Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Free PD - Focus on your Foundation

As an instructional designer I routinely receive questions around common themes: course design, teamwork vs individual work, assessments, rubrics, best practices in conducting discussion groups, team-based learning, etc. So I am always on the look out for free resources that can be good references when helping instructors in their practice of teaching. A good resource just came across my desk this week from Queen’s University. It’s called their Focus on Foundations program. The objectives of the program are to:
  • Promote conversations among instructors about teaching
  • Encourage the exchange of ideas and practices related to teaching
  • Encourage instructors to explore alternative teaching practices
  • Allow instructors to serve as resources for one another

The great thing about this program is that it is comprised of nine core self-study modules that are freely available to anyone. You don’t need a username, a password or anything. There is no need to register whatsoever. You can painlessly go and study these modules and learn all kinds of interesting ideas about these topics:
  • Assessing Student Learning
  • Course Design
  • Evaluating Teaching
  • Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Lecturing
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  • Teaching for Active and Deep Learning
  • Teaching with Discussions
  • Team/Group Learning

This is definitely worth adding to your Delicious Bookmarks so that you can visit this website on a rainy day. Awesome. Special thanks go to the staff at the Centre for teaching and learning at Queen’s University for providing this open access material to the world. That’s my kind of professional development resource!

Do you know any other fantastic resources like this? If so, be sure to leave a comment below.

Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 Edublogs Awards

The 2009 Edublog Awards are open for nomination!

This is our chance to nominate and celebrate 'the achievements of edubloggers, twitterers, podcasters, video makers, online communities, wiki hosts and other web based users of educational technology.'

Here are the categories that I would like to submit nominations for:

* Best individual blog - Making Change by Cathy Moore(http://blog.cathy-moore.com/)
* Best individual tweeter - Sydney-Eve Matrix @sidneyeve
* Best resource sharing blog - Jane Knight - Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day (http://janeknight.typepad.com/pick/)
* Lifetime achievement - Stephen Downes - OLDaily - (http://www.downes.ca/news/OLDaily.htm)

If you have a blog and you want to nominate another blog for one or more 2009 Edublog Award, then please read these details.

Nominations close December 8th, 2009.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Twitter in your Teaching

Is it just me or are you seeing the word ‘Twitter’ almost everywhere these days? I live in a semi-rural community and last weekend I was leafing through my local free community newspaper and I stumbled across a quarter-page announcement saying that I can now receive updates via their Twitter-feed. Wow! When the local community-based newspaper has a twitter feed that really emphasizes the fact that Twitter is everywhere!!!

So if it’s everywhere you have to ask yourself, how can you use Twitter for Teaching? Well, luckily other people are asking themselves that question too. I received an email from Amber Johnson who recently wrote an article on the subject called “50 Terrific Twitter Tutorials for Teachers”. She put me in the loop about the article because one of the blog posts on e-Learning Acupuncture (this blog post about Twitterfall) was selected to be included in the list of 50 terrific items.

If you are looking for ideas and information on how to use Twitter in your teaching then this article is certainly a good starting point. If you have your own idea about how to use Twitter in your teaching then be sure to let us know about it by leaving a comment below.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Social Media is BIGGER than you think? Are educators lagging behind?

This fantastic blog post and associated YouTube video embeded below really made me think about how marketers and business people view the fundamental shift in how the Internet is being used. The read/write web of Web 2.0 and the social media phenomenon sweeping our culture is fundamentally transforming how people use the Internet. Smart business people and smart advertisers are taking notice and taking action. What are educators doing? Are we using Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube in our classes? If not, are we lagging behind?

Watch the video and tell us what you think by leaving a comment below. Are educators lagging behind? Are we taking action? Is it the right type of action?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

How do I learn to teach online?

For some teachers, there are misconceptions about the process of teaching online. Some think teaching an online course is exactly the same as teaching in the classroom. Well, as a practitioner of both types of teaching I can attest that they are significantly different processes. So if you have never had the opportunity to be a student in an online course or have never had a mentor who can teach how to teach online then where do you gain the knowledge and skills?

There are few different answers to this question. You could go to school to learn this material. That’s what I did. However, if you don’t have the time to invest in that route, luckily there are many resources your can read that will help you develop and improve your skills. Today I came across one particularly good one. It is the Online Handbook for the University of Colorado Denver and it is available freely online.

It has four major sections: 1) trends and issues in online learning, 2) examples technology in action in online courses, 3) a brief overview of 25 emerging e-Learning tools that you can use in your teaching, and 4) additional resources for the online teacher.

This document is fantastic. It covers a wide breadth of topics from instructional design, multimedia, Web 2.0 tools, social networking, blogs, twitter, collaborative work online and has a significant amount of material on how to effectively use online discussion in your course.

If you are new or experienced in teaching online, this will be valuable reading. There is something in here for everyone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Short Cuts for Converting Classroom Courses to Online Courses - Ask an Instructional Designer

I recently answered an email question from a reader named Barb that might interest other readers as well:


http://www.flickr.com/photos/61787893@N00/275371357Hi Eric,

I ran into your site through the Internet and would like some advice on the following.

I am a trainer and am currently working with a couple of other trainers on converting our Instructor led courses into online self paced courses using Captivate.

We know there will be work to re-design some of the content etc. However, I am looking for shortcuts. the content has already been approved by SME's.

I wondered if we could "storyboard" the content out in Powerpoint and then bring it into Captivate. In other words I want to avoid extra steps. Instead of using Microsoft Word to storyboard content, we would just place the graphics and text within a Powerpoint world and then bring it in. Or do we even need to use Powerpoint?

Your suggestions would be appreciated.



Hi Barb,

You have a good question here. In my view it all comes down to how you envision the finished product meeting the needs of your target market. You mention that you are developing instructor-led training into an online self-paced course; however, you do not mention the topic of the course, the types of students that you are serving, or your proposed course delivery strategy.

So I will make a few of assumptions in answering your question.

Assumption 1: the topic of the course is some type of training on how to use a computer system or a piece of software.I make this assumption (or guess) because you are choosing an audiovisual-based authoring tool like Adobe Captivate to present your training.

Assumption 2: your students are established employees at a company that will be required to use this new software or computer system in their job.

Assumption 3: if you are looking for shortcuts on how to re-engineer existing classroom materials for use in a online self-paced course, then I assume your time is limited to complete this project. Perhaps your budget is limited as well.

Assumption 4: the SME-approved classroom materials that you have available to you are print-based materials. Perhaps in MS-Word format.

So if these above four assumptions (or predictions!) hold then this is my advice to you.

Use a print-based framework for your finished product; however, augment the print-based material with short audio-video tutorials (created with Adobe Captivate) that show students the piece of software in action. By choosing this route, you take a major short-cut of being able to re-use some of the existing course materials in MS-Word format. You only need to invest your energies in augmenting the paper-based course materials with appropriate audio-video tutorials. This solution also circumvents the need to use Powerpoint. Last I checked people still prefer reading material on paper vs. the computer screen.

In the end you can upload a series of Captivate Videos to YouTube and then mail-out a paper-based workbook to students. That way students can keep the workbook and consult it when they are back in the workplace for 'just in time training', and similarly, the YouTube videos are accessible 24/7 from work or at home. There is no need for you to have a specialized learning management system in place to deliver such a course either. That saves on budget as well.

I hope this answer helps. Take care.


Do you have other recommendations for Barb? If so, post a comment below.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Technology Training Videos for Teachers

Let’s face it, whether you are a teacher, instructional designer, teaching assistant or multimedia developer, the sheer amount of new tools being released on the Internet makes it difficult to stay up to date with what’s new and what can apply best to your specific discipline. So instead of wasting hours randomly searching for new things when you have a spare moment (or clipping Dell coupons), I would suggest you consult regularly with Russell Stannard. He runs a great site called teachertrainingvideos.com. Already he has a multitude of great videos that I have sampled, including videos on topics like:
  • JING-Fantastic Screencasting Tool
  • Easy podcasting
  • Introduction to Moodle
  • Make on-line surveys
  • Downloading from YouTube
  • How to use Blogger
  • All about Delicious
  • Photoshop basics
All free for you to use. Russell Stannard is a principal lecturer in Multimedia/ICT at the University of Westminster in London England and his academic focus is on English language teaching. He has taken the time to create several videos outlining tools and websites that are specifically useful to English language teaching, such as:
  • Amazing 3D dialogue builder
  • Best ELT sites 2008
  • Best pronunciation Sites
  • Great dictation site
  • Voicethread presentation tool
  • Review of the best ELT podcasts
So overall he provides a fantastic repository of short videos that can help you in your research for useful tools in your teaching related practice. You can keep up to date with Russell’s new material by either subscribing to his email newsletter on his website or following him on twitter.

If you find any of these resources especially useful, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mobile Technology: Bigger than the Internet and the PC combined

Mobile technology is going to change your life and the change has not really begun yet. That's the take home message from Elliot Soloway (Professor, Univ. of Michigan) and Cathie Norris (Professor, North Texas Univ.). In their fantastic and thought provoking video, called A 21st Century Education: Educating the Mobile generation, that documents a road trip through Texas and Louisiana to see firsthand how mobile technologies are being used in school, Elliot and Cathie argue that mobile technologies in use today are initiating a fundamental shift in education. People enjoying iPhones - Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48600091327@N01/853455312It's the beginning of a deep kind of change in our life where mobility adds the ability for people to walk around and have all the knowledge with them regardless of where they are: office, classroom, car, park, mall, sidewalk, etc. This amazing new resource is available 24/7 in the palm of your hand. Once in place in the culture of our society, so many constraints will be removed from our daily lives. The immediacy of information provided by mobile devices may accelerate learning because the notion that formal learning can only be done in schools will erode fully. Learning will happen everywhere and in every context with this new resource that was not there before.
"It's an evolution - not a revolution." - Elliot Soloway, 2009
Watch the video and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From World of Warcraft to Second Life – Teaching Science with Immersion and Excursion

I recently attended the SLOAN-C International Symposium on Emerging Technology Applications for Online Learning in San Francisco. It was an intense conference with many fantastic talks. One particularly interesting talk was done by Mary Anne Clark, a Professor of Biology at Wesleyan University in Texas. She started her talk by telling us a story. (As an aside, I personally love talks that start with a story because I really value the learning that can come from storytelling.)

She told a story of an experience she had a few years prior where her husband had been pretty involved in playing the world’s most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game(MMORPG)called World of Warcraft (WoW). If you haven’t heard about the success of WoW then all you need to know is that over 11 million people pay a monthly subscription to play this online game - the revenue is astounding and it speaks to the quality of the game experience! Mary Anne’s husband would constantly try to convince her to play WoW with him. As a non-game player, Mary Anne could not really understand the appeal of the game. For example, one week she would come into the computer room and her husband would be playing the game. His character in the game would be in the middle of a quest busily fighting wolves for example. Then she would come into the computer room a week or two later and her husband’s character in the game would be still doing similar things – only this time he was fighting bigger wolves. The attraction to the game for her was not clear. However, after some time she finally got tired of his pleading and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: she would play WoW with him for the summer when she wasn’t teaching. It didn’t take long for Mary Anne to finally understand the attraction of WoW once she started playing. She describes it “an immersive experience” where you begin to feel like the character you are playing in the game is an extension of yourself. WoW challenges players to make their characters perform heroic acts, great feats of courage, and overcome challenging tasks in the game and you can do all these things by yourself or with the assistance and collaboration of other game players. The social interaction between players while playing WoW is a very interesting and engaging facet of the game. In fact, the entire experience of playing the game is a very large exercise in learning. As a player, you have to learn the etiquette of WoW, you have to learn how to complete tasks, learn how to improve your character’s skills, learn how to interact with other players, learn how to make money to outfit your character’s needs, learn about the monsters you will be combating, etc. All the while, you receive immediate feedback from the game in the form of virtual currency, precious items and even the enhancement of your “in-game” reputation among other players – all highly motivating features that encourage game players to continue playing.

After some time, Mary Anne realized that with so much learning going on by WoW players, wouldn’t it be convenient and spectacular if WoW could be used as a teaching tool in her academic field. Unfortunately, her academic field was not “Monsters”!

That’s when she turned to a different virtual world product: Second Life. I’ve written about Second Life a few times before on this blog (here and here).

Me in Real Life outside Linden Labs in San FranciscoMary Anne began developing what would become today Genome Island. This location in Second Life now hosts many learning objects and activities that augment introductory courses in genetics and biology. Much like WoW, students create a virtual character in Second Life and with this character they can personally interact with objects and perform the learning activities that Mary Anne has created. They can conduct virtual experiments and collect the data that they produce. Consequently, after conducting the experiments, students can summarize the data in a convenient way (such as an excel spreadsheet or a word document), compare it with their classmates and analyze their findings in a real-world lab report.

Genome Island is segmented into four main sections. The Abbey and Gardens deal with experiments and concepts about genetic inheritance patterns. The Tower has learning activities relating to human, bacterial and Drosophila genetics as well as molecular biology. The Gene Pool is still under development and will have models for population genetics. The Terrace overlooks several exhibits demonstrating animal models, etc. Lastly, the Atelier is the ‘sandbox’ for Mary Anne herself where you can occasionally watch her (or her colleagues) in the process of building new learning activities for Genome Island.

Mary Anne has successfully used Genome Island two major ways to enhance learning in her genetics courses. The first, excursion, is simply to demonstrate live in a face-to-face classroom of students some learning objects on Genome Island using her Second Life character. The second, immersion, is to have students create their own characters in Second Life and perform the tasks themselves either in a computer lab or at their home. Both the immersion and the excursion methods have their own pros and cons, and both can be used successfully from a student point of view. Student feedback clearly supports this. For example, some students commented:
"The Second Life made activities more hands on, and while we did a lot of reading it never seemed like it."

"I love the fact that it is REALLY hands on. It isn’t like sitting in a lecture class, you really end up enjoying all that you are learning and it really makes you want to learn MORE."

"By the way this is awesome! I've never done anything like this in relation to science, let alone had this much fun!"

My Character in Second Life sitting on a bench in The Tower on Genome Island.  Above my character is a classic photo of the DNA Detectives Watson and Crick. The power of virtual world immersion and excursions when applied to a learning context is clear. The challenge is ensuring good instructional design is in place so that students can move past the technical requirements or novelty of using the virtual world software and clearly focus their time on the well-crafted learning activities that these worlds can host.

Genome Island is publicly accessible in Second Life. So by creating a free Second Life account and by creating your own virtual character, you can go check out all the learning going on for yourself. While you are on the island, be sure to say ‘hi’ to the character "Max Chatnoir" if you can find her - that’s Mary Anne herself!

Do you use Second Life (or World of Warcraft?) in your teaching? If so, tell us your experience by leaving a comment below.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Twitterfall - letting the web work for you

Why reinvent the wheel? If you need to use the Internet to do research on a particular topic, you can leverage other people’s research efforts using social media tools (i.e. the stuff of Web 2.0). There are several social media tools that can help you. One example is Twitterfall. It’s a free web service that taps into the proverbial ’river of data’ generated by the Twitter data stream and fishes out for you messages that fit a custom search that you create. Ok, so before you jump up and down and say to me that you are anti-Twitter, that you don’t have a Twitter account and that you don’t want anymore so-called ‘tools’ that consume more hours of your day to manage, etc, I would ask you to just continue reading this posting (*grin*). Twitterfall allows you to tap into the Twitter data stream without having a Twitter account. Yup. No Twitter account is needed. So if you are anti-Twitter then you can still use Twitterfall without any problem. So here’s what it does.
Twitterfall displays the latest 'tweets', or message postings, from the millions of Twitter users. So if you are researching the subject of education for example, and you want to see what people are saying right now about it, then you can go to Twitterfall and setup a custom search for the word ‘education’ and watch the results unfold before your eyes.

Try it. Here’s a couple of tips. When you first visit Twitterfall, it will default to displaying recent tweets on the Top 10 recent topic trends on Twitter. So immediately a stream of messages will come down on your screen. If you are not interested in these Top 10 trends, then you can easily configure Twitterfall to stop displaying these tweets by mousing over the ‘All Terms’ phrase at the top if the ‘Trends’ box and un-checking the box beside ‘All Terms’. That will end the flow of messages on the screen. Next configure Twitterfall to display tweets on the subjects that you are researching. On the left hand side of the page, find the ‘Custom’ box. At the bottom of the ‘Custom’ box is a search field with an Add button. Type keywords into the search box that you want to monitor such as ‘education’, ‘edtech’, or ‘technology’ and click the checkboxes beside each. Now ‘tweets’ will be displayed on the screen that follows your custom search. By watching the Twitterfall stream for a few minutes you will undoubtedly find some interesting links, resources and opinions on the subjects you are interested in.

On the Twitterfall website they have a link to a short 4 minute tutorial showing some additional Twitterfall features.

Let us know your impression of Twitterfall by leaving a comment below.

Image credit.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fantastic File Converter

Via www.smashingapps.com, please welcome CometDocs - Free Online File Converter. It’s a god-send because it accomplishes three major goals:

  1. It’s a fantastic file conversion utility that has over 50 conversion options. Popular options such as converting from PDF to MS-Word, PDF to Excel, and html to PDF are just some examples.

  2. It’s free and it’s online. So no software to download and install on your computer and no fees to pay.

  3. It works. I know because I tried it. It was easy to use and converted each of my files within one minute.

CometDocs is definitely worthy of being bookmarked on your Del.icio.us account. (If you are new to Del.icio.us then view this video).

Image credit here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Solve problems with screencasting

Screencasting can be useful in distance education. Recently, I met with colleagues who are designing a distance course in physics. In this particular course, the emphasis is on mathematical problem solving. When they deliver the course in class, they spent the first 15-20 minutes of each lecture thoroughly going over solutions from previously assigned homework problems. Students report that this investment of time in problem solving in the classroom really helps them master the subject matter. Consequently, this guided problem solving aspect was the central factor being discussed at a brainstorming meeting about the course.

Remote screencasting was the front runner in the discussion. It’s not a new concept – screen casting has been around for years. In January 2005 I first wrote in this blog about a now famous screencast by John Udell on Wikipedia. If you need more info on what a screencast is, check out the Wikipedia article on the subject.

So, I put together six phases for creating a good screencast for use in distance education.
  1. Create a storyboard. Most people already have a good foundation for a storyboard – a pre-existing PPT slide that is being used in class. To start, make any adjustments to the existing PPT slide that you feel would help illustrate a concept to the learners who will be viewing the screencast remotely. For example, add in some extra animation objects that might emphasize some part of the concept you are trying to explain. One additional consideration is that if your screencast will be above average in length (say more than 5 mins) then try to split your content onto two (or more) PPT slides. Keeping the length to 5 minutes per slide, or less, will make the audio editing and annotation phases (see below) slightly less cumbersome to perform.

  2. Write a script for your screencast in your favourite word processor. Invariably, the act of writing the script brings better ideas to the forefront. What usually occurs is that you
    require edits to your PPT slide as a result of your ‘new and improved’ ideas. It’s far less work to make edits to your PPT slides at this stage then it is in later stages in the screencasting process.

  3. Record the audio using your favourite screencasting software (eg, Articulate, Adobe Captivate, etc.). There is no need to use stand-alone audio recording software (such as Audacity, for example) as most modern screencasting tools have audio recording and editing capabilities built-in.

  4. Make audio edits using the screencasting software to remove any unwanted ‘um’s and ‘ah’s, etc.

  5. Annotate the screencast with pointing arrows, mouse pointers, shadow boxes, as needed. These types of annotations replace the instructor’s ‘pointing finger’ in the classroom and can be very valuable to learners at a distance. The types of annotations possible will vary depending on the specific screencasting software you are using. Articulate has more choices for annotations types when compared to Adobe Captivate.

  6. Publish your screencast in Flash at the touch of a button so it can then be uploaded to your learning management system of choice. Remember to archive your source files onto a network drive in case you ever want to make future edits to the screencast.

If you follow this process, your first good quality 5 minute screencast can be produced from start to finish in one morning or afternoon. Also, the more you do it the faster you will become. So if you are planning to create a series of these learning objects, budget 3 hours to produce the first one, and budget half that time for the rest.

Bonus Tip: avoid creating screencasts over 20 minutes in length. The distance learner has a shorter attention span than the classroom learner. The at-home temptations of checking email, grabbing a snack, checking the hockey scores, or tucking a child into bed are far too great (*smile*)

If anyone reading this has any further tips or tricks, please let us know by posting a comment below.

Image credit here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do wikis work for any topic? How about math?

Sabah Karam from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, recently wrote to me asking:

“I have been doing research on how wikis can be used to teach students
how to do mathematical proofs…. I would like to know if you have any thoughts on if you think we this is a realistic effort and, so, how we can achieve this goal.”

Great question! I personally believe that a wiki can succeed on any topic. A wiki is merely a tool for collaborative document authoring by a group. The more important factor that determines the success of a project is the vested interest of the team members (or community) working on it.

So to ensure success in a project like collaborative authoring of mathematical proofs, efforts should be placed into:

  • defining the output (deliverable) and the timelines of the project

  • defining your community (i.e. team members) that will work on the project

  • selecting the right tools to enable the community to produce the desired product in the timeline specified (a wiki is one example of a good document collaboration tool)

  • providing a convincing argument to members of the community to educate them about the value of the tool(s) that were selected for the project

  • providing training on these tool(s) for those members of the community who need it

  • overseeing the completion of the deliverables folloowing the agreed upon timeline

On the subject of wikis that concern themselves with mathematical proofs, there are two that I know of Proofwiki and PlanetMath. Does anyone else know of any? if so, leave a comment below.

Image credit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Text messaging in your teaching

Note: Please welcome this guest post by Scott Morrison – Instructional Designer at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.

The Site 2009 conference in Charleston South Carolina was a real awakening for me. During this session I saw several themes emerge and was presented with some very practical information. My sense from the conference was that we have entered an era where the speed at which we can collect, or in the case of the educator, give information is what will lead to our success. Specifically I mean we are not in an age where cell phones are new technology and we train and then deploy new ideas. During a round table discussion Kevin Thomas, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Annsley Thornton School of Education, drove this point home when he discussed how he uses cell phones in teaching.

Cell phones are not new technology to the average North American high school or college/university student. They use them frequently and well. Further, they often carry them with them at all times. This presents a unique opportunity for us to quickly and easily interact with our learners. Instead of placing content, notices, or updates on an LMS and hoping that your students find it in time, it is possible to email that material in the form of a text message to your learners. The benefit is that they have the information instantly, it is portable, and it is easy for educators to deploy. Also, the learner doesn’t have to go and seek this information and it saves them time. As was hinted at during the conference LMS (Learning Management System) may be going the way of the dodo bird. Although I don’t necessarily think that will happen anyway time soon, I do see this being a useful tool that isn’t bound within the constraints of the LMS.

To do this create a distribution list for the students in your class using their cellphone numbers and providers. For those that do not have cell phones simply collect email addresses. To enter the phone to text address in your email client consult the service provider's website. For example:
Keep in mind that your messages can only be 180 characters long. Thanks to Kevin Thomas for his wonderful idea and Eric Tremblay for suggesting we share it here.

If you have used text messaging in your teaching, please share some examples of the types of messages you send to your students by leaving a comment below.

Image credit: here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Web 2.0 can knock your socks off!

I participated in a great online talk yesterday by James Falkofske, Director of Online Learning, St. Cloud Technical College (here's a link to James' blog). His talk was titled: Easy Steps for Expanding Desire2Learn with Web 2.0 Tools. In general, I love talks like this. There is always some little gold nugget that I can take away and use. Well, in this particular talk, I took away two:
  1. A web application index that catalogs all kinds of examples of Web 2.0 tools: Go2Web20.net. If you go to that page you will see that each application indexed has a short description, is tagged with key words for searching and has a link to the site where the application resides. Go2Web20.net even has an RSS feed so that you can keep track of recently added applications. Nice! There are lots of goodies here and with the increased pace of appearance of Web 2.0 tools, the RRS feed gives you a great way to stay informed.

  2. A slideshow application that will knock your socks off! Seriously. It’s called Animoto. Using the photos you provide, it will make a 30 second professional looking slideshow (with fancy transitions) and a soundtrack. It has a few ways to output the video for you – including automatic export to YouTube! Slick! It even has an iPhone App so that you can build your video on your iPhone instead of your computer. Neat. For a fee, it will let you make much longer videos. It’s a great application to add to your digital storytelling toolbox for you or for your students – the production value is high. Want to see a demo of a video I made myself using Animoto? Check it out here.

    Also, Animoto itself keeps a small collection of case studies showing Animoto videos being used in education to give you some ideas.
Do you have a favorite Web 2.0 app, or do you have experience with Animoto? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Make your own cartoons online

Ever wanted to be a cartoonist, but can't draw? Welcome to my world. Anyway, I came across ToonDoo.com today and this website is letting me live my dream (free of charge!). I can now easily make cartoons by simply dragging and dropping backgrounds, characters, and props, etc. Try it. You'll like it. Here's a sample 3 panel cartoon that I made - it took me about 10 mins. Not bad for a 1st time.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Love your students and they will love you back

If you read this blog, you know I’m a big fan of Micheal Wesch. I’ve never met the guy but I have watched him quite a bit in his YouTube videos. Late in 2008, he received the Professor of the Year award from Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT). He delivered a short acceptance speech on Nov 20th, that is worth watching. He’s introduced by a former student who clearly admires Dr. Wesch and goes on to explain the wonderful role model that he is. That's always a nice feel good moment. Then Michael takes the podium and at the end of his acceptance speech, he shares with the audience a mantra that he says to himself every time he talks in front of a group of people: “Love your students and they will love you back.” They were words of wisdom from his wife seven years ago. Spectacular!

It’s a great mantra. So many times, teachers, professors and instructors get bogged down in the technical details and mechanics of how their course is running that they can sometimes forget that for learning to occur, they have to genuinely care about their students. So having a mantra like this that is used regularly can be of great service in bringing this idea to the forefront of a teacher on a daily basis. Students are important – they need to be cared for - without them where would teachers be?

Image credit: here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chemistry Lab Simulations - the Late Night Way!

If you work in the field of science – then you have been there. You know… Friday night… 11pm… and you’re in the lab doing some experiment while every other person is either home in bed or out having fun with friends. Science is a strange discipline isn’t it?

Well, there’s one company out there that is turning the concept of late night science experimentation into a complete success story. Coincidentally, they are called Late Night Labs. Their flagship product, REACTOR, is an entirely web-based chemistry lab simulator. Currently they have upwards of 100 simulated chemistry experiments developed that target the high school and first year college/university level. The system is completely customizable and an instructor can use an experiment off the shelf, build an experiment from scratch or they can modify an existing experiment to create a new experiment. Instructors can choose and sequence the experiments and present customizable views to students so that when a particular student logs onto the system, they only see the experiments that the instructor wants them to see. In addition, detailed logs are created showing exactly which experimental steps were conducted in the laboratory simulation and because these logs are available to both the student and the instructor, they become a powerful tool in debugging failures in experiments due to incorrectly followed protocols and they also serve as record of proof that the student successfully undertook the experiment. Very nice!

Late Night Labs has one experiment that is free for anyone to try. It's a short and simple neutralization reaction experiment - and basically serves more as an orientation to the interface than anything else. You can find it here. Just click the "sample lab" button. Try it out and see what you think. If you want to try more, they will issue a 2-week free trial for any instructor considering using the product in an educational setting.

As for the cost, it's significantly cheaper than a 'wet lab' or a kitchen lab. In general, the cost has two components: 1) an institutional license, and 2) a student license. Both licenses need to be in place for the system to be enabled. The institutional license is approximately $500/year and the student licenses range between $25-$50/year (these figures are approximate and depend upon your institutional requirements). Also, there is no computer support required from the institution as this software is all web-based and all data is stored on the servers of Late Night Labs.

It goes without saying, that computer simulations are also significantly safer than real-life chemistry labs as well. Using Late Night Labs, you can seal a beaker of water with a rubber stopper and you can boil it over a Bunsen burner until the beaker explodes just like in real life, except you won't be badly burned in the process (*smile*)

Have you used Late Night Labs or a similar product in your educational setting? If so, please leave a comment below letting us know the strengths and weaknesses.

Image credit: here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Chemistry Labs at a Distance: the Kitchen takes Centre Stage!

Over the last decade, more and more schools have offered a larger proportion of their curriculum in a distance delivery format. This is largely due to technical advances that have afforded more bandwidth, less expensive course development tools, and adoption of learning management systems at most schools. It is also important to acknowledge that demand by students has also fueled the increase in distance education offerings. I work at the Royal Military College of Canada - Canada’s only military University. We have more students taking distance course offerings than we have students taking classroom courses. Interesting isn’t it!

One interesting observation that I make when I examine our course offerings, is that the large majority of our distance courses are humanities-based. The science courses are few and far between. The largest barrier to completing a science degree via distance is the completion of laboratory components. This is true in many online colleges and universities. It’s far easier to offer science labs in a residential setting than it is to offer then by distance. Despite the challenge, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Consider an introductory chemistry course for a moment. In my view, there are basically four possible options available to course designers:
  1. Construct a condensed residential lab offered in the summer. Distance students can travel to the university for 1 or 2 weeks and complete a series of experiments at an accelerated pace. Note that arrangements could be made to deliver this condensed laboratory at the closest college or university if the student resides a prohibitive distance from the hosting university.

  2. At home labs using a prepared lab kit. The course development team can prepare a kit that contains volumetric glassware, pH testing equipment, small quantities of known salts and chemicals, etc. This kit can provide stand-alone equipment for students to perform experiments at home.

  3. At home labs using kitchen science. The course development team can design experiments that include equipment and materials that students either have in their home already or can easily purchase locally.

  4. Computer laboratory simulations. In recent years, some companies have come out with relatively inexpensive computer simulation packages that can be used to simulate laboratory experiments on a computer.

Each of the four options above has its pros and cons. I won’t outline them all here (maybe I will save them for a future blog post. Hee hee!). However, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you one resource that I found on the topic of kitchen science for chemistry labs. Doris Kimbrough of the University of Colorado at Denver and Jim Reeves of the University of North Carolina at Wimington have shared several examples of kitchen chemistry in action. Specifically, they share three different packages of distance learning laboratories, dubbed the 'Anytime Anywhere Chemistry Experience', for us to examine:
  1. Web-based materials for Science Majors (10 experiments)

  2. Text-based materials for Science Majors (9 experiments)

  3. Text-based materials for Non-science Majors (9 experiments)

Each experiment in these packages is designed with learning objectives, a list of equipments and materials that the student must purchase, an introduction that contains the theory behind the experiment, a detailed procedure, and a series of questions that need to be answered. (Sometimes, an excel sheet is provided for students to type their data directly into.)

Do you have any experience in offering science labs at a distance? If so, let us know about it by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hot Topic: Nursing Simulations in Second Life!

The most frequently visited posting on this blog was written on March 7th, 2008 on the topic of Nursing Simulation in Second Life. If you visit that old posting, you will see that the architect behind leading edge nursing simulation in Second Life is John Miller, a professor of Nursing at the Tacoma Community College of Nursing in Washington, USA.

John actively writes about this topic on his blog. If you are interested in keeping up with his experience, then it is a must read!

John has posted to newer videos on YouTube that demonstrate how he uses Second Life to support learning at his college. The first video is demonstrates a high tech emergency room nursing simulator that he has developed. Together, three participants actively participate in a simulated critical event. A student operates the virtual patient who is placed on a bed and reacts to the treatments administered by the virtual nurse (played by a second student) and a virtual nurse supervisor (played by the instructor). It's a must see video for anyone interested in nursing simulation in the emergency room.

The second video that John has made available shows Centralia island on Second Life that John uses to host learning units for his students on the topic of nursing. Many of the items on Centralia Island link directly to free resources on the web. A simple way to integrate Second Life with other Internet resources.

Are you working in the nursing field, if so, let us know what you think of John's work by leaving a comment below.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Free Academic Videos for Everyone

It's new and it is in a 'beta' state; however, Academic Earth is something to keep your eyes on. Currently, it offers thousands of post-secondary lectures from authorative sources - all free. The creators of this repository have worked hard to integrate features into it that make it extra useful. Each lecture has a side bar with a slection of special options, such as a download to iPod option, a citation option, an 'embed' option that gives you code you can copy and paste into your website (this means that you can distribute the video to your students without having to host the video on your server. Nice!). Each lecture is rated by registered users of the website (registration is free!). So over time, the most highly rated lecture will float to the top. While in the 'beta' state, Academic Earth strongly encourages users to leave feedback on any bugs you find as well as to make suggestions on how to improve the service. At the time of launching, it is billed as "Thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars." Not bad for a start, where will it be a year from now! What do you think?

Photo credit: Here.