Encouraging student participation face-to-face or online

Death to clickers

I am generally not one for lecturing in front of a class of students; as they say, “talking ain’t teaching.” But that doesn’t mean that I don’t do it periodically. And when I do, I like to get the students involved. The tools for electronically supporting this process have progressed a long way past clickers. Students can use their cell phones, tablets, or laptops, and now they can do a lot more than just answer true/false or multiple choice questions. And their interfaces that they have to use are pretty good, too.

Here are a few of the newer possibilities and their stronger features.



LectureTools is a whole lecture delivery system. It allows students to respond to multiple types of questions, ask questions, and flag a slide as confusing. I have written a previous post about using LectureTools to broadcast a class. This system can definitely be used for face-to-face, online, or blended setups. It is quite seamless from the professor’s point of view.

One surprising feature that I like is that what is shown on the student’s screen is controlled by the student; that is, when the professor clicks to go to the next slide, the student has to click on his or her own computer to coordinate with the change. This, at least to a little extent, keeps the student out of “TV mode” and makes him or her pay attention.



Socrative is a student input system that allows students to participate via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Within the flow of the class, a professor can introduce a student-paced or professor-paced quiz. In addition to the standard T/F and multiple choice questions, Socrative can integrate short open-ended text questions. The professor can track who responded in what way to what questions; a report about responses can be delivered via downloaded Excel file. I can easily see using this for pre- and post-tests for a specific class or topic. Students can also be grouped into teams so that if any one student on a team gets the question right, the whole team is considered to have gotten it right.

They maintain a useful blog about possible uses for this in the classroom. They also have a good introductory video that shows how students and teachers use the system.


Poll Everywhere

PollEverywhere is a super powerful, flexible, and scalable system. In short, it allows T/F, multiple choice and free text questions to be asked; students can respond via phone, tablet, or web; responses can be displayed live in a presentation or on a Web page. They also have a page with a series of videos explaining the features of their voting system. It has a wide range of different pricing plans and is used by many large organizations. This page describes its many and varied options for asking questions and gathering responses.



TodaysMeet is a different type of system that allows students to make comments, ask questions, and answer questions online during a presentation. Every person in the “virtual room” can see the comments as they are made. This room is a private channel (i.e., not public like Twitter) that enables the audience to communicate via what’s known as the back channel. If your audience isn’t twitter-literate, or if you want to keep the comments from public exposure, then you should definitely look into this system.


So, that’s a nice selection of tools for your class. Many times students don’t want to raise their hands in class, but they still have questions. Why not make it easier for them to ask questions? Also, it can definitely be somewhat cumbersome and slow to ask a question of the class and then tally all the responses; some of these tools make that process dead simple. Other times, you want to have an idea of what your students know walking into a class (or before they walk out); these tools make that process painless as well.

There’s something here for almost everybody. Which one is for you?

Digital and multimedia alternatives to traditional written reports

It used to be so much simpler. When asking a student to display mastery of some material, a professor would ask for a 10 page paper. The student would research the topic, type up the contents, maybe include an image or graph, add the bibliography, and turn the paper in. The professor would walk out of class with a stack of papers to grade. This was all so predictable.

Well, not any more. The opportunities for displaying mastery are probably limited most by the professor’s imagination more than either the students’ abilities or the technical tools. Here I will go through some of the ideas for new types of projects that have crossed my mind recently as I have been planning my courses.


I have used Wikidot to host my course Web site for the last five years or so. It’s very stable and has a ton of features; see their education page for more details. But I have also used it as a way for students to write reports. I have been ecstatic with the results. Take a look at this one on the U.S. coffee industry as an example of some particularly amazing work. Here are the advantages of using a wiki for my assignment:

  • Students could easily link to current news stories.
  • Students could easily include photos and videos that were appropriate for their topic.
  • Students could write this work that it was going to be a public good when they finished it; on the day the project was due, they would turn their wiki from being private to being public. The report became something that anyone could look at as an example of their work. This definitely provided some motivation.
  • Students could amass a lot of information, but they would also have to learn to organize this information in a comprehensible manner.

Let’s consider this last point a bit more. The wiki tool gives students a lot of options for addressing this problem of how to organize additional information they have gathered. In a paper, students have three choices: footnote, table, or appendix. With hyperlinking (to new pages or within an existing page) and tabs, wikis provide more dramatic and (potentially) more effective tools for organizing information.

Curation tools

If the professor is interested in having a student follow a topic over a period of time (a month or so), then the curation tools that are currently out there provide some really easy-to-use tools for collecting and organizing information. LiveBinder is one such tool; you can learn more on this page. (Here is one example.) They promote themselves as “your 3-ring binder for the Web”, and this is quite appropriate. It’s a tool for gathering resources and putting them into categories. It’s quite utilitarian in nature but these binders are easy to work with.

Scoop.It provides a completely different experience. Think of this tool as providing a way for students (or you) to gather Web-based resources on one particular topic. Here is their Scoop.It page on Scoop.It itself. You can see that it is uncategorized, simply providing an attractive page of articles that they have gathered on a single topic. I could see producing a Scoop.It page as being part of a student’s assignment as a way of getting the student to understand that the topic they are covering is a living, changing thing (whatever it might be).

Network-drawing or mindmapping

Pearltrees example

Instead of writing about a topic, the professor might ask students to create a mindmap about a topic. These tools have gotten much better in the last couple of years. (Some of them are free while others provide very low rates for academic users.) They each make it quite easy to draw networks of related concepts, but each tool is somewhat different.

PearlTrees is a tool for gathering URLs from around the Web. This works by clicking on a bookmarklet in your browser, and then this “pearl” is added to their personal network. The student can then go to the network and re-organize the page.

Spicy Nodes exampleMindmeister example

SpicyNodes feels more like a writing or composition tool. This is a tool for sitting down, thinking, and creating; it’s not something that feels like it could be thrown-together. The “nodes” in this network can be text, simple HTML, URLs, or graphics.

Finally, MindMeister provides the ability for students to work in groups without worrying about stepping on each other’s electronic toes. Here are some education examples. While here the user can add graphics, the focus is clearly on the thoughts and organization of ideas.


The tools for creating videos are widely available and cheap. If you assign a group of students to create a video, the probability of one of them having a smart phone that can take video approaches 100% for any group of 2 or more. Almost every laptop comes with a web cam. I’m going to write an entry on this soon, but there is all kinds of free software available for producing videos:

Professors should think really carefully before they don’t assign videos during a class. It provides a different way of increasing student interaction with a topic, and might get them to think in a different way about how to organize their thoughts than they would otherwise.


VoiceThread is a unique multimedia collaboration tool. It allows multiple users to collaborate or comment on a video or PDF (or whatever) in multiple different ways. You really should look at their features page.

The question here becomes how to use this tool in a class. The professor could assign a video clip to a group of students and get them to create a commentary on it. These could then be shared to the whole class as a way to get a classroom discussion started. Another alternative would be before every class assigning different groups of students a specific article; they would then be assigned to point out its strengths and weaknesses and how it could be improved. Again, this could be distributed to the class as a whole for discussion. Finally, there’s no reason that these need to be short videos or be the result of a limited amount of work. Students could use their creativity to figure out how to use this tool to present multiple sides or viewpoints to an on-going controvery in a field.

I think the possibilities with this tool are extensive; personally, I need to adjust my thinking to this new way of working. I’m hoping that you’ll hear more about this from me later.

Assessment tools for a flipped or blended class

I am designing a class that I am going to teach next year. It is going to have elements of being flipped or simply blended. In any case, I am looking into different ways in which I can assess student learning that goes on during semester, whether in the classroom or out.

Several tools are available that provide assessment for different types of situations:

  • TED Ed is appropriate for assessing a student’s comprehension of a specific video that the student has watched outside of class. It explicitly recognized that many of the questions that you might raise will not be computer graded.
  • Flubaroo is a tool that is well-integrated with Google Docs; it would be easy to administer a test using this tool at a school that uses Google Apps for Education.
  • QuizStar is appropriate for any sort of out-of-class testing in which the questions need to include more than text; it also provides a good tool for tracking and managing grades.
  • Quipper is for a situation in which the teacher is not interested in tracking student grades but is more interested in motivating the students to learn a topic.

Below I provide more details on each of these and links to useful resources.


TED Ed allows a teacher to create an online quiz around any video that is on YouTube. You can create a Quick Quiz that tests basic factual and content questions based on the video. You can also define Think short answer questions for students. Finally, you can define a set of readings and resources in the Dig Deeper section.


Flubaroo is a free tool, integrated with Google Forms. You write a quiz in Google Forms, and this extracts the information from the form, emails the results back to the students, and stores the results for the teacher to see. It has a tremendous user guide that really lays out what needs to be done.

The questions in the quiz can be either multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank. The program generates an Excel worksheet that contains individual results and summary reports and graphs. It also has an option that enables it to email students their grades (plus individual question results).


QuizStar is a free tool that helps teachers create online quizzes, administer them to students, automatically grade those quizzes, and shows the results online. Each question can have graphics and videos attached to them as necessary


Quipper allows a professor to create a quiz that can be taken on most smartphones. The creator of the quiz is not able to get any information about how people perform on the quiz or on specific questions. The image at left (click on it to see a larger version) shows the question creation form. As you can see, it’s fairly straight-forward, allowing just multiple choice questions (or, of course, true/false).

  • Help page: this contains a lot of information about creating quizzes.
  • This app is currently available on both the iOS and Android platforms.

Education in the age of mobilism (ISTE12 session)

Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris at ISTE12 in San Diego.


On Tuesday afternoon I attended the ISTE12 talk given by Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris titled “Education in the age of mobilism: The inevitable transformation of the K-12 classroom”. The following is my summary of what I learned during the talk of these pioneering experts in this field.

Elliot and Cathleen (and others from SIGML) define a mobile device as a cell phone, smart phone, or tablet but not a laptop. The latter is a transportable device but not a mobile device. They have a long-held belief that by 2015 every grade in every school in the US will be using mobile learning devices 24/7. Students and parents want this to happen, so it is going to happen. They know that this change will not be easy or fast, but they believe it will be a cheaper way to go than the current book, laptop, and computer-based track that we’re currently on.

Defining characteristics of the “Age of Mobilism” (which they strongly believe that we are in) are the following:

  • Connectedness: all the time, everywhere. It is not enough to say “anywhere at any time”
  • Affordable by everyone
  • Global: cross cultural, cross everything

They emphasized two pieces of data to support their contention. First, in 2012 there will be one cell phone for every single person on the planet. Second, 72% of Apple’s revenue now comes from the iPad and the iPhone. People aren’t going to carry laptops in the future. Why should they? Their smart phone (which is the only kind of phone that will exist) will have nearly as much computing power (because of the cloud) as their laptop.

What it takes to bring about change

The speakers pointed out that, while new technology has changed just about every industry it has come into contact with, it has had little effect on K-12 education (so far). Movies were originally resistant, too. They originally performed plays in a theater and included shots of the audience in the recording. It took quite a while for someone to figure out that they could perform for the camera alone, and that the audience was not needed for the recording.

It takes new technology plus new processes in order to bring about disruptive change. Thus, using the old pedagogy of a teacher standing in front of a class while talking or students doing “worksheets” in combination with a computer isn’t going to bring about that dramatic growth and change and improvement. You need to change your educational model to 1:1, individualized education that is enabled by the technology in order to get the gains you are looking for.

Deploying technology is hard

One of the hard things about deploying technology in a school is that scaling across lots of teachers is really hard. The success of the pilot project usually leads to unrealistic expectations because you expect the next round to be the same as the first. This doesn’t happen because the teachers involved in the pilot project are usually a different kind of person, or are invested in the project differently, than the people in the full roll-out. First, they do whatever it takes to make the technology and the class work. Second, these pilot teachers are “artisan teachers” who make it look easy. The challenge comes with you have to support everyday teachers, parents, and admins. It is not a challenge to support the kids; they are adaptive and will figure it out.

The artisan teachers, the ones working with the technology in the pilot, do a Learn by Doing pedagogy. They invoke a John Dewey quote (which they referred to multiple times in the talk):

They give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, … learning naturally results.

So, in the doing is the learning. Teachers should not focus on the end result of the activity to see if learning has occurred — they should think about encouraging activities that lead to learning in their very doing.

To actually scale up, two plans can be followed. The first, shallow scaling, involves rolling out the technology to everyone and making sure that everyone knows how to use the technology itself and then figuring out how to use it. The second involves figuring out the pedagogy first and rolling out the new pedagogy with the technology as an accompanying tool in order to implement it. As you might guess from how they name them, the speakers highly recommend the second approach because it ends up being more successful and being less frustrating for teachers.

The benefits of mobile technology

In order to bring about the benefits of mobile learning, teachers need to determine the activities that students can do with these devices that they could not do with a pencil and paper. They acknowledge that it is not always the case that the students could not do the activities with pencil and paper but that the mobile technologies simply make it so much easier to do something different.

They have found that mobile devices make it much easier to enact learning by doing. With the devices in their hands, the students have more responsibility for the doing while the teacher simultaneously has less responsibility. This raises a sense of ownership of the learning in the student.

They have also found the following benefits:

Students have direct and immediate access to information, events, locations, and data. This means that teachers no longer had to mediate the content. Students can get the information themselves.
Learning in context
Because of the previous point, assignments can be more complex and related to the real world, not separate in-class assignments divorced from reality.
Student groups, but also teachers along with his/her students, can discuss, collaborate, and work as a team. The technology helps teachers learn along with the kids.
All the time, everywhere learning
It is not enough to say “anytime, anywhere learning.” The learning can happen all the time and everywhere the student is. Stop thinking about learning in a classroom — think about learning as an integral part of life and living.

Teachers need to keep in mind that mobile devices are not just computers. These are better than laptops; they have accelerometers and GPS and will have soon temperature sensors and heart monitors. Because of the highly competitive industry and its relatively young age, both software and hardware offerings are rapidly evolving. It is time to get in right now, but realize that the tools will continue to get dramatically better and cheaper. But don’t wait because you need to start creating capabilities and expertise in this area.

A great offer

Through their Intergalactic Mobile Learning Center, Soloway and Norris are making available at very low cost the software, hardware, and curriculum (for a few subjects and grades) in order to help schools kick-start this journey. This is, or will be, available for Windows, Android, and iOS platforms. They seemed genuinely excited about the opportunities that this would provide to teachers who don’t know where or how to start.

Yong Zhao’s idea of a world class education (ISTE12 keynote)

Message delivered by Dr. Yong Zhao, University of Oregon, at ISTE12 in San Diego.


Last Tuesday I attended the ISTE12 keynote by Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon. He is a deeply interesting, funny, and motivating speaker who clearly has a wealth of knowledge on his topic of what it means to deliver a world class education. He has written World Class Learners and Catching up or Leading the Way along with many dozens of articles.

Here I will try to summarize the main points of his talk in a unified essay. As far as I can recall, the points below are his; I wish I could take credit for them, but I can’t.

Choose the right goals

He considers the story of Easter Island (as recounted by Jared Diamond) to be a good metaphor for what is happening with educational reform. The Easter Island residents seemed to think that their rock carvings were a sign of prosperity of their carving, so each family dedicated all their resources to carving bigger and better rocks. They neglected farming and everything else that was needed. Eventually their society collapsed not because of external influences but because they had chosen the wrong goal.

He came back to this again and again: If you choose the wrong goal by which to measure yourself, no matter how good or efficient you are you will never get to where you need to go. Actually, the more efficient you are, the more quickly you will disappear (or at least become irrelevant).

He likens the above situation to education reform in the US, Australia, England and many other places around the world. Here in the US we have the following:

Common Core
He says that he is not against standards, but he would like this one better if it weren’t common and if it weren’t considered the core of what is to be learned.
No Child Left Behind
Sometimes it is good if a child is left behind. For example, what if we are all going in the wrong direction. Wouldn’t you like if it that child was able to choose to go in another direction?

(This is among many others.) He says standardized test scores are like the giant stone heads on Easter Island. They are really beautiful and seductive, but they aren’t what we need. Using technology to raise our test scores is the wrong use of the technology. He mentioned this saying:

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.

You cannot judge technology by its ability to improve test scores. This is not what it’s really good for.

The leaders in standardized testing

When the 2009 PISA test results (gold standard of education results) were released, China took #1 in all three categories. Obama said that this is the Sputnik moment for us. Arne Duncan said this is a wake-up call. Everyone wanted to know how these countries did so well. However, when these results were announced, China did not celebrate. Why not? Well, they are looking for different talents:

Wen Jiabao
“China must have entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.”
Kai-fu Lee
“The next Apple or Google will appear, but not in China…unless it abolishes its education.”

Why were these Chinese leaders worried after seeing these results? Well, it has to do with the innovation and leadership disparity they saw. For example, in patent filings in 2008, China had 203k while USA had 400k and Japan had 500k. Given the difference in populations among these three, China should have had significantly more than either of these. Also, while Asians make up 5% of the US population, and 15-25% of the student bodies in the Ivy League (and other top schools), they make up only 2% of the board seats of Fortune 500 firms.

So, the Chinese were not satisfied with their educational system because they perceived something lacking in it as the underlying engine for their economy. At the other end of the spectrum, tthe US was (and is) really dissatisfied with its system.

History of bad test-taking

You hear that US education is in decline. The College Board says we’re crumbling. Professor Zhao says that US education isn’t in decline — it has always been bad. He wonders why the US is still among the leading countries

He brings up several points when emphasizing how bad our educational system has been. It was bad in the 1950s. Remember the whole Sputnik thing? There was a special issue of Life magazine in 1958 titled “Crisis in Education.” In 1983 we were comparing our educational system unfavorably with that in Japan. Again, the US was at risk, this time from Japan. We have a long history as bad test takers. In 1960s we were 12th out of 12 in math. In 1970s-80s, we then were 12-15th out of 15 in math. You could actually say that we are doing better now than we ever did.

Explanations for the bad scores

All sorts of explanations have been put forward for why the US has such bad test scores. First, it has been found that there is an inverse relationship between test scores and perceived entrepreneurial capability. He isn’t saying that the perceived entrepreneurial capability is causing bad test scores; however, given that we are so high on this dimension, it then makes sense that we would have low test scores…even if it is still unclear why this relationship exists.

Second, he points out that all sorts of surveys have shown that we are very confident in our math ability even though we are really bad. Our political leader have said that this implies that we need higher standards, and that these standards need to be clearly and frequently measured by tests so that we will know just how bad we are. This will then cause us to be sad and to work hard at raising our scores. Or so their thinking goes.

Third, in the US most teachers care more about children than math. This is apparently a big problem here; he said this with a huge sense of irony in his delivery.

The professor made it clear that he is not particularly satisfied with any of these possible explanations. Actually, he is not even satisfied with the question because he doesn’t think that the scores matter at all.

A “Lady Gaga” curriculum

What he is really interested in is whether or not it is possible for a school to develop a curriculum that could churn out a whole lot of Lady Gagas. No matter how you judge her music, he said that it is clear that she is talented, entrepreneurial, and creative. Would it even be possible to create a Lady Gaga curriculum? A Common Core for Lady Gaga? Does this even make sense to think about?

When creating a curriculum, we are placing a bet on what’s going to be important in the future — what will make us “college-ready” or “ready for our career.” The predictions that we place are based on the past. The question becomes what really makes people rise to the top?

Amy Chua, in Day of Empire says that tolerance is the key. Richard Florida, in The rise of the creative class, says that it is technology, talents, and tolerance. It turns out that tolerance gets us diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurship, which are the things that an economy needs to thrive. Whether or not you believe that the resulting creativity can be taught, it is clear that an education can help kill it. Maybe it’s the case that US schools kill creativity less successfully than other school systems.

What education should be

The professor poses three important questions for a school system:

  • What matters to you: test scores or confidence?
  • Do you allow exceptional talents to exist?
  • Are you taking advantage of the resources that you have?

The structure of our current educational system was to support our industrial, manufacturing-based economy. While it is true that the average profit per Apple employee is $400,000, they are not the ones putting the devices together. This is being done (mainly) by Asian companies who are much less profitable. Today a company (and an economy) needs unique workers with special skills, and you have to be great because this is a global society.

Further, the economy needs entrepreneurs off all types: business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, policy entrepreneurs. These people, when they are unhappy with a situation, comes up with a solution to make it better. When enough people are working on a problem, and when those people think about things in lots of different ways, then problems get solved and economies advance.

These so-called “black-collar workers” (who he named in honor of Steve Jobs’s turtleneck) don’t wait for someone to create a job for them; they create the job for themselves. He has identified qualities that are common to these people:

They have to have an innate confidence in their own abilities.
A supportive network of friends help them persevere.
A sense that risk-taking is acceptable, or even desirable, gets them to try important and difficult problems.
A passion for their efforts helps them keep striving in the face of difficulty.
This allows them to try different approaches when the first 100 fail.
These people have a real inner drive to solve these problems and to make a difference.

We should all abandon the idea that US schooling can produce employable skills. Kids turning 13 this year, if they work until they are 72, will be retiring in 2071. Think about what has happened in the last 10 years. People make a living working for Facebook, writing Angry Birds, and tweeting. Was that predictable 10 years ago? What makes you think that you can predict that we know what skills will be “employable” for these people in 2071? Remember, our predictions are based on the past. Well, no matter how perfect a horse wagon is, it will never make it to the moon.

Education should involve student autonomy, a global campus, and product-oriented learning. They need to make real things. Schools need to focus on the individual strengths of the student. They need to turn the students into makers of things and not only consumers. This can only happen beyond the school’s walls; the world must become our campus. The people of the world are our collaborators, investors, and customers. Work with them, not against them.

He concluded by saying test scores should not apply to everyone. They don’t reflect your student’s, your teacher’s, or your school’s abilities. A great education allows each child’s maximum potential. Design your class with that in mind.

Lessons from The Boss about teaching

It works for The Boss and it works for me

Bradford Times on flickr took this photo; Creative Commons attrib-noncommercial.

David Brooks recently wrote “The power of the particular” (NYTimes, June 26, 2012). In this article he tries to explain how it is that Bruce Springsteen (aka, The Boss) is so wildly popular in Europe with such a young crowd.

No, I’m not going all “Entertainment Tonight” on you. I found his analysis related to part of my theory of teaching. Brooks explains how we all have a need to create detailed (sometimes imaginary) worlds as a way of orienting ourselves in the real world. We are also attracted to these detailed imaginary worlds — think Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Rowling’s Hogwarts, Tupac Shakur’s Compton, or Springsteen’s Jersey.

Thus, paradoxically, Springsteen’s very localness attracts him to people around the world. As recounted in the article, tens of thousands of Spaniards can be seen at his concerts deliriously singing “Born in the USA” at the top of their lungs. Oh, really? You were? Probably not, and probably won’t be there any time soon, but these people relate to his world in a deep way.

Brooks takes the following lesson from this:

The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.

This sounds exactly right, but I think it can and should also be applied to teaching. This very much echoes what I tell young professors who ask my advice for how they should act in class. I have always told them to be true to their personality. If they like dumb jokes, then tell dumb jokes. If they love talking about their family or hometown, then do so. If they are hyperactive, then let that come through. If they have a particular fondness (or disdain) for a particular part of their field, then let that be apparent. They should let out their personality.

In short, let the students see you as a whole person. Only then will they treat you as a person, listen to you as a person, and truly hear you if you have to give them some positive reinforcement or strong critiques. They will be able to recognize the words as coming from you, a fully-formed individual, and not from some one-dimensional automaton who does not have their best interests at heart.

I have always considered this to be my greatest strength as a professor. I’m not the greatest lecturer and I’m no treat to look at and I’m not the world’s smartest person, but I do care about my students and I let them see my personality. It allows us to have more meaningful conversations, relationships, and — maybe surprisingly until you reflect on it — learning.

If you let the students into your world, they will let you into theirs. And then true trust, teaching, and learning can begin to flourish.

Higher education sounds an awful lot like Borders right now

An old Borders location in San Diego, CA

In the June 26, 2012 New York Times, a great article titled “Public universities see familiar fight at Virginia”. In describing recent events at the University of Virginia, author Tamar Lewin perfectly captures the difficult situation in which highered finds itself.

Here is ex-President, rumored to soon be reinstated President, Teresa Sullivan commenting on online education:

Dr. Sullivan said that online education was no panacea — and indeed, was “surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential and unless carefully managed can undermine the quality of instruction.”

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Let’s see, where have I heard these words before? Oh, yes:

  • As a leading retailer, Sears has found that selling clothes online is no panacea and, indeed, is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential (compared to our vast network of stores) and, unless carefully managed, can undermine the personal service that we provide our customers.
  • As a leading bookstore, Borders has found that selling books online is no panacea and, indeed, is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential (compared to our vast and growing network of stores) and, unless carefully managed, can undermine the personal, in-depth, knowledgeable service that we provide our customers.

Not a good sign for highered, for sure. The following is a great description of how highered leadership works, and provides insight into the difficulties people in those positions face:

And while she agreed that she is, indeed, an incrementalist, she stressed that that did not mean she lacked a strategic plan.

“Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university,” she said. “Sustained change with buy-in does work.”

Many public university presidents, past and present, said that those on the boards of the leading universities — typically business executives without much experience in academia — do not always understand the complexities of leading a large research university, and the degree to which a president can succeed only by persuading.

The UVA board tried to move quickly — too quickly, it turns out — but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next board is successful in getting its way because the situation is becoming untenable for too many institutions. Faculty salaries are going to have to be cut drastically; classes are going to have to increase in size; and educational technologies are going to have to be deployed (effectively, let’s hope) on a fairly extensive scale. Difficult choices have to be made. Reality must be faced, and soon. Getting a president reinstated doesn’t change any of that.

Creativity is the Killer App (ISTE12 concurrent session)

Chris Walsh up on stage.


This afternoon I attended the ISTE12 workshop “Creativity is the Killer App” by Chris Walsh from New Tech Network (twitter: @fitzwalsh). Here’s the short summary:

This presentation will share practical examples of creativity in action and highlight high-tech and low-tech tools to leverage. It will rely heavily on design thinking principles currently in use by leading business, education, and non-profit organizations. In addition, participants will engage in series of simple activities that model design-thinking processes and instructional techniques to foster creativity, so that every participant is a step closer to implementing these ideas in their school.

This was mostly an informative or motivational session meant to impress upon the audience that creativity can be nurtured and developed, and that as teachers we have the ability to help the process along. The following are my key take-aways from the workshop.

Key take-aways

The most important concepts I took from this related to conditions for creativity. This gave me some things to focus on when I am designing assignments, projects, or exercises for a class.

We have to be happy to be creative. We have to be light and joyous and free from worry. If we aren’t, then we are stifled.
We need extended time to be creative. It is real hard to be creative under a time crunch.
We need to explore lots of ideas. We can’t edit our thinking when we’re trying to be creative — we need to go for quantity of ideas when we’re being creative, not quality.
We have to fail a lot. If we aren’t teaching our kids how to fail and showing them how to recover from that failure, then we are failing our kids. Failure is an option!
We need to have a variety of experiences in order to be creative. We need to get out and go lots of places in order to stimulate our brain to think about different things and in different ways.
We need to have the freedom to choose different paths, to try different things, and to approach the problem from different ways. We can’t feel shut off; the more we feel that way, the more we start editing our thinking, and this is what might keep us from finding the solution that we need.
We need real and challenging problems to work on in order to get the juices flowing.
For some reason, manipulation of objects and moving around seems to help us think. Don’t stay in one place!
A clear understanding of constraints and resources can focus on what kinds of answers will be acceptable. Without this, we can create answers for a world that doesn’t exist, and this doesn’t help anyone.
You have to have a certain level of knowledge, skills, expertise, or mastery in order to be creative in an area. This seems to be what provides the fertile ground in which a solution can bloom.
Encouragement and recognition can provide much of the incentive that people need in order to keep moving forward, to keep working on a difficult problem through frustrating times.


As always, these are my notes from the session that will probably not be useful for you, but might give you a better sense for what went on during the session.

BTW, he started (before the session) with a clip from Infinite Thinking Machine (at this site). It mentioned Makerspace and Brightworks.

  1. What is creativity: “Partnership for 21st Century Schools” definitions. Fancy definitions.
  2. Types: expressive, designing/inventing, problem solving, other types as well.
  3. Creativity matters: human/social progress; Economic engine (think about Apple); expressions of value and fun, personal growth/li>
  4. Creativity is not a serendipitous accident or event.
  5. Monty Python cast and crew had a 9-5 office hours. They worked really hard.
  6. Creativity does not happen solo. He has us draw a butterfly. He teaches them how to do critique groups. He has the student repeat the process, gets better each time.
  7. Creativity is for “artists”. No. Steelcase chair. MLK words. Plaid “Bahama” shorts (had to know when to bring them back).
  8. Creativity is innate: some have it, some don’t. Again: no! What does a creative person look like? Actually, there’s no such thing. Look in a mirror.
  9. Gives an assignment: buddy-up. What is the most creative learning activity that any of us has ever experienced? Then generate some creative way to present digitally that creative learning moment. #creativelearning.
  10. Conditions for creativity: playfulness (have to be happy), time (we need extended time to be creative), exploration (need to have lots of exploration; don’t stop yourself from being creative; no censure; go for quantity), failure (we have to fail a lot; if we aren’t teaching our kids how to fail and showing them how to get to the other side, then we are failing our kids; failure is an option), variety (lots of variety; we need to get out and go lots of places; neon glow sticks aren’t fun in one color).
  11. More conditions: freedom/autonomy/choice, real challenging problems to solve; thinking with your hands; clear understanding of constraints and resources; knowledge/skill/expertise/mastery (you gotta have the knowledge and skills in order to be creativity in an area); encouragement and recognition (lots of this)
  12. Attitude: personal passion provides the spark; give yourself permission to be creative; happiness matters a lot; discipline/commitment (you have to work hard)
  13. Jerry Seinfeld: he’s creating a chain, creating volume;; discipline and commitment matter.
  14. Creativity tools: Explore (web [wikipedia; twitter; spotify], outdoors, music); cross pollination (communities [sxsw], guests, visits [other schools]); divergent thinking (storytelling, games [flux]); Design (visualization, multimedia [hyperstudio application])
  15. Can you teach creativity? Teachers (modeling openness, encourage failure); open language (could, might, possible, how else, tell us more); methods (mashups, mimicry, design thinking, tinkering, exhibitions); experience (lots of different ideas and situations); assessment (can it be measured?; probably can but not sure)
  16. He recommends Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin on why he believes schools are stealing kids dreams. Mostly because they need more playfulness and schools are trying to minimize it.

How to tell stories digitally (ISTE12 workshop)

Jason giving it his all in our workshop.


The following are my notes and take-aways from the ISTE12 workshop given by Jason Ohler titled “Finding the Digital Storyteller Within.” He did a great job, and I highly recommend to anyone interested in digital stories (more on this below) that they attend one of his workshops (the longer, the better). In the meantime, he has a blog, a book about Digital Storytelling, his slides for the session, and a real extensive Web site.

Here is what he stated in his introductory Web page about the workshop:

I am all about story development, planning and execution. We just happened to be using digital technology to do it.

Think “new media narrative” rather than stories
I think the word “story” erroneously implies fiction, language arts, Walt Disney. Not the case. That is why I prefer the term “new media narrative.” I will show examples of “math stories,” documentaries created in social studies, and other kinds of new media projects that attest to the fact that new media narrative is a powerful alternative to essays and reports.

And, so, that is what we did, and this is what I learned.

Key take-aways

The following are key points that he discussed during our session. I have tried to include links to his Web site for supporting details. I can’t emphasize enough how useful these are.

Scripting a story
He takes us through two processes for creating a digital story. He also took us through the story core and story mapping process. His Green screen storytelling project provided a good example to get a better idea of what he was talking about. We all found these tools to be simply great for evaluating whether a story is good and also to create a good story ourselves.
Assessment rubric
He also provided a ton of details about assessment. His basic story was to be clear that you’re not just going to be blown away by moving pictures on a screen — you’re going to grade them on the underlying narrative (see above) and lots of other things. This is the only way that they will get better!
He made this point over and over again: it’s the underlying story/narrative that is most important. The visuals and videos that accompany the narrative are supportive.
Words first
When creating a digital story, the student should create the story and narrative first; once this is done, then they should focus on the images. This is the opposite of what is usually done.

Software and sites

Jason barely mentioned the technology, other than little hints for us. Here are some of the sites that he mentioned:

  • Use freeplaymusic.com for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
  • For music he also uses dig.ccmixter.org.
  • For photos he likes stockphotosforfree.com.
  • He uses Perfect Resize (formerly Genuine Fractals), an add-on to Photoshop ($100 right now) that can be used to up-size a photograph. This allows him to use a 300×500 photo that he might have gotten from a site for free, and then use this software to make it useful at full-screen size.
  • He subscribes to clipart.com for photos and (what else) clip art. He always prefers that students take the photos themselves, but he realizes there are limitations to what they have time to do.

And that’s it. He did a great job of giving us an overall framework for how to create compelling stories and how to evaluate the digital stories that students create. I will be using all of this myself as I create videos during the upcoming year for my blended class.

Detailed notes

Here are my notes from the class. I’m not sure that anyone would find this useful, but I’m keeping it here just in case.

  1. He is going to give us guidelines for creating digital stories. He will give us a skeleton and we will change it based on our audience. This will be a starting point.
  2. Digital storytelling in the classroom; Digital community, Digital Citizen — both books by Jason Ohler
  3. He has a blog: www.committedsardine.com.
  4. His presentation is New Media Crash Course presentation on his web site. (Link later.)
  5. This is about structuring stories.
  6. Teachers as “door openers” for the students. Which door is for which student?
  7. Watched a video produced by a kid. It was really good, but the production values were terrible. But the story was awesome. (About his bunny, Fuzzy Lumpkins the Sith Lord.)
  8. Most media that he sees is not very good. The coherent narrative is not very good. It’s hard to go from reading to writing, and it’s hard to go from watching media to creating media.
  9. We are afraid to give strong, critical, useful feedback on student media work.
  10. Worst infraction by students is that the music is too loud. Don’t ever give up Executive Producer role for students.
  11. Tell students to watch TV and see how they do transitions. Do they use checkerboards? No, I didn’t think so.
  12. Key resources:
    • Green screen storytelling project:
      1. plan, permissions, paint.
      2. Tell the story
      3. Map the story
      4. Teach storytelling (Who’s line is it anyway?)
      5. Do the unit of instruction
      6. Storystorming
      7. Students tell their stories; get kids to move with their stories, there’s something kinesthetic about creating a written story.
      8. Students write their stories (notice that this is the end)
      9. Students tell, retell and peer critique stories
      10. Students create background artwork
      11. Students scan artwork
      12. Students perform in front of the green wall. (Get students to teach each other.)
      13. Students record their performance
      14. Students create background music for titles.
      15. Students are trained in chroma editing
      16. Students add artwork
      17. Students edit, master and help each other
    • Digital storytelling site: a great section on Assessment for digital stories and new media narrative projects. Also information on copyright and fair use. Here is where to start.
    • music impact
    • Use freeplaymusic.com for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
    • Story proof? by Havens (he loves it)
    • There is a grammar associated with camera work. Ask him how to learn about this!!!
    • stockphotosforfree.com, also dig.ccmixter.org
    • Genuine Fractals, add-on to photoshop that can be used to up-size a photograph
    • He subscribes to clipart.com for photos
  13. Become aware of the music you hear when you’re watching media. NBC uses lots of music; it’s a cheap way to pull at the heart instead of with good writing.
  14. Music is the adjectives and adverbs of your story.
  15. Literacy: therefore, we need to be able to write well whatever we read. We need to say that creating this media is now just as important as being able to watch the media (e.g., read text).
  16. Homework can be a media collage now. How can we do this well?
  17. Digital storytelling is cliche. It should be “new media narrative.”
  18. He thinks it’s hard to look at a storyboard and tell if the story is going to be good or not.
  19. He tells a story about a little girl helping a CIO in front of a big audience.
  20. Stories are highly efficient information containers.
  21. Stories have to have “personal transformation” in a story or it isn’t memorable. There needs to be something to hang your emotional hat on. There has to be a problem, question, inquiry, goal — something that makes you lean forward in your chair. The discovery has to be complete. No “stay tuned next week.”
  22. Think about a “story” versus “bullet list.” Think about how memorable the two are.
  23. He shows a video, a math story called “ball”. How to animate a rolling ball. They presented a problem (of the ball skidding across the sand). What are they going to do about that? Note that didn’t have to have the problem! They gave us a problem that drew us into the video.
  24. Traditionally storyboard. He doesn’t use that.
  25. Visual portrait of the story: beginning, problem (tension) -> solution (resolution) [this is the transformation], end.
  26. Transformation: emergence, rebalancing. From new you to the old you. Physical/kinesthetic, inner strength, emotional, moral, psychological, social, intellectual/creative (learning, problem solving, critical thinking, realizing new understandings, spiritual. The key is that characters have to realize something or there isn’t a good story involved.
  27. Use the photos that I took here. He includes a bunch of Maps; includes the work of McKee.
  28. McKee says you need to move toward goal, away from goal, toward the goal, away from the goal. Do this alot, it draws us in.
  29. Story spine by Kenn Adams. Great summary.
  30. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  31. Simple rubric: story (flow), media use (alignment), research (well done), narrative production (bumpless), writing (meets your standards), planning (process followed), voice/creativity (present). The media has to fit the narrative; does the picture show a dog? For media alignment, you need to give structured feedback about specific moments in a video.
  32. Story creation process: plan, write (write 1/2 to 1 page; keep it under 3 minutes for student work; but if this is a final project for semester, could be longer), put (writing into a two column table), describe media, speak/record, get media. This is huge! Use this in a class. The peer pitch is your elevator pitch; is it clear, interesting, problem clear, solution clear.
  33. A two column table: narrative on left, image description and emotion description on right.
  34. Have the student record/listen/rewrite. They will do this a lot because they don’t like how it sounds.
  35. Be sure to have them do just audio first. Go back and do the images later.
  36. Get media later.
  37. Now it’s technical: create the title page; add pictures and video; add citations, music, transitions and effects; export to something youtube can understand; perform it publicly (makes a big difference to students).
  38. He has a media development checklist (photo).
  39. Story storming: a process to elicit a story from them. Problem/question? Then Solution/answer. Then Learning/transformation. Get them to tell me a problem; wait until you get a juicy one (“don’t like school”). What are the solutions or answers to that? Write down several different choices. Look for learning/transformation associated with each. Some don’t have one here, so that’s not a good story. The good ones have a lot to do in this area.
  40. Documentary options: 3rd person narrator; 1st person protagonist (I don’t understand whatever, come with me as I discover; Michael Moore); 1st person included (he gives the 3rd person, but he includes personal stories; Ken Burns); 1st immersive (media created through the viewpoint of being that person, from that person’s eyes; King John story)
  41. He has us come up with a story ourselves.

Podcasting and Screencasting (ISTE12 workshop)

On Sunday morning I attended a session on Podcasting and Screencasting at ISTE12 led by Robert Craven (twitter at @digitalroberto, Web page). This was a seriously hands-on session in which we covered lots of software. The following are a listing of the software we used, my key take-aways, and then lots of detailed notes about the software that (possibly) only I will be interested in, but I included here just in case.


This is the software that we touched on during the session:

Web sites
Mac software
  • GarageBand
  • iMovie
  • QuickTime
iPad apps

A little context

Podcasting involves creating an RSS feed that delivers a series of media files that can be listened to or watched on a wide variety of devices (ipods, ipads, iphones, smart phones, computers). Podcasting has been around since September 2004. There are three varieties of podcasts:

Just an audio recording
Essentially a series of pictures with accompanying audio discussion
A more complex audio/video lecture or discussion

The process of podcasting involves creating a podcasting stream (empty at the beginning), creating the media file, attaching the media file to the RSS podcasting stream, and then subscribers to your RSS podcasting stream actually receiving the media file automatically.

BTW, of the 30 people in the session, only about 3 used PCs; the rest used MacBooks and iPads. Apple has quite a market share in education.


Here are the main points (outside of the detailed software knowledge that I gained) related to this topic that I learned. Note that I focus on Mac software and iPad apps since that is what I use; his Web site has lots of details about PC software.

  1. GarageBand is a great piece of software for creating audio and enhanced audio media files. It has all that you need, including the abilities to:
    • Manage the process of recording the different voices in the podcast (including volume, trimming and otherwise editing),
    • Insert music clips to be provided as background for the podcast,
    • Provide a full library of freely available music clips,
    • Provide integrated access to iPhoto, and
    • Publish the podcast to your computer-based iTunes.
  2. QuickTime (free with OS X now) provides an easy way to create a screencast. This is a great starting point before getting into more expensive software such as Screenflow and Camtasia for Mac. This also provides the abilities to capture the screencast and export it into iTunes.
  3. BTW, MacBundle, MacUpdate, and MacHeist periodically have bundles of software (for maybe $40) that includes Screenflow so it might be worth it to wait around before buying it at full price.
  4. Screencast provides a great way to create the podcasting RSS feed once you have created the media files. This is the tool that creates the RSS feed URL that anyone can put into iTunes when they want to subscribe to the podcast.
  5. The Display Recorder app (currently $1.99) is a screenrecorder for the iPad. You can export the screencast to your Photo Library or open it another app on your iPad (iMovie, Dropbox, EverNote).
  6. The ShowMe app enables the creation of a whiteboard type of screencast. It allows you to write on the screen, take a picture, record a voice. You can also do a little editing within the app. You can only post the resulting screencast to the showme.com site.

One of the attendees said that AirServer provides a good way of mirroring your iOS device onto a Mac or PC.

Also, be sure to check his link about digital storytelling from his Web site. This is less about the technology, and more about the process of telling stories.

Robert did a great job with this session, and I walked out with a much clearer picture of just what is involved in screencasting and the following creation of the podcasting RSS feed. None of the software is expensive, and all of it is easy to use given the underlying complexity of the process. I will be using all of this software in my classes next year.

Detailed notes

The following are my personal notes from the session. You will probably not find them useful but they provide a more detailed picture of what we did during the 3 hour session.

  1. GarageBand to create a podcast (New Project/Podcast). Can have multiple layers of sound. Be sure to pay attention to the icons in the bottom right corner: the loop (garageband library), the “I” (for real instruments), and the iLife suite (for iPhoto, iMovie, etc.). This seems to not work with the combination of my Plantronics520 and my old MacBook Pro.
  2. Use the playhead (triangle at the top) to cut a track (Split or Apple-T) at the point where the playhead is located.
  3. You can use the “+” sign to add a track for another person’s voice.
  4. When recording your voice, check the Recording Level so that there is no red, and so that the peak is about half way in the bar. This is available by clicking on the “I” icon in the bottom right, and “Recording Level” slider at the bottom right and the colored bars in the upper left.
  5. It’s real easy to use your iPhone as a microphone. Then you can import those clips easily into GarageBand for podcast creation.
  6. At the beginning and end of a track put an audio loop. If you have a series of podcasts, then use the same ones each time. Have some music by itself for 2-3 seconds before your voice begins (and into the beginning of your speaking) and then after your voice ends (and after you stop speaking, and through the credits, if there is such a thing).
  7. To adjust a track volume, use the inverted triangle at the left of a track. You can adjust the whole track at once, or you can adjust for a special segment of the track by clicking on segments of the line.
  8. To preview the podcast, and to see any images that you have imported, click on the image box to the right of Podcast Track in the upper left.
  9. When you are done, make the menu choice Share/Send Podcast to iTunes — this is the iTunes on your computer, not the big iTunes in the Cloud. This will open iTunes and begin to play the track.
QuickTime for screencasting
  1. Choose File/New Screen Recording to create a screencast file.
  2. After finishing the recording, you can use Edit/Trim.
  3. When done, choose Share/iTunes to put it in iTunes on your computer.
  4. Jing is the equivalent application for a PC.
  1. Go to Screencast.com and sign in.
  2. Each folder is a separate podcast channel so that they can be subscribed to separately.
  3. Create a folder and be sure to make it public and check “RSS Feed”.
  4. Click “Upload content”.
  5. Once it is uploaded, then go to the folder in screencast, click on the “Share” icon. Copy the iTunes Feed URL.
  6. In iTunes, choose the menu item Advanced/Subscribe to Podcast. It should begin to download almost immediately.
  7. Click on the podcast, and then click on the “Settings” button at the bottom of the screen. Change the settings as appropriate.
DisplayRecorder (for iPad)
This app (currently $1.99) is a screenrecorder for the iPad. You can export it to your Photo Library or open it another app on your iPad (iMovie, Dropbox, EverNote).
ShowMe (for iPad)
This allows you to write on the screen, take a picture, record a voice. You can do a little editing within the app. You can only post this to the showme.com site.
Provides a way for multiple people to comment on an image that has been uploaded to a Web site.

Teacher preparation with technology (ISTE12 workshop)


The purpose of this session (here is their Web site) at ISTE12 was to introduce university faculty and teacher educators to TPACK as an organizing framework to focus modeling of technology use and preparing teachers to integrate technology in their teaching. This is an organizing framework rather than some software or whatever. Another purpose is to share models for assisting teacher educators in applying TPACK to curriculum as a tool to aid in technology integration.

There are three leaders of this session:

  • Mark Hofer from William & Mary (mark.hofer@wm.edu)
  • Teresa Foulger, Arizona State University (teresa.foulger@asu.edu)
  • Sarah McPherson from New York Institute of Technology (smcphers@nyit.edu)

TPACK is “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge.” It is the intersection of Technological knowledge, Pedagogical knowledge, and Content knowledge (subject matter). In other words:

Any use of technology needs to fit with the pedagogical style of the teacher and the content to be taught.

This is all some sort part of Microsoft’s Teacher Education Initiative whose purpose is “to teach [education educators] how to more systemically integrate technology when teaching pre-service teachers.”

Points to remember

These are three things that I took from the introductory discussion:

  • Don’t forget that some of what students need to learn is inter-disciplinary skills, and technology can be a tool to help draw the separate areas of knowledge.
  • We need to move from use of technology, integrate technology with our teaching, and now to innovate with technology. And capturing a lecture on video and playing it on some geeky player doesn’t change the fact that a lecture is a lecture. There are times that we need to move beyond the lecture, no matter how cool it might look.
  • The boundaries between art, science, creativity, design, and business are disappearing. We need to think about how we can bring them together instead of break them apart.


The following are a series of exercises that we worked on for the last 90 minutes or so of class. It is a menu of possibilities for getting teachers to think about technology and teaching.

  • We were challenged to fit together a random pedagogy (chosen from a deck of cards containing one pedagogy each) with a random content area with a random technology (same as previous). This was a creative exercise to stretch our mind, to get us to think about unusual and unexpected combinations so that we think more broadly.
  • Mini-teach:
    • You get a technology tool, and then you are asked to come up with a scenario when that tool might be used. They have to learn the tool on their own, and then come and deliver a short lesson using that tool (on content of their own using a technology of their own).
    • The way she (Teresa) uses this approach is have a list of technology tools (see her side bar), give each student a random technology, and assigns them to learn it in an hour on their own. Just play with the tool. She asks them to design a learning experience using that tool on some content (that they choose themselves).
    • She has also done it as a poster session with faculty (before a faculty meeting).
    • Check the Innovations menu on the side of her page for all the technologies they are looking at.
    • She asks them to think about what’s the added value of the technology (e.g., a wiki); what did the technology add that could not have happened without the technology?
  • Learning activity types: With a different set of learning activities and taxonomies for a particular discipline, pair the beginning teacher with specific appropriate technologies and see how each would develop lessons based on that.
  • Universal design for learning: Start with the student, and look at a framework that addresses what we teach, and then how we teach it, and then why we teach it (or learn about it). We have to think about these all together, as an integrated whole. This process involves looking at the motivation and student’s interaction with the whole learning process; you can’t ignore their motivations when thinking about how and what to teach. You have to focus on who the students are, and what stage they’re at.

As an aside, I learned about PollEverywhere as a tool for getting input from students.

More Web Apps, a workshop at ISTE12

Notes from the “More Web Apps” workshop at ISTE12 in San Diego. This session is being run by Jim Holland, an Instructional Technology Specialist at Arlington ISD. Everything that they do in this presentation is on this page. Or you can look at sqworl.com.

  • Going to use EdModo for backchannel communications. It’s on iPad as well. Going to use this to share links with the audience. It will be a record for what we have done. This is a closed system. They can only register if they have a code from the teacher. Students can’t message one another; they can post to the wall or to the teacher. [SAM: what does this do for me?] You can create as many of these as you want. Can create Note, Alert (less than 140 characters), Assignment, Quiz, Poll. Strictly text quizzes (m/c, short answer).
  • Sqworl is a Web app that provides a clean and simple way to visually bookmark multiple URLs. They created a set called “ISTE 2012”. Can use a bookmarklet for sqworl. This feels kinda like pinterest but there is no commenting.
  • Explaining Flickr. Most here have not used it. I’m kinda shocked. Can use this to find photos to use under a “Creative Commons”-license (under Advanced Search tool). Be sure to get an understanding of the Creative Commons licenses.
  • iPiccy is an online photo editor. Use this to crop, resize, rotate, change exposure, etc. This is Flash-based so you can’t use it on an iPad. They use it to add text to an image (for attribution).
  • Voki allows users to create a speaking avatar. This is pretty cool, but I’m not sure how to use it in my class. Four ways to get it to speak, but text to speech looks fairly promising.
  • EggTimer is a good online timer. The URL sets the time!
  • Socrative is a student response system. It’s free. You can have teacher-paced or student-paced quizzes. Students can respond via just about any device. The professor can control the process via ipad or computer. The professor can track who responded in what way to what questions; a report about responses can be delivered via downloaded Excel file.
  • TitanPad is a group document editing tool. Don’t have to log in. Can make them password protected but don’t have to. Can follow what is going on in all of the pads. There is an accompanying chat box next to the document. Even if you’re not looking when something ugly is typed into the Pad, the “Time Slider” records every keystroke that is made within the document. You can create a public pad by typing “http://titanpad.com/jimisarockstar” or whatever and it will create that pad. You can import or export documents from lots of different formats. You can also get your own private space. This is an alternative to Google Docs.
  • Tagxedo makes word clouds, but it has more options than Wordle. (Don’t forget about Tagul.) This allows you to do custom shapes.
  • SpicyNodes is a mind mapping tool. Can sign up using Google account. Think of this as a possible assessment tool, a report-making tool. This is a freemium model.
  • Vocaroo is a voice recording service. (Or “tape recorder”…what’s that?!?!) They use it as a pretest/posttest kind of thing: tell me what you know now, before the class. Now tell me what you know after the class. The recording picked up a lot of background noise, but it might have been the room I was in.
  • Quizlet is a tool for making flashcards.
  • TodaysMeet is a way to create a private backchannel. This allows an audience to ask questions of the speaker.

Here are some non-educational resources that they really like:

My favorite writing instrument

Yep, I love this pencil!

I come from a long line of pen and pencil lovers. I remember my dad’s dad having a pocket full of pens and a drawer full of pens and pencils. He was 6’6″ so not too many people hassled him about it. My dad is the same way. I’m the same way. I love a good pen or pencil.

I was a long-time user of a Pentel mechanical pencil. However, I have given that up for this Alvin DM05 mechanical pencil. I have had this particular pencil for a couple of years now and I always have it with me. Yes, I love my iPad but there are still times that I need to take notes on a piece of paper. Why do I like this pencil so much?

  • It fits in my hand.
  • The silver grip provides a comfortable, non-slip surface that doesn’t become uncomfortable over time.
  • The writing is comfortable on a sheet of paper, apparently providing a slight amount of “give” when writing. This makes it more comfortable and keeps me from breaking so many leads when I’m writing.
  • The barrel holds a sufficient amount of lead so that I don’t run out at the wrong time.

That’t it. If you like mechanical pencils, I highly recommend that you give this a try. Enjoy!

Finally some clarity surrounding the turmoil at UVA


What a week at the University of Virginia. This article at the Chronicle of Higher Education finally provides some clarity surrounding Teresa Sullivan’s abrupt departure as president. So few details had been available that it most of what I read was simply speculation surrounding very few hard facts. Now it appears that the underlying philosophical disagreement with the board and important donors had to do with Dr. Sullivan’s apparent attitude toward online education.

UVA is a history-laden university in ways that very few other higher education institutions can claim. They are, rightfully, very proud of this history and all that they stand for. Most universities are slow to move because of their size and complexity. Further, they are led by senior faculty who are by their very nature conservative — after all, they have chosen a career in which the goal is to attain a position in which they cannot be fired! Given UVA’s history, I can only imagine that these forces might be even stronger in Charlottesville.

Given all of this, the upheaval caused by the changes going on related to online learning (efforts by Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and even Michigan) has clearly shocked the campus. Some are apparently worried that they are going to be left behind, necessitating drastic changes. Others think that, as usual, measured steps are needed. Whatever the case, it can’t be the case that your position is I need to think about that. We all need to think through our position on this, to come to some decisions, and to have a strategy for addressing it now and over the next three to five years.

What is your strategy?

I want this chair in my classrooms

This chair did get me excited, no joke.

A group of us from Ross went to Steelcase to learn about their educational solutions on Monday. It was a great trip. I’ll write more about this later, but I’m sorta busy as I prepare for ISTE12, so I am going to keep this short and focused (for once).

I love this chair! It’s the Node chair from Steelcase. (No, I’m not getting any kickbacks or anything on this; I don’t have any relationship with this company.) This chair is comfortable, it turns easily, and it has built-in storage underneath for backpacks. Students never have a good place to put their backpacks; they always end up in the aisles. Whenever I decide to walk through a room, I am taking my life into my own hands unless I walk around with my head down. And that sorta puts up a barrier between myself and the students if I’m not looking at them. Or I can create a plan of navigation like Marco Polo going to the Orient. But that can be distracting. Problems, problems.

Enter this chair. Problem solved! Woo hoo! (BTW, I’m being totally serious about this.) It is such a simple idea, but I think it’s genius.