All posts by Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown

About Sarah Brown

Sarah has worked in the College of Education and with FITS since 2010. She also teaches in the Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse department. She earned her undergraduate degrees in Secondary English Education and Writing at the University of Findlay in Ohio, and after teaching at Miami Valley Career Technology Center in Dayton, Ohio for two years, she moved to Chicago to earn her MA in Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse at DePaul. When she’s not teaching or testing out a new technology, Sarah runs, crochets, and cooks.

Sarah Brown

Pay No Attention to the [Instructor] Behind the Curtain: How Including Your Face in Course Videos Impacts Student Engagement and Retention

During a recent research jaunt to update some FITS resources on online learning, I stumbled across an article about the value of including the instructor’s face in course videos. If you don’t have time for the entire piece, here’s my TL;DR:

Faculty often ask me “if it matters” to include their faces within course videos. My standard response is that they should try it in the introductory video. Start the video with your face on the screen, either in full-frame glory or in a small square in the corner (depending on the software you’re using), and then transition to the other typical intro video elements, like a tour of the course or syllabus. That way, you only have to think about being “on camera” for a minute or two.

But what faculty are really asking is this: does including my face in videos either (1) make students feel more engaged with the course materials, or (2) actually result in better learning?

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Sarah Brown

Happy New Year. Here’s 15 Hours.

A new year is a good time to press the reset button on many things, and I like a healthy, rigorous technology and technology-centric practice clean-out. You may already be using some of the tools I’ve listed below, but a new year is a good time to revisit those spaces, tweak your practices, or delete items that you’re no longer using.

But! If you’re new to all of these items and you integrate them in 2017, you’ve just earned yourself 15.65 (approximately) hours. You’re welcome. Continue reading

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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Sarah Brown

When “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Comes Back to Haunt You

In the training sessions we provide for faculty who are going to teach online or hybrid courses for the first time, our facilitator, Daniel Stanford, often mentions how instructional technology consultants can serve as “course therapists.” We’re there to listen; to assure faculty that the anxiety they might feel around making such a dramatic change to their teaching is normal; and to help them move through the stages of grief they might experience as they negotiate the losses that result from change.

Given my understanding of this framing metaphor, and given the amount of advice I’ve doled out within this context, I thought I was fully prepared to undertake the process myself when I agreed to teach one of my courses online this past Winter. Surely I could coach myself through the process, right?

As the colleagues I turned to when I needed a therapy session will tell you, I was wrong. In two key ways, I didn’t follow the recommendations I usually give to others.

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Sarah Brown

The Magic of Text Expansion: Type in a Code, A Paragraph Appears

At our recent DOTS Alumni event, a faculty member from the College of Education was going to present on his methodology for efficient and effective grading. He then had a conflict with the event, so I presented in his place – and, as per usual, a colleague’s good idea sparked an interesting research path.

Dr. Philip Gnilka introduced me to the idea of using an Excel spreadsheet with coded comments to give feedback to students. He was inspired by the process detailed in Andrew J. Czaplewski’s article, “Computer-Assisted Grading Rubrics: Automating the Process of Providing Comments and Student Feedback”.

The article details how to grade with an Excel spreadsheet, a self-contained document with an assignment rubric on one page and the codes for pre-drafted comments on a second page. For Philip, this works well. In the spreadsheet, he can fill out the rubric on the first page, type in the codes that refer to the comments he wants to give, and pull those comments into the page with the rubric. He then uses the Save As function to save a copy for the student and either upload (to D2L) or email the graded document for the student.

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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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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

Sarah Brown

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

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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

Sarah Brown

Gamification 2: Scaffolding to Win

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Which was worse: seeing the message above, informing you of your Oregon Trail traveling avatar’s imminent demise, or shooting a buffalo, only to realize you had no room for additional meat in your wagon?

The question might sound facetious, but I’m not asking it in a joking manner. When playing Oregon Trail, you had to make decisions with consequences: ford the river or pay for a ferry? Buy bullets and waste days hunting, or live more frugally? Go to the fort or to the Green River? Each time you played the game, you likely made different choices to evaluate the outcome, including a round where you set a grueling pace with no food and let the characters (who you may or may not have named after your siblings) die.

One of my favorite websites, Grantland.com, recently hipped me to a subgenre of video game writing: walkthrough/review hybrids of obscure DOS games. I spent many childhood hours playing the Hugo’s House of Horrors series, and reading these pieces prompted me to think about the term “gamification” differently. Continue reading

Sarah Brown

“Could Rosie the Robot grade my papers for me?”

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Image Via

At the end of each term, as you pass your harried colleagues in the hall, there’s likely a common cause for your collectively frazzled state: the stack of papers (or digital file folder of papers) that awaits your grading. They loom there, at the corner of your desk, in the middle of your table at home, or in that desktop folder, and you can feel their mental baggage as you hustle through the rest of your end-of-the-quarter tasks.

Grading writing is hard. It takes time and thoughtfulness on your part, and even if you calculate how many hours of grading you have ahead of you (perhaps trying to limit yourself to 30 minutes per paper, knowing full well that your students [hopefully] spent far more time than that writing the paper), you’ll still be reading papers at all hours, struggling with eye strain and red ink visions and mental exhaustion because if you see ONE MORE comma splice…

All of this is what makes the concept of automated grading at least tempting. Continue reading