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Little Known Facts about Twitter in the Classroom

The whole world is talking about Twitter, so this post is probably nothing new to some. Most people get that you can post a short message about what you are doing, and anyone who follows you on Twitter will be able to see the message. I follow you, I see your messages. You follow me, you see mine. But many people still don’t understand how it works beyond that. For instance, many aren’t aware that you can have selective tweeters’ tweets delivered directly to your cell phone via text message. And you can reply back to Twitter via text message. Once you and your students are signed up and properly set up, the whole process can be conducted via cell phone text messaging, making the whole process mobile and not tied to a web page on a computer.

Another little known secret to novice Twitter users is that Twitter is connected to everything. I can update my Google calendar and ToDo tasks via Twitter, and I can set it up so Twitter will broadcast my blog posts from my blog to Twitter with a link sending people back to my blog to read the post. Think announcements for students with that one. It’s also connected with a very nice polling site, Poll Everywhere, that lets your respondents vote in your polls via Twitter. Twitter makes their API available so any company can develop tools that will work through Twitter. There are so many more, but in the following movie I focus on the first tool mentioned above. In subsequent posts I’ll show you the other tips. Have a look.

Using Text Messaging with Twitter from soul4real on Vimeo.

Part I of III tips for using Twitter in the classroom. Part I covers using Twitter via text messaging on your cell phone.

One of the things I forgot to mention is once you get your cell phone set up to receive text messages from Twitter, you can post a tweet by sending it to 40404 from your phone. Next up, update your Google calender and ToDo tasks via Twitter.


New FAQ Avatar for my Online Students

I’ve been playing around with SitePal for a year and a half now. I love the idea of having an avatar for students to interact with, but it has proven to be a bit time consuming and expensive. My initial investment was a cool $99 to get five avatars and scenes with 1 minute of audio each (Bronze). One minute is not a lot of time and during the first year I had a hard time keeping to the limit, so I ended up neglecting my avatar, dubbed Associate Professor Sam.

But instead of giving up completely on the idea, I decided to invest a bit more money into it and see if I could make it work. Initially the lowest SitePal plan costs $99 but didn’t include Text to Speech (TTS). That is how I make Sam talk to my students. Without the more expensive plan, I had to create my own TTS, which I did with a separate program called TextAloud. The program works great and I use it for other non-avatar announcements from Assoc. Prof. Sam that are usually much longer than 1 minute. But if I was going to really utilize the avatar, I needed to eliminate a few steps. So I upgraded to the Silver package for this semester only (3 months). The additional costs ($100) is a bit much for me to have to pay out of pocket, but for 3 months it wasn’t so bad ($24), especially since SitePal was offering a discount.

So I created a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) box for Sam and posted a few questions for students on the Ning Social Network. It was really easy to type out the answers to the questions and have SitePal convert to speech. They even had my same voice for Sam. I posted the widget below so you could give ole Sam a try.


Reflecting on an Almost Done Semester

Finals start tomorrow, and I’ve spent most of the last week grading and tying up loose ends in my hybrid and online courses. I finally feel as if I have my hybrid and online ENG102 course right where I want it to be in terms of design. It only took 7 years. I started designing the course in 2001 when I started grad school. Back then it was just a face to face course with lots of different technologies added in here and there. It grew to a hybrid that I studied and wrote my dissertation on. Now it’s a fully online Quality Matters certified course, one of the first QM certified courses in the district.

I’m proud of this course, but as I wrap up this semester and reflect on what I think went well and what I think didn’t, I can’t help but feel a bit down about the student retention rates in my courses. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much time and effort you put into a course to make it the best it can be, sometimes your students just aren’t ready for it. In the case with our students at South Mountain Community College, they’re not ready in more than one way. Many are not prepared for a rigorous college load and still others are not ready for online and hybrid courses, yet they end up in my courses.

I teach the only hybrid and online English courses on campus, two hybrid and one online. There are plenty of other sections that are face to face available all through out the day and week, but my classes fill up. When asked, most students signed up for the class because the time fit well with their schedule and not because they particularly wanted a hybrid class. And I don’t even want to start to talk about why students sign up for my online class. That’s just down right scary. Anyway, student don’t realize until it’s too late that maybe hybrid or online is not the best course format for them. Not only do they struggle with using the technology, but some struggle with the demands of a writing class. It’s almost as if they didn’t expect that they would have work to do.

My students are having trouble completing just one assignment a week. The assignment is designed to take 2-3 hours to complete. When I designed the assignments, I followed an honors students around the library while he completed the assignments. I timed him and took notes about questions he had about the directions. Most assignments he completed in under an hour. I took that research and adjusted the assignments accordingly. The assignments are designed to guide a student through the research process culminating in an extended documented argumentative research paper. Each step is crucial to completion of the final product, and each assignment builds off the previous one. Students who are prepared do really well. I get a good number of A’s, but I get even more drops and F’s.

The students who fail or just give up and drop don’t do the work. They turn in incomplete assignments. They don’t do rewrites or come for additional help. It’s like they don’t even try. They complain that the assignments are too hard and take too long to complete. Even if an assignment took 5 hours to complete, a whole week is plenty of time to complete it. I’m at a lost as to what to do about all this. I think the only solution is to force students to a study session or tutoring. I’m not sure how I could do that, but that’s where I am now with this. I’m struggling with the whole idea that I teach college, but I really can’t treat all of them like college students, expecting that they will take the initiative to get help if they need it. It’s frustrating indeed.


Educause 2008 was Depressing

No, don’t get me wrong. Educause is a great conference and definitely worth while to fly across the country to sit in on some amazing conference sessions. But when I start thinking about going back to my campus and never having the possibility to experience any of the great tech tools I learned about, I get depressed. We don’t even have any IT leaders from our campus that even come to Educause, so I ended up hanging out with all the other IT, VP’s, faculty and instructional designers from our sister colleges. What a treat that was as well. I get so jazzed hearing about all the cool things they are doing on their campuses.

I saw an amazing presentation this morning from some guys at Drexel University talking about a lecture capture solution they implemented on their campus:

Increasingly, colleges and universities are adopting lecture capture solutions to increase student satisfaction and learning. Join Drexel University’s innovative team and other universities for an in-depth panel discussion focusing on how these institutions have implemented TechSmith’s Camtasia Relay to integrate lecture capture into their existing infrastructures simply, quickly, and affordably.

It was amazing to see what they were able to do with Camtasia Relay in such a short period of time and even before the product was released out of beta. It was that easy. What was most amazing to me is that it was the IT guys and the instructional designer who came up with this solution and made it happen for the college. Sigh. Why can’t we do things like that?

Our IT department and instructional designer are all caught up in doing other stuff to be able to come up with technology solutions for teaching & learning issues on our campus. I’ve been there 10 years and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked what I need to help me teach my students better. Why is that? Is it not important because too few of our faculty will utilize it? or is it because only a small number of students will be impacted by the technology initially? Who knows, but it doesn’t sound much like forward thinking to me.

Another session I sat in on this morning was Thinking Outside the Virtual Classroom presented by Shannon Ritter, Social Networks Adviser, Penn State World Campus, The Pennsylvania State University.

Educating our students is certainly our priority, but how can we connect learners to each other in a way that provides more opportunities for personal growth, networking, and connections? By taking advantage of virtual spaces like Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life, we give our students space to learn outside the classroom.

This was a great presentation. Ritter talked about how students in online distance programs are missing out on the college experience and have no real connection to the college because those students don’t get the same interactions with their peers like the on campus students do. Many aren’t learning together, and they don’t have a sense of belonging. So the Penn State World Campus created orientation videos to help give students a sense of belonging. They also use Second Life, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter to help building a sense of community.

This is the same idea behind my decision to use a social network to teach my freshman composition courses in. The network has some of the same features Ritter talks about embedded in the site, like videos, photos, walls, and updates. And the whole idea is to help students feel more connected to their peers, the instructor and the class.

Those were just two of the many ideas I experienced this week at Educause. Surprisingly some of the most valuable information was obtained just from hanging out with peers from the Maricopa district and my Twitter friends from across the country. That community we build is very valuable for sharing experiences and expertise in a wide variety of areas, and their willingness to help each other is refreshing. It would be really nice to have that kind of community on my own campus, a group of like minded faculty who like to come together and share ideas about education and technology. Some day, right?

Check out the live simulcasts from the conference:

Live Simulcasts

Those unable to attend the EDUCAUSE 2008 Annual Conference are invited to watch General, Featured, and Point/Counterpoint Sessions virtually in live simulcasts sponsored by Sonic Foundry, an EDUCAUSE Silver Partner. Watch and ask questions at the Featured and Point/Counterpoint sessions.

Get ready to watch the videos by reading the Mediasite System Requirements and Mediasite Player Tutorial.


Multimedia Infused Freshman Comp

Multimedia Infused Freshman Comp

From: soul4real

Presentation for the TYCA-West conference in Clarkdale, AZ. Using podcasting in freshman composition courses.

SlideShare Link


Tips for Students Using Utterli

I was fascinated with Utterli the moment I saw it. I just thought it was coolest thing to be able to send text, pictures, audio and video from your cellphone to a blog on the web. It’s a true example of mobile blogging. But what was most exciting to me was the way it lets people add multi-media to blog posts and invites a conversation or discussion around it. I have many ideas for how I want to use this in my classes, but for now I’m using it as a way to leave some valuable tips for students to help them be successful in my classes.


ENG102 Screencast: Getting Started with Delicious

Getting Started with Delicious


This screencast covers the basics of signing up for a delicious account, installing the delicious toolbar/buttons, saving a website, and updating your personal profile.

To learn more about delicious and social bookmarking, check out the Common Craft video below, Social Bookmarking in Plain English.


ENG102 Screencast: Summaries & Bedford Bibliographer

Assn. #1: Summaries & Bedford Bibliographer
The screencast will walk you through completing assignment #1: writing your summaries and inputting them and the article bibliographies into Bedford Bibliographer.


ENG102 Screencast: Formatting Assignments

Formatting Assignments
This screencast will show you how to correctly format and save your assignments before you submit them for grading.


LEARNtech #3: Notifications & Messages in Ning


This lesson covers the Ning Social Network: Turning Off Notifications & Checking Messages.