VoiceThread: A different way to engage your students

This week I choose to describe a product called VoiceThread. It’s difficult to summarize exactly what VoiceThread is because it is a tool that can be used in many ways. Primarily it is a way to easily incorporate voice and video commenting onto digital media. But really the whole is different from the sum of its parts here in my opinion. Before I start to describe some ways that VoiceThread might be used, let me give you an example.  Visit this VoiceThread that I made. You can choose to comment as well by creating your own free account. You can provide new comments. But any direct relies to me (or to my dummy me) can only be seen by me with the free version. Threaded comments (i.e. direct replies to posts) are a feature of a paid subscription to the service.



So in the example you can see how I’ve presented some media (primarily a PP slide and some images) along with either a video or audio comment giving some information.  I also have a dummy student account that I used to post some comments so you can see how this feature is used.

What’s interesting to me is that I think that this product could be used in many different ways both in online courses and within traditional courses.  Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Narrate over your PP slides: VT imports PP slides one at a time so you can narrate over one slide. Then if you need to change something in the future you can change just one piece of the lecture rather than the whole thing.  I’d recommend making a MASTER copy of the lecture and then creating copies for each time a course is delivered.  Additionally as students are watching and listening to your slides, they can insert questions and comments which everyone can then see and reply back to.
  2. Conduct a video analysis: You can import video files and then narrate and manipulate the video (Like a play back when you watch sports). This could be useful for film students, analyzing speeches, or for coaches and athletes.
  3. Use as an alternative to a traditional text-based discussion forum: A prompt could be written on a PP side or other media could be presented to be the topic of discussion.  Users can then post their threads and rely to others. The whole discussion can then be played back and listened to.
  4. Engage in a debate: Similar to a discussion forum, have students have a debate back and forth replying to one another’s positions and assertions.
  5. Evaluate a visual image: Analyze a photograph, painting, etc. Use the markup features to highlight the elements being discussed.
  6. Receive feedback on a speech and visual aids: Have speech students create a first draft of their speech, record it through VT and then have peers provide feedback.

There is a free version of VT which is a public option. However, there are also subscription services to this product that provide some more privacy and integration within a schools LMS. Until we decide if Morningside might use VT extensively, I encourage you, if you are comfortable in doing so to play around with this product and see how you might use this in your course.

Get students creating with makerspaces

The notion of a Makerspace has arisen with the new orientation that libraries around the country have begun to take.  Libraries these days are much more than places to store and archive books, documents, maps, and other artifacts.  They have become places to create new things. Simply put, a makerspace is a literal space (typically housed in a library) that is stocked with materials which people can use to create things. This can include items such as simple electronics, 3D printers, laser cutters, sewing and craft supplies, and woodworking supplies. Makerspaces can also include computers installed with software  that would otherwise be expensive for an individual to purchase (e.g. photoshop, high quality video editing software) allowing the user to create new digital content.

Makerspaces have been around for about 5 years or so within the public and K-12 library systems.  But it is not until relatively recently that college and university libraries have begun to dedicate space in their libraries for a makerspace. A makerspace is much more than a cute place where people can come to be crafty or make a simple robot from a kit. It is a space that allows for learning to occur outside of the classroom. It allows students to see how what they are learning in the classroom can actually apply to so-called “real-life.”

Imagine the following uses:

  • A student begins to see how mathematics and physics apply to a building project.
  • An art student uses a 3D printer to create a new type of sculpture or model.
  • A history student uses the digital archives and the video creation and editing programs to create a virtual museum tour.
  • A literature student makes their own paper and binds a book.
  • Chemistry students use root beet kits to create their own soda.
  • Political science students use video and editing software to create their own campaign ads.
  • Theater students sewing costumes begin to see how geometry is used in the project they are completing.
  • Computer science students play around with photoshop to create attractive designs for the art used in their program.

There are probably many more possibilities. But the spirit of the makerspace is that it is an area where learning is put into an engaging and fun environment. The application is inherently integrative, as long as the connections between the disciplines/fields are made clear to the students.

In addition to these benefits, makerspaces also allow for more soft skills to be developed.  Having student work in groups, make plans, collaborate, experiment, and engage in inquiry are the real benefits to having spaces like this available.

Some may argue that your students already have access to some of these materials in their major, and this is true.  But the purpose behind a makerspace is to make the materials available to all. It can be an interesting experience to see how an art student might use a 3D printer or laser cutter. A computer science major may have a creative way of using photoshop that a photography student would never consider.

Finally, having a makerspace available can challenge faculty and students in what they might do in their coursework.  Might a final project in a literature class be something other than a lengthy analysis of a classic work? Could the student actually make something that would be appropriate for that course’s learning goals? Might a final project in a sociology course be the creation of an art project that illustrates the sociological concerns related to the course? With our new curriculum set to roll out next year, I would challenge our undergraduate faculty to consider new, unique, and innovative ways that a makerspace might enhance their courses. Our librarians are very interested in creating a space like this and would love the opportunity to engage in discussion on what a Morningside Makerspace might look like.

Here are a few more online resources on the topic of Makerspaces:

Nearpod: Giving presentations on your students’ devices

In this week leading up to Spring Break (The Ed Tech blog will be going to Daytona Beach for spring break – alas I’ll be staying in sunny Sioux City) I want to share a presentation/activity application that has been relatively popular in K-12 called Nearpod.  Nearpod is a presentation and activity application that allows instructors to control the pace of the lesson from their device, but also allows students to see the materials on their own devices rather than a screen at the front of the room.

Some of the immediate benefits that I see from this is that you can incorporate both the material and the activity into one application, teachers and students alike report increased levels of engagement in class, the activities allow for immediate feedback, and the more up-close presentation style can allow for small images to be more easily seen.

To give you a taste of Nearpod here are three short videos.  The first shows how easy it is to create these presentations. The second shows the view from the student perspective and the third from the view of the teacher.

In this first video I create one content slide and two interactive slide (a quiz and a draw activity).

This second video shows the student’s view.  In this view as the student I am not able to progress myself across slides.  In the quiz feature however, I am able to go at my own pace from question to question.

In the third video is the instructor view.  Here as the instructor I am dictating the pace of the slides.  You’ll see when the quiz slide is up I’ll see student progress and see what they got right/wrong. In the draw slide I’ll see the drawings as they are submitted.  I can then choose a student drawing to share to other student’s devices anonymously (no name attached).  Nice way to do some peer review or critiquing.


Though Nearpod has been used almost exclusively in K-12 and most of the ready-made lessons available are for K-12 students, there has been some headway into Higher Education.  The University of Brighton in the UK ran a pilot asking instructors volunteer to use Nearpod in their university courses.  Overall the reviews were positive and both instructors and students enjoyed the experience and felt like it improved their learning.  Here is a link to the Nearpod blog which contains a link to Univ. of Brighton’s full report.

Many of the features are free to use with an account, but the premium account offers some more potentially useful features such as:

  • Pushing web content
  • Pushing PDFs
  • Inserting a Twitter Feed
  • Virtual Reality field trips
  • Fill-in-the-blank questions
  • Memory Test

There are also self-guided features where instructors can assign homework via Nearpod (so it’s not always instructor driven pace).  One creative way to use this that I say is to use these self-guided lessons and interactive activities as a way to help student brainstorm through a project or problem.  Students are also able to create their own Nearpod presentations/lessons and as we all know, when students are doing the creating themselves good things can happen.  This could also serve as a form of electronic assessment artifact potentially.

The one major weakness I see is that Nearpod is best utilized by the students when they have a tablet device or computer with touchscreen technology.  The Draw activity is a potentially powerful application (think math, problem solving, drawing diagrams), but is awkward on a computer with a mouse. Other than this obvious weakness, there are some exciting possibilities with this application.

Bubbli and other 360 Resources

Ever wanted to share more than just one image with a picture? Did a static pano just not quite give you the full effect of the scene? Now there are free tools to create interactive spheres of images!  Bubbli is one such tool.  Using just your smartphone you can create a full 360 (up down, side to side, really more than just 360) image.

Here is one that I created of my office

Now beyond just being cool, there could be some utility for this in the classroom.  For example, if you were to go on a field trip and require your students to build some type of assignment about their trip, this could be a tool that allows for a type of virtual tour to be created.

For instructors who take their students on other trips (such as Morningside’s May Term) this could be an interesting way for students to create their journals.  Generally including the “Bubble” is as easy as embedding this into a website (it appears WordPress does not allow the embed code in their HTML editor).  But I was easily able to do this through the Moodle text box. An assignment like this could be achieved using the online text Assignment feature, or even the individual wiki feature.

There are also other 360 degree resources out there that might be of use for teachers.  One that I ran across comes from the Civil War Trust and provides 360 guided tours of some of the Civil War battlegrounds. This could provide a powerful visual when discussing the battle itself and battle strategy.

Another area might be in Art history and looking at specific sites and/or buildings. Columbia University Media Center for Art History has a few 360 panoramas.

Google searches for places and 360 generally will take you to some images that have been created.  Here’s one close to my heart of Machu Picchu.





Smithsonian X 3D

This week in Ed Tech I’m going to bounce off the general topic from last week on Google’s 3D technology Google Cardboard and share another site that uses some 3D technology: Smithsonian X 3D.

This site houses a few objects from the Smithsonian that have been scanned into a 3D image that can be manipulated on a screen (no it does not have a Google Cardboard feature, but wouldn’t that be cool!). The types of images range from artifacts like statues, live masks, furniture, historic clothing, fossils, and some galactic images (supernova).

Some of the features of this site include being able to ‘turn’ the object around to see all sides, take measurements using the tool feature, and to use different angles of light to explore the object.  Some of these objects also come with a guided tour. There are also downloads to create 3D prints of the object should you have access to a 3D printer.

Though a bit limited in its current offerings there could be some objects that might be pertinent to your classroom.  It’s worth checking out

Google Cardboard

The Ed Tech Blog was delayed due to weather last week (that’s a legitimate excuse right?), but we are back on track this week.  In this week’s blog post I just wanted to share a new toy that I’ve recently become fascinated with: Google Cardboard.

For those that have not heard of this yet, Google Cardboard is an inexpensive 3-dimensional viewer that is composed of a free app (Google Cardboard) and a viewer (literally cardboard in most cases). It’s really this generations ‘ViewFinder.” Google Cardboard came out just a year or so ago and I think that there are some exciting possibilities for this technology in the class room.  Currently having 3D tools is quite expensive.  I think that Cardboard has the possibility of making 3D images more accessible to all.  A few possible ideas for this (as long as there are apps created for it) would be things like anatomy, history, geography, art history, really anything where objects and/or places are a central feature to the content.  Students can use their smart phones and an inexpensive viewer ($20.00 in most cases) to see these objects in 3D.

IMG_2353IMG_2354 IMG_2355 IMG_2356

Another possibility is the potential to actually create 3D images.  Google has Cardboard Camera currently available for Android devices.  They claim that one can create 3D images by using a pano-type photograph. If this is true and the creation of 3D images is as simple as taking a photograph, imagine the possibilities for students to create their own 3D content.  May Term journals could come to life, campus tours could be virtual, descriptive speeches could have a unique visual aid. I’m sure there are other creative possibilities out there.

However, with my excitement about the possibilities, I’m discouraged by my inability to play around with actually creating 3D content (I have only iOS devices) but Google claims to be making an iOS version of its Cardboard Camera soon.  Additionally it appears that the apps that may be the most likley to be used in the classroom are currently Android only. I think we may be a little bit away from students being able to create their own content, but for now there could be some real possibilities for showing visual content to students in the classroom.

Until the 3D available apps and content development improves, there are also some non-3D alternatives that may prove useful/interesting.  YouTube has a number of 360 video (#360Video). These do not require a special viewer as they are not really in 3D. There are also so-called VR videos but I find that the effect is really minimal and the videos are still best simply viewed from the screen (no cardboard viewer needed).

If you are interested in seeing Cardboard just let me know.  I have a viewer in my office and the app on my phone.  Unfortunately I think direct classroom application is not all that feasible just yet, but I predict in the near future this technology being very useful once it is more platform independent and the content is easier to create.

A Primer on Quality Matters

During the 1/19 faculty meeting I described a little bit about the organization Quality Matters. Quality Matters is an organization that grew out of a FIPSE grant from MarylandOnline in an effort to improve and provide standards for online and blended course delivery. After the three year grant came to a close, Quality Matters became its own entity and is now funded by subscriptions. To date there are over 900 institutional subscribers.

Quality Matters provides tools and services to educational institutions to assist in the improvement of online and blended learning. Some of the tools that are provided are the rubrics based on the Eight Standards identified by QM as important for online learning, training courses for developing online and blended courses, using the QM rubrics, and becoming an official QM peer-reviewer and they also provide the service of coordinating and conducting individual course reviews. Benefits of being a subscriber is having access to these tools at a reduced price and being provided with a structure to manage internal course reviews within the institution.

Morningside is currently testing out the utility of the Quality Matters rubrics and exploring the benefits of continuing a subscription to their services.  Grad Nursing has been using the rubrics in their course development for this semester and plans to conduct some peer reviews of these courses later on. Grad Ed is planning on applying the QM rubrics to courses within their Foundations Core to assist in course improvement. A few faculty teaching online undergraduate courses will participate in a pilot using the QM rubrics on their courses.

Additionally, I plan to complete several (three) of the online professional development courses offered by Quality Matters (Applying the QM Rubrics, Designing Online Courses, and Designing Blended Courses) over the course of this semester not only to improve my own understanding in these areas, but to evaluate the quality of these professional development opportunities.

Later on in the semester (April 9) FDC will hold a workshop on Online Course Development where myself and several others who have been involved in using the QM rubrics will describe our experiences and methods of using these tools.

As we move toward the creation of new programs that are online and in increasing online offerings for our residential students, the issue of quality is paramount. Quality Matters provides a national (really international) benchmark for quality of online teaching. Whether we stay with Quality Matters will depend on the value that we see from these pilots. But if it is not Quality Matters, it will be something else similar that will be used.



A Brief Overview of Fair Use and Creative Commons Licensing

Producing and sharing digital media has never been easier. A simple Google search brings up thousands of images. Music is available digitally. There are programs and apps that make creating new digital products using existing media a snap. With this ease, it is important that in addition to simply being a good citizen, one must also be a good digital citizen. One characteristic of being a good digital citizen is  not stealing or using another’s work in a way that is not approved.  With this issue comes the topic of Fair Use and the Creative Commons license.

A book could easily be written on these two topics, what they are, how they were developed, and when something is or is not considered Fair Use. For the purposes of this blog, I wish to simply provide an overview of these two items and to provide some common ways that Fair Use may be infringed upon, often unintentionally, and how to avoid possible infringement of Fair Use within the classroom.  I would like to thank Adam Fullterton for his information in my preparation for this post.

First, A basic understanding of Fair Use.  Fair Use is actually a legal defense that is used if/when someone is sued for copyright infringement. It is not a law in and of itself. The guidelines set forth for Fair Use are those that are used by the courts to determine whether or not copyright has been infringed. These four guidelines are as follows:

  1. What is the character of the use?
  2. What is the nature of the work to be used?
  3. How much of the work will be used?
  4. What effect is there on the market?

These guidelines are taken into consideration as a whole when courts consider if Fair Use is an appropriate defense.  For further details on each of these guidelines please see this link.

Creative Commons licenses is a form of copyright that allows creators to set the limitation on the use of their created content.  Products with a creative commons license tend to be more straightforward about how the creator intends and allows his or her creation to be used by others.  It is possible to find entire sites or advanced search engines that will filter by the type of licensed use. Here are a few examples of sites with CC licensed material:

There are also advanced search features in Google Images that allow users to select by license type as well.

Honestly the area of the use of digital media for educational purposes can be murky and extensive, but I’d like to share a few general guidelines to you to assist you in being a good digital citizen.

  1. Simply having the material present on a password protected system does not make it ok to freely distribute (i.e. just putting it on Moodle doesn’t clear you for Fair Use).
    • Examples:
      • Posting an electronic copy of a research article is generally considered not ok – but posting the link to the article from the school’s library database to access the article is ok
      • Scanning an article or section of a book and posting is is generally considered not ok – but making hard copies for your students to had out is ok (as long as the “how much of the work” principle is followed).
      • Embedding a video into Moodle for students to view in a traditional course (so they actually view it through Moodle) is generally not ok, but posting the external link to the video is usually ok (as long as the creator of the video allows).
      • Using popular music as a soundtrack for a digital project in its entirety is not ok, but using only 10% (or 3 min which ever is less) is generally ok.
      • In distance ed, showing films through the distance ed system is generally not ok.
      • The use of publisher course packs must ALWAYS be used with a purchased license.
  2. When finding images, video, or other digital media for use in class or projects, use sites with dedicated Creative Commons licensed materials or use advanced search options to select by license.
  3. Take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s resource teachingcopyright.org to learn more about these copyright issues as they apply to teaching and learning.
  4. Take the extra time to find the stated (if any) copyright usage statements on websites and digital media.  Sometimes these are clear (can be found in the About, Legal, or Privacy section of a web page or bottom of screen in tiny print – if it is there). Other times these statements are not there and there may be a type of ‘implied usage consent.’

The use of existing digital media in the production of teaching and student projects is exciting, but we have a responsibility as instructors and students at Morningside to use these materials in an ethical manner.  There are some tool kits out there (checklists) created by other institutions to assist faculty in determining whether their use of digital media would likley be considered fair use or not.  Here is the tool created by the University of Minnesota.

I’m Baaaaaaack!

Well the holiday break is nearly over, students return to campus next week, and classes resume for the Spring semester next week Wednesday.  What else is new? Your new Educational Technologist returns from her sabbatical, ready and eager to really get into her new job! In this blog post I want to communicate to you some of my plans for the Spring semester and what you might expect to come from the Ed Tech office this semester.

My first job this semester is to really figure out what all my position will entail.  Educational Technology is a big job and I am but one person.  I will need to begin to see where I will need to focus my energies as I begin to help the college move toward more effective use of technology. One thing that will be my guiding principle is that I will be much more focused on helping the college to be more innovative in the use of technology. As such I will need to take a higher level view of the use of technology. What I mean by this is that my position is not supposed to be tech support, but rather helping instructors more effectively and creatively use the technology available.  For example, have a quiz that will simply not work for some reason, this is a call to eClass4Learning for tech support. Want to use the Moodle quizzing feature more creatively in your classroom to improve student learning, call me (x5253). Figuring out the scope of my position will also involve coordination with several different areas of campus including Tech Services, Library Services, FDC, and the new Teaching and Learning Coordinator.

Another area that I will be focusing my energies is the improvement of our online programs (Grad Ed and Grad Nursing). Currently we are testing out a system called Quality Matters to help us to improve the delivery of these online programs.  We are also working on developing a handbook for online instructors.  I will be giving more information about these in a future development session being planned in coordination with FDC.

In addition to the Quality Matters and Online Instructor Handbook development session(s) I plan to have 3-4 additional faculty development sessions. One that I hope to do relatively early is a session on the technology resources Morningside currently has but are underutilized. I will plan additional session based on information from the survey I gave late last year spring and in conversations with faculty.

Speaking of conversations with faculty, it is a goal of mine to have one-on-one meetings with as many faculty members as possible this spring to talk about issues in teaching and learning and to see areas where faculty might be interested in using more technology. I see these conversations as being very informal and talking about what we all love to talk about most, and that is how to best help our students learn.  So expect me to contact you to set up a time for us to chat this semester.

Finally, I hope to have many consultations with instructors about ways to best improve teaching and learning using technology. I invite everyone to visit me in my new office (213 in HJF Learning Center). I plan to keep my eye out for innovative uses of technology and to purchase some tech toys that might be worth experimenting with in the classroom. As these things happen you can expect a blog post, Facebook/Twitter entry, or other means of communication. As always, if you have interest in a particular product I am all ears.

I hope the spring semester is enjoyable and exciting for you. Personally, I am happy to be back, though I admit I think the transition will be rough.  Sabbatical is awesome and I got some great research done, but it is surely a different pace of life. I look forward to seeing everyone next week.