Monthly Archives: October 2018

Alternate ways of presenting content: Softchalk and VidGrid Interactive Video Features

Content creation is something that we as instructors and faculty engage in often.  This is commonly seen as creating our lectures or PowerPoints for our classes or creating activities and worksheets for our students to complete.  There are many ways that we can choose to present content: print textbooks, electronic textbooks, interactive ebooks, online lessons, webpages, pages within learning management systems, videos, and audio (podcasts).  In this blog I want to discuss two tools available to faculty at Morningside that can allow you to create interactive content for your courses: SoftChalk lesson builder and VidGrid interactive videos.




Many of you have likely heard the name SoftChalk, many of you may not have.  SoftChalk at its core is a content delivery system. It is an online tool for creating and delivering content to students in ‘lesson’ form.  Here is a quick example of a SoftChalk lesson that I have built.


Learning to use SoftChalk is relatively easy, but because of the many different features for displaying and embedding content and for creating interactive opportunities one can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer options there are for creators.  How is SoftChalk different from Moodle? First SoftChalk is really intended to be a part of a Moodle course and not to replace a full Moodle course. Second, the interface (feel) of a SoftChalk lesson is a bit more linear than Moodle might be. Third, SoftChalk allows for different forms of activity and content interaction than Moodle can provide.


Let me break these down just a bit: First SoftChalk is NOT a Moodle substitute. Though it seems that SoftChalk has many of the same features as Moodle, it would be unwieldy to create one SoftChalk lesson to replace a full Moodle course.  SoftChalk does have a ‘Score Center’ where performance on the activities can be recorded, but it is not the same as the Gradebook feature in Moodle. SoftChalk is intended to present specific content and related activities WITHIN the LMS environment.


Second: SoftChalk is more ‘linear’ than Moodle.  When working through a section in Moodle, it is not uncommon for a student to need to click back and forth to go from content to content (file by file) and content to activity (content to assignment).  Within SoftChalk learners are presented with a series of pages that they progress through. Each page can include multiple pieces of content and activities.


Here is an example of a SoftChalk Lesson


Third: SoftChalk has different types of activities.  SoftChalk does have activities similar to Moodle such as quizzes, but what it does not have is the ‘dropbox’ (i.e. assignment) tool of Moodle.  However, SoftChalk does have some interactive activities that are different such as sorting activities, crossword puzzles, different types of drag-and-drop, labeling activities, interactive tabbed call-out boxes and the like.  Mostly intended to provide practice and formative feedback, SoftChalk allows for the learner to interact with the content in a variety of ways.


Here are some examples of different types of SoftChalk Activities


VidGrid Interactive Video Features


You are likely aware that Morningside has a video creation, storage, and editing tool called VidGrid (formerly Ilos).  For those who are interested in creating video content, VidGrid offers a number of interactive features for their videos.


First VidGrid allows for questions to be embedded within their videos.  These questions pop up while the video pauses and the student is then expected to answer the question.  These questions (if multiple choice) are automatically scored and the student received immediate feedback.  There is also the option of linking this to Moodle so that the student’s score on a set of video questions is recorded in the Moodle Gradebook.  There is also the option for a “Call to Action” question. This feature asks students to usually click on a link to another website and to complete some action that is being asked in the video.  This is a way of making it simpler for students to navigate between content pieces (your video and whatever website they are expected to go to). If you are interested in what these two features look like for students, here is an example:

Video with Interactive Questions


If you are interested in HOW to do these things within VidGrid, here is a video demonstrating how to accomplish this:

How to make Videos with Interactive Features in VidGrid



If you want to learn more about how to use these tools or whether these might be the best tools for what you want to accomplish, please feel free to contact me for a consultation. On Tuesday Nov 5 at 3:45 I will be hosting a development session for NEW USERS to SoftChalk.  A SoftChalk 2.0 session will be held later this year.


QM Specific Standard 6 – Aligning outcomes with technology tools

This week Susie and I will be facilitating a faculty development workshop on the topic of alignment.  Alignment in instructional design terms is the connection between the course assessments, activities, materials, and outcomes.  Designing a well-aligned course helps ensure that what we expect students to do/accomplish is actually what we are asking them to do/accomplish.


The Quality Matters rubrics have a large alignment component present.  There are six specific standards that evaluate the alignment within an online/blended course.  Each of these standards are considered Essential (3 point) standards which means if they are not met, then the course cannot meet Quality Matters expectations.  Standard 6 in the Quality Matters rubric focuses on the course technology and includes an alignment standard (6.1).


Quality Matters Standard 6.1 states “The tools  used in the course support the learning objectives or competencies” and basically evaluates whether the technology tools within the course help students to meet the course and module outcomes appropriately.  For example, the use of a discussion board to simply address an outcome that focuses on a student ‘Identifying’ information is probably not the best alignment. Discussion boards are best used to help students “discuss,” “evaluate,” “debate,” or “argue” topics.  An instructor who uses a discussion board simply as a way for students to identify information is not utilizing the technology to its benefit and frankly these “discussion” are probably pretty boring!


The opposite can also be true.  If an instructor is using a self-scoring quiz to evaluate students on highly complex cognitive skills such as “creating,” “prioritizing,” or even “analyzing” is likely not using the best technology.  The task in choosing a technology tool is to choose the best tool for the job. Sure you could use a hammer to install a screw, but it’s not the best tool for the job.


In addition to finding the best tools to accomplish the outcomes of the course, Standard 6.1 also states that students should be informed in some way why the technology is being used.  Making clear to students why the instructional choice of a discussion board can help students to understand why student-to-student interaction is the best way to address a particular course outcome.  Explaining why you are asking students to utilize a social media site will help students best use that tool for their learning.


Any technology that is used in the course should be used in an attempt to vary the learning activities and assist the learner to engage in active learning.  Online courses cannot simply be a text-only repository of information for the student to passively absorb. Technology allows for active engagement with information and with others to help facilitate learning.  QM Standards 6.2 and 6.3 focus on evidence for this type of active learning and variety in technology tool use. This is not to say that you should use a dozen different technologies, but rather enough variety so that students have a number of different ways that they can interact with the material.


Finally QM standard 6.4 focuses on student privacy and the use of technology.  There are a number of ways that programs can mine and use personal information.  To meet QM standard 6.4 the students must be provided with a list of the privacy policies of the technologies used in the course.  There also needs to be evidence for the protection of student privacy and data within the course as well. For example, if using social media, the utilization of a closed group helps to protect student privacy.  Allowing students to use a pseudonym on a public tool outside of the LMS is also a measure that you can allow to help student privacy. And though it is not a part of a QM evaluation, any time that you plan to use an external tool that requires students to create an account and provide even basic information, you should evaluate 1) the companies policy on the use of user data and 2) whether there is some reason to be suspicious of how the program might use user information.


The gist of Standard 6 is to evaluate the course designers/instructor’s use of technology tools for the purpose of achieving the course outcomes.  Technology tools should not be used for their own sake and when a technology decision is made for the course, it is helpful to let students know why that choice will help them to achieve the course goals.  It can be very easy to go overboard and try a number of different tools (I know I’ve been guilty of this). It can also be easy to simply use the tools that are common. Finding the right balance will help students to be exposed to the course content in different ways and use the right tools for the right job.

Active Learning Strategy – Digital Storytelling

A few weeks back I wrote a post about using Padlet in the classroom to help facilitate active learning.  Susie also facilitated another workshop on ways to incorporate active learning into your classrooms that gave a number of different strategies and tools both high and low tech.  This week I introduce another active learning strategy that incorporates some of the power of technology: Digital Storytelling. Digital storytelling is not a particular form of technology, but rather a strategy that uses the multimedia benefits of technology.  Digital storytelling requires learners to tell a story using digital means. These stories might be creative stories that students have created themselves, little autobiographies, documentaries, or even stories reflecting their progress on some large-scale project.


The art of storytelling requires the creator to understand the purpose of the story, organize important details, explain in clear language, and blend visual and verbal elements together in a meaningful and powerful way.  A good story often creates a mental image for the listener when crafted well. Multimedia allows for the creator of a digital story to present the visual image along with the verbal description. The cognitive skills needed to tell a good story are very complex and when a good story is told, there is evidence that the creator has deeply processed and understood their topic. What I tend to find most satisfying is when students can create an engaging and relatable story with the complex information that they have been learning in their classroom.  If these stories can be understood and appreciated by people not in higher-education, I think that is a significant gain. It’s a way for students to engage in ‘giving away’ their particular discipline to others and to demonstrate how their field is relevant to the general public in an engaging manner.


In a 2017 Inside Higher Ed Op Ed article, Kari Smalkoski, Linda Buturian, and Scott Spicer describe how they saw digital storytelling as a mechanism for transforming learning in a very powerful way including helping students to improve civic discourse and communicate multiple perspectives on an issue.  It does require instructors to break from the more familiar recipe of the traditional research paper, but allows for more student creativity and voice within the project. Here is a link to an initiative so-lead by Kari Smalkoski in the Twin Cities area in MN that presents a number of digital stories created by high school students on issues important to them (MN Youth Story Squad).


There are several resources available to those who might be interested in learning more about this strategy.


I could see this strategy being attractive to faculty who are interested in alternative ways of having students present in a class.  The technical skill needed to accomplish many of the tasks in digital storytelling can be made relatively easy through the variety of programs available, but time should be given and some structure provided to help students select tools and begin to use them to create products.  Having students collaborate on projects like this might be a unique way to present information. For those who are interested in cross-course collaborations, this might be one option for a project that students might collaborate with.

Civic Responsibility: Digital Citizenship

This summer, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has publicly announced a more focused initiative to promote digital citizenship (ISTE Blog, July 2018). Digital citizenship is not simply online safety practices.  Online safety includes maintaining good practices such as strong passwords, not becoming victims of phishing, spear fishing, or other social engineering digital attacks, and protecting one’s identity in online spaces. Digital citizenship is not simply about protecting yourself or your institution online. It is about creating a meaningful community, engaging in respectful debate, helping to shape public policy, and engaging in effective digital information literacy (ISTE Blog, July 2018).


Digital citizenship is meant to combat the tsunami of cyberbullying, trolling, toxic comments, online arguments, and fake news that we all see in our online environments.  Similar to being a good citizen in one’s physical community, one needs to be a good citizen within their virtual environments. As we move into this week where most of our undergraduate students will participate in their local community through Into the Streets, we need to remember and remind ourselves that citizenship is not limited to our physical geography.


What is perhaps most important to remember is that people who are not good digital citizens can (though certainly not always) actually be generally respectful people IRL (in real life).  The anonymity and physical distance provided by the online environment can provide temptations for individuals to engage in actions that they otherwise might not if they were able to be identified.  I explored this very issue over 10 years ago when I was in graduate school and today these same psychological principles continue to contribute to the sometimes toxic nature of the Internet world (see Christopherson, 2007).


So what might we do?  What are some of the ways that we in higher education can help ISTE meet their goals to encourage digital citizenships? Many of these strategies are actually easy for us to do as individuals:

  • When engaging in disagreements, do so with civility.  If the ‘other side’ continues to use toxic forms of disagreement, disengage so that you remove one of their platforms for incivility. Do not engage ‘trolls.’
  • If you notice someone being cyberbullied through comments or posts, post positive comments and encourage others to do so as well.  Doing nothing, does something. See for other strategies to prevent and address cyberbullying
  • Be vigilant about fake news and spreading misinformation.  Stop and think before forwarding or sharing a post. Help others to identify these types of fake stories and images. See for strategies to identify fake news and images.
  • Use digital mechanisms for engaging in social policy.  Engage in meaningful debate, post well researched solutions, share perspectives, use digital means to raise funds or awareness for meaningful causes.
  • Use digital materials ethically.  Appropriately give credit for multimedia you might use. Do not use someone else’s materials without permission.  Check for the permissions that are provided by the creator. Familiarize yourself with the copyright of information and materials you use (creative commons as an example).
  • Model digital citizenship through all online interactions and communications.


If the concept of fostering digital citizenship is of interest to you, I encourage you to explore ISTE’s site on Digital Citizenship.  Though ISTE is more focused on the K-12 educational environment, these basic principles and ideas can be translated into higher education.  This page provides a number of short articles on ways to incorporate digital citizenship into the classroom and how to create learning activities (such as problem-based learning and authentic learning tasks) that help students engage in digital citizenship.

Christopherson, K.M. (2007). The positive and negative implications of anonymity in Internet social interactions: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Computers in Human  Behavior, 23(6), 3038-3056.