Delivery of blended courses

Higher education administrators and faculty (and students, for that matter) at traditional universities are comfortable thinking about, planning, and participating in face-to-face (F2F) classes. Administrators and faculty for online programs are comfortable thinking about using technology to deliver courses exclusively using technology. When those of us in traditional higher ed have used technology more recently, it has been to capture F2F lectures for later viewing. More extensive, integrated, and nuanced usage is needed in order to take full advantage of the technology and thereby deliver a superior education. We need to develop a more extensive playbook of pedagogies that we are comfortable employing.

When thinking about using educational technologies in a class or across the curriculum, you need to have a playbook of possible approaches available to you so that you can have a better chance of achieving the learning outcomes you desire. For face-to-face teaching, we have a selection — lecture, case discussion, lab work, and mini-lectures interspersed with exercises to name a few. We need to just as comfortable pulling out different approaches when different class set-ups are available to us. The following is an exploration of different technologies that can be used to support different pedagogies.

Playbook of pedagogies

As detailed in my earlier post How to provide a great, lower-cost education, several different teaching approaches are now available to professors:

  • Same time, same place (“synchronous, co-located”)
  • Same time (“synchronous, non-co-located”)
    • single remote place
      • high quality
      • normal quality
    • multiple remote places
      • singles
      • groups
  • Different times (“asynchronous”)

In the following I examine each of these and discuss the general technologies that are applicable to each.

Technologies for pedagogies

I am going to start with the synchronous (and especially a co-located) approach because I am assuming that the blended course will have some of this as part of the class. However, just because it is face-to-face doesn’t mean that technology is now not a part of the equation. Many technologies are in place that can support learning even in this most traditional setup.

Same time (all versions)

Classes in which the teacher and students are all participating at the same time (regardless of location) have lots of available tools. The professor can use MediaSite to record a lecture so that students can watch it later or, if they were not able to attend for whatever reason, watch it for the first time. When giving a lecture or otherwise looking for student responses, tools are available for allowing the professor or student to ask questions. LectureTools, Socrative, and PollEverywhere each have their own take on allowing a professor to ask questions and students to answer. (See my recent post on this topic for more details.) Either TodaysMeet or Twitter (along with TwitterFall) can be used to provide a backchannel that allows students to ask questions during a presentation.

For controlling the presentation while in front of the students, the professor can either use a wireless presentation pointer (e.g., Kensington Wireless Presentation Pointer) or Doceri. Doceri is like a wireless mouse for the iPad but it also allows the presenter to write directly on the screen over the slides (or whatever is on the screen). This software also allows the user to control the computer using the iPad. This software doesn’t enable the professor to necessarily do anything new, but it frees him/her up to move around the classroom more. It does make it easier for the professor to give control of the presentation to a student; all he has to do is give the iPad to the student instead of calling her up to the podium at the front of the classroom. If you want more information about this, then see my video demonstration and explanation.

If the professor is more interested in in-class activities and exercises, then Eggtimer can be useful so that students can better allocate their time usage during class. Another useful tool for in-class activities is a group text editor, and Google Docs provides quite a robust web app for this. (At this time the iPad app is not recommended; work on a laptop if you want to use Google Docs.) Students can work in ad hoc groups while brainstorming or developing an answer to some question, or the professor can assign groups and make the documents available in each person’s Google Drive, giving the right students access to the appropriate documents. Another tool for multi-user access to a shared document is Scribblar. This program is more of a graphical editor where multiple users can draw in a shared space; it also provides a tool for users to text each other and to speak to each other. It allows the import of PDF and PPT files for group editing and commenting. They maintain a set of videos that help demonstrate and explain the program’s operations.

Finally, faculty frequently want to provide “handouts” at the end of class. If these consist of links from around the Web, sqworl provides an easy-to-use tool (for both the professor and the student) for gathering the links and accessing them later. If the professor has text to distribute, then Google Docs can be used to make PDFs or Word documents available to a distribution list (such as the students in a class).

Same time, same place (“synchronous & co-located”)

All of the above applies here.

Same time, single remote place, high quality

It seems that Cisco telepresence has defined this market. To get an idea of what this product can do, look at the images on this page. The idea here is that two groups of people, who can be half-way around the world from each other, can have a nearly-face-to-face conversation over this type of hook-up. The two limitations are 1) high cost, and 2) each side has to have compatible hardware and telecommunications capability.

This approach is one that is made at the organizational level. All other decisions would be made after this choice because it changes what options you have available to you, such as size of the classroom and interaction strategies.

Same time, single remote place, normal quality

In addition to the information under “Same time”, the professor can use Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast his lecture or discussion (or whatever) live to YouTube. This web app also can record the broadcast for whomever you want to watch at a later time (with the same controls as any other YouTube video).

The real difference between this setup and the one to follow is how you treat the class. In this case, you can treat them as a group, and give them things to do as a group. They would generally know how to act and what to do because communication among the students would not be electronically mediated in any way.

Same time, multiple remote places (singles vs. groups), normal quality

In addition to the information under “Same time”, the professor can use Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast his lecture or discussion or whatever live to YouTube. This web app also can record the broadcast for whomever you want to watch (with the same controls as any other YouTube video).

The difference in having students dispersed as singles or in groups (either groups of students in dorm rooms or in offices or wherever) is, again, how you treat the class. As singles, you would have to think very carefully about how you might assign small group activities during the class itself. As groups, this would be natural and, actually, to be expected given that the setup so easily supports and calls out for these interactions. The students will be having them anyway; why not integrate them into the class?

Different times

The key to this approach is to think of how you can personalize what the student is going to do. If they are going to watch the video or do the exercise by themselves, then do all you can to take advantage of this flexibility. You aren’t addressing a group of students — think about addressing each student one at a time. Design the activities with this in mind.

I recently wrote a post describing several useful tools for video, movies, and screencasting (including Screencast-O-Matic, Qwiki, and YouTube). I also wrote a post on assessment tools that would be useful for this type of approach (including TED Ed and Flubaroo). In addition to all of these, both GarageBand and Screencast (for broadcasting via RSS feed) are useful for creating and disseminating a podcast.

Out-of-class approaches

Yesterday I posted an analysis of different approaches to communicating with your students when they are not currently sitting in front of you or remotely attending a live lecture.. In that post I consider the following approaches:

I certainly have my favorites but you have to consider your goals before you choose one (or multiple) of the above.

Class assignments have also changed with newly available technology; here are a few options:

  • Wiki
  • Curation tools
  • Mind mapping
  • Video
  • VoiceThread

See my recent post on this topic for a more in-depth discussion. This is a quite diverse set that provides many more alternatives than simply writing text reports and handing them in. These assignments can demand a different level of creativity from the students, but the faculty member has to be prepared to work with this diversity.

Finally, Google+ Hangout can be used for remote office hours. It provides a fairly seamless and straight-forward means of communicating among up to 10 people.


You can see in the above that the faculty member has lots of choices available to him/her when the move is made to a blended class. The school’s culture and technology will determine some of the choices; however, the professor’s knowledge of the choices and level of comfort with the technology will also be a large factor in how effective the class ends up being for all participants. My recommendation is to simply try out a couple of the above in a class this year. Just one day, just one approach. Work with some faculty and computing services support staff beforehand to give you some confidence that you can carry it off. However, at some point you are just going to have to do it!

Best of luck on your journey!

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?

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 (
  • Teresa Foulger, Arizona State University (
  • Sarah McPherson from New York Institute of Technology (

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

  • 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 “” 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:

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.

Using the Doceri whiteboard app for the iPad

I recently received the Doceri Goodpoint Stylus along with my previously downloaded Doceri Remote app for the iPad and the Doceri Desktop application for my laptop. I am extremely impressed by this combination of hardware and software, so I put together a video that explains just what it is and what it’s like to use it. They have lots of good videos on their site, but I always feel better if I see some type of non-affiliated endorsement of a product than if it is strictly a corporate, official demonstration. Well, I hope this 13+ minute video fills that role for you. You’ll probably want to watch it on YouTube instead of embedded on this site.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about this product. I will follow up as soon as I can. Thanks!

Using a flipped classroom to teach a technology class

Flipping the Classroom, a recent post at Tech&Learning, excerpts a tiny portion of the book Flip Your Classroom by Jorgmann and Sams. In this excerpt Bergmann and Sams present several reasons for using this method. Before coming upon this list, I had basically decided to use this approach for the class I am developing here at Ross.

Here are the reasons that spoke most strongly to me along with my reaction to them:

Flipping helped busy students
As far as I can tell, no one is busier than the students in my classes. They have group projects in 4-5 classes, they have homework in those classes, they have clubs & sports teams & fraternities & sororities… Oh yeah, and class to go to. Having much of the material for the class online (lectures, exercises, assignments) provides an added bit of flexibility for the students (and for me, if I’m going to be truthful about it).
Flipping helps students of all abilities to excel
Students coming into any technology-related class that I teach always seem to have a huge variety of backgrounds and related skill. Some students barely need my lecture, some think they don’t need my lecture but realize later that they do (this is the group that I’m most excited about potentially reaching), and a final group knows that they need my lecture but need to listen to different parts of it at different speeds.
Flipping increases student-teacher interaction
I always enjoy working with students who want to learn. It’s easily the best part of my job. Anything that potentially increases the amount and/or quality of this part of my life is a good thing. I’m not looking to get out of having class, but I am looking to stop students from feeling like they have to come to class if they don’t want to. I have always thought of class time as the limiting resource when designing a class. I know that I only have X amount of hours for a class; the major question is “how should I spend this highly valuable time?” Well, if I can allocate more of it to working directly with students who have chosen to come to class so that they can work with me on a problem personally important to them — I can’t ask for more than that.
Flipping changes classroom management
As I have written about before, I have quite a history working with flipped-like classes so I have seen this in action. Classes run this way are so exciting, so energetic. Students get engaged with the material, with each other, and periodically with me. It is exhausting and invigorating to be a part of. I definitely did have to roam the class to periodically remind students to get back on task — they are kids, after all — but it’s nothing like having to wake the kids up who are sleeping during a lecture because of boredom.
Flipping makes your class transparent
I am very much looking forward to letting the public (parents, other professors, other students, legislators, executives) in on the exciting things we are doing in class. Just like when we published the blog for a class I taught last semester, it got the student’s attention and gave them a sense that what we were doing was “real.” It would also be great if the videos ended up getting comments and feedback from beyond our classroom walls. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Do you have any words of warning or encouragement for me? Am I being too naive about this? What do you think?

A variety of educational models from which to choose


I was in a meeting yesterday where we were discussing different ways that we (as a school, or as faculty) might innovate in educational delivery. I felt I was flying a bit blind, bumping around in the dark, hunting for answers. I needed some type of landmarks for navigating this journey. The following are some of the high level organizational ideas that helped me think about the possibilities.

Available models

The models that I could come up with varied in several ways:

  • Are students learning at the same time?
  • Are students learning in one big group, or alone, or in “pods”?
  • Are students in the same place as the teacher?
  • Is the intermediary technology of extremely high quality or not?

I’m sure there are other ways that this pizza can be sliced, but this was helpful for me as I considered the possibilities…

Bored students are not the fault of the student
Same time, same place

This is the traditional method of teaching as practiced by universities and just about everyone else for hundreds of years. Before computing and communication technologies, there really weren’t any alternatives to this to speak of. Now, if traditionalists in the higher-ed community want to continue to offer this model, then the benefits of having students all in the same room with the teacher have to outweigh the serious costs and inconveniences of making that happen. Too often, students get lectured at in a classroom when they could have gotten just as much out of it on a YouTube video (given the chance he/she actually had to interact with the faculty or students). If universities want to continue to deliver this model, they are going to have to up their game.

Education delivered under this model certainly varies tremendously based on the number of students. We have everything from a small seminar with maybe 5 students, to a small classroom with 15 students, to a medium-sized class where everyone knows everyone else in the class, to a huge lecture hall filled with anonymous students.

Global education, any time, any place
Different times, different places

Of all the alternative models, this is the slow pitch over the heart of the plate (for those of you who understand “baseball”). Or the “gimme” for the golfers among us. Khan Academy has seemingly taken the world by storm with its self-paced tutorials on (seemingly) just about anything. My parents even asked me about them.

The myriad tools that make this model possible are widely (and cheaply) available. When professors create these resources to teach the “basic facts” of their course, this could free up class time for more valuable activities. It would also allow students to learn the concepts at their own pace and also ask questions before the class in which the concept is used, thus allowing more students to have a positive contribution to the activity.

Every professor should see this these technologies as a way of making his/her own teaching in a classroom better right now. It shouldn’t take a school initiative — just go do it.

Same time, single remote place (standard quality)

Here at Ross we have been doing this for nearly two decades in our Global MBA Program and now our ExecMBA Program (among others). The professor is in one place and the students are sitting in some classroom far, far away. This is fairly easy to do moderately well. The problem is the limited bandwidth between the teacher and the students in the class. It is really hard to get a dynamic classroom environment going — subtle clues are difficult to pick up, and it’s hard to get a quick give-and-take discussion going.

This model gets harder to implement well as the number of students increases, or the size of the display screen on either end decreases! All subtlety is lost in this type of environment.

Same time, single remote place (telepresence)

Telepresence is defined in wikipedia as:

Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

The idea here is that the recipient end (classroom with students) has some pretty high-end video and audio technology which enables the students to get a much better sense of the professor being in the classroom (although she might be continents away). Most of the technologies today are related to conference rooms, but it is fairly easy to project that larger-scale implementations would give the impression of a faculty member lecturing at the front of the class (from the students’ side of things) and a faculty member seeing a roomful of students (from the faculty member’s side).

For now, this would be a relatively high-end, expensive undertaking; however, soon enough it will be expected. It is a nearly perfect tool for projecting a high end brand (e.g., a superstar professor from a highly reputable university) to classrooms all around the world. The professor could be in some production room anywhere (becoming more common all the time) and the students could be anywhere that the university is able to project its brand, to attract a large enough body of its students. Further, there’s no reason that all of these students would have to be in the same classroom. Why couldn’t there be a pod of students in Shanghai, another in Los Angeles, and a third in Sao Paolo?

If universities are worried about other universities moving into “their territory” now, they haven’t seen anything yet.

Yes, you could actually take classes in your pajamas
Same time, multiple remote places (singles)

This is a model that I described in a previous post, supported by tools such as LectureTools. The idea here is that students don’t necessarily need to come to a specific classroom in order to learn the material — all they have to do is watch, and participate in, the “broadcast” of the lecture. Under this model (practiced at the University of South Florida, among other places), students could either be attending a traditional university and taking the online class along with their other face-to-face classes, or they could be physically at home but attending summer classes back at school, or they could be “joint enrolled” in a class taught at another university.

Same time, multiple remote places (groups)

This is a variant of the previous model. It emphasizes the fact that there are benefits to having multiple students in the same room going through the process together. Maybe they work on exercises together; maybe they have group activities; maybe they have small group discussions at specified times during the class; maybe they have different skill levels so that one person can help mentor the other students. Any of a variety of circumstances might be applicable but, in any case, here we have the same remote educational process but students are attending the session in groups.

Blended models

Finally, the “unit of analysis” need not be a full semester class. It could be that a teacher organizes the class so that it meets once every couple of weeks in person and meets remotely during the other weeks. Or maybe there would be one in-person meeting at the beginning and then lots of smaller different time and different place learning activities for a month, followed by same time, multiple place sessions. The possibilities are endless — but only if teachers learn to think about applying the right teaching method to the right desired learning outcome.


Certainly, the above taxonomy doesn’t cover all of the interesting dimensions that are available. A couple, right off the top of my head, are the number of students enrolled in the class (i.e., is this a MOOC?), whether or not the student’s performance is graded, and whether or not the student’s performance or capabilities are certified. All of these matter, but they are for me to think about at another time and place (ha! little joke!).

Let me know what you think about the above. Does it help you think about the possibilties? Any other big dimensions I should include in my thinking?

Tools for in-class group brainstorming and collaboration

In my last post I discussed my reasons for moving at least part of my case-based class to some in-class group brainstorming and/or collaborative work. The Web sites and tools that I am considering at first pass are the following:

Use case (or “how I think I want to use these tools”)

Here is how I envision using this tool in my introduction to business class. We generally begin a case discussion by answering some basic questions about the company and situation, and then try to identify the roots of the basic problem. Though these are straight-forward and expected questions, they tend to set an important foundation of common understanding for the rest of the discussion. A couple of problems tend to raise themselves here:

  • If the first student or two don’t get it, then the class can go off in the wrong direction for quite a while.
  • Only one or two students get involved in the initial discussion and get some buy-in on the case during this initial phase because this is generally a discussion with just a small number of students.

I want to have the students break into groups of 4-6 students and fill out a basic outline of information related to the case. Maybe I provide the outline or maybe they build it themselves. After 5 minutes of collaborative editing on the documents, each group would then also talk for another 5 minutes about what they have created, where they agree, and where they disagree. They would then post the document to the class Web site for all to see (so that I can learn their thinking about these cases). Then we could start the discussion. I assume that this would start from a better place and would allow us to have a more well-informed and directed discussion.

Desired features

Given the above I am looking for the following general features in this tool:

  • Multiple people editing the document
  • Ability to export the document to some archive format (PDF, RTF, or Word)
  • Ability to quickly re-organize a document
  • Show relationships among ideas
  • Ability to show high level view of relationships
  • Site licensing would be good, but free would be better
  • Ability to easily integrate with other tools and work habits
  • Works on multiple software platforms (Web, iOS, Android)
  • Works on multiple hardware platforms (laptop, cell phone, tablet)

Quick view

This table provides a quick overview of my impressions of each of these tools. Below I provide a more detailed discussion.

Tool Multi edit Export Reorg Relat Hi level Cost Integr SW plat HW plat
Mindmeister many many 5 5 5 Edu discount, expensive 5 Web, iOS, Android 5
Edistorm Unlimited Excel, PDF 4 4 4 Edu discount, $49/yr 4 Web, iOS 4
Google Docs Up to 50 Many 4 4 5 Free 5 5 4

More detailed discussion

Generally, each one of these tools could meet my needs. The choice of any one of them requires compromise. Overall, I found Mindmeister to be the clear features winner, but it is also clearly the most expensive tool by far. Google Docs is a tool that many people (and most of my students since we are now a Google Apps for Education campus) will be comfortable working in. Edistorm is a tool that I wanted to like more because I am definitely a “sticky-notes-on-the-wall” type of guy; in any case, it definitely still could work for many situations.


This is a great application. It has so many features that it would take a while to get comfortable with them all but it still is basically straight-forward enough that a person could get comfortable with it during one session. I found its interface to be sleek, slick, and flexible. After creating a document, a user can then export it to just about any application that he might want to. It can also be directly integrated into the Google Apps platform, if desired.

As for the cost, currently the campus educational discount certainly helps. Let’s say that I have 60 students in my class, and my class lasts for 4 months. The cost for this period would be $240 — not an unreasonable amount, but certainly not inexpensive.


As I stated above, I am a sticky-notes kind of guy. I like working with a team standing around a space on the wall, each of us with our sticky notes, writing, pointing, placing and re-placing notes. It just works for me.

Edistorm works much the same way as this group sticky-note process (after your sign up for a free account, be sure to watch their brief introduction video; I wish I could give you a direct link, but they don’t provide one), but it has one drawback — it has a small screen to work with. If each student has a desktop with a 24″ monitor, I could see this tool working quite well; however, with the sticky notes themselves taking up a fairly significant footprint on the screen, it fairly quickly starts spilling over the edges of the screen so that you are then only able to see a subset of the sticky notes. The company is definitely aware of this as they provide lots of tools for working around this limitation. They have done a good job, but I think they need to take the next step and allow the sticky notes to automatically adjust their own size to fit the text. Maybe that would help.

Pricing here is much more reasonable. Only the administrator/teacher needs to pay in order for the students to work on a “storm” during a class. In order to get a reasonable amount of features, this means that the cost is $49/year, and this gets a teacher 2 currently active storms. It is quite reasonable that a teacher could have two different sections or classes using Edistorm without having to increase the cost. Quite reasonable.

Google Docs

Google Docs isn’t exactly a concept mapping tool (but it plays one in the movies…sorry) but its familiarity to students might allow them to become productive more quickly and with less “hassle.” GDocs is clearly a text-based tool that displays concepts hierarchically. It is clearly easy to move text from within a GDoc to another document, and these documents are viewable on just about any platform; however, as anyone who has tried to edit a GDoc on an iOS device knows, Google has not exactly done their best to integrate other hardware platforms into the application environment. I definitely would insist that students use a Web browser on a laptop or desktop instead of a tablet or phone — the functionality just isn’t there yet on these smaller devices.


I still have time before I need to make a final decision. I would like to use Mindmeister, but I need to make sure that I have the money for it. If not, then I would use Edistorm if they address the problem related to the size of the sticky notes. Finally, if neither of these options are available, then I will fall back on Google Docs; the functionality is there and students know how to use the application.

Now that I am relatively confident that these applications have the features that I need for this type of work, I need to think about what other uses they might have. But that will have to wait for now…

What do you think about these tools? Do you have any experience using them in the way that I describe? Did I miss anything? I would love to hear from you!

Moving from the Socratic method to in-class group brainstorming

In contrast to my writing so far on this blog, I teach one introduction to business class in which I don’s use any technology. I mean not any, unless you count a white board and pens as technology. It is a traditional Harvard-style case discussion class — three years ago I was tutored by two Harvard-trained professors in the method. I had never taught that way before, so it was quite a shock to me. No slides, no lecture, no pre-defined exercises…just discussion and the Socratic method. Yes, the teaching notes that I had written (along with my “board plan”) provided guide posts both for where I hoped the discussion would go and for the learning points that I wanted to discuss. But it is definitely a free-wheeling type of experience, one in which I really had to trust that my students would get us to the right place by the end of the class. I love the experience.

This last year I taught the class alone for the first time. I continued to teach case-based, but I made two slight changes. Both changes were in response to my observation about class participation. I have had between 52-68 students in any one section of this course. In any 3 hour session, each student can easily have 2 opportunities to make a significant contribution to the class. That’s in theory. In actuality, maybe 10% of the students barely ever say anything, no matter how much I coax them. Participation used to count 35% of the final grade, so a score of 25-50% on that portion would seriously hurt their final grade in the course. I don’t like this because I know these students have something to contribute, have something to teach the rest of us.

In response, this last year I cut participation down to 20% of their grade and added a blogging component (worth 20%) to their grade. This provided students with a different way of teaching and sharing with the rest of the class. While some students continued to have difficulty contributing during class, basically everyone seemed to do a good job with the blogs (which somewhat mitigated some low participation scores).

Those changes still doesn’t seem to be enough. I am still going to teach cases. I still think that students grow from the give-and-take that this method provides. I think the ability to speak clearly, to use evidence, and to defend one’s position extemporaneously are invaluable skills. Some students begin the term with so little confidence speaking to a room full of people (even though the group consists of their peers) that their voices shake with fear and nerves; many of these same students end the year with a vastly increased sense of value and confidence. I don’t want to take that away.

What I am thinking of doing is adding some group-based activities and discussions to the class. This might help those who need to try out their ideas in a smaller group. It also might allow more people to gain a better connection to the material since they wouldn’t have to wait for me to call on them — they could have their discussions and make their points within the small groups. I have always worried when there is group work and one transcriber who is responsible for putting the notes (that are supposed to reflect the group’s work) into the document. All too often, it ends up being that one person’s ideas. With some new software that is out there, I’m thinking of having small groups of students work together around a co-edited document, talking among themselves, working through ideas that appear, and preparing themselves to defend their proposal to the rest of class.

The Web sites and tools that I’m thinking about are the following:

Each feels slightly different and provides a different experience for the student. Have any of you had any experience with these in-class activities? If so, let me know in the comments.

Tomorrow I plan on writing about my explorations related to these three tools.

Using Twitter in a face-to-face class

I have previously used Twitter in my class with good results, but I found it more difficult to capture information from the class than I would have liked. I recently found another tool that actually makes my previously problems go away. In this post I describe what I did in my previous class, the problem I had, and the tool that is making my problem go away.

I taught a class on finding information on the Web (known as “BIT330”). Almost every day we had in-class lab exercises. Once every week or two I would ask the students to tweet their answers to certain questions or to tweet observations on specific tools (that I was particularly interested in, for instance). Part of the instructions in the class exercise write-up that I provided was to include #bit330 and some question identifier hashtag in the tweet.

The reason for tweeting with the hashtags was three-fold:

  • I used Twitterfall on a screen at the front of the classroom. I couldn’t recommend this tool more highly. It essentially is a live search; I would set up a search for #bit330 and then the tweets would slowly scroll down the screen (like a waterfall — get it?!) so that everyone in the class (including me, of course) could see the progression of students, the answers they were giving, the observations they were making, and the questions they had. This is a really cool addition to a class.
  • The second reason was that I could then capture the tweets and use them as part of my basis for establishing participation in the class. One time a student was logged on from home (or someplace other than class) and completed the exercises and sent the tweets.
  • The third reason was that I could capture the tweets and use them as a basis for learning about what exercises worked well, which needed fixing, and which needed replacing.

The trouble was that it was labor-intensive to get the information as the basis for points 2 and 3 above. I would run a search in twitter, and then I would repeatedly copy pages of tweets to a text file, and then I would use a short python program to turn the text file into a CSV file which is a better format as a basis for future computations (e.g., importing into a database file, as the basis for a word cloud, or whatever). This was all less than satisfactory.

The answer to all this is found in SearchHash (brought to my attention by the always-awesome Patricia Anderson). This tool will perform whatever search you want on recent tweets and will create a CSV file of the results. Problem solved!

It really is as simple as that. I can definitely see myself using this approach much more often in the future now that I know it’ll be so much easier to access the data.

What about you? Do you have any twitter-related tools that you use to support a face-to-face class? Or have you used these tools (successfully or not)? Share your stories!

Technologies for broadcasting your class

Last week at Enriching Scholarship here at the University of Michigan, Perry Samson — Thurnau Professor, founder of the Weather Underground, and co-founder of LectureTools — discussed a set of technologies for broadcasting your class. He uses these technologies to broadcast to remote students while other students are simultaneously in his classroom. I was so intrigued by his demonstration, I asked for, and today I received, a demonstration in my office by one of the sales people with the company. What follows are my impressions of the system, based on both his presentation and her demonstration.

These are the tools that Perry uses in his class:

These tools fit together well, but it was a bit confusing for me to get my head around. I’’ll try to give you a sense of what each piece does.

Splashtop is the easiest for me to understand, and the one that most people probably have the most immediate use for. At the most basic level, it mirrors your computer’s desktop on your iPad. In a classroom, it allows you to use your iPad as you walk around the room as the ultimate remote. You can control slide navigation while also being able to annotate the slides through your iPad’s interface. I never go anywhere without my Kensington wireless presentation remote; I appreciate being untethered from the lectern. However, walking around with the whole interface in my hands sounds like a real win-win.

LectureTools is more complicated to understand. This is a cloud-based service to which a professor uploads a PowerPoint or Keynote file. The professor, over the course of a semester, can upload all of his or her slides for a class. The service reads in the presentation file. In addition, the professor can insert what are called “interactive slides.” On these slides, the professor puts either a multiple choice question, a free response text question, a list of items (that students are to then rank order), an image (that students can point on), or a multimedia slide. At the appropriate time, the professor makes the slide visible to the class, and each student participates in the class by indicating an answer, writing a response, ordering the items, or pointing out an important part of the image. As the students are submitting their answers, LectureTools is collecting and/or summarizing these responses. The professor can them immediately share the students’ answers with the class and comment on anything interesting that pops up. This is quite a useful tool. It’s like a clicker on steroids.

Students, remote and local either log into the LectureTools Web site or use the iPad application to access the service. This gives the student access to a cloud-based copy of the presentation. This then gives the students the ability to do several things:

  • The student can take notes in a text area to the right of the slide area. These are not shared with anyone.
  • The student can draw directly on the slide; again, this information is not shared with anyone.
  • The student can type in a question that is immediately transferred to the professor’s dashboard. The student can see a list of all the questions (and associated answers, if the professor or an aide has provided any) that she has asked as well as those asked by other students. This ability to ask questions anonymously in this way has dramatically increased the number of students who ask questions during class according to the results of some experiments Perry has run.
  • The student can click on an icon to indicate that he/she is confused by the slide. The professor can see for any particular slide what percentage of students are confused.
  • The student can click on an icon to bookmark the slide if he/she thinks it is important to review later.

I found LectureTools to be a compelling tool. It is a bit rough around the edges, and is clearly still being developed, but I wouldn’t have any issues with using it in its current state in any class that I am presenting with PowerPoint or Keynote files.

Finally, Wirecast and Wowza are a program and a service that seem to go hand-in-hand. Wirecast allows the professor to produce live webcasts. You would either have to be fairly technically literate or have an assistant helping you out during a class, but this program would allow you to either broadcast from a classroom or anywhere on the road — on location at a company, in a hotel room, while interviewing someone at their work site…whatever you want. It’s a highly capable piece of software. Wowza is the service that broadcasts the stream to the Internet audience; it acts as the broadcast station on which your show (Wirecast) appears.

I can see the usefulness of a couple of these separately and all of them together. What alternatives are there? What am I missing? Have any of you had any experience with these, or competing, technologies? I would love to hear from you.