Friday, October 1, 2010

Online Office Hours

What do you do when you have to meet with someone, but getting there isn't convenient, and not everyone has a Video Conferencing system? You reach for Adobe Connect or some other similar Web Conferencing system. Why not use Adobe Connect for office hours?

About a year ago, the IU Kelley School of Business started looking at options to continue teaching in case of an extended closure of a campus. Adobe Connect was one proposed solution, as IU has a site license for this product.

To schedule regular office hours, I conducted a quick poll via Doodle to see what times are convenient for my students, and started my "Online Office Hours" via Connect. I created a Connect Meeting Room and shared the URL with the students. At the designated times, I stay in the virtual meeting room and students can come and go as they wish. So far, the students have joined mainly from a computer lab somewhere on campus. They didn't have a microphone/camera on the computer, so they ask questions via chat. The capability however exists to have a multi-user audio/video interaction.

I see several advantages to having Online Office Hours:
  • Students don't need to drive to campus or walk across campus to ask me questions.
  • Adobe Connect allows me to share my screen to help answer the question.
  • The notes window allows me to save discussion notes for other students.
Of course, the brick-and-mortar office hours haven't gone away, for questions and issues that are more personal in nature and require a one-on-one meeting. Those issues being rare, the online solution is the new norm.

My Online Office Hours project is still in its infancy, so I don't have any solid statistics to report, however, look for a future post with such information.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doodle Scheduling and Polls Assistant

Many times, an educator needs to schedule a particular event or conduct a quick poll to gather information about students' views, availability or for some demographic data. Doodle is a great online tool for such goals.

In this blog post, I will not talk about the "Doodle-how-to", because you could visit Doodle Help for that, though most of you may not even feel the need to go there, as it is fairly straight forward to navigate the site. What I will mention are some ways you could use Doodle in (or out of) the classroom.

The free version of Doodle is very simple and has two main options:
  1. Schedule an event - (Use this when you have particular dates in mind)
  2. Make a choice - (Use this for everything else)
Each of these options has 3-4 steps and in the end gives a participation link for your audience and an admin link for you to return to the site for corrections or to close out the poll. Always file-away the Admin link. If you forget the participation link, you can get it via the admin link.

Since we are talking about "Teaching with Technology", it would be good to know how many students have a computer at home and what type of a network connection they have. This is probably good information to gather at the beginning of every semester (or quarter/year), and can be done through "Make a choice" option without much effort. So based on your needs, you could create a couple of polls to know your student group a little better.

The screenshot below shows another Doodle selection for my "Online Office Hours" question. (BTW: I will discuss the "Online Office Hours" in my next post.) I chose the "Make a choice" option because I want to know best times for the rest of the semester on a weekly basis, so I don't have any particular dates in mind. I entered the weekdays and times manually as the choices.

If your classroom has computers at each station, then it can also be a great tool to help break the monotony to pause for a moment and take a poll about something related to the course material. Even though it doesn't take long to create these polls, I would suggest doing this before class and having the participation links ready to be shared.

So, if you just want to conduct a poll to gather some demographic data, or schedule an event on a particular date (such as a field-trip), or just want to get an opinion from your group, just Doodle it!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Technology in the Classroom

Engaging students can be a real challenge especially if the classroom is set up as a computer lab environment. Some students who feel that they know the material tend to disconnect from the main discussion and get distracted with sites related to social networking, shopping, gaming, etc.

NetOp provides a great classroom solution. NetOp Classroom Management software allows the instructor to manage and take control of student workstations. One of the most useful features is the ability to display any student's screen on the projector by simply selecting it from a list. This list shows the login account name of each student along with the workstation number.

In my classroom, I teach Excel and Access to Business students. There are 30 workstations numbered 1 - 30. I normally print a copy of the class roster which is sorted by the login account names. Though NetOp software only shows the account name, I can use the roster to quickly determine any student's name.

First, I break up the day's material into several small objectives. Each objective is long enough to require no more than 5-7 minutes.

Next, I use to randomly select a student who will work through the first objective for the day. With the student doing the clicking/typing to show how to use a particular feature of the software application, I can walk around the classroom holding a laser-pointer, as I explain the intricacies of the steps in progress and help anyone who feels lost.

This accomplishes many objectives:
  • Students know they will be called upon, so they feel complelled to complete every step.
  • It keeps unrelated surfing/gaming off from the students' workstations.
  • It gives me mobility, as the chosen student is demonstrating the necessary steps.
  • Helps me learn students' names, as I call out the randomly selected person's name.
  • Helps students learn names of other students.

Here is an example list of objectives from the Excel charting chapter:

  1. Create a 2-D pie chart
  2. Format individual pie chart components
  3. Use predefined styles
  4. Update source range and data
  5. ...

Next, let's say that generates the number 19. The list of students in NetOp shows the login account next to the workstation number 19 and let's assume it is "awilson". I look at the roster sorted by login accounts and without any delay, I determine the studet's name is "Amanda Wilson". So, I announce something like, "Amanda will get us started on Pie charts today. Are you ready Amanda?"

All-in-all NetOp Classroom Management software has been a great tool for keeping students engaged and bridging the gap between teaching and learning.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Twitter LogoTwitter is another great tool for subliminal teaching. In my past experience, I have used twitter for both, reminders about exams, homework assignments, and other class related deadlines, and also for exam reviews through questions and answers sent via twitter.

Since twitter is limited to short (140 character) messages, it requires careful wording. Normally, when I read/review the chapters, for my preparation, I make brief notes (electronically) about messages I want to tweet, so later on, I can tweet these by using copy-and-paste.

Take a look at the "Higher Education Trends and Statistics" page at Cisco. A couple of the applicable facts listed in the Mobile section are:

97 percent of U.S. college students own a cell phone, and 79 percent own a mobile computer
73 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 who own cell phones use them for data and communication activities other than phone calls

What this means is that a large percentage of students are capable of receiving tweets on their cell phones. If the content is kept useful and interesting, the tweets will be read. The time spent reading/digesting this content is neither class-time, nor homework. It is an opportunity to take a chunk of students' free-time or socialization-time and convey an important concept or a question to redirect students' thoughts to course material.

I look forward to additional thoughts from any of the readers of this blog.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blogging for education

Blogging is a powerful tool for any communication and it is certainly not just for journalists. In my view, every class should have at least one blog. If the students can maintain the content, it cuts down on educator's time commitment.

Most blogging sites provide an e-mail interface, where the content for a new post can just be e-mailed to the blog server and it takes care of the actual posting part of the process. So, the time commitment isn't huge to begin with, but if the students can help write the posts, then it does more than just communicate messages.

There are many applications of blogging for education. For example, a blog can be used to:
  • Remind students about upcoming targets
  • Provide brief summaries of course material
  • Solicit feedback from students
  • Provide exam reviews
  • and more...
In the simplest cases the educator himself/herself could use the blog to provide reminders about upcoming exams/assignments or to provide brief overviews on chapters/lessons.

To get more mileage from a blog however, the wheel has to be turned over to the students. Perhaps as part of class participation points, the students could be asked to write on such topics as "How to stay motivated about school", "How to prepare for an exam."

Yet at another level, the students could be given a topic to research and then write a blog post about their findings. In order to cover larger ground of course material, each student should be given a separate topic to tackle. The blog content can then be used for exam reviews.

I have maintained a blog for my class for a couple of years, and I find it to be a valuable resource that allows me to craft the end product without making a big sacrifice of time. In many cases, it is simply a matter of cut-and-paste along with some simple formatting to create a blog post.

Recently, however, I have asked my students to also write blog posts. I see many advantages of involving the students:
  • Students feel a sense of connection with the blog, as it is now their creation.
  • Having students research a topic and then write about it, provides a large collection of review material for upcoming exams.
  • It helps students with their writing skills.
  • I learn more about my students, their goals and strategies.
  • Students also get to know each other a little better
  • ...and the list doesn't stop here...
I'm sure I've missed a few important points from this list, but there is no doubt that this provides an opportunity for students to get involved more than just the basic classwork/homework cycle. I would love to hear about your experiences with Blogging for Education...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Subliminal Teaching with Technology

I don't think I have to spend even a few minutes trying to convince any educator that the use of technology in and out of the classroom provides numerous advantages. There are many success stories that have proven this point many times over, whether it is an elementary school using iPads in the classrooms or a college level course using clickers.

In this blog, I will attempt to elaborate on some of my experiences. Over the last 12 years, I have experimented with and implemented various solutions. Nearly all of these have been software solutions that had no cost associated with them in terms of real dollars. Of course, with some solutions the cost in time investment can be enormous, but by involving students in the implementation of these solutions can help soften the impact.

In the traditional teaching techniques, students' commitment is broken down into three main components:
  • Classwork
  • Homework
  • Assessment

First of all, this view has to be refined. One big advantage with technology is that it allows the educators access to a chunk of students' social time, providing the ability to conduct "subliminal teaching." While a student is socializing online via facebook, a diversion to a class page/group would fit neither classwork, homework, nor assessment, though there is a great opportunity to reinforce a few concepts. Similarly, twitter messages about course material would go under the subliminal teaching category. Technology provides other such opportunities to teach, solicit feedback, and get students involved in the learning process through implicit commitment.

In the future posts I will focus on various software tools and their applications.