Category Archives: Digital Living

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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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.

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

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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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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 WeChat.com 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

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

Daniel Stanford

My Oversharing Adventure: Travel Notes from the Land of Millennials

I give you my word that by the end of this article, you won’t feel bad about yourself. You won’t feel behind the times because you refuse to tweet course announcements, or follow your students on Instagram, or friend them on some new app that tells you what they had for breakfast.

I care about your feelings because I understand your pain. I was born in one of those years that generation X and millennials have agreed to treat as a demilitarized buffer zone. Part of me feels a kinship with those who came before me. I share their concerns about online privacy. I’m a little worried about those NSA data bunkers and the fact that kids today don’t return phone calls. I even hesitated to list the year of my birth in this very public blog post, which is probably a sign I’m not a true millennial.

On the other hand, part of me longs to burn my gen-X passport and defect to the reckless frontier that is the Republic of gen-Y. To learn what I’ve been missing, I recently embraced my dual citizenship and spent a few weeks living as a native among the millennials. Within days, I went from shaking my fist at Miley Cyrus, with her twitpics and her twerking, to sharing artsy photos of melted ice cream and Vine videos like a true gen-Y artiste. I also created a profile on Vizify, which took my yawn-inducing data from LinkedIn and transformed it into a slick collage of photos and infographics. (For more on that, view the video below.)

I like that my Vizify profile peels back the professorly veil just a bit without leaving me overexposed. Continue reading

Kate Daniels

In the Cloud(s)

I still shudder when I think of standing with my father curbside watching his laptop being carried away in the trunk of an anonymous city cab. We couldn’t chase the cab, we had no recollection of which cab company it was, and my dad had paid the driver in cash. Everything on his computer was instantly, mercilessly gone. All we could do was stand there and watch, slack-jawed.

That was a decade ago.

Just last week, I had a harrowing experience of my own: I spilled water on my laptop, completely destroying it. The Macbook Pro was pronounced dead on arrival at the Genius Bar.

I felt horrible and lamented my carelessness to my partner. He just shrugged and said, “thin client; no biggie.” Continue reading

Sarah Brown

Gamifying My Two Favorite Things: Running and Eating (and then Teaching!)

As a dutiful instructional designer, I’ve been paying attention to the concept of gamification. I’ve read some James Paul Gee, I’ve reflected on the time spent in my formative years (or *cough* last weekend) playing Zelda, and I’ve listened to our resident guru on the subject, Daniel Stanford, talk about how we could make the concept work within our courses and within D2L. But gamification remained only an interesting side topic that I sometimes devoted brainspace to until a couple of weeks ago, when I purchased the Fitbit Flex.

First, a disclaimer: I’m not trying to do any awkward product placement in our blog. There are several activity trackers out there, and I just happened to buy the newly-released Flex. Continue reading