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Social Pedagogies and CourseNetworking at Purdue University

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By in Distance Education, Student Technology Kit, Tools on .

Purdue is currently collaborating with CourseNetworking (CN) to explore the possibility of offering faculty an alternative learning management system (LMS) that requires little administration and allows first-time users to quickly create courses independently. This light-weight LMS uses a familiar interface and focuses on academic social networking.

Ali Jafari, , professor of computer and information technology at Purdue’s School of Engineering and Technology and director of the CyberLab, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and the founder of CN was quoted in a recent Purdue News article:

“The learning systems we have today were developed almost two decades ago,” Jafari says. “We need to invent the next generation. We need to learn a lesson from Facebook and Twitter that connecting people together and let them learn from each other is a more effective way to go.”1

A new social learning-based system focused on networking and collaboration that produces a highly interactive learning environment, CN has the potential to connect instructors and students from around the world based on shared interests and subject areas. The walls between classrooms are broken down enabling learners from different classes and schools to have dynamic discussions and freely share learning resources through: Posts, Polls, Events and more. CN transforms the traditional teacher-centered learning environment to a more engaging and effective student-centered learning environment. Students enjoy their learning experience by “following” and “colleaguing” other learners, by compiling learning resources on their own, and through a unique reward system, collecting Anar seeds, that many instructors use to incentivize the learning and engagement.

Randy Bass in his 2012 Educause article, Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education, discusses the pressures that are being felt in higher education due at least in part to the evidence that significant learning experiences are happening outside of the formal curriculum. He describes the pressures coming from two sides: 1) “data surrounding experiential learning, and 2) the informal learning and the participatory culture of the Internet.”2

Instructors can create tasks in CN that include “Smart Links”. These links allow the students to quickly access functionality such as: creating posts, responding to polls, and submitting assignments into a “Dropbox” area of the course for grading.

The course interface is familiar to the students. CN is designed to allow students to post multimedia easily and efficiently. Students frequently share resources found on the Internet. This informally appears to be quite motivating for the students. Their observed interactions frequently indicate their understanding of the content being learned and their ability to connect it to real life experiences, making the learning relevant.

To learn more about CN, visit http://www.thecn.com

Debbie Runshe, Educational Technologist

1Tally, S. (15 October 2013). “Purdue, Course networking to collaborate on next-generation edtech.” Purdue News.

2Bass, R. (2012, March/April). “Disrupting ourselves: The problem of learning in higher education.” EDUCAUSE Review. 47(2), 23-33. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/disrupting-ourselves-problem-learning-higher-education

Never Overlook the Value of Communication When Teaching Online

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By in Distance Education, Musings on Technology, Student Behavior on .

I’ve been teaching online at an institution other than Purdue for about 7 years now.  During the Fall 2013 semester, a student commented to me that they really appreciated the amount of communication I had with them during the semester.  Another student mentioned that I was much more engaged compared to his previous online course instructors.

For some reason these comments really haunted me after that term.  Yes, it felt great to get that kind of feedback from students because it was positive.  However, I have since been curious about why these students praised my involvement.  Why is it odd to students that online instructors are engaged in their courses?  If so, shouldn’t that be somewhat alarming?

Engagement is a two-way street.  We can’t expect students to be highly engaged in their classes while as faculty, we appear to either simply observing the class…or at worst, completely unengaged and uncaring about what is going on.

One aspect where student performance can be impacted positively by communication from faculty is through feedback.  Chickering and Gamson (1991), in their Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, list two principles that work hand-in-hand when it comes to communication:  Giving prompt feedback, and communicating high expectations.

If I simply state in my syllabus that I expect strong performance from my students on an assignment, but I provide little to no feedback to students, I am not being effective in providing guidance to high-performing students who may simply need reinforcement that they’re on the right track.  I am also not being effective with lower-performing students by not providing them with the feedback and information they need to improve their work and rise to the expectations I have for the class.  If I don’t tell a student what I expect and clearly communicate to them what they need to do to improve, how can I expect them to do better?

So what’s so important about prompt feedback?   Prompt feedback plus communication about what the student needs to continue doing (or improve upon) can make a difference in the student’s performance.  Not providing prompt feedback can put a student in a position where they don’t know what to improve upon until after the submission of additional assignments or assessments.

There are other components of communication that can be accomplished to keep you engaged with the course.  Consider using Announcements within Blackboard to provide updates and information that can help them, such as tips on how to complete assigned tasks, or emphasizing due dates.  If you do use Announcements, change your course entry page from Course Content to Announcements so those are the first thing a student sees when they log in.  In addition, critical announcements can also be emailed to students.

Furthermore, if you’re teaching online or a blended course where synchronous activity with your students is limited, you may wish to add online office hours using web conference tools provided by Purdue.  This can allow you to host real-time discussions with students wherever you are.

Communicating feedback and expectations is important for student success.  However, simply communicating with your students to let them know that you’re engaged and available can also demonstrate that you care about your students and their involvement in your class.

To discuss ways to increase communication with your students, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1991).  Appendix A: Seven principles for
good practice in undergraduate education.  New Directions for Teaching
and Learning, 47
, 63-69.

What Can Camtasia Do for You?

By in Content Development, Distance Education, Events, Software, Tools on .

As mentioned in Purdue Today, the University has purchased a site license for TechSmith’s all-in-one screen recording and editing software Camtasia.  It is already available for personal installation for most full-time faculty and staff who request it, and soon it will be available in every ITaP lab on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus for faculty, staff, and student use.  A Camtasia plug-in will also be installed in PowerPoint on those computers, allowing users to easily create recordings of presentations with audio, slides, and even a webcam if desired.  Camtasia will be replacing Adobe Presenter on ITaP supported machines.

Windows and Mac versions

Purdue’s license of Camtasia includes both Windows and Mac versions of the software.  It is important to note, however, the Windows version is an older and more robust product than the Mac version.  While core recording and editing capabilities are available in both versions, the user-interface and features are very different.   I must also mention that movie projects are not easily transferrable between the Windows and Mac products.   This compatibility issue only affects the editable project files, therefore it is recommend to only create camera recordings and edit them on the same operating system.  The final video product can then be saved in a non-editable video format (such as mp4) that will play across platforms.

Brief Overview of Key Features

Camtasia’s best feature is its ease of use. The entire computer screen, or a small selection of the screen, can be quickly recorded with a couple clicks of the mouse.  It is also very easy to add audio narration and an external video source (such as a webcam).  Once the recording has been created, it can be immediately produced into a sharable video file, or it can be modified with Camtasia’s full-featured editing studio.  The editing pane allows the user to make cuts, zoom and pan the recording, add other media clips, and even include assessments.  Camtasia also allows the importing of existing media clips, so it can be used purely as a video editor.

Share your Movies

After finishing the movie project, there are a variety of ways to share your video.  TechSmith offers a free 2 GB of storage and bandwidth if you sign up for a ScreenCast account.  This is useful if you need to share unrestricted video content to others who may not have access to Blackboard.  Camtasia also supports direct uploads to YouTube if you link your account in the program.  Finally, Camtasia also supports creating video files that can be uploaded into Kaltura (Purdue’s video storage solution) and shared in Blackboard.  

Assessing Students

One last feature worth mentioning is Camtasia’s ability to create videos that include various assessment features.  For example, instructors can integrate videos in Blackboard in such a way that students can be awarded points based upon their completion of a video.  For more targeted assessment, Camtasia also supports limited quizzing (multiple choice, short answer) during a video that can be scored and added into the Blackboard gradebook.  As always with this type of assessment, I’d advise caution and reflection on its implementation, but it may make sense for instructors who want to tie some sort of low-stakes assessment with a student’s online participation.  

Upcoming Camtasia Events

In the coming weeks and months, ITaP will be hosting several Camtasia events.  Starting the week of August 12th, we will be providing hands-on training workshops for those who wish to become better acquainted with the tool.  You can view and sign up for these workshops by visiting our training calendar.  We are currently developing training documents for those workshops as well as stand-alone documents and videos that will be available online around that date.  We will cover some basic Camtasia usage as well as how to integrate it with the systems we use at Purdue (Blackboard, Kaltura, etc).  TechSmith has also created their own tutorials for Camtasia (Windows and Mac), which are pretty in-depth and useful.

This is an exciting piece of software for teaching and learning, and I look forward to finding out about all of the creative and useful ways it will be implemented on campus.

Providing Online Office Hours Using Adobe Connect

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By in Distance Education, General Education on .

Providing office hours to students can be expanded into an online environment. Thanks to fast connection speeds at Purdue, students can communicate with you, the professor, in real time. Anymore, students use their laptops and tablets to interact with their courses online through Blackboard Learn, and many already use Adobe Connect for online courses or collaborating with their peers- why not communicate with them in a way that they can utilize daily with ease? Not only can students text chat, Adobe Connect provides them with voice features and webcam integration too. That’s not all, Adobe Connect enables you to share documents, videos, applications, websites, and more just as seamlessly as you would in a face-to-face meeting.

If you have no prior experience using Adobe Connect, you need not worry. ITaP has supplied training to aid you in learning more about the product and how you might integrate it into your online office hours offerings.

Main ITaP resource page for Adobe Connect: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/gomeet/

ITaP Adobe Connect video tutorials: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/trainingnew/online/Connect/index.html

Now, there are several tips to keep in mind when using Connect for your online office hours.

Internet Connection
When hosting an Adobe Connect session, it is important to be on a stable, Ethernet-cable tethered connection. We suggest you use the internet provided in your office by Purdue. Also, it is recommended that students use a Ethernet cable in their dorm, apartment, workspace, etc. when using Connect.

Computer with two screens
If possible, it is recommended you use a computer that has two monitors. The reason for this is that you will need one screen with the Adobe Connect application running and could use the other for what materials you are actively sharing off of your computer.

Another setup you could try if using two monitors is not possible, is to use a laptop connected to the Connect meeting room to monitor activity and use your main computer for sharing materials.

Additional Equipment
To ensure you are able to effectively communicate with your students, consider using an audio headset with a maneuverable microphone built-in. If you do not already own a headset, consider purchasing one that is powered by USB, which tend to output higher quality audio than those powered by a traditional 3.5mm audio-jack. When using your headset, do not place the microphone right in front of your mouth, instead try to place the mic about an inch or 2 away from the corner. This will lessen popping sounds and breathing interference.

Also, you might consider using a webcam, which can assist in better student attentiveness and non-verbal cues.

A few microphone headset recommendations:
Plantronics Audio 478
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $24.59

Plantronics DSP400 (Foldable)
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $38.99

Plantronics Blackwire C420
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $62.44

Whether you choose to pick any of these above or have another product in mind, use these tips to make a decision:

  • Choose a headset with a USB plug instead of an analog plug (3.5 mm RCA). USB offers a more stable, higher quality recording interface and pair with the audio chipset in your computing device.
  • Look to see if the cable for the headset includes a mute button and volume adjustment buttons/sliders.
  • If you’re looking for a microphone that allows for multiple people to talk in the same room or if you’re moving around a room while you’re speaking, you might consider a condenser microphone. Samson makes several products that work well for this purpose.

A few webcam recommendations:
Logitech C310
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8
Price: $30.96

Logitech C525
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8
Price: $41.40

Logitech C615
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8– Mac OSX 10.5+
Price: $47.99

Logitech C920
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8
Price: $77.33

It is recommended that you use the latest version of any of these browsers: Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Apple Safari.

Other than using an up-to-date browser, it is highly recommended that you update to the latest version of Adobe Flash Player for the browser you will use. Please click this link to download the latest version: http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

*Please provide this recommendation to your students as well.

Close unnecessary programs on your computer
To optimize the available resources to run Adobe Connect, please close down any unnecessary programs running on your computer.

*Please provide this recommendation to your students as well.

Use a physical space with minimal distractions
Whether it is your office or a conference/meeting room, choose a physical space where you can limit distractions so that you can engage with you students with minimal interruptions.

*This is a good suggestion for students too.

Adobe Connect, example, online office hours

This an example of a meeting room in Adobe Connect.

Lastly, here are some ideas on what you could use Adobe Connect to successfully conduct online office hours:

  • Open discussion- Enable open discussion between you and your students and/or moderate student discussion on course subjects. This can be webcam, audio, and/or text-based. Connect has the power of polling users as well.
  • Sharing lesson plans and/or documents with students- Upload Word documents, PDFs, PowerPoint files, etc. with students to go over course subjects and provide further explanations of concepts.
  • Demonstrate how to use software- Students struggling with SPSS or MathLab on the night before an assignment’s due date? Use Connect to demonstrate workarounds and troubleshoot their issues. With Connect you can actively allow students the ability to share their screens with the click of a mouse.

I hope this article has been helpful and encouraging. Please send an email to tlt-consulting@purdue.edu to seek additional information on Adobe Connect and strategies on using the software to engage with your students. Also, don’t forget to frequently check this blog for additional articles that may be of interest to you.