Teaching and Learning

visualization tool plus plus and amazing instructional design

Two great new discoveries this week…

Via downes, VUE is an open source application that pushes the envelope in the visualization/concept mapping department.  I have a  few projects that can take advantage of the ability to link nodes to local or public files, display images, and allow tagging and categories to be assigned.  Again, it passed the 2 minute tool test, and some of the more advanced features are well described and demonstrated on the Features page.

The other item making the rounds in the Canadian Copyright world is an astounding piece of work from Appropriation Art.   Not only is the topic one that is of concern/interest to me, but that aside, it’s a brilliant example of great instructional design.  Obviously the visual narrative form (with embedded links to perspectives of others) is well suited to addressing any type of debate, but I’m thinking of ways this could be used for case studies or historical descriptions for a variety of disciplines.  

word of the day

originally uploaded by VROG Bristol

flickr photo originally uploaded by VROG

…to describe the countless hours I seem to be spending filling forms and dotting my ‘i’s’ and crossing my ‘t’s’–paperganda (or paperazzi, if you prefer). But instead of whining, I’ll try to turn this into a constructive thought…

My (lack of) patience for paperganda mirrors my escalating impatience with technology that is overly complicated and requires too much of my valuable time fiddling to get to work. Admittedly, I am a bit equipment challenged–cell phones, VCRs, etc–but I’m hardly a technophobe…I like to think I kind of get how computers and software and digital technology in general works. Today I needed to test a headset for an Elluminate session I’m doing next week. Test 1: internal mic and speakers (on a Toshiba laptop). Not good. Why not? Aren’t we there yet? I’m not trying for CBC quality here–it would be nice if I could talk into my laptop and have it be good enough for a synchronous session in a noiseless environment. Test 2: fancy pants headset from AV services. Nada. I didn’t read the manual, but why should I? Shouldn’t we be able to just plug it in and have it work? Test 3: Borrowed USB headset from colleague. Success!

These kinds of experiences (and a recent post over at EdTechPost) remind me of the aggravation that instructors invariably face when they’re trying to use technology for teaching, hence the inspiration for the 2 minute tools workshops that I started doing last year. Obviously we’d like instructors to feel empowered by technology, not intimidated. And while FOI concerns are often being cited as reasons not to use some of the good 2.0 stuff out there that really can be learned in 2 minutes or less, what else do we have, and can we afford not to? Why would institutions really want to keep investing in questionable tools whose threshold is too high and therefore attracts less users or requires more support? I’ve taught workshops to instructors on how to use gliffy, google docs, and zoho wiki in less than 2 minutes (sometimes they’ve timed me) and the reaction is so gratifying–instructors who never dreamed of having even a simple web page are amazed that they can do it in the same amount of time it takes for the barrista to make their latte.

So, a note to developers and institutional IT departments (not that they’re reading this, but anyways…)

Less is more. Less is more. Less is more. This means:

1. I don’t need a tool that can do everything. It just needs to do a few things well and easily, and integrate with other tools that can pick up from there. Eg. Create an image in Gliffy, then bring it into Google docs to finish the job.

2. Clear the clutter! Elluminate! WebCT! Your interfaces don’t make sense anymore.

3. Three is a magic number. Three clicks. 1. Start/Record/Edit. 2. Stop/Save. 3. Upload/View/Publish.

Screencasting for just-in-time teaching and learning

Via OL Daily–and the timing couldn’t have been better–a list of screencasting tools from Mashable.  I’m a big fan of using (short) screencasted clips to help students–but mostly instructors–get oriented to tech tools. I’m reminded of a time (circa 2000 or so) when I was a digital media student at a small college where the instructor’s idea of ‘teaching’ was to print out the online manuals for the software and distribute them to the class, then hide in his office while we ‘learned’ Photoshop, Director, and Premier.  Sure, there’s a lot to be said about learning by doing, but when one of the students came across a site full of screencasted tutorials we felt like we’d hit the jackpot.  Oddly, the instructor resented us using the screencasts, and if I recall correctly he might have even blocked the site at some point.   Anyhow, the experience taught me that some things that need to be learned are very well suited to screencasting.  I’ve dabbled with ScreenRecord on my Mac  and have been quite pleased, but I’m keen to try some of the others on the list.  My thought is follow up f2f demos of tools with some screencasts that instructors can access on their own time, and if I’m lucky, I won’t have to create very many since some good people are quite happy to share them on YouTube and the like.

Teaching wikis, blogs, RSS, and social bookmarking

I want to pass on a great resource for instructors who need to explain wikis, blogs, RSS, Google Docs, social bookmarking and other such tools to their students. Common Craft have created some of the most effective, to-the-point, and entertaining instructional videos I’ve ever seen; many of the topics they address in their unique, short videos fall squarely under the ed tech category:

All of these tools are easy to use but, admittedly, can be hard to describe. Common Craft completely demystifies them. Have a look:

Pecha kucha and the end of death-by-PowerPoint

While it is probably too much to hope that pecha kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) will revolutionize the way slideware is used in the classroom, instructors and students should know that pecha kucha is great for keeping slideware presentations focused and the audience’s interest up — arguably two of the biggest challenges facing PowerPoint presenters.

 

Like haiku or the sonnet, pecha kucha imposes a strict form on the content. In this case the medium is the slideware presentation. Presenters must show twenty slides — no more, no less — and show each slide for twenty seconds; again, no more, no less. This permits you a mere six minutes and forty seconds to deliver your presentation.

 

The 20 x 20 format is not meant to restrict so much as to force you to be creative and to stay focused on what’s really important. There is no time for digressions. The pace is quick. The presenters I have seen tend not to read from their slides, thus eliminating redundancy. They say what they have to say then move on the next slide, which is always only seconds away. The audience, aware of the format, anticipates the next slide change, and is never left wondering, “when will this end?” Discussion should come afterwards to allow the presenter to flow uninterrupted. When you’re done, podcast it. Blog it.

 

Preventing death-by-PowerPoint is only one of pecha kucha’s advantages. The concise and brief format also means you can also rethink your class time. What to do with the leftover time? This is a nice problem to have. Perhaps the best reason to try giving a pecha kucha presentation yourself is you will have to rework — and rethink — your content.

 

Pecha kucha nights are now held in major cities all over the globe. Participants can present on any topic. The events are social, informative, fun and frequently licensed. That people voluntarily attend events in which they sit through as many as 15 PowerPoint presentations speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the form. Many of the examples on YouTube are well worth a look.

catching up

During my blogging hiatus, which corresponded with my move to the Canadian Polytechnic where I now am employed and a subsequent maternity leave (identical twins!!), I was jotting down on a post-it note new tools that I thought would be useful for instructors and students, but needed more time to explore.  I came back to a very tidy cubicle (thank you tidyers) but no post-it.  I’m trying to recall some of those tools, and bubbl.us came to mind.  I remember liking bubbl.us because like my old standby, Gliffy, it passed the 2 minute test and the drag, drop, click interface works nicely.  But bubbl.us is definitely more suited to concept mapping, since connections between ideas are automatically drawn .  In the past I’ve taught an online distance course where a student assignment was to submit and share a concept map–we used CMap for this purpose, but it wasn’t as seamless as we had hoped.  Bubbl.us would be a good replacement–a quick visit shows that the interface is even more intuitive than before, and the ability to collaborate with others (something we love to do in our constructivist-designed online courses) is a huge plus.  The usual import and export features are there, and although I haven’t tested those recently, I’m pretty confident they work quite nicely–at the very least, it’s easy to find.

Tools for Teaching

As an instructor, I like the idea of having a digital space to share files with students, provide resources to supplement face to face teaching, and to give the opportunity for some kind of extended dialogue. But I like to be able to create and add to the digital space quickly, with a minimum of effort. I also like the space to be able to navigate, and provide little effort and time on the part of the student to access and retrieve.

Of course, WebCT or another CMS can allow all this, but requires a certain amount of planning and coordination with others to enable it. For distance courses, this is well worth the effort, in my opinion. But as a “just in time” teaching tool as a supplement to face to face, I’m increasingly attracted to other options such as weblogs, or some of the Web 2.0 “glue’ tools.

My favorite example of how a blog was used to supplement face to face teaching is Mario’s Biology 300 bloghere at UBC. And as I’ve no doubt mentioned elsewhere, I like how Jean-Claude Bradley uses a class blog, podcasts, and a class wiki to supplement his face to face teaching time (in which he has moved from lecturing to workshop format, having replaced his lectures with podcasts).

I also like the idea of using SuprGlu or something like Protopage to pull together various Web 2.0 tools into one space that could serve as the central depot for a course site. I quickly hacked together a test page (doesn’t like Safari, but likes Firefox http://www.protopage.com/dentistrytest” ) that uses the sticky notes for static text content or information, feeds for resources or podcasts, uploaded a diagram, and the webpage widget to display the class weblog, a Writeboard and a relevant Flickr set. As the owner, I can make these pages public, but only I can edit them, which is fine for this purpose. The only disadvantage that I can see with this tool is that there doesn’t seem to be a way of subscribing to it, and no ability to upload files (other than images). I imagine that as a semester went on and the page got a bit busier a structure would have to evolve to keep it from becoming totally chaotic, but putting it together and making changes as you go along is totally painless, which is a big plus in my mind.

PBL tutor training

I’m impressed with the problem based learning approach that is being used here in the Faculty of Dentistry, and feel privileged to be working Leandra Best, who works closely with faculty, tutors, and students in implementing this approach. One of the projects we are currently working on is moving some pieces of PBL tutor training online, and doing so in a way that will be engaging and inspiring for prospective tutors.

Of course, we’ve done the obligatory google searching to see what other institutions might be doing online, but we haven’t really turned up anything. So, this post is an appeal for input–if your institution is doing some part of PBL training online, we’d appreciate it if you could please make use of the comment box and send us a link or tell us a bit about it.