An Educator’s Dilemma: Designer or Off the Rack?

To “jazz things up” and to engage diverse learners, educators constantly seek innovative ways to introduce and reinforce content to students. YouTube, Prezi, and repositories are but a few locations to find ready-made content. While easily accessible, it takes time to research, preview, and select the right material. Although online material is abundant and will satisfy the learning objective, sometimes “Good enough” isn’t acceptable, thus creating one’s own content becomes a necessity. The distinct advantage of creating content is the product will be designed to  meet a specific need. Further, “settling” becomes a non-issue because when one creates his/her own content, the points will be presented as one wants and in the order desired. Also, the format and style will be exactly as one wants. While it takes time to select ready-made content, it takes time to develop and create content. Content, like clothing, becomes a choice between off the rack or custom-made. And like clothing, time factors such as “How long until I need it?” and “How long until I get it?” affect the decision whether to choose ready-made or designer content.

The Prezi Drawing Board

preziI first began checking out Prezi earlier this month. I spent more hours than I care to admit to develop a lengthy presentation that incorporated PowerPoint slides, video links, and practice sessions. It is meant to be viewed in sections. However, the assignment for this unit is very specific in that the time maximum is five minutes. Of course this makes sense given that a presentation of this nature should fall within given proven parameters of success. Thus, literally, it was back to the Prezi drawing board.

I forgot the frustrations I had previously experienced when playing with Prezi. Yet, overall I am glad I created this presentation. Its purpose is to provide students with Brainstorming strategies to develop a Dual Text Analysis essay. The presentation addresses the Venn Diagram, the T-Chart, and the Outline. It is meant to be used in conjunction with handouts which will provide students with opportunities to practice the concepts presented.

I wonder if the time investment (again, more hours than I am willing to admit) is worth the value of the learning tool. Since it as of yet untested, I’m trying to remain open-minded. However, I think other methods, such as PowerPoint, have proven value and took far less time than I invested. To be fair, part of the time invested reflects my learning curve which I would identify as in the “under development” phase.

Here’s the link to my Prezi Presentation on Brainstorming for the Dual Text Analysis essay:

http://prezi.com/78ekfk72wu6k/?htm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

I look forward to your feedback!

Multimedia Usage Enhances Student Learning

Give a couple examples in which multimedia (any combination of video, audio, graphics) would help the learning process. Give a couple examples in which you would NOT want to use multimedia.

As with any resource utilized in a class, careful selection is key.  In other words, multimedia should not be used for the sake of using multimedia. Rather, multimedia should be selected to compliment course materials.  As a result, effective multimedia selection will enhance student learning.

Most educators have utilized videos or DVDs in their classrooms. However, sometimes a clip from a film is all that is needed to convey the point needed in using this multimedia format. For example, there is a scene from the movie “U-571” which shows racial intolerance and compliments Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son. The visual representation depicts Wright’s ideals in a way that brings his literature to life. The video creates a reality for students in a way that they are able to connect.

Music is often overlooked as a multimedia format. I have played music as a journal assignment. I usually select something I know students are unlikely to have heard. I play it twice. Students are to respond on an emotional level on the first play, and then an intellectual level for the second play. A class discussion follows. Its purpose is to stimulate critical thinking skills where students are told, “No longer is a Yes/No response acceptable. You need to substantiate your viewpoint.” This activity helps students learn how to use critical thinking skills which they transfer to writing paragraphs or essays.

Audio recordings help students comprehend a difficult story or poem. As a side benefit to a literary audio performance, students are able to hear words that may be difficult to pronounce or dialects that may be difficult to imagine. This is as close to podcasts as I’ve utilized thus far; however, podcasts are now on my radar. According to Gardner Campbell in “There’s Something in the Air”, student podcasts provide a sense of connectedness and a forum for discussion.  Campbell introduces the term “profcasts” which is a podcast recorded by a professor. He suggests that a profcast will “plant seeds of interest” for the student. Dan Baltzer and Susan Manning in their podcast “Hearing Voices in Online Courses” (on which our instructor Norm Garrett is referenced) concur. Baltzer and Manning suggest that podcasts provide “contextual information to support the readings” and provides a forum to personalize the class and create a connection with the students.  Thus, podcasts are a technology I need to evaluate if and when I teach an online course.

Using multimedia addresses diverse learning styles and creates different types of opportunities for student learning. Other than a lack of unavailability, I’m unable to think of a scenario when I wouldn’t consider multimedia implementation if it would enhance instruction.

Using A Podcast: Critical Thinking Skills at the University Level

The following podcast defines critical thinking skills and how a student should apply them to university studies: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/podcasts/episode/1/critical_thinking_and_writing  An audio transcript is provided. The first step of writing is brainstorming. This podcast addresses the issues of mind mapping, data chunking, and notetaking. The information in the podcast reinforces ideas presented in class, so I would assign listening to it for homework and have students take notes on the podcast. In class, I would allow students to use their notes to write a paragraph about the key points learned from the podcast. I found it difficult to find a podcast that I would use as a class assignment.

Repositories Offer Cross-Curricular Opportunities

I like to think of repositories as materials to use for cross-curricular activities. So often, one source material has multiple applications.  For example, pbs.com offers a selection of materials that while organized by content areas are easily used in other content areas than intended. For example, the series, “Drama Based on Historical Characters: Angus Augustus Burleigh, Civil War Soldier” is found under the Social Studies area. However, if the course curriculum references the Civil War and includes readings about it, this particular video could bring the time period to life for the student. It could offer the same viewpoint, if the viewpoint is the Union, or it could provide an opposing viewpoint, if the reading is from a Southern perspective. Most importantly, the visual of the video will help put the course material in context. This piece could be used in a history class for the same reasons as in the English class. Here’s the link for this particular repository item:

http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/dbhc

Video Flick Depicts Student Concerns

I’ve been looking for a video to reinforce my introduction to the Comparison-Contrast essay. Because students analyze two pieces of literature, I teach them to write a Dual Text Analysis.  I found GoAnimate “Writing the Comparison-Contrast Essay” at http://goanimate.com/videos/01MfpW6tSMYU. This particular video will help students overcome the fear of writing in a new style and offers insight into the importance of the essay thesis.

Students will respond to this video because of its anime format. Further, the characters react just as students react when unclear about an assignment. The video will reinforce materials in a somewhat comical way, yet with serious undertones.

This video will be shown after students receive introductory materials about this style of writing. I will then show the video. Students will then react to the video in a reflection which will then be discussed.

Google+ Filled With Minuses

Using Google+, I just participated in a synchronous video conversation with my classmate. Prior to tonight’s synchronous event, we sent Moodle messages and emails to determine which mode of communication we would utilize for our participation in a synchronous event. We selected Google+ because we both have Gmail accounts and neither one of us had previously used Google+.

Prior to tonight’s “live” conversation, I found out that Google+ and Hangouts are one and the same. I found the icon to take me to the Hangout. I found out that I needed to start circles so that I would be able to connect with my classmate. I learned how to send an Instant Message through Google+; however, when I went to send a follow up message, I was unable to write any further text. It’s as if the chat room vanished.

When a giant green icon with quotes in it appeared on my computer screen and my computer rang like a telephone, I had no clue how to answer it. I clicked on the giant green icon and the next thing I saw was a person, my classmate who I had not yet met. While the conversation was most enjoyable and the experience fun, we both noticed that the visual of Google+ is nowhere near that of Skype.  While I could see my classmate, his image was unclear and even a bit blurry. Further, while the conversation was delightful (thanks partner!), the audio component also was not as clear as Skype.  There was a slight echo which did not go away, even when I turned down my speakers. When it came time to end the video call, we concurred that neither one of us really knew how to end the call. Instructions or icons would have been helpful as would the message option as Skype offers.

I would have no problem setting up video chat appointments with students. Talking face-to-face, so to speak, offers an opportunity to build a connection and have a genuine discussion. I could actually envision using a synchronous event to conference with students about their assignments. However, I would opt to use Skype because it offers a better video connection, clear audio, a message option, and has a short learning curve, whereas Google+ has a poor video image, an audio that echoes, and a learning curve that twists too much.  Thus, Google+ rates a minus in terms of using it for synchronous communication events.

Message Options

Today, I had a choice to send an Instant Message (IM) to my instructor, Norm, or to send him a text. The goal is to use a new technology.  Ultimately, the exposure to using technology in different settings as a student will aid me in deciding whether to incorporate the technology into a class when I’m the instructor.  Since I send IMs frequently through Skype, sending a text for an educational purpose seemed the obvious choice.

So, I sent Norm a text message. There was no learning curve involved to send the text; I text frequently with my children and friends. In fact, it probably took me longer to program his cell phone number in my phone than it did to write and reply to Norm. However, I have to say it felt odd to send Norm a text message because up until today, I had only sent text messages to people I’ve actually met. Also, I have to say, it was fun. Although he posts a picture and a welcome podcast, I’ve never met Norm. I think I felt comfortable sending him a text because he had posted the podcast. While a stranger, through emails, messages, and course materials, it seemed typical to send him a text. His response was similar to one I’d receive from anyone I know. Thus, it was a positive experience.

I foresee the day coming when the only contact number I have will belong to my cell phone. Thus, since I do believe it important to offer telephone access to students, the reality is if my students want to contact me, they would be able to text me. I will let students know that while they are able to call me, they should refrain from sending me a text message and contact me in writing by email. Otherwise, I foresee total chaos for me to keep matters organized. By using email (or an LMS message system if available), the likelihood of maintaining the information on a computer system is far better than that of me keeping a text message on a phone that inevitably will give me problems.

Time to Break the Silence

The question, “As an online student, which form of interaction do you feel is most effective for you, synchronous, or asynchronous? Why?” intrigues me because my reaction to it surprises me.  While I like the idea of having an avatar as in the “Comparing 2D to 3D Learning” YouTube video, the reality is that right now as an online student I prefer asynchronous communication. In part, I think it is because synchronous communication is readily available as an option through Elluminate on Moodle or by telephone.  If I had a matter of urgent concern, synchronous communication would be my “go to” method; however, I enjoy the ability to read discussion posts or tweets from my #TT1411 classmates or check updates in diigo without regard to a clock or scheduled appointment.

Unlike synchronous communication, there is no need to silence any speaker to send a message or an email or to respond to a discussion post. Asynchronous communication forces me to be direct and focused. It also allows me to multi-task. For example, as I process this question and consider my words to respond to this discussion question, the Canadian and German Olympic curling teams are moving stones or rocks down a long ice alley toward a target with a broom. I enjoy the background of athletic rumblings and a commentator talking about a “hammer” as a backdrop to my studies which exemplifies asynchronous timing. The event to which I’m listening occurred yesterday. Asynchronous communication which suggests the ideal that communication would not be in sync is rather an opportunity to be in sync with one’s self.  I’m able to communicate with others on my schedule; others communicate with me on their schedule.

Admittedly, I am most assuredly looking forward to synchronous communication with a classmate. Sometimes the silence needs broken.

FuzeBox, Inc., Offers Real-Time Growth Opportunities

FuzeBox, Inc., which launched online in 2009, offers a free online meeting site. To participate in a FuzeBox video conference, FuzeBox recommends that users (host and participants invited to attend) should run a diagnostic test. FuzeBox technology checks software compatibility, the web camera, and the audio components of the user’s computer. One would be wrong in thinking that if all is well in the diagnostic test that all will go well in the video conference.

Many employers utilize FuzeBox and companies like it to host group interview sessions. Employers, conscious of time, conclude that it is economically better to host a group session of 15 candidates for one hour than to host sessions with 15 individual candidates. Economically, the FuzeBox forum makes sense if the position is a collaborative one.

I had an opportunity to participate in a group interview held on FuzeBox. While my pre-interview diagnostics went well and signing into the meeting went without a hitch, once in the meeting, I only heard silence. I could see the other candidates; I presume they were able to see me. However, it was like watching a silent movie. Mouths moved, but no words came out of them.

This led me to face a technology conundrum. Results-driven and resolution-oriented, I needed a solution. I ended up maintaining video and chat capabilities and calling into the meeting. Talk about multitasking! I’m not sure how one would enter the conversation if not logged in online.  To answer a question, the user  hit a “raise a red flag” button. Once one speaker finished, the audio automatically went to the next user who indicated a desire to contribute. This option is unavailable by telephone.

Given my challenge with the FuzeBox technology, I’m unlikely to use its forum again.  However, it challenged me to resolve the situation in the best way I knew too at the time.  I learned about a new use for technology, a group interview. I’ve learned that running a diagnostic test is not enough. The next time, I’ll contact the web conference company technology support team to confirm that my computer system complies during the time I need it to function to the best of its ability.   Meanwhile, I’ll stick with Skype.

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