This is an interesting read by Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University. “Why I just asked my students to put their laptops away.” Shirky holds a joint appointment as an Associate Arts Professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program as well as an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department, and he’s a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Links throughout this post take you to specific “How To” pages at the CTL’s Blackboard Help site at: http://www.uvm.edu/ctl/blackboard
At the end of the semester
- Download the final Backup of your Grade Center to store for your records.
- Create, download, and store an Archive of your course. An Archive is a compressed file that contains all the information you have built in your course as well as your student grades. It can be used to build a new course and it should be saved as your backup of your grade center and your course materials.
Before the new semester starts
- Log in to Blackboard and check that your course appears with the correct instructors associated with it. Instructors are added to Blackboard through the Banner system, by departmental staff.
- Add TAs as soon as possible.
- Gather your course materials, plan how you will organize them in your course space, create Tests or Surveys, and plan which tools you will use for assignments and course activities. Plan early if you intend to create and incorporate videos.
- If you are reusing course material from a previous course, Archive the material from the old course, then Import it to the new course. Another way is with Course Copy command.
- Begin planning your Grade Center. Visit the CTL Dr Is In so our staff can consult with you on strategies for using this tool most effectively and efficiently, especially if you are teaching large enrollment courses. See Dr Is In schedule here.
- Post your Syllabus.
- Make the course Available to students when you are ready for them to access it.
During the semester
- Create and download an Archive of your course frequently throughout the semester. These will be your backup copies in case you need to restore any deleted material to your course.
- Download and store a Backup of your Grade Center both before and after adding grades.
- Try Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.
UVM’s Blackboard now has tools that allow instructors to connect their courses to publishers’ online textbook materials and assessments.In the past, publishers sometimes offered “course cartridges” to place publisher materials into your Blackboard course space. Recently, however, they’ve been moving away from this method.
What we see most frequently now is that publishers host textbook materials on their own Learning Management Systems and provide a tool in Blackboard for instructors to connect their course spaces directly to the these systems.
You might think of this as the publishers having set up their own Blackboard course spaces for each textbook. When you want to use their online materials, you simply turn on the tool in your course to create the link between your course and theirs.
One advantage is that it streamlines students access—they don’t have to register or enter separate codes because this is handled automatically. They can even take quizzes/tests and use other interactive tools on the publisher’s site, and the results of this activity can be sent back to your Blackboard Grade Center.
UVM currently supports a number of publishers, including Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and Acrobatiq.
Read instructions here on how to add these tools to your course.
Screencasting is a technique that allows you to record everything that happens on your computer screen, then turn that recording into a video. It has been used extensively for online teaching where a process is better shown than described in words. For example, it can be used to create a tour of your Blackboard course, show how to calculate and solve a problem, demonstrate how to use a particular software application, or simply create a narrated PowerPoint for students to watch outside class.
Sometimes, however, the process you want to show is best done by writing or drawing. Now, you can certainly use a drawing program and use a mouse to write or draw your information–but that’s like “drawing with a brick” because a mouse is not exactly designed for such fine motor skills. Is there a better approach? Here are three options.
A digital pen tablet
The word tablet continues to be redefined to describe several kinds of devices. In this instance I’m using it to describe a device that plugs into your computer and becomes a larger alternative to the small built-in touchpad on your laptop. The device comes with a stylus and some software but largely relies on writing or drawing software you already have on your computer. For example, you may already use the annotation feature in your PowerPoint slideshow view to draw or write on your slides, or you may already have a drawing program like Windows Paint to make freehand drawings of charts and graphs.
The digital pen tablet gives you two advantages over trying to write or draw with a mouse or with your finger on your laptops tiny touchpad: a stylus and a large surface. One of the leaders in this field, and one whose products we have used in the CTL, is WACOM (“wah-kum”). They have several pen tablet devices that range from the small Intuous ($79) to the Cintiq 24HD (a $3,000 24″ HD touch sensitive display).
The iPad and other tablet or phone devices
You may already own a device that you can write on: an iPad, Surface or even a phone. While you usually interact with these devices with your finger it is also possible to find a stylus that will give you greater precision when trying to write on them. Some styluses can now even differentiate between what you are writing and stray marks made by resting your hand on the writing surface.
The easiest way to capture what you are writing as a screencast is to use an app designed for that purpose. My current favorite on the iPad is Explain Everything ($2.99, also available for Android and Windows), an app that lets you create slides on which you can write, draw, import pictures and videos, link to web sites, and attach files like PDFs. As you create those slides you can record the entire process as a video. If you need need to incorporate elements from your laptop you can save your Explain Everything recording and insert it into a regular screencast. You can even, depending on your device, use them in combination by displaying your mobile device’s screen on your laptop. (There are several ways to do this depending on your device.)
But what if I want to write on plain old paper and record that?
Recently a question from a faculty member led to an interesting quest. Even using a stylus, many of us have difficulty writing on a tablet device in a way that is legible. For example, we may want to make a video of drawing a graph or solving an equation. Yes, you can write or draw on your iPad. Yes, you can attach a drawing device to your laptop or write/draw on that. You can even use a stylus instead of your finger. However, learning to write on these devices is not always as comfortable (or legible!) as using the technology you grew up with: pen and paper.
So, the question? Can one use a standard classroom document camera (ELMO, etc.), write on a piece of paper or a transparency, and then capture that process as a video? The answer turns out to be yes, sort of. The doc cam needs to be a digital one, you need to find and install the drivers for it, and the drivers must be compatible with your computer and operating system. After some searching (and thanks to Classroom Technologies in the Library for the loaner of a Samsung doc com for testing!) I found some of the doc cams around campus could do this, with varying results. But the experience wasn’t always a happy one given the myriad combinations of doc cams and drivers (i.e. it flat out would not work with some combinations).
Enter the hi-tech + low-tech combo: a stand and a mobile device. There are stands that can hold your iPhone, iPad, MicroSoft Surface, Android or other mobile device over a piece of paper. You then use the device’s built-in camera to record writing on that paper. Belkin makes one (Belkin Tablet Stage Stand B2B054, $168) that can use any device as long as the camera lens can be positioned over the view hole in the corner of the stand’s holding tray. This type of stand is being used in K-12 and higher ed classrooms as a cheaper alternative to doc cams when the instructor has access to a mobile device.
The beauty of this combination is that you can use your own tablet or phone, using the software that is familiar to you. And though $168 is not inexpensive, the stand is portable and can be shared in a department.
So, UVM faculty: if you write better on paper than on a tablet, want to make a video of that writing and have an iPad or other mobile device, let us know. We can loan you the stand for a week for testing.
And if you would like to try any of the other options described in this post, contact us at email@example.com. We’ll be happy to meet with you.
Applications are now being accepted for the UVM Hybrid Course Initiative program (phase 3). The deadline is Monday, November 3rd at 5pm! Read more about teaching hybrid courses, about the initiative, and the benefits in applying to teach one of these courses.
This fall, the CTL sponsored a book group exploring contemplative teaching/learning methods. The book, Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning (Barbezat and Bush, 2013), describes a pedagogy that is based on long-established meditative practices and cites research indicating its effectiveness. The authors explore contemplative teaching practices’ potential to:
- Deepen student understanding of, and personal connection to, course content
- Develop student attention, inquiry, and problem-solving skills
- Support student sense of compassion for self and others
In addition to theoretical background, the book presents practical ideas for applying these practices across disciplines, including mindfulness, deep listening, contemplative reading, writing, and movement.
Led by Kit Anderson, senior lecturer in the Environmental Program, the book group’s ten enthusiastic members, representing a variety of disciplines, shared stories from their teaching experiences. Kit, who has attended seminars presented by the book’s authors and has been integrating these practices into her teaching for a while, was invaluable to the discussions.
We would to like grow this community of faculty who are curious about contemplative pedagogy and plan to offer this book group again early in the spring semester. If you would like to be sent a scheduling poll for this group, please send your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include in the message that you are interested in participating in the contemplative practices book group. Specific times and dates will be chosen after the poll has been completed and will reflect the most common dates.
The UVM Sustainability Fellows Program invites applications for its sixth year!
» Applications are due Oct 3rd – Click here to learn more.
This program is presented by UVM’s Environmental Program, Center for Teaching and Learning, The Office of Sustainability, The Greenhouse Residential Learning Community and in partnership with Shelburne Farms. The fellowship is supported by the Provost’s Office.
The quote on the right is from the 1919 autobiography by Henry Adams, a descendant of the two Presidents.
If the “difficulty” he refers to sounds familiar—if your classroom discussions could benefit from a jolt of energy and inspiration—you are not alone.
Some of the common class discussion challenges instructors face are:
- asking the right questions – ones that spark ideas and elicit thoughtful replies
- getting the less assertive or shy students to speak up
- the sound of nothing but crickets chirping after a question is proffered
We invite you to attend Tips for Great Class Discussion, from our “Sound (Teaching) Bite” series coming up on Wednesday 9/17 at noon. This one-hour event will be led by J. Dickinson, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the CTL. (Registration is appreciated.)
From Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning
From American Astronomical Society Education Office
From Faculty Focus
We welcome your suggestions for more resources on this topic.
Tip #1: Learn names. Jonathan Leonard (CDAE) makes the effort to learn every student’s name, even when he has hundreds of students. His strategy is to open the class roster page in Banner and display the students’ photos and, while studying each face, he speaks their names aloud. Over and over. And over. Occasionally he shifts the page arrangement, by changing the row settings to, for instance, three across instead of five, and he keeps testing himself. He admits that it takes several practice sessions, but he claims the effort is well worth it. His students are completely astonished when he greets them at the door by first name. A large class it may be, but an indistinct mass of anonymous faces it is not. Individuals are being recognized and this, he says, changes the whole game.
(By the way, Jonathan isn’t the only one to stress the value of learning names. Every year when the CTL holds a panel discussion with the latest winners of the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, at least one of the panelists mentions that this practice is vital to their teaching style.)
More resources and techniques:
- Chronicle of Higher Ed: “I can’t learn their Names.“
- Carnegie Mellon University: “Students are more likely to cheat if they feel anonymous.“
Tip #2: Get students talking. Sheila Boland-Chira (English) recommends the turn and talk method in any class, but particularly on the first day when anxiety may be running a little high. She asks an evocative question related to the course topic and invites students to turn to their neighbors and talk about it. After a few minutes, she invites volunteers to share their thoughts with the whole group. Not only does the lively buzz change the atmosphere in the room, doing this on the first day lets students know that the class is participatory and that they are going to be challenged to think.
Tip #3 Make personal connections. Char Merhtens (Geology) asks students to come to her office and meet with her individually during the first week or two of the semester, just to say hi and chat for a few minutes. However, because there are 200+ students in one of her classes, visiting with everyone isn’t practicable, so she invites only the first-years and seniors, the two groups she feels would most benefit from this (although, for completely different reasons). Char says that this simple social gesture has paid off in countless ways and many students go out of their way to thank her.
Tip #4: It’s standard practice to review the syllabus on the first day of class, but a few faculty offered tips to make this ritual more meaningful:
- Before the first class meets, contemplate your schedule again and identify the overarching themes. When you review the syllabus on the first day, share this 10,000-foot view with your students and talk about how the key themes are woven throughout the schedule. This overview provides not only a conceptual map of the course, but a rationale for the work you are going to be asking them to do.
- Make the syllabus review more engaging by including interesting visual elements, e.g., drawings, concept maps, or a humorous cartoon. Consider playing music.
- Use Blackboard’s test tool to create a short quiz about the syllabus with multiple-choice type questions (so Blackboard will do the grading for you) and make it a mandatory assignment by the second day of class. Doing this gets them to delve deeper into the syllabus and you can review the stats in Blackboard before the next class, so you can touch upon any murky areas.
Tip #5: Finally, convey enthusiasm! J. Dickinson (Anthropology) offered what might be the most important tip for the first class and every class: that it’s crucial to communicate your excitement about what you teach. Even if you’re not teaching your dream course, you should be able to muster enthusiasm for it. Foundational or introductory-level courses are exciting when you consider the potential for learning and that you just may spark an interest that has a formative effect on someone’s life. Genuine enthusiasm can be infectious.