All posts by Jan Costenbader

Jan Costenbader

About Jan Costenbader

Jan came to DePaul from California State University, Chico in November of 2010. There, he taught Mathematics and developed an online hybrid Mathematics course for General Education Mathematics. He also assisted faculty in course design as an instructional designer. Currently, he provides instructional design consultation to the College of Science and Health, the Quantitative Reasoning program and several departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. In addition, he teaches fully online developmental Mathematics and blended Quantitive Reasoning courses.

Jan Costenbader

Adaptive Learning using the Knewton Engine in MyMathLab

We have been exploring the use of the Knewton Adaptive Learning engine built into Pearson’s MyMathLab. We began with a limited study during the summer of 2016 with a trial in 4 developmental math courses. The results from the trial courses using Knewton were compared to sections of the same courses in which the adaptive engine was not used. Before continuing, you may be wondering what is this adaptive learning?

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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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Jan Costenbader

Face-to-Face, Blended or Online – No significant difference, but…

The growth of online and blended offerings, nationwide, continues at a steady pace. Although this data is several years old, the trend, especially at our institution, continues on the same path.


Source: Babson Survey Research Group, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States ©, January 2014.

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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

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

Jan Costenbader

What do they look like?

Before I enter the classroom each quarter (sometimes virtually), I always wonder about what my class looks like. Sometimes there are more women than men, sometimes it is a very diverse group, sometimes there are adult students, but one thing is certain, every year the incoming freshmen look younger and younger. Certainly, this is not because of my own advancing age, but seeing their youthful faces embarking on a new journey in today’s technological age, leaves me with the question, “what do they look like technically?” As more and more of our courses rely on online components, you have to ask yourself, “are our students prepared to deal with the challenges of D2L, online quizzes, and video captured lectures?”

Every year, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA conducts a nationwide study of incoming college freshmen. The study conducted by UCLA [1] includes survey responses from almost 166,000 freshmen representing 234 institutions. For the first time in 2013, the survey added two questions about the respondents’ use of Open Educational Resources (OER) such as Khan Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseware and other MOOC’s. These two questions were in addition to the recurring questions about using the Internet for research, social media use, video games. So, what does the incoming freshman class look like technically? How prepared are they to use the online tools? I found some of the results quite surprising. Continue reading

Jan Costenbader

Cool Creative Commons Collections for Class

I am not very original and I like to find materials on the web to ‘spice-up’ my hybrid and online courses. However, I frequently find things that are wonderful, but I am never sure as to their usability with regards to copyright and fair-use. Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources out there that are available under some very clear and user-friendly licensing.  So, let me first briefly discuss Creative Commons licensing and then point you to some wonderful web sites that support either Creative Commons licensing or clearly stated licensing materials for use in your course.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has established some legal tools to allow content authors to share their creative works under six different licensing schemes. The schemes are outlined on the website. In the simplest of terms, all of the licenses require, as a minimum, attribution. This means you give credit to the author for the original creation. The rest of the licenses add on one or more of these attributes: NoDerivs, NonCommercial or ShareAlike. Rather than go into the detail, the site provides complete descriptions of the licenses in both a human-readable format (License Deed) or the less-friendly Legal Code. Below are a few sites where you can find some really great content licensed under CC.

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Jan Costenbader

Is your Mind Set?

I teach several mathematics courses in the Liberal Studies Program at DePaul. For many of the students, this will be the only mathematics course that they will take during their entire college career, and many of them are apprehensive. I try to do a few things to allay their fears or at least help them see that they are in the same boat.

During the first week, I ask them to participate in a discussion forum by responding to the following prompt:

“Most children have a natural affinity for mathematics; they take pride in their counting skills and enjoy puzzles, building blocks, and computers. Unfortunately, this natural interest seems to be snuffed out in most people by the time they reach adulthood.

What is your attitude toward mathematics? If you have a negative attitude, can you identify when in your childhood that attitude developed? If you have a positive attitude, can you explain why? How might you encourage someone with a negative attitude to become more positive?”

This quarter, the students responded very well to the discussion. Those who were comfortable with mathematics encouraged those who weren’t. As the quarter progressed, the students have bonded and helped each other both in and out of class. However, every time I ask this question (and I have for more than 5 years now), I see responses similar to these: Continue reading

Jan Costenbader

I Love Technology

I love technology! I am always one of the early adopters. I must have the newest and shiniest gadget or software that is still in beta. Right now, I have a preorder in for the Leap Motion Controller, an input controller that senses your individual hand and finger movements so you can interact directly with your computer. How do I plan to use it? I have no idea, but it looks “cool.” Such is my relationship with technology. Cool is good.

This obsession with the latest and greatest technology sometimes clashes with either practicality or, more importantly, common sense. As instructional designers, we are always looking for ways to help our faculty be more productive in designing and implementing blended and online courses. Likewise, we are always seeking creative and innovative approaches to improve student engagement. Continue reading

Jan Costenbader

Flipping Your Classroom

One of the hot trends, particularly in secondary education, is the flipped classroom. According to the pioneers in the field, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, "In this model of instruction, students watch recorded lectures for homework and complete their assignments, labs, and tests in class"1. While one may think that this is the model we use for blended or hybrid classes, it is not. Instead, the flipped model really applies to face-to-face classes. The authors point out that the model is a mixture of direct instruction and constructivism. Is it not just having the students watch a video lecture online; a well-constructed flipped class online session includes learning activities and discussions that supplement the lecture.

In the flipped classroom, the instructor prepares a series of short videos or lectures using tools such as Screencast-o-matic (a screen-capture tool), Voicethread, or other similar tools. The lectures are uploaded to D2L along with interactive questions or discussion threads. Students watch the lectures and participate in the discussions as ‘homework.’ The face-to-face class time, then, is available for instructor-guided activities such as labs, group projects, or other student-centered learning activities. Some activities may include working on what we think of as ‘traditional’ homework, the advantage being that if a student is stuck on a concept, the instructor is there to provide help and immediate feedback.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to flipping the classroom. On the positive side, I watch many students in my classes scrambling to take notes while I lecture. If they miss part of the lecture, it certainly can’t be repeated. In the flipped model, on the other hand, they can rewind the lecture and play the part they didn’t quite understand, over and over. (Though I am not sure how many students would want to hear me over and over.) Keep in mind that I teach Mathematics and frequently work through algorithms and steps in solving problems. The ability for students to replay those steps is, in my mind, a major advantage. This is also helpful for students with learning disabilities or those for whom English is a second language. Secondarily, all of the lectures are archived and available for the student to go back and review. This assumes that the lecture material is well organized and catalogued so that the student can find it easily.

There are also advantages once the student is in the face-to-face session. You, as the instructor, now have time to personalize the interaction with your students, guiding them and answering questions directly as they work through the assignments in the classroom. You also now have time for creative and engaging projects in small-group activities with you present as the facilitator and coach. Your classroom now becomes a studio, a laboratory, a simulation lab, or a role-play environment—not just a lecture hall. Some instructors encourage their students to write down questions they have when watching the lectures and then spend one-on-one time during the class answering those questions, or they may collect the questions via email and answer the most common one to the entire class.

Of course there are disadvantages. If the student does not watch the lecture, or is multi-tasking (texting on their cell phone or watching TV) while watching the lecture, then they are ill-prepared for the classroom portion. Some instructors incentivize this by embedding self-assessment exercises in the lecture using a tool such as SoftChalk (which is a DePaul-supported tool). Another criticism is that many instructors deliver engaging and interactive lectures in class that they feel simply cannot be captured in a video or other online activity. They feel that two-way communication will be lost in the impersonal nature of online delivery. This is, of course, a challenge faced by instructors in the development of hybrid or fully online instruction. So here is a chance for a commercial plug: your friendly FITS instructional designer can help you make your online lectures engaging and interactive.

One might ask if there are particular disciplines in which flipping the classroom makes more sense? As an instructor in lower level Mathematics, I can see tremendous benefit there, as well as many science courses where the lecture content can be delivered online and the class time spent productively with laboratory/problem-set activities. The flipped classroom, however, is not restricted to the sciences and is successfully used in a wide variety of disciplines. There is a wealth of literature and opinions on the subject. Here are a few websites that are worth viewing if you would like more information on the subject.

  • This infographic is a good illustrated overview of the flipped classroom with some outcome-based results (but not cited). There is also a good comment section with both pros and cons.
  • Flipped Learning held a conference here in Chicago this past summer. Their website has a wealth of information.
  • Another similar organization is at
  • Edutopia has a good and balanced article.
  • A very balanced and more thought provoking article can be found at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: “To Flip or not Flip: That is NOT the question”. As we all rush to get on the latest bandwagon, this brings us back to the concept that is it good teaching that makes the difference. Technology can be an enabler, but it is not the solution.