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Turn Q&A into Discusions in Your Online Class

QAI’ve talked about Piazza before, but that was before I really had a chance to use it. I introduced it to students in my online ENG102 course last semester, but I think students asked about 3 questions all semester. They resorted to texting and emailing me most of the semester, and I pretty much didn’t enforce the “Ask Piazza rule.” But this semester, not only am I insisting that students use Piazza to ask questions, I’m also using it for discussions. This is part of my MIL project I’m working on this semester.

Using Piazza is very easy, especially since Piazza has an LTI that lets you integrate the tool right into Canvas. So I have a button on the menu bar that opens Piazza right in the Canvas window. It also takes the user information from Canvas to authenticate the user in Piazza, so they only have to log in once (to Canvas) and then they can go straight to Piazza without having to log in again there. I think I’ve already talked about how the Q&A works in Piazza. This post is more about using it as a discussion forum.

In Piazza instructors and students can ask questions or post notes in the Q&A forum. If they post a question, users are prompted to supply an answer to the question. Instructors have a place to answer and students have a separate box to answer in. Student answers are like a wiki. Other students can edit the answer to try to improve it. The instructor can then mark the answer as a “Good Answer.” I plan to use this feature in some manner later down the road. For now, I’m using the “notes” posts for small group discussions. When you post a note, users are not prompted for an answer, but are encouraged to post “followup discussions.” Follow up discussions let students post their own responses and then let’s others reply. Each student can post a followup discussion within a note. Read moreRead more


Common Assessment in ENG102 – Evaluating Web Sources

For two years we’ve been discussing a common assessment tool to use in all of our freshman composition courses at GCC, from ENG071 all the way up to ENG102. I participate in the ENG102 assessment group since I teach that course every semester. The course competency that we decided to focus on was: Find, evaluate, select, and synthesize both online and print sources that examine a topic from multiple perspectives. Our course competencies are so broad, as you can see, so we started by writing several Student Learning Objectives (SLO).

We then choose SLO 3: Locate at least one online source and determine the credibility of it by evaluating the validity of information contained within each source. We came up with a few tools that we could use for this assessment in our individual classes. This semester we have started to collect data from this common assessment, but I think we still have some ironing out to do.

Screen shot 2013-01-26 at 6.20.43 PM Read moreRead more


Send Students on an Odyssey When Doing Research

Screen shot 2013-01-26 at 5.31.41 PMIn my ENG102 Freshman Composition course I have 10 assignments and four papers that students do before they submit their final research projects. Five of the assignments are research assignments and are required in order to submit a final paper. I named the research assignments Odysseys, something I borrowed from a colleague years ago when I first started teaching at CAC. The whole idea of the Odyssey assignments is to get students practicing several research skills in one assignment that are directly related to their final projects. This is how I introduce these assignments to students.

What is an Odyssey?

An odyssey, famous for a Greek epic poem (attributed to Homer) describing the journey of Odysseus after the fall of Troy, is a long wandering and eventful journey. This is a perfect description for writing a research paper. It’s not something that we put together in a day. Writing a research paper is a long wandering and eventful journey, so some of the key journeys in this process have been labeled odysseys to indicate their importance. All Odyssey assignments are required and must be submitted in order for your final paper to be accepted. No skipping Odysseys. They are mandatory.

The Odyssey assignments include: Read moreRead more


Why You Should Care About Google Plus – Part 1

This post is the first in a series of posts about Google+ (G+). Our college is making a push to use G+ as a communication tool, but because it is so complex, many are finding it difficult to wrap their heads around. I agree. It took me a good 2-3 months to completely understand why this is valuable tool and why I should care about it. Now I want to try to convince others, especially my colleagues at GCC, why they should care about Google+ too.

Part 1 covers registering for Google+, which essentially means setting up a profile for an existing Gmail account you already have. It’s super easy. Then I walk through Google+ Communities, which is where our Gaucho Plus initiative stems from. Gaucho Plus is a profile, but it’s also a way of saying a collections of communities. That’s what’s confusing, but I try to explain that in the video. So if you’re curious, and you want to know why you should care about Google+, check it out.


Gaucho Plus Training – You’ll Leave Wanting More

Gaucho Plus training has finally made its presence in the CTLE at GCC. This is a good thing because there are many confused people on campus. I’ve been running an informal poll asking everyone if they know what Gaucho Plus is. So far my tally is about 29 no to 3 yes. Although all three  yeses have not signed up to use it yet. They’re not sure how. So training is needed. If you’re looking for a recommendation, I highly recommend you attend training and get signed up. It will be worth it in the end.

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 10.05.33 PMI attended the Gaucho Plus training today, and it was pretty good, but there was surprisingly a lot not on the agenda. I think it’s difficult to train people on how to use Gaucho Plus with out really training them on how to use Google Plus or even explaining what G+ is. It’s like training faculty on how to use the Canvas messaging system, without training them how to use Canvas or even explaining what Canvas is. It didn’t really make sense, especially since every question participants asked dealt with Google Plus, but Mark, our awesome technology trainer, made it work. Read moreRead more


What Do Students Learn by Using Social Bookmarking Site Diigo?

Initially students don’t care too much for Diigo when I introduce it in an assignment in Week 2 of the semester. They’re still trying to get used to all the other new technology in the online course, and Diigo is almost the stone that breaks the camel’s back. But not quite. They warm up to it as the course moves on. I’ve questioned whether having students use yet another technology tool is too much for them to deal with, but the advantages of what they learn and experience by using it out weighs any reservations I may have had.

So, what exactly are the advantages of having students use this social bookmarking tool? First, they are in the exploratory phase of their research projects. They’re still trying to figure out what good topics are, so in order to not have them wondering alone in this process, I have them sharing ideas. Diigo allows for students to share bookmarks with each other in a group area. All of the sites saved in the group show up for all to see. Screen shot 2013-01-22 at 10.59.01 PM

As shown in the image above, I teach students about taxonomy. Taxonomy is a way to group things together using tags. It makes it easier for students to find common topics within the group posts. Students are supposed to use the class theme tag: “personal+freedoms” along with 5 of their own tags based on the subject of the site bookmarked. Diigo then creates a tag list (right below) for the group so students can look at the most popular topics that emerge during the search process. Rights, laws, health and the constitution are all popular with students. Read moreRead more


Social Bookmarking in the Freshman Composition Research Class

I can still remember when Delicious was all the rage. Remember when you had to remember where all the periods went – I’m not sure I got it right, but those were the days. Then Delicious got bought by Yahoo! and was shelved. Then Yahoo! sold it to the current owners who have, to their credit, tried to regain the hold on the social bookmarking space. But that is all for not, as Diigo took the opportunity to step in when Delicious struggled and created a more education centric service that still thrives today.

I’ve used Diigo in my Freshman Composition ENG102 courses now for about 5-6 years. It’s a research class, so I like to get students started in the research process with something easy – Googling and sharing what they find with each other. I set up the assignment to get students to explore the course theme: personal freedoms to help narrow the focus of their individual research topics. I’ve posted the meat of the assignment below.

Setting Up & Using Diigo

We will use Diigo throughout the semester to keep track of the websites we find during the research process. When you save a webpage, it’s called bookmarking. Diigo is a social bookmarking site. It’s social because it allows for all of us to share our bookmarks with each other. It’s like a big researching party!

Watch this screencast: Setting Up & Using Diigo to learn how to set-up and use Diigo.

Assignment Steps Read moreRead more


Helping Out the Kindle Classroom Project

Over the past 5-6 years I’ve met lots of interesting people at conferences across the country and online via Twitter. And through this I’ve curated a very nice professional learning network. I’m not sure where I met Mark Isero (Twitter and Google+) originally, but we’ve been following each other on the internet for a while. I’ve been impressed with his work in teaching young kids and now with helping faculty at his school in northern California. Mostly I love his idea to collect Kindles for students at his school through his Kindle Classroom Project. He describes:

The Kindle Classroom Project was created in late 2010 with the goal of offering a set of donated Kindles to lower-income, urban students to promote literacy through reading and technology.

IMAG0422This is such a cool idea, and I really wanted to participate by donating my Kindle. But I had a hard time parting with my beloved Kindle 3. I mean I have a laptop and an Android tablet, but I just love my Kindle 3 with red cover with a built in light for reading books. Even when I find myself touching the screen to try to turn the pages or reach the menu, it obviously doesn’t work that way, but I still love it. But I eventually convinced myself that helping Mark and his students out was more important, and it’s a good cause. Plus it’s time to upgrade my Kindle to the latest and greatest reader. 
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Catching Up on 30in30 – What is it?

If you’re a regular visitor to, you’ve probably noticed a LOT more posts recently. Well, don’t get too excited. I certainly can’t keep this up, but it has been fun trying to post everyday. I’m participating in a 30in30 self imposed competition. It’s nothing official that can be found on the internet, just a challenge for myself. The idea is to post 30 blog posts in 30 days. For the first 15 days, I did well enough to post one a day. But then school started and posting became a challenge. But I haven’t thrown in the towel yet. I just have some catching up to do.

I do a lot of reading of other blogs, and I really appreciate what others have to share with me and other teachers on the web. So I try to give back by posting about my experiences with teaching with technology. Often times I get stuck about what to write about. All my ideas seem so trivial to me. But I have to realize that what’s trivial for me, may not be so for others. So I’ll keep posting. I have to find a happy balance though. Going to bed every night and having that feeling that I’ve forgotten to do something is going to give me an ulcer, so I have set realistic goals for blogging in the future.

With 11 days left in January and 10 days left in my 30in30 challenge, I have 13 posts to meet my current goal. Piece of cake. However, when the challenge is over, I’m hoping to maintain a 2 times a week posting schedule. That should feel easy after completing this challenge. But if you don’t hear from me for a few weeks, be sure to post a comment to remind me of my goal. And if there’s anything you’d like to see here, let me know. I could use a few more blogging ideas.



Walk and Talk Wednesday at GCC

wtlogoIt’s so exciting to see some new learning opportunities coming out of our new CTLE on the GCC campus. On Wednesday we had the first Walk and Talk Wednesday. We had about 10 people meet up outside on a beautiful spring day in Phoenix to walk the 1 mile loop on campus and talk about teaching and learning. The first topic was tips on how we get students working and talking together at the beginning of the semester. At least I think that was the topic. (Oops!) I ended up talking about all kinds of things with four different people. I was certainly time well spent, especially since we made two loops and we got 2 miles in. I’ll have to remember to wear more suitable shoes next time, but other than that, I had a great time.

Here’s the description of the event in case you want to join us next Wednesday>

Where: between HT1 and Math (map)
Description: Too much to do and too little time? We wish we could have extra hours to exercise, spend time with friends, engage in professional development, or even just relax. Join us for a chance to do all of these things – Come to Walk and Talk Wednesday, an opportunity to take a break from grading and walk around campus with your colleagues discussing teaching issues. Meet @ the red umbrellas between HT1 & Math to start. If you miss the 2:00 pm start, we will be passing this point again at approximately 2:20. Join us then.