of Mars. YouTube is also filling up with 360-degree 3D videos that are meant to be consumed with virtual reality devices. But VR isn’t always just consumptive–apps like Tilt Brush allow users to create 3D paintings in midair. And Google is getting ready to launch a more sophisticated VR platform with its next Android release in a few months, to build on and enhance their Cardboard platform. 2016 is the year of virtual reality.

As an instructional technologist, my natural tendency is to get excited about new technology and its potential in higher education. My instinct is to imagine all the possibilities that the next big thing affords for our classes and to push for the rapid adoption of the latest and greatest tech. But in the case of virtual reality, I’m a little skeptical that it’s going to be a true transformative technology for a couple reasons.

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Lori Zalivansky

How to Give a Kahoot!

This year I decided to attend the OLC (Online Learning Consortium) Innovate conference in New Orleans. The conference was a great experience in part for getting to hear from others in the same field on what their doing to improve online learning and I also had the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture, music, and food of New Orleans; the chance ended up being very fulfilling.

Of the sessions I attended, two in particular really stuck with me. One session, as the title “Don’t Put Your Phone Away” suggests, demonstrated how instructors can incorporate students’ phones into their classrooms. One tool in particular that really intrigued me was Kahoot!. Kahoot! is free tool that allows you to create fun learning games made up of multiple choice questions. You can add images, videos, and diagrams to your questions to enhance them. Kahoot!s are meant for an in-class setting as they are not embeddable in web content. You’ll also want to make sure you are using a classroom that has a projector, as the answer choices will only appear on the screen with a corresponding symbol. This symbol is what students see on their devices. Once they see these symbols, they must select the symbol that corresponds with the answer they want to select.

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