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Archive for April, 2012


Diigo Links for the Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


Diigo Links for the Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


Impossible Working Conditions – Forget Accountability

Working on campus the last few weeks has been nearly impossible. Forget 6 hours of accountability. It’s not happening. Not on campus at least. Here’s what’s happening instead. Nothing. Lots of meetings for HLC. More nothing. Go home. Work. Yep, I literally show up to campus to make an appearance. I can’t get anything done because the network is slower than (fill in with appropriate simile). Last week we got this message from IT:

The GCC OIT networking team has been working diligently to try to resolve the Internet connectivity issues we’ve all been experiencing.  In some critical applications, this has resulted in connections being “dropped” entirely.  Just as frustrating has been the overall slowness of those systems that are working.

At this point, we basically have two choices: 1) live with the situation the way it is, or 2) deal with some slowness during peak times but keep as much application integrity as possible.  We have decided to go with option 2 so that key applications like Blackboard, AccuPlacer, and others, are able to run without “timing out”.

Those were our only two choices? I found that odd. Am I the only one who is finding it nearly impossible to do my job while on campus? I can’t grade anything. I can’t create anything. Basically I can’t teach. I can’t even goof off and watch YouTube videos, not that that’s what I would want to do, but hey, it was a district email that sent the links. 😉

So yesterday we got an update to the system and supposedly the problem has been fixed. The email states:

With the assistance of Tempe support services, a firewall bottleneck was isolated and removed. Network performance monitoring confirms the effectiveness of the change.
We wish to thank our GCC community for your feedback during this trying time. Your comments helped our technical staff identify the root issue.

Is it any better. No, not really. It still takes forever to load pages. But I’m not really complaining. I like working from home better, and I’m getting good at composing quick tweets about nothing important while I wait for my pages to load. It’s like I’m encouraged to goof off and to fill my idle time while sitting here staring at my browser window. I also love having an actual excuse for why I didn’t get those essays graded sooner. And some times we just need a mental break from non-stop work, work, work. So it’s all good that our network stinks. I’m not mad at ya! In fact, I was able to write this post in between page loads as I try to grade journal posts for my ENG102 class. Now I’m off to help faculty create hybrid courses – not on campus obviously. We even have an excuse to meet up at the local pub! W00t!


Diigo Links for the Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


eCourses Faculty Evaluation Rubric Now Requires Asynchronous Communication

Last week our eCourses Faculty Facilitator sent out an announcement about a change in the Faculty Evaluation Rubric. The jest of the announcement was that online faculty are now expected to provide synchronous “office hours” in addition to the already required asynchronous communication that may already be provided. Below is an excerpt from the message:

I am sending this email to notify you of a change that has been made to the eCourses Faculty Evaluation Rubric. The modifications were discussed and approved by the eCourses Committee to be in place for Fall ’12. With technology advancements, especially in the area of communication tools, the committee agreed that it was within reason for faculty to be available online (or by phone) to meet with individuals or groups of students in a synchronous setting where real-time discussions could take place. This extends the current asynchronous use of announcements, discussion boards and emails for communication purposes (Lea Neibarger).

I think this is a good move and am surprised that most have not already implemented something to this effect already. As full time faculty, I’m required “to hold a minimum of five (5) scheduled academic support hours reflective of instructors’ teaching schedules;” (RFP). I teach all online and hybrid courses, so I have online office hours for my students. Because most of my students are working adults, I try to have a few hours in the morning and a few in the evening each night. And most of the time in between I’m pretty accessible to my students via email, phone call or text. I permit this because it is easy for me to do and manage. It’s not like I have to sit in my office at school to be accommodating to my students. With technology today, I can spare a few extra hours by simply having my cell phone with me during the scheduled time.

This might seem overwhelming to some, as I’ve heard numerous, “What should I dos?” since the message went out. It’s not as difficult as you might think, especially if you stick to the one hour guideline in the RFP, but I hope you will find that it’s easy enough to include a few more hours each week. Lea even points out in the message:

This does not mean faculty must “be on call 24/7”, but rather have a dedicated time which is announced to students, similar to or in coincidence with face-to-face office hours or have a process where students can ask questions interactively on an as needed basis. This could include office hours where faculty have instant messaging, online conferencing, chat or even a Skype window open and respond immediately to student questions.

What follows is a list of tools I presently use, have used in the past, and plan to use in the future. Hopefully you can find something that works well for you and your students as well.

First, next fall when we officially go live with Canvas (yes, I’m being very optimistic), you will have a built in tool to accommodate your online office hours. The tool is called Tinychat – You can set up your hour time slot and post it on your syllabus letting students know you will be available live to answer questions and discuss anything related to your course. At the designated time, you will need to log into Canvas, go to the Chat tab, and start up a chat session. You can broadcast video or audio, so your students can see or hear you, or you can just use text chat. There is also a whiteboard built in so you can write out information if needed, and you can share a YouTube video if there is a need for that. There is also a way to have private conversations with individual students within the group chat. It’s probably all you would need if you plan to offer an hour a day while sitting in your office each day.

But if you’re like me, and you can’t stand sitting in your office, you can set up some more mobile options for synchronous office hours. Presently I use Google Voice. Basically GV is a free phone number you get from Google that becomes your class number. Students can call or text you on this number, and you can control where and when the number rings. You can set up a window of time where your GV number rings/texts to your cell phone or rings your office phone. When the GV number is not set up to ring to a specific phone, it goes straight to your Google Voice inbox. It’s like an email inbox for phone calls and texts. They are stored up and saved for when you are ready to deal with them. You can set it up to send you an email or text with the message if you like as well. Using GV allows for me to permit my students to call me pretty much all day, but when I don’t want to be bothered, I switch it from sending calls/texts to my cell phone and let them go directly to Voice/Text inbox. Below is an example of a quick text communication with a student that happened on my phone, but was saved in my GV inbox. I have a record of all communications with GV.

Another mobile option is to use Instant Message, but as you all know, there are quite a few options out there. There is AIM, GTalk, MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, and even Facebook and MySpace have their own IM programs.

You can see the problem here; not every student will be on the same program. In order for you to use this effectively, you’ll need to sign up for an account on several. I would go with at least the four major ones. Then you can use a generic IM – All in One client, like Trillian – or Meebo – What these two clients will do for you is give you an easy way to log into all four or more IM clients using one log in. So you open up Meebo and login. See photo to the right. You are now available to chat on AIM, GTalk, MSN and Yahoo! Students then can use whatever client they like without having to sign up for a new one. And both Trillian and Meebo have mobile apps, so you can log on on your phone and be available for IM chat wherever you are. I just list all my IM usernames on my syllabus, and students can decide for themselves if they want to go that route. They don’t need Meebo to IM with you. Only you need it.  They will use whatever client they already use. I only get about 2-3 IMers these days. Most prefer texting. One added bonus to Meebo is you can embed the chat window into your current LMS and students can chat with you from that window without having an account on any IM client.

One final honorable mention is Google+ Hangout –

Google+ Hangouts with extras offers a sneak preview of new Hangouts features. It’s available for a limited time, so it’s not clear what the long term availability will be. Also Maricopa has yet to switch on this tool in our student Google Apps accounts. Please! But I’m using this with students now using just regular Gmail accounts. They are blogging and “hanging out” as part of the class, but Google+ Hangouts can be used for synchronous communication as well. It makes it easy for students to start a video or audio chat with you or you can schedule a hangout with extras. The extras include: Named hangouts, Shared notes and sketchpad, Google Docs integration and Screensharing. Imagine hanging out with a student who wants to go over an essay with you. You can share a Google Doc with the students essay in it in the hangout, meaning everyone present can view the document, see what you mark on it, and hear what you have to say about in real time. Below you can see Leo is hangout with 10 people (limit) who are all on webcam and are text chatting to the left. It’s similar to Skype, but it’s free. Skype charges for group video chat.

So don’t fret the new guidelines coming down the pike. Embrace change and progress, and utilize the tools available to you to make it work for both you and your students. It’s all good!


Diigo Links for the Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


Automating the Process of Grading Essays on a Tablet

When the first iPad came out, I remember saying, “that would be cool if I could grade my essays on it.” But I was thinking of the whole tablet PC method where you could use a stylus and mark up a word document with your own scribbles as well as highlights and what not. It took a few months before there was an app that could do something similar, but it never felt intuitive and never worked on Word docs, only pdf files. This process is clearly still evolving. Since then the major book publishers have improved their online offerings to provide some pretty good grading tools for grading papers online. McGraw-Hill has Connect Composition 2.0, Cengage has Enhanced InSite with the suite of tools built in, and Pearson has MyCompLab. I’ve used all three of these tools, and quite frankly they are all pretty good for grading papers online. I couldn’t always say that, but I’ve watch them all evolve into tools I couldn’t live with out. But I digress. You can’t use these tools on a tablet (yet).

So back to this grading on a tablet idea. Some people still want to be able to do this on their tablets. I don’t, not with Connect, InSite and MyCompLab available. I’d much rather grab my Macbook Air and grade on that in a browser than on my Samsung Galaxy Tab. Nevertheless, I’ve come up with a pretty good solution for those of you who would like to do just that – grade on your tablet with a stylus or your finger for that matter. So here goes.

First you need to choose the right annotation app for your preferred device. When I had an iPad, I played with and liked iAnnotate. On my Android devices, I’ve been using ezPDF Reader. There is an iOS app too. Both of these apps work well, although the stylus interaction could be improved, and it might already have been. My finger works well too for what it’s worth. The key is that both integrate with DropBox, so you can access files from your dropBox and/or save annotated pdf’s to your dropbox. More on that later. But here’s the problem. Both apps are pdf annotation tools. I don’t know about you, but my students have a hard enough time submitting .doc files to me. PDF files just might send them over the edge, so in order to grade on my tablet, I would need to convert all the essays to pdf files. I can do that in several ways. Here are a few options.

Option 1: Open every essay and re-save as pdf using Word. Not! Too time consuming.

Option 2: Use Wappwolf Automator for Dropbox. If you have a Dropbox account, set up Wappwolf to automate this process for you. Choose the folder in Dropbox that you plan to put the essays in, and then choose convert to pdf when you set up your automation in Wappwolf. That’s it. It will convert pretty much everything but Apple’s iWorks pages files. Does anyone even use Pages? Anyway, Wappwolf will convert and put the original doc files into a new “processed” folder. It will also auto-convert all the files already in the folder if you’re not starting from scratch.

Here’s the process for grading those essays now. Download the essays in bulk from your LMS. This works in both Canvas and Blackboard. Open the essay folder, select all files, and drag them to the Dropbox folder you chose in the first steps. Now all your essays are in that folder in your dropbox, and they are automatically converted to pdf files. Go to your tablet, open your Dropbox app, choose the folder with the essays, open a file using your pdf annotation app and start annotating. Usually when you choose a pdf file to open your device will give you a few options if you have several apps installed. Be sure to choose the annotation app to be the default. Annotate the essay and save it back to the dropbox. When you’re finished, upload the essays back to your LMS for students to view. Now what’s really cool is if you don’t change the names of the original files, Canvas will let you upload them back to Canvas in bulk. This is the only step I’m not sure about, as I’m not sure if Canvas counts changing the file type from doc to pdf counts as changing the file name. If it does, then the bulk upload back to Canvas won’t work. You’ll have to do it individually as you add the grade, like you probably do now.

*BONUS: Here’s a way to automate this even further. Skip the whole download the class essays from the LMS part and automatically add to Dropbox by using a JotForm.

Instead of having students upload their essays to the LMS, create a form for them to use to submit their essays. Embed the form on the assignment page in your LMS. Students fill out the form, attach their essay file and done. A whole bunch of cool stuff happens next. Students can get an email verification that you indeed received their essay. You too can get an email if you want. The file that was submitted gets added to a folder in, yep you got it, your Dropbox account. Then you just follow the steps above. Pretty sweet, no?

Here’s what I haven’t tested. JotForm creates a folder automatically for you in your dropbox, so when you set up Wappwolf Automator you need to be sure to choose the JotForm folder. Now what I don’t know is if Wappwolf will convert files in a subfolder inside the folder you set up, as JotForm creates a new folder for each form you create. So I have a folder named Final Paper Submission (from the form above) inside my JotForm folder in Dropbox. If it doesn’t work that way, you would need to create a separate automation for each essay/form you create. Still not bad.

So there you go. Now you have no excuse not to grade those essays. You can grade them on your tablet or your phone for that matter. Ugh, no thank you. 😉 Let me know if you give this a try.



Playing with Mobile Tech Tools

I’ve been playing with a few new tech tools as of late, so I thought I might share a few with you today. I should be grading, but I just can’t get myself to read another paper.  Each of the tools have great mobile apps as well, which is why I found them interesting.

I’m really liking teaching with Google+ although my students are just using it as a blog. We’re not making them do much else, but I can see the possibilities, and they like commenting on each others posts without any prodding from us. It’s a learning community – team taught with a reading teacher. Good stuff. Anyway, I like that SlideShare has made it possible to share presentations in a hangout. Google+ is really getting good. I have lots of ideas of how I could use this. Speaking of online presentations, check out MyBrainshark. This tool makes it easier to add voice over to your PPT slides and other features for that matter, and it works on iOS and Android devices.

The next one is Piazza. Piazza is a question-and-answer platform designed to get students great answers from classmates and instructors fast. Here is a list of key features.  Ask questions on Piazza rather than emailing the teacher so everyone can benefit from a response. Every question has a single Students’ Response that students can edit collectively (and a single Instructors’ Response for instructors). If the Students’ and Instructors’ Responses aren’t clear, ask a Followup below the responses. You can comment on Followups, too, or start a new Followup thread for a different topic. Shy about asking a question? Select an “Anonymous” option before you post. Tag your posts so classmates can easily filter questions of the same topic. Type a “#” before a key word to tag. Surround code with HTML pre-formatting tags and LaTex blocks with “$$”.  This is a great tool to handle questions in courses.
The last one is StudyBlue. Make, share and compare online flashcards and notes for free with StudyBlue. Bah, sounds boring, but it’s actually kind of cool. You can add audio and pictures to your cards and you can share them with a class. It integrates well with your mobile device and sends reminders when it’s time to study.