Friday, March 30, 2012

Technology Spotlight: Screencast-o-matic

Screencasts or “digital recording of computer screen output” that often contain audio narration can be powerful teaching tools and there are many tools available that can be used to create screencasts.  A great tool to quickly create short screencasts is Screen-cast-o-matic.  Screen-cast-o-matic  is a free, easy to use, online screen recording program.  Features of the free version include:
  • a maximum recording time of 15 minutes per screen recording,
  • free web hosting for screen recordings on Screen-cast-o-matic,
  • the ability to record from a web camera,
  • the ability to publish screen recordings directly to YouTube,
  • and the ability to save screen recordings as video files (MP4, AVI or FLV).
To get started Screen-cast-o-matic, click the blue “Start Recording” button.  The screen recording program will open up on your screen.  Drag or resize the box to set the recording area.  Only the area of your computer screen inside the box will be captured.  You can place this box over Web pages, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, ANGEL, or other software programs.  Once you are ready to record, click the “Record” button.  You can pause your recordings if you need to switch programs.  When you are done, click the “Done” button.  At that point, you can decide if you want to save your recording as a video file or publish your recording on Screen-cast-o-matic or YouTube.  When downloading (publish to video file) a fullscreen screencast, make sure to rescale the width of the screencast size (600 px is a good size).  For more information, view this quick demo on using Screen-cast-o-matic.  If you would like to host your screen recordings on Screen-cast-o-matic, you will need to create an account.  To register for an account, just enter in your email address and a password and click “Register”.
Tips when creating a screen recording:
  • Write out a script of your screen recording.  The script will be helpful when creating the screen recording but can also be used as a transcript or for captioning to help make your screen recording accessible.
  • Chunk longer lectures into shorter presentations to allow students to process the concepts.
  • Use a headset microphone for best audio quality and set your microphone volume before starting.
  • Record in a location with minimal noise distractions.  You might also want to put a sign up on your door so you won’t be interrupted.
Screencasts can be used to:
  • Produce lessons that students can watch anywhere at any time
  • Allow students to feel more connected to their instructors in an online class
  • Share information with students through video and audio
  • Demonstrate how to use specific software programs or create tutorials and how-tos
  • Perform regular and standardized training
  • Narrate PowerPoint mini-lectures
  • Explain difficult concepts or illustrate confusing tasks
  • Provide explanations for solutions to problems
  • Provide feedback to students on assignments
  • Walk students through discipline specific Web sites
  • Orient students to an online course
Examples of screencasts created with
Additional resources on screencasts:
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of screencasts in your teaching or would like to learn more about using Screen-cast-o-matic, please feel free to contact Instructional Technology and Design at

• Do you think screencasts have potential as a learning/teaching tool?
• Have you used screencasts in your teaching? If so, in what ways?  If not, do you see any uses for screencasts in your teaching and how might you use them? 

• Have you used Screen-cast-o-matic or another tool before?  What have been your experiences in using those tools?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Freeing The Course Part 2: Course Readings

So now we come to the next part in our series on “Freeing the Course.”  In the first part, we dealt with free programs and tools, this time, we're looking at free readings and material for your class.  We all know that textbooks are a significant challenge for any course.  The prices are challenging for students between affording them, getting them from the bookstore, and glitches or problems with financial aid.  Then, of course, there is the problem of ordering them online on their own and waiting.

So what about free material online?  There’s lots of it.  Vast amounts, in fact.  So what do we make of that and how do we use it?  There are several considerations that you want to think about before venturing onto using online materials that is worth considering.

1.    How much will they be reading online?  Reading on screen has been found to be more challenging than reading a physical text.  Some of this may come to change with improved technology, but it’s something worth keeping in mind.  One way to offset this is to make sure the physical text may be available (on reserve in the library, as a “recommended” purchase in the bookstore, or just through the library and inter-library loan.

2.    Do you want students to have the readings in class?  Many faculty members will want students to have them in hand in class.  So this might mean you need to clarify your technology usage policy in your classroom to encourage students to bring laptop or tablet devices.  However, many of your students may want to print the material.  If that’s the case, please make sure you provide them with sufficient guidelines on how to print efficiently (such as double-sided or printing 2 pages on 1 side of a paper to get 4 pages per piece of paper).  Not only does this promote more environmentally friendly results, but students are limited in the amount they can print before the school charges them and you don’t want to use the student’s entire semester budget for just your class.

3.    How reliable are the readings to stay where they are?  We know the internet can be quirky.  That awesome site that’s here today can be gone tomorrow.  So in selecting readings, make sure you choose reliable sites or sites that have been around for several years (though that’s no guarantee that they will always be around).  You might want to find the source in several places or alternatives to each reading.

4.    What do you want the students (or yourself) to do with the readings?  As we’ll see below, the online environment allows for something that you cannot with regular texts (at least not as easily) and that is create a collaboratively annotated online text.  So maybe all you want your students to do is to read the material.  But you can also start to push the students to engage with the material and voice opinions or thoughts on particular passages directly onto the page, using tools like Diigo.

Ok, so what are some of those resources that you may want to consider:

The first handful sources of particular use for the Humanities and Social Sciences (though other disciplines are apt to find great nuggets to include in their courses from these sites):  The Internet Archive, The Gutenberg Project, Wikisource, and Librivox.  There are large repositories of the public domain which includes books and textual material in the case of Archive, Gutenberg Project, and Wikisource, but also sound in the case of Librivox and images, sounds, videos, text, programs, and well, the entire internet, in the case of The Internet Archive.  Some of these sites only offer html-based text resources, but Archive does a decent job of providing formats that are operable in different eReaders.

Librivox offers user-based sound recordings of works that are in the public domain.  This can be great for giving students access to audio renderings of readings.  However, it could also be a great idea as an assignment for students to create additional reading in the public domain; it might be a great service learning project for a communications, media, or English course.
Meanwhile, if you are looking for a standard textbook, Flatworld Knowledge might be your place to be.  From this site, you can select and use an online textbook FOR FREE for your class.  As the site explains it, "It’s this easy: search our catalog, request a print review copy or review our book online, complete an online adoption form, give a URL to your students, and download our supplements. Done. It really is that easy."    The text is free for students to read online and if they want to order a physical copy, they can for a reasonable price.  Faculty can also chose to customize the text if they so choose.

In addition to these Internet-based sources, there are also two great tools that are available through the library.  The first is Ebrary, the library’s digital library, giving students access to 1000s of books both popular and academic.  Faculty can assign entire books or individual chapters from a range of books.  Ebrary also includes some great tools such as a notes section, annotations, and highlight so students can engage more with the text.  Overdrive is another great source for access to digital copies of both books (more popular books in this case) and audiobooks.  The one drawback with Overdrive is that there are limitations on the amount of students that can virtually check out a book.  But it might be useful to direct students if you have them doing research or required to read an outside book on their own.

Finally, for developing content online as opposed to standard pay-for texts, I’d highly recommend Diigo.  This is a social bookmarking tool that allows you to not only create and share bookmarks, but if you create a group, you can collaboratively annotate and highlight any page you bookmark (or that students bookmark).  Some faculty enjoy using a variety of websites including blogs, newspapers, and other online sources.  They can create a Diigo group for their class, organize the links into different “chapters” or “weekly readings.”  But what’s great is that the faculty can annotate and highlight passages on the website that students will be able to see or faculty can require students to write commentary on the website.  In effect, this creates a “living text” that the faculty member can use each semester, adding or subtracting as it makes sense to do so.  For more exploration of Diigo’s uses, check out our playlist on Youtube.

One last note.  It’s important that you explain to students the expectations around your course material in terms of how they should be used.  Students may not have had material online to read and so giving them some directions and guidelines about how to read (and notate) online as well as resources to overcome problems and alternative places they can find the material is really important.  It’s frustrating to the faculty member when the student doesn’t do the reading, but it’s equally frustrating for the student when the reading isn’t accessible.
  • What are barriers for you to keep you from using online materials instead of the standard physical text?
  • What kind of online material have you used?  What did you like and dislike about it?
  • What would be your ideal for online materials?  How would it work?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freeing The Course Part 1: Course Programs

We know that the cost of education is high and continues to escalate for various reasons; even at community colleges.  This is problematic since we do serve as a gateway of economic and intellectual opportunity for a wide range of students who might not get into or finish college without us.  But costs are prohibitive to many people and in digital age, finding ways of making class and class tools cheap is quite important.  So this will be a short series of posts on Freeing Up Course Programs, Course Readings, Course Delivery, and Course Extras filled with great resources for you to use in your course that are entirely free for you and your students.

Course Programs
Let’s first tackle course programs.  A college student in the 21st century needs access to a computer but does not necessarily need all the associative (and costly) software that goes with it.  It’s quite prohibitive for students at times and frustrating.  They’ve spent an ample amount of time, energy, and money getting into college, now they need to expend even more.  So let’s take a look at some of the options afforded students who don’t have or can’t afford the software that faculty frequently rely on.

The Office Suite
As more and more instructors grade on a computer, Microsoft Word documents and other Microsoft programs tend to become a standard, if only so the instructor doesn’t have to open files in a variety of programs.  However, Office doesn’t have to rule the classroom nor be the program used by students.  Many programs now allow the student to Save File As a different document than the default file that the program creates.  So if the student is using iWorks on a Mac, they can still save their file as a .doc/.docx (Word Document file type) or a .rtf (Rich Text Format; a universal word processor file type).  So it’s useful to make sure you communicate to your students about the “Save As” feature if they are using different programs to make sure they submit assignments in the right file type.  But when in doubt, the answer can be a Google-search away.  Typing in "convert *file type a* into *file type b* free" and you'll often find a host of resources that can help you (or your student) properly convert the file.

But what if the student doesn't have any of those standard programs?  There are two free programs out there that are worth investigating and mentioning to your students.  The first is OpenOffice.  This is a free suite of programs, which includes word processor program, spreadsheets, presentations, databases and drawings.  It’s a bit watered-down from Microsoft Office, but not in ways that will be relevant to students writing papers or creating presentations.  What’s also convenient about this program is that though it has its default file type (.odt), the file can still be saved in other format types (such as a .doc) using the Save As feature.

And of course, there’s also GoogleDocs as we’ve mentioned before on this blog.  Again, like OpenOffice, GoogleDocs allows you to save in different format types and gives you access to largely the same suite of tools in Microsoft Office and even some extras (such as its survey tool and its sharing options).  However, the major drawback with GoogleDocs is that it’s not as accessible if there isn’t an internet connection.

One last note.  It’s important to not only inform your students about these, but to also give them a range of resources on how to use them.  It’s not enough to expect them to just “get it.”  We pretend that students know technology better than us, but many don’t and need additional guidance.  Pretending they do displaces responsibility or opportunity to work with the student. This guidance can come in the form of written, audio, or visual guides on how to do the task at hand.  And remember that you don’t have to start anew.  For instance, check out this playlist we’ve created on how to use or GoogleDocs.  The important piece is to make sure you help arm the students to know what they need to do in order to successfully fulfill the assignment in the right format.

Keep an eye out for the next post which will focus on finding free course content.
  • What software programs are essential for your class and do you know of free analogues available out there?
    How is digital technology aiding in making the course and teaching financially cheaper?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Using Google Documents to Foster Collaboration and Communication in the Learning Environment

Are you looking for an easier way to promote group work among your students? Do you want to better facilitate peer review and editing in your classes? Do you wish you could see your students’ progress in a project before receiving the finished assignment? Do you want your students to participate in a shared knowledge development experience? Are you looking for simple and efficient ways to collect information from your students such as feedback on the course? If so, then you might want to take a closer look at Google Documents to see if this technology can help you in meeting your pedagogical needs.

Google Documents is one of the Google Apps for Higher Education that all faculty, staff and students at North Shore Community College have access to through their Gmail account. According to Google, Google Documents is “an easy-to-use online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation editor that enables” faculty and students to “create, store and share documents instantly and securely, and collaborate online in real time.”

Inside of Google Documents, faculty and students can easily create and share documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms and drawings. Google Documents can also serve as online storage where you can upload and download already existing documents in a variety of file formats including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF files along with image, audio and video files. Documents stored in Google Documents are available from any computer with Internet access.
The benefits of using Google Documents are many. Documents created and stored in Google Documents can be easily shared with anyone. Sharing permissions allow you to share a document with individual faculty or students at North Shore College Community, with the entire North Shore College Community, or with the entire world as a public document. When working in a document, you can see the real time edits and comments from other collaborators. You also have the ability to chat with collaborators within the document. As you edit a document, you can leave comments and have a discussion with other editors about the changes. A revision history is available for all Google Documents which allows you to review drafts, restore previous versions, and see what changes each collaborator has made. This provides accountability for students involved in team projects. Google Documents are stored securely on the Web and you can access and edit your documents from anywhere at any time. This minimizes the need to email documents to yourself and allows you to have a backup of your documents. And finally, documents can be saved as Word files, presentations can be saved as PowerPoint files, and spreadsheets can be saved as Excel files so students can create and submit to you files in a Microsoft format.

For more information on Google Documents, please visit this resource.

Or visit our YouTube Playlist for some good walks-throughs and explanations:
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of using Google Documents as a collaboration and communication tool or are interested in integrating it into your classes, please feel free to contact Instructional Technology and Design at
  • Do you think Google Documents has potential as a learning/teaching tool?
  • Have you used Google Documents in the classroom? If so, in what ways? If not, do you see any uses for Google Documents in the classroom? How might you use Google Documents?
  • What challenges might you or your students encounter in using Google Documents?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Technology: Students Rights and Responsibilities

Brad Flickinger posted an interesting proposal on "Educational Technology Bill of Rights for Students".  They are a fascinating assortment of rules that though directed towards high school education, I think have some implications and applications to community college.

They are listed as such with some qualifying language in following sentences on the website.
1) I have the right to use my own technology at school.

2) I have the right to access the school’s WiFi.

3) I have the right to submit digital artifacts that prove my understanding of a subject, regardless of whether or not my teacher knows what they are.

4) I have the right to cite Wikipedia as one of the sources that I use to research a subject.

5) I have the right to access social media at school.

6) I have the right to be taught by teachers who know how to manage the use technology in their classrooms.

7) I have the right to be taught by teachers who teach me and demand that I use 21st Century Skills.

8 ) I have the right to be accessed with technology.

9) I have the right to be protected from technology.

10) I have the right to be taught by teachers that know their trade. 

While some rules are not as relevant Right #9 applies more to cyberbullying; though might also speak to concerns of hacking/threats to student information by external sources while at school), others bring up important points that are worth thinking about in terms of student access and learning.  I'm not sure I can say that the language of "rights" entirely works but I do think these are worth considering for our faculty.  I lean away from "rights" in large part because there is a sense of universality when we talk about something as a right and much of the technology is still a privilege.  Therefore to get to do an assignment with what whatever digital artifact of Student A's choosing isn't necessarily fair if Student B does not have access or knowledge of said artifact-building tool. 

I know many faculty find fault with Right #4 and I think we'll see this continue to be an ongoing discussion within academia.  We certainly have challenges with democratized knowledge and are not sure of its place in society.  However, the single entry on the American Revolution (not including all the sublinks and extended sections) is over 11,000 words and has over 135 footnotes.  When you compile the full knowledge on the American Revolution present within Wikipedia--you have several books.  Even the term "Encyclopedia" in Wikipedia has over 5000 words and that's just the singular entry on the word--not all the extended sublinked sections.  It's hard to say that these aren't substantial sources. 

 Another challenge for faculty is Right #8 and what being accessed means within the classroom.  This is a problem I've mentioned before but also one that every college grapples with.  Educause has provided an interesting range of approaches  as well.

It comes down to this:  if students have rights, they must also have responsibilities with regards to their technologies.  But the rapid pace of technological change has kept us from finding a clear sense of what those responsibilities.  There are concerns --costly concerns when it comes to a student's education and their financial investment.  There is clearly a need for a reconsideration  of what is etiquette in this new dynamic.  Instructors are increasingly concerned and challenged by these issues.  
  • So what are reasonable expectations and responsibilities for students?  
  • How do we determine that as a community and develop those values in our students?
  • How do we encourage students to buy into these values to make our instruction and facilitation as well as their learning more effective and rewarding?  
  • If we are asking them to be responsible in their technological use, does that mean we should be meeting them in their technological needs and expectations?

Monday, March 5, 2012

They’ve Got Tech…and They Know How to Use It?

Ok, so we talk a lot on this blog about faculty using technology.  But what about how students use technology in the classroom?  Do you treat cellphones, tablets, and laptops the same in your class?  Do you have different expectations for different technologies within your class?  Essentially, what is your technology policy and how do you let students know what your technology expectations are?

This is an important question as technologies such as cellphones, tablets, and laptops become ubiquitous in many people’s lives.  For many students, they won’t know what you expect from them with regard to their usage of technology in the class.  They don’t know if cellphone usage (the dreaded texting) is acceptable or not.  Seriously.  Walk through the hallways while class are in session and you will inevitably spot several students using their cellphones—sometimes, quite obviously—in class.  Some faculty hate cellphone usage and dismiss students; others ignore it; and others encourage the use of the cellphone as a pedagogical tool.  Regardless, it’s important to communicate your expectations within the classroom to help the student.  It’s probably useful to include a technology policy in the syllabus.  

The place of the cellphone in the classroom is still a topic of hot debate, but what about the tablet or laptop?  As colleges adopt laptop-requirements, it seems that to then ban laptops from the classroom is contradictory.  The laptop can be an excellent tool within the classroom.  Indeed, for me as a student, taking notes on a laptop as opposed to a pen and pad means that I’ll actually be able to read my notes later.  But (and this is a big one), laptops can be horribly distracting to learning.  It starts with opening email, then giving away cows on Farmville, then poking every friend on Facebook, bidding on 1970s ephemera on Ebay and finally, you’re in an epic battle with a troll on World of Warcraft—only then do you look up to find out class ended two hours ago. Clearly, that’s not what we want either.  

The discussion has lead to some interesting approaches and considerations with regards to technology in the classroom.  There’s been 2 policy tactics that I use in my classes with regard to laptop usage that I have found extremely useful and even had students thank me for keeping them on track through this policy.  

1.  Email notes at the end of class.
    At the end of class—before they leave the class--, students using laptops are required to send their notes to the instructor.  This is a great tool for two reasons.  It holds the student accountable for showing they’ve used their laptop responsibly (more on that in a second).  It also works as a feedback loop for the instructor to consider what the students are taking from the class.  

    Some at this point will say that it is the student’s responsibility to be responsible with the laptop.  I can agree with that, but that drift into things not having to do with class is much like speeding.  We’re apt to go over the speed limit almost daily unless there are clear and emphatic reminders to put us back on track (speed traps, speed trackers, signs, etc).  By requiring the student to email the notes, helps them keep the signs in mind. 

2.  Students must sit at the front of the class. 
    This tactic is useful because the student is restricted from hiding in the back.  This tactic works on peer pressure where the student knows that his/her screen will be exposed to the students behind him/her and is less likely to engage in inappropriate or unrelated activities. 

These strategies might not be of use or interest to you as an instructor, but it is important to consider just how you want to approach the question of technology in the classroom from the student’s standpoint. 
  • What technology policies do you have in the classroom?
  • What are some of the ways you’ve seen students use technology in the classroom that have encouraged/discouraged further use of technology by students in the class?