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.


OpenStax: Free Online Textbooks

The world of Open Educational Resources (OERs) is quite vast and can be difficult to navigate.  In the webinar I listened to a few weeks back, the folks at Inside Higher Education’s annual survey of faculty and administrator attitudes toward technology found that faculty tended to be interested in learning more about OERs, but appeared unsure of how and where to start.  Certainly, there are many free resources available, but like any other resource found on the Internet, the quality can be questionable. Enter in OpenStax for college textbooks.

OpenStax is a site dedicated to the creation, sharing, and adapting of college level textbooks.  Most of these books are for the lower-level introductory courses and have books for topics in physics, mathematics, psychology, sociology, economics, and biology to name just a few.  OpenStax was created by a faculty member of Rice University and the content that is shared on this site are vetted and peer-reviewed and are under the creative commons license. It is supported by grants from several foundations

These books are customizeable for individual courses and instructors are allowed to customize the books using their online platform.  When I attempted to play with the customization, I was not able to because of a registration error as of the time of this blog posting, but it may be worth one’s time if you wish to have a book tailored to your particular course’s needs.

When briefly reviewing the Intro to Pyschology book available, I’d say that the content is pretty comparable to most other books available commercially.  The modules did include a few links to some hands-on activities and videos and there are a few review questions at the end.  Unlike the books available by commercial publishers, the end of module questions are not scored and not exactly interactive (user simply clicks to reveal the answer, they do not select the answer they think in correct).

This difference is likley going to be the major difference between freely available textbooks like those in OpenStax and those developed by the commercial publishers.  The creation of the interactive content and integration with scoring and course management systems requires more developers, programmers, and has a cost associated with it. In my opinion, this is likley what users are actually paying for now with commercial textbooks.  With the availability of free textbooks online, the content is out there and some of it vetted likley as well as a commercially available textbook.  But the inclusion of embedded activities, quizzes, and videos along with scoring and tracking systems is what currently sets the commercially available textbooks apart.

In the end, the decision of whether to use an OER like OpenStax for your electronic textbook (if you choose the electronic book) or to use an online book from a commercial publisher will lie in how you and your students will choose to use the book. If the use of embedded activities and student tracking is important, the commercial book may be more appropriate. If you simply want the content and some activities from the reading available without the tracking then the lower cost (free) option may work.

Research Document/PDF Manager

I’ve been busy writing a research paper during my sabbatical and over the course of these past few weeks I’ve been using a free application called Mendeley quite frequently.  Mendeley is a document organizer that is focused on the organization of research papers.  I first started using Mendeley when I took on a textbook revision project.  I needed a better way of storing and searching the dozens of research papers that I was using and a colleague recommended Mendeley.

Since then I’ve also recommended this application to my students who are writing long research papers (senior thesis) as well.  Mendeley is pretty easy to use and has been quite the time saver for me when I need to find a specific journal article or if I simply need to search all my saved journal articles for a particular topics. I have Mendeley ‘watch’ a folder on my hard drive. What this means is that I save all my research journal PDFs into one folder (which I call ‘Journals’) on my computer. Within this folder I have  subfolders which separate my articles by the research project they first applied to. Mendeley watches my Journals folder and automatically syncs to it.  When I open Mendeley I can view all my files, I can see my most recently added files, or I can create folders within Mendeley as well.  What is important is regardless of which subfolder I place an article, it automatically goes into Mendeley as well.  When syncing, Mendeley also saves a copy of the article to the cloud, which means I can access my articles from any web-enabled device.  I don’t need my computer with the locally saved copy if I am traveling to a conference and need to whip out an article to read.

In addition to this basic organization ability, Mendeley can also automatically create references (usually in APA style but I think there might be others), users can highlight the articles electronically and create notes. You can also create groups and collaborate remotely with others using this application.

In addition to the desktop application (Linux included), there are also apps for iOS and Android devices for mobile connectivity.

Inside Higher Ed Attitudes toward Technology Survey

Yesterday afternoon I listened to a webinar from the folks at Inside Higher Ed on the results of their 2015 survey of faculty and administrator attitudes toward technology. The presenters focused on just a few of the items from this survey and I wanted to share a taste of what they found and some of the interpretations that were given from the presenters at IHE.

First when comparing faculty and administrators, there was a large difference in opinion about whether or not online learning could achieve the same outcomes as face-to-face courses (faculty 17%, administrators 62%). The presenters were careful to note that this asked about perceived achievement of outcomes. The presenters also elaborated and found that this opinion was more common with courses not taught by faculty. They found elsewhere in the survey that faculty believed their own online courses could meet outcomes pretty well (but not necessarily as well as face-to-face) but attitudes became more negative the more distant the course was (e.g. not taught at my school, not taught by me). The presenters also speculated that the faculty taking this survey may be making unfair comparisons. One presenter speculated that comparisons of online courses were being made to the traditional ‘liberal arts seminar’ class with few students and discussion based. However, I did not see any evidence for this speculation in the data.

Second, it appears that faculty are not aware of what are referred to as Open Educational Resources (OERs) available online. Or they may be aware of them, but not sure how to best find and select them. Some OERs do go through a vetting process to help ensure quality, others do not. I believe the shear volume of materials available out there become overwhelming for faculty as well. The presenters suggested that most faculty are very familiar and comfortable with the process of obtaining materials from publishers and thus tend to use those materials. But the process for OERs is less familiar. One of the things I’d like to try to do is to help develop some form of ‘clearinghouse’ for OERs that our faculty might be able to access. I’d likely be working in conjunction with the librarians and the new teaching and learning coordinator on this project.

Third, and interesting to me, was the finding the gulf between faculty and administrators on the issue of training. Administrators tended to believe that there were good training available whereas the faculty did not. This is another area I hope to address on our campus and will strive to make training opportunities available and to help faculty become aware of these opportunities. Additionally, the presenters focused on the issue of the perceived reward for effectively using technology. Many faculty did not perceive that the effective use of technology was particularly rewarded at their campuses. I wonder with some of our current reward systems at Morningside, if something can be done to specifically reward creative and effective use of instructional technology.

Finally the presenters shared that one of the things that faculty are most excited about is hybrid teaching (some online and some face to face elements). To some extent I think many people at Morningside do this already even though the course is not officially listed as Hybrid. The presenters also suggested that many faculty are doing hybrid courses without even really being aware of it.

In all the webinar provided a snapshot of the survey results and I think the presenters chose wisely as to which parts of the survey to share. I know that I came away with a few ideas for where to focus my efforts.

A summary of the webinar from the IHE website can be found here. There is a link to the full report also available on that site.

Importing Features of Moodle: Importing course materials and question banks

It may be a little early to be talking about getting ready for the next semester, but with registration day going on, it is certainly on the horizon.  A while back I posted a blog on how to create a new Moodle Course. In this post I will describe how to import content from an old course into a new course.

The import feature is a great time saver especially for those who use Moodle heavily in their courses.  It basically copies one of your old classes into a new class without bringing in the student data from previous courses.

Performing a course import

  1. Create the new class
    • From home page scroll down to see all courses. Then scroll down to add new class.
    • See the page in the Moodle Knowledgebase: Autoenroll on how to do this.
    • Be sure you use the EXACT title of the course from CampusWeb (including any punctuation – whether or not it makes sense)
  2. Go to the new class page
    • Will first see a screen to enroll (I think, unless that is special to my Moodle Admin role). You can probably ignore this (students will auto enroll) but be sure you are enrolled as a Teacher. Otherwise continue to add content.
  3. Begin Course Import
    • Administration –> Import
    • Select the old course you want to copy from the list
    • Select what you want to import over
      • May choose to not import things like calendar events (i.e. assignment and quiz dates) and groups – things specific to that old semester.
    • Select the specific materials you want to copy over.
    • Perform Import (takes a few seconds depending on how many materials you have)
  4. Clean up the new class (this can be a little time consuming but better than doing everything over again)
    • Change the due dates on all assignments and quizzes (edit resource then expand all to change dates)
    • Change references to specific dates in any text (labels, assignment descriptions)
    • Upload new documents (new syllabus, updated assignments, etc.)

Using this process the most time consuming element is cleaning up the new course to reflect the new dates. There is not a feature that will automatically adjust the dates for you, unfortunately, but this is still much quicker than re-creating the entire course.


Another importing feature that Moodle has is a question bank import.  Using this feature you can import existing question banks (from publishers or self created) into your course and makes for quick work at getting existing questions into Moodle for quizzes and tests.

Performing a Question Bank Import

  1. Go to the course you want to import the question bank to
  2. Go to Administration –> Question Bank –> Import
  3. Select the type of question bank to import and proceed through the steps.
    • Moodle question banks support most major question bank file types (including Blackboard, WebCT, and of course Moodle)
  4. If you want to create your own multiple questions you can create your own question bank using Aiken format.
    • Uses a plain text file type (.txt)
      1. Use Notepad on Windows Machine
      2. Use TextEdit on Macs
      3. If go through Word save as a .txt file to start and choose UTF-8 formatting. If auto-formatting begins, turn this off to ensure correct formatting for the importing function.
      4. Use this format when writing the questions
    • This process allows for quicker writing of MC questions.  All questions can be written on a single document rather than doing all the scrolling and clicking necessary to create the same questions within Moodle itself.
    • It is probably still best to create short answer, essay, and matching questions within the Moodle Quiz activity.

You can also export question banks created in Moodle using the Administration –>Question Banks –> Export function.  This allows you to share your question bank with others or to save it locally onto your computer.


Another e-book product: SmartBook

About a month ago I posted a blog about the evolution of e-books. In this post I briefly described  one product by Pearson called Revel.  In this week’s post I want to share the product from another publisher, McGraw-Hill, and their approach to e-books.  MGH’s SmartBook product is an e-book based on the principles of mastery learning.  Mastery learning is the notion of having learners study material and then demonstrate their competence typically through quizzing.  Mastery learning requires a student to master earlier material before moving on to more complex material.  MGH’s SmartBook product uses this basic principle.

In a nutshell, instructors select the learning objectives from the text that they want their students to learn and the depth at which they wish to have students learn the material (from very basic understanding to having a deeper conceptual understanding of the material).  Students then read the text and answer a series of questions.  The question presentation is based on a complex algorithm  which adapts to several things that the student can do while answering questions (if right/wrong, level of confidence, time to answer, clicking on resources, etc) so each student’s question experience is different (which makes cheating and copying off one another difficult).  Based on the question performance and the student’s confidence level, completing an assignment can take a very short amount of time (if the student knows the material and is confident) or a very long amount of time (if simply guessing and clicking through).

In addition to these features, the grades from the assignments can be integrated into a Moodle gradebook (we just need to obtain the plug-in so if you are interested let me know).  Also there are some possibilities for assessment results to be displayed as well.

Comparing the two products, they are very different.  From my viewpoint, Revel focuses more on creating interactivity in the books and segmenting the learning (read a little then do a little) more whereas SmartBook focuses more on using the mastery learning approach to help get students to read and study more before class.  SmartBook is created for both computer and mobile devices.

The Urban Legends of Education

We all want to do our best to educate our students and many of us attempt to address the unique characteristics of our learners when we are developing our own lectures, assignments, and projects. It is true that each person (learner) is unique and that some approaches will work well for one student and not for another. Many of us also look at our students today and think to ourselves “they seem much different than I was when I was their age.” People are unique yes, and the generations do differ from one another. These two facts are the basis for some of the most pervasive misunderstandings, and frankly myths, about learning in education today.

I’ve take a couple of weeks hiatus from blog posting because I’ve been focusing on one of my sabbatical projects which is a “Call to Action” paper regarding the continued belief about how learning styles are a vital component to understanding our learners and in developing our lessons. My particular position is that the idea of ‘learning styles’ does not significantly influence how well one learns. This position is based on growing evidence from psychological and educational research demonstrating that indeed there is not a large effect (and in most cases no effect) of matching ones teaching to a student’s learning style. My call to action will be to better inform our future teachers about the research in cognitive psychology and to use this as a primary mode of communicating how our learners do and do not learn.

In my preparations for writing this paper I ran across an article titled “Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education” by Kirschner and Van Merrienboer (2013). This paper reviews the research debunking three pervasive beliefs in education: 1) That students today are digital natives, 2) that it is best to match teaching to a student’s learning style, and 3) that learners can be effective self-educators using the Internet. I was drawn initially to the section on learning styles for the purposes of my own writing, but interwoven within all three of these myths is the role of technology in education.

To give a brief summary, the notion of digital natives is based on the idea that college students today have been born into a world of constant access and use of technology and connectivity. Marc Prensky (2001) was the first to write on this supposed phenomenon. He argued that these digital natives were different than those not born into this technological world (whom he termed digital immigrants). They were different in that these people were able to multitask effortlessly, intuitively knew how to use technology effectively, and likely had developed brains that were ‘wired’ differently due to this use of technology. Kirschner and Van Merrienboer demonstrate that none of these claims are true, and in reality, a careful read of Prensky’s original work shows that most of his claims are based on casual observations.

The notion of learning styles is so pervasive that it continues to hold importance in most teacher education. Most textbooks in teacher education discuss learning styles and teachers are taught how to best match instruction to the different learning styles of their students. Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork (2009) reviewed the literature and found basically no evidence for this ‘matching theory.’ However this belief persists to this day. There is an entire industry dedicated to the assessment of individual learning styles (thus this belief helps others make quite a bit of money). Others, however, are advocating circumventing these self-report inventories and identifying a person’s learning style using computer automation given the criticism that existing learning style inventories are often unreliable (Feldman, Monteserin, & Amandi, 2015). So now there is a call for automating this unsubstantiated approach to instruction!

Finally, the belief that with the fact that all (or nearly all) knowledge is available on the Internet, learners simply can become self-educators (i.e. not needing formal instruction) is losing steam. It may be true that there is a wealth of information more freely available now that there ever has been. However, there is also a lot of CRAP on the Internet as well and what research finds is that novice learners (i.e. the types of learners most of us are dealing with) do not sift the good from the bad very well. Kirschner and Van Merrienboer (2013) argue that novice learners are still in need of formal instructors to help provide them with the essential knowledge needed to learn. I’ve been known to say “you need to know stuff to do stuff,” here is yet another example of the importance of knowledge. There is a place for experts to inform and guide students in education and it is an important role that these experts play. Do we hope one day that our students can become these types of self-educators? Of course (I get a nickel for everyone who thought the term ‘lifelong learner’), but it does take having a certain amount of basic background information in an area to be able to do this well.

All three myths have the thread of technology in them. The digital natives and learners as self-educators are self-evident. But the impact of technology is also found in the learning styles myth. It’s not uncommon for papers on e-learning to note the possibility for allowing for almost perfect learning styles matching to occur in a way that is not as possible in a face-to-face class (e.g. Markovic & Jovonovic, 2012). In e-learning, the learner can simply do the activities created in the mode best suited for their own learning style (Markovic & Jovonovic, 2012). However, what we have learned again from research is that this matching hypothesis simply has not held true. What does have more empirical support are the strategies and techniques learned from cognitive psychology on how human memory works and these are the methods that should take precedent when developing lesson plans and other learning opportunities.

I encourage you to read the entire article from Kirschner and Van Merrienboer. It is available full text to those with access to the Morningside College Databases. This article (besides feeding into my small curmudgeonly side on these issues) once again illustrates the importance of knowing the research and knowing what is the good research out there. The continued belief in these ideas can have a negative impact (assuming people know how to use technology because of their age, cutting out a valid and effective mode of instruction, setting a student out into the big wide Internet without a net) and in my opinion more needs to be done to correct these beliefs.


Feldman, F., Monteserin, A., & Amandi, A. (2015). Automatic detection of learning styles: State of the art. Artificial Intelligence Review, 44(2), 157-186.

Kirschner, P.A. and Van Merrienboer, J.J.G. (2013). Do learners really know best: Urban Legends in Education. Educational Psychologist 48(3), 169-183.

Markovic, S. & Jovonovic, N. (2012). Learning styles as a factor which affects the quality of e-learning. Artificial Intelligence Review, 38, 303-312.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., and Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Kaizena: Integrating Effective Writing Instruction Strategies

Developing effective written communication is an essential skill that we hone at Morningside College. Doing this requires work on both the part of the student and the instructor. Writing is a process that requires several steps even to just begin writing, and then when the writing is happening, several drafts are required. The importance of feedback is essential and there are good and bad ways of giving and managing feedback to students. In this post, I want to describe a free product – Kaizena – that integrates several best practices of writing development. Tone of feedback, access to relevant instruction, evaluation of progress, and identification of necessary skills are all vital to helping students develop their writing.


Some ways that we as instructors can help facilitate are by utilizing voice comments over written comments. This allows us to communicate tone of voice with comments that is often lost with written feedback. We also try to link specific instances of student writing errors to lessons. Finally, it is often helpful for students to receive a sense of their progress on specific skills as they go through the drafting process. Many of us try to do all of this, but it can be extremely time consuming to do so. Kaizena is a program developed to integrate all of these features of writing instruction into one easy system.


Kaizena works with Google Drive and allows instructors to give four different types of feedback to student work: voice feedback, written feedback, lessons, and skills. Voice and written feedback are pretty self explanatory and Kaizena makes creating both of these very easy. Lessons allow the instructor to link either written, voice, or linked lessons (like instructional videos) to specific areas of the student writing. Skills provide a rating system to specific skills demonstrated in the student writing.


Of course none of these approaches to writing instruction are new, but what Kaizena does is seamlessly integrate all of these important pedagogies into one easy to use system for both instructor and student. Feedback given by the instructor is given in real time to the student electronically so Kaizena can even be used during face-to-face or virtual writing conferences as a way to record the feedback given.


The other feature that Kaizena provides is a running ‘conversation’ between the student and instructor for the entire term. All feedback elements, student replies to all assignments are presented in a linear fashion allowing the student and instructor to see the progress made in the development of writing skill.


The link to the Kaizena Website is here: https://kaizena.com/

Here is a nice overview video of how Kaizena works:

The Evolution of E-Books

With computers and other electronic devices (phones, tablets, etc.) becoming more ubiquitous on college campuses, the presence of e-books has become more and more visible. E-books have been touted as a potential cost saving measure for students and publishers. Without the need to create physical books, the savings on materials should be passed along to the user, and the information is the same so the experience should be similar, right? This belief is not entirely true and there are benefits and drawbacks to using e-books.


  • Fewer heavy books to carry around daily
  • Easy searching using the e-book’s search function
  • Ability to highlight and write notes
  • Costs may be lower
  • Ability to include multimedia within the book


  • Comfort level using electronic books or simply a preference for physical books
  • E-book may be on a limited license use (i.e. 6 month access)
  • Loss of access because of limited Internet access or computer problems
  • Reading on a screen is different and potentially more difficult than reading from page

Some instructors have conducted casual polls in their courses and have found that students still tend to prefer a physical text book to an e-book and other published work has supported these classroom polls (e.g. Woody, Daniel, & Baker, 2009).

With the results of these polls and the drawbacks listed above, is there any benefit to having your students use an e-book in class? The answer to this, I believe lies in how e-books have evolved over the years.

What exactly is an e-book? What do you envision when you hear this term? Do you think of the novel that you are currently reading on your Kindle? Is it the PDF version of the textbook that the publisher makes available? If so, this is – in my opinion – the worst form that an e-book can take and in my mind has little benefit other than making ones backpack a little lighter. This is the first iteration of the e-book. Publishers have simply taken the text already created by the authors and put it into some reader form (Kindle, PDF, etc). It is nothing more than static text you read on the screen rather than the page.

However, if you can imagine a “book” that is more interactive and dynamic. A “book” that takes advantage of the medium by which it is delivered, then I believe there is potential greatness in e-books. But before I go into this detail, I first want to acknowledge that I have a bit of a biased view because I did assist in the creation of one of these books recently. Though there may be a little conflict of interest here (though I do not get any royalties from this book), I hope that you know that my interest in this area was present before I took on that project.

With tablets becoming more popular and mobile learning becoming more prevalent, the future of the e-book, I think, is bright – as long as they are created with the principles of how people learn best. Today’s e-books are less like “books” and more like interactive learning modules. The example I will discuss in this post is the platform being used by a well-known publisher in the textbook world.

First, the authoring system can be different for these books. Authors that start with the creation of the interactive elements (the things you want the students to do) and then go on to create the text to support that student’s ability to learn how to do this task is a newer approach to authoring. However, this is not a new approach to lesson and curriculum planning. This form of backward engineering focuses more on what we want the learner to accomplish or do, rather than on what the instructor or author tells (a focus on student learning, not on the teacher).

Second, these books take advantage of the multimedia capabilities of electronic devices. Information can be segmented into smaller pieces (rather than large blocks of text) and supported by things like video, online articles, quizzes, simulations, journal entry, discussion boards, demonstrations, and others). This supports the notion of repetition and multiple ways of processing information.

Third, these books have the potential of increasing student accountability. If the book is Internet based, then there is the ability to record student activity while progressing through the book. This could even be evaluated and graded. Particular activities could be assigned to be completed by a certain time and date. Of course there is the question of WHO is doing the work or students working together, but there can be ways of addressing these concerns.

Finally, there is a possibility of students having more positive experiences with these types of books. Breaking up material, including interesting and applied multimedia, including low-stakes concept checks can help to increase student motivation and attitude potentially. I am particularly interested to see if this is actually true. My sense is that the generally negative attitude toward e-books that research has shown in the past is due to the rather primitive nature of those books. Designing a better e-book that uses the science of learning, I would hope, would increase positive attitudes.

If you are interested in what these new-generation e-books might look like, you can check out the Revel products from Pearson (http://www.pearsonhighered.com/revel/). I am sure the other publishers have other products similar to this. This was the publisher I worked with. I was the content matter expert who created all of the interactive features of one of their Revel versions of a General Psychology book.

In Spring 2016 I plan on using one of these books in my General Psychology class and I will be sure to report my experiences using this book as well as asking my students about their experiences with a product like this.