Teaching with Tech Tip: Making Slides Quickly

Now that I’ve been back in the classroom for a little while, I’m starting to collect various tips and tricks for preparing my course materials. I teach Japanese to high schoolers in the upper mid-west, so I don’t really have my pick of ready-made curricular materials.  I generally make my own versions of activities even when I find that someone else has posted something useful. So I do a LOT of material creation!

Thus, I’m starting a new segment to my very sparse blog: Teaching with Tech Tips.  These are little tricks that I’ve found along the way to help me make materials faster and with fewer clicks.  As I come up with more of them, I’ll try to write about it quickly to share with the world.  I have no doubt that many other people have found these tricks, too.  But they were new to me, so they might also be new to others!

Continue reading Teaching with Tech Tip: Making Slides Quickly

Expanding faculty support with Academic Technology Student Assistants

**cross-posted on Carly’s blog**

I was in a conference session recently when the topic of using student workers to provide instructional support of faculty was raised as a tangent to how to engage faculty in technology training and instructional design. I was surprised to hear that many in the room felt that it was inappropriate to have students supporting faculty in the use of the LMS or other curricular technologies. This is completely counter to how we’ve been providing curricular and technical support at Carleton, so I thought I would write about how we do it and why.


Why have student workers supporting faculty?

The immediate reason is obvious: we can’t do it all alone! Most of us in the field of instructional technology have more than enough to do, learn and keep up with, so the chance to get a little help along the way is gold. This is especially true when you have big initiatives, such as switching your LMS or implementing a new tool. But if all I did was hire students to do the many boring or mundane tasks that I don’t want to or have time to do, there would be little else to write.

A big consideration when I’m hiring students is what the student is going to get out of working in the Academic Technology office. I want them to be excited about the work we are doing and learn as much as they can on the job. And I want them to be able to have several new skills they can add to their resume when they start to pursue internships or jobs after graduation. Hiring students in our office is as much for them as it is for us.

Because of this, I look for very specific things when hiring students. First, I look for students who are personable and comfortable talking with staff and or faculty. I look for some background in technology, but it’s not as important as the people skills.  Tech can be taught and changes so quickly anyway, it’s much harder to teach people skills. I also look for students who are excited to learn new technology or just learn new things in general. I have found that if I find students who fit this bill they are able to get a lot of working in our office.

The Hiring Process

One of the most important skills that our student workers need to have or develop is the ability to figure out the answer to a question. I also feel that understanding how a shared calendaring system works is just a basic life skill at this point. So in my job ad, I ask the students to email me a resume and make a 20-min appointment on my calendar. I also send them the Google help pages if they don’t know how to propose a meeting in Google. If a student can’t figure out how to propose a meeting time with documentation, they may not be well-suited to working in our office. So that usually only gives me a short list of students to interview.

During the interview, I ask them why they are interested in working Academic Technology and about their own academic or personal interests. I ask them to describe a time that they had to teach or tutor someone in something difficult, and then listen to how they describe the interaction.  Are they being derogatory or mean about the person they were teaching? Are they able to name some issues pertinent to training adults? Do they mention any particular teaching strategies that also work well when working with faculty?

Student Training

Once I hire a student, I try to make sure I spend a lot of time with them at a few points early in their work in our department. My primary job is to support the faculty in their use of the LMS. So we get some questions how to do this or that, or what module is the right one to use for their activity. So I make all first-term students learn how to edit a page in our LMS. Because I have a primary goal of making sure they know how to find answers when they don’t have them, I don’t actually train them. I give them a blank site, a sample syllabus, and then point them at the documentation.  I also make it clear to them why I am making them learn on their own. I want them to know that their goal should be to get better at finding answers.

Once they have the LMS down, I try to get them involved in a project. I rarely have one lined up for them from the get-go, but I usually don’t have much trouble coming up with something for them to do. If it happens to be related to their academic interests, that’s a double win.  But they know that they won’t always get to do that.

I also focus on making sure they have good customer service skills. I teach them how to answer the phone and invite the caller to ask their question. I tell them how to address people who just wander into our office. I also teach them how to write polite and informative responses in our ticketing system to faculty. These skills will be valuable to the students no matter what industry to go into, and I make sure they know that, as well.

Finally, I talk to them about boundaries. We don’t have graduate students at our institution, so we have undergraduate students who are potentially sitting down with faculty to help them use some technology.  There is an inherent power relationship there that does not work in the favor of the student. We are very small, the chances that this student either will or currently is in a class taught by that professor is quite high. And I know that all faculty have only the best intentions when working with students, but sometimes they end up unintentionally using that power position to get the student to do more than they should be doing. I have never met anyone who did this on purpose, but having a student there who you know can just do what you need done for you is so very tantalizing! After explaining this to the student, I tell them that if ever they are asked to do something that is outside of the work they should be doing then they can say “Carly won’t let me do that.” or “I have to check with my supervisor first.”  I essentially let them have me take the blame. Almost every student who has worked for me has come back to say that this was very important to them at some point. They all appreciate the feeling that I have their back, and that helps them to learn that boundaries are important.

The Results

The results have been amazing. I have had numerous years of excellent student workers who have been invaluable in helping our office to support the faculty.  They have taken on the bulks of answering or triaging technical how-to questions, and successfully escalate to professional staff as needed. Many of my students who came in with no particular interest in technology, have gone on to take CS courses because they were no longer as afraid of programming as they had been before working on our office.

Faculty have also reported that most of our students have been wonderful to work with. I have had faculty come to our offices and tell me that they don’t want to talk to me, but want to speak with one of my student workers about their question. And faculty who have gotten the help they need from our student workers are often repeat customers.

I have had student workers that have gone on to do amazing things! They work in high-security computing, are doing graduate research in labs, going to medical school, pursuing their PhD in Computer Science, and more. I have written letters of recommendation for so many of them and helped them get some of these positions, but mostly they have been successful because of how awesome they are to begin with.

Working with students is one of my favorite parts of my job. I love introducing them to new and creative uses of technology.  I love seeing them get excited about education + technology, and watched so many of them grow into confident people when they started out super shy. It’s been a wonderfully rewarding part of working at a small college.

I hope this post has been helpful. I’m happy to answer any questions about how I work with student workers any time!

Carly’s Spring 2018 Update

This term I’m looking forward to more sunshine and outdoor running! But I’m also looking forward to the data collection phase for a few of my research projects. I’ve got quite a busy term ahead of me!

I’m working with Asuka Sango (Religion) on implementing some gamification techniques into her Zen Buddhism course. The goals of this project are to provide students with a positive reinforcement model for participation in good study behaviors and optional components in her course. While research suggests that gamification works well, it will be interesting to see what we can learn about the efficacy of gamification in a small humanities course.

I’m also stepping up my work with Language Lesson, a software that I designed as a practice tool for foreign language speaking exercises. This year I’m delving deep into the field of acoustic phonetics and digital signal processing to try to introduce intelligent features based on second language acquisition research. I will be presenting on the development of Language Lesson and the implementation of pitch graph display at the next CALICO conference in late May.

On this project, I’m collaborating with Andrew Wilson, who is helping to manage a team of student developers to realize this project. I’m excited that these students are getting some practice with software development and experience with tools used in industry.

Amongst all of this, I’m also traveling to Japan in April to participate in the International Kyudo Federation’s International Kyudo Seminar and Shinsa (rank examination). I’ll be learning, taking a rank examination and volunteering as an interpreter. It’s going to be an exhausting trip, but I appreciate the opportunity to visit Japan and make use of my language skills to help others learn.

Tracking Student Progress to Assist Metacognition & Self-Regulated Learning

screenshot of Moodle interface to track student activity completion. shows rows of students and columns of activities

Many faculty are interested in both tracking student progress and also helping students learn to track their work themselves. Most learning management systems (LMS) have a feature that allows students and faculty to keep track of what activities are completed and which are not, in Moodle this feature is called Completion Tracking.

Completion Tracking aids faculty in being able to see at a glance which students have completed which activities across the entire course. The Activity Completion Report (available in the Administration Block > Reports > Activity Completion) shows all of this at a glance. Activities that are considered complete are checked off, while activities not yet complete are not. Students that achieved a passing grade (e.g. on a Quiz) will get a green checkmark while students who do not reach the passing grade receive a red mark.

Moodle 3.1 Activity Completion Report
Moodle 3.1 Activity Completion Report

Note: Completion Tracking is enabled at Carleton, though if you are at another institution it may need to be enabled by your Moodle administrator.

Another compelling reason to use Completion Tracking is the value to the students. When students complete an activity, they are shown a checkmark to the right of the activity right on the Moodle home page. Activities not yet completed have empty boxes enticing the student to complete the work. Teachers can also add the Course Completion Status block to the page so the student can see a quick view summary of how much of the course they have completed and how much more they have to go. This kind of aid is especially helpful to students who may still struggle with organizational skills or self-regulation techniques.

So, here’s your Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress:

Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress
Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress

Moodle Help Links

Further Reading

There is a lot of material on the value of metacognition and self-regulated learning for students in higher education.  These are just a few of the things I’ve read lately. What reading would you recommend?

Moodle Recipes: Small Group Discussions

We’ve started a new series of posts called Moodle Recipes that will focus on pedagogically effective ways to make use of Moodle in a face-to-face classroom setting. All Moodle Recipes will be available under the Moodle Recipes header on Carly’s blog, and will also be highlighted here. Continue reading Moodle Recipes: Small Group Discussions

Tech Training Goes Online

I have been training faculty to use technology since 1999, and boy have things changed since that time!  When I started, technology was hard to use, difficult to master and only vaguely helpful to teaching most of the time.  But that didn’t stop a lot of people, because there was also a lot of value … as long as it all worked just as it was supposed to!

Over the years, technology has come a long, LONG way. We are now living in very exciting times, indeed! I’m always excited to share with faculty the new features and tools that are already available to them on campus.  But I always run into a similar problem: No time. Continue reading Tech Training Goes Online

ELI Annual Meeting 2016

See Carly’s Blog by clicking here.

This year, I was honored to serve on the program committee of the ELI Annual Meeting, held in San Antonio this week. ELI (Educause Learning Initiative) has been an invaluable resource to faculty, instructional technologists, librarians and other academic professionals in higher education. They are known for actively contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning with technology, and have been a wonderful venue for research and collaboration amongst institutions in higher ed.

This meeting was extremely valuable, as always. There were over 600 participants, coming in at number 2 for record attendance. And you could tell, the poster sessions were crammed tight with people! And, as with most conferences, there were some obvious themes that emerged. Check out my twitter feed for the things I shared during the conference.

Adaptive Learning

AdaptiveLearningAdaptive learning is not new, but it’s really starting to take off! There were many vendors represented in the vendor hall and amongst the session presentations, including SmartSparrow, RealizeIT, Acrobatiq, Waymaker and likely others that I missed. All of these seem to have strengths and slightly different ways of approaching the problem of adaptive learning.

The University of Central Florida provided one of the most interesting sessions where Charles Dzuiban and Patsy Moskal talked about their ongoing research into the use of the adaptive system, RealizeIT (see their session description and PowerPoint slides). Generally speaking, they are finding that classes that use adaptive lessons are on par with traditional face-to-face and wholly online, but not adaptive, classes. The numbers of students who pass the course is roughly the same, and students generally perceive that the adaptive lessons helped them learn the material better.

I’m really excited for the possibilities of adaptive lessons for our residential institution! I think the potential for using adaptive lessons in just the right balance to our residential, face-to-face focus is huge in increasing student engagement and student learning. The technique has been used largely in STEM fields, such as Math and Physics, but I can see it being easily used in language learning, as well. Language teachers have been trying to do things like this for a long time (anyone remember Dasher?)!

Flexible Space Design

Steelcase Chairs at ELIAnother common theme was flexible space design, which is how to design a classroom for maximum flexibility in teaching. This is an extension of the concept to build active learning classrooms, but allows for those who wish to lecture to still have the ability to do so in the same space.

Sadly, I was unable to attend many of the sessions on this topic, but they were all over the schedule. Steelcase provided an entire room of furniture for us to use, and it was very popular. Two of the chairs that were provided are already in use at Carleton, in the Idealab (in Weitz) and Leighton 426! I also liked the rack of portable, personal whiteboards! I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture, but you can see an example from the Steelcase website here.

They also had some really nice cubbies, what I called an introverts dream, which would be excellent in study areas in the library or other buildings on campus. Angie Fedon tweeted the perfect photo:

One thing I did learn about was the Learning Space Rating System, which sounds like a fantastic idea! It’s a list of 50 questions that we can use to rate our existing learning spaces to measure how well they support active learning activities. Definitely worth a look in considering existing spaces and how we might improve their design for better teaching and learning.

Here are a few other useful items on this topic available on the ELI website:

Liberal Arts FTW!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great post-meeting Liberal Arts Community Workshop put together by Kristen Eshleman, Donnie Sendelbach, Joe Murphy. The session focused on the concepts of R&D and design thinking, which is often neglected at our small, sometimes under-staffed institutions. We spent the afternoon brainstorming ideas for how to identify big issues for liberal arts campuses, and then worked through potential experiments that could address those issues.

We had some pretty cool ideas come up, including a Liberal Arts App idea that came out of Bryan Alexander‘s team. It was a fun exercise, and particularly useful to spend time talking with my colleagues at other liberal arts institutions about big issues we all face. And it was even better to have ELI support the activity by providing the space and refreshments for the afternoon. More ELI focus on liberal arts colleges will be a great boon for us, I’m excited to see it continue!

ELI 2017 will be in Houston, Texas in February. The Call for Proposals will open in June, and it would be great to see some more liberal arts representation on the agenda!


Sharing the Bounty

See Carly’s Blog by clicking here.

Last fall, the ACM announced a language sharing project called Sharing the Bounty was awarded $42,448 from the Enhancing the Midwest Knowledge Ecosystem (EMKE). The EMKE is a Mellon-funded partnership between the ACM and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which is an academic consortium of the universities in the Big Ten Conference and the University of Chicago focused on exploring potential collaborations amongst those schools.

Sharing the Bounty is a collaboration between professors at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College and the University of Michigan to develop an online language course for Hindi. As with other Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL), Hindi is not often taught due to lower enrollments and the lack of high quality language materials. So the team is planning to develop a new online textbook for this program. From what I’ve read, it sounds like they will be following a more content-based approach that will focus equally on cultural fluency as well as linguistic competence.

Hendrix College Language Lab, circa 1950. Provided courtesy of Hendrix College.
Hendrix College Language Lab, circa 1950. Used with permission from Hendrix College. Original image available on their Flickr page.

The field of foreign language education has often been targeted for these kinds of distance education programs, but as any language educator knows this is a difficult proposition. There is a natural fit for online grammar and vocabulary exercises, or viewing audio and video recordings of the language and culture in action. Foreign language educators have always been on the forefront of technology use even in face-to-face classes, bring records, cassette tapes, laser disks, computers and streaming video into the classroom in abundance.

But these are only part of the language teaching and learning puzzle. A critical component of language learning is language production. The students must have not just ample, but plentiful opportunities to speak and interact in the target language. They must be interacting with peers and their instructor in the language on a very regular basis, daily is ideal. Even with this component, it’s very difficult for many students to get through a typical first stage of language acquisition, known as the silent period [1], to the point where they are even mildly comfortable speaking in the target language. And so instructors must encourage and cajole, creating a comfortable and safe atmosphere for students so that they lower their affective filter [2] enough to start participating frequently.

The art of creating this atmosphere in a language classroom is difficult in a face-to-face setting, but seems overwhelming and nigh impossible when you take these interactions online. Anyone who has attended an online meeting or webinar can attest to how the different medium, though synchronous, creates an entirely different set of social interaction challenges. There is a slight time lag to synchronous interactions such that participants must tolerate unnatural pauses and frequent requests for repetition as everyone inadvertently talks over one another. And that’s even when the technology is working flawlessly!

And yet…

And yet the opportunity to offer Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) to those who are motivated to learn them no matter their proximity is very enticing. LCTL educators are often seeking higher enrollments both to maintain the program offerings and to create a better balance of interactions in the classroom. If we can overcome the interaction challenges in the synchronous online classroom, we could have students from different areas and more varied backgrounds in the same classroom. This fact alone gives students even more reason to speak to one another, promoting more authentic target language interactions in the classroom. It could be really great!

The Sharing the Bounty project will be one for language educators to watch closely. It could also be a model for how Carleton College and our LACOL partners approache our collaborations in all disciplines. I know I’ll be interested to see how they handle some of the issues specific to teaching language, particularly in their choices of technologies. But it’ll be exciting to watch!