Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reading blogs on iOS/Android devices

In this post, I just wanted to take a minute to write about an app that puts blogs and news feeds at your fingertips. Pulse, from Alphonso Labs, is an iOS (and Android) app that ... (well, let me just take a few words from the description in the app store) ... turns your RSS feeds into "a colorful and interactive mosaic", presents a "clean and elegant view" of the posts, lets you "share your stories via facebook, twitter, email or instapaper."

In the picture on the left, each row is a separate blog and you can see that I have added my Course blog (K201 Blog) near the bottom of the list. The main idea of RSS is to bring the content to you, as it is made available. So, you could say that Pulse is the inbox for all your blogs, news feeds, and more.

Once you install Pulse, you can add feeds you want to read simply by clicking on the "+" and choosing from featured content, categorized content, your Google reader content, or any other feed you want to read. Most blogs, News sites provide one or more RSS feeds, identifiable by the famous orange icon . To add your favorite feed to Pulse, use "Search for Sources" option once you tap the "+" button.

In order to do this, first copy the feed link to the clipboard. For example, you can right-click the RSS button/link in the browser and choose the copy option. Next, go to pulse, click "+" to add a feed, then click the "Search" button near the bottom and paste the link in the search box. This will bring up one or more search results with the "+" (add) option next to each entry. If multiple results are displayed, you should be able to identify the one you need to add. If you guess wrong, you can always delete and repeat the process to choose a different one.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Attendance Quiz

I'm sure the first word that comes to your mind when I say "Attendance is very important for every class", will be "Dah!!" Until a couple of years ago, I used to have a sign-up sheet for the students, but that meant keeping these sheets around even after the semester was over, in order to resolve any grade disputes.

Since my classroom has a computer at every station, I just set up a quiz for each day in Oncourse (CLE, Collaboration and Learning Environment, based on Sakai). The main objective of this quiz is to record attendance, so on most days I just use one short answer question and ask for the attendance password, which I provide at the beginning of class. Once in a while, I also ask for more detailed feedback, but still keeping the quiz to no more than a couple of questions. I don't want to take valuable class time to complete this quiz, so the questions require no more than a couple of lines of typing.

Oncourse provides backups and archival of course data for 8 semesters, so this also takes care of short- and long-term record-keeping. Another step closer to going paper-less...

Here are some thoughts on creating an attendance quiz:
- Name the quiz clearly "Attendance quiz for mm/dd/yyyy"
- Set the delivery/due/retract date/time
- Set a time limit of 5 minutes and auto-submit at the end
- Set the quiz to automatically create a gradebook entry, and if there are points for attendance, assign the points for this quiz

I look forward to any suggestions, comments.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Timing is everything

This brief post is less about "Teaching with Technology" and more about a useful tool for keeping track of time during classroom activities. For your in-class participation activities, it is good to display a timer on the projector to avoid any confusion about the amount of time remaining. When I give the students 5 minutes to work on something, I don't want myself or the students to get distracted and lose track of time, so I set the following timer to 5:00 minutes, display it on the projector and turn up the audio on the computer. At the end of 5 minutes, the timer will flash and play an audible alarm.

When we take a 10 minute break, I also set the timer to 10:00 minutes. Most students spend that time just outside the classroom talking to each other or on the phone, and can see the image on the screen. On most days there is just enough time to cover the material planned for that day, so staying on track with respect to time is critical.

There is also a stop-watch option on this site.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Adobe Connect in the classroom

PollIt has been a while since my last post. Well, I took about three weeks off at the end of 2010, otherwise, I would have lost that vacation time. So, hopefully things are back on track now.

The Spring 2011 semester is off to a good start. As part of the "Business Continuity Plan" for K201, Adobe Connect has become a big part of the picture. Last semester I was using Connect just for Online Office Hours, but this semester all K201 faculty have embraced this Web Conferencing solution in a big way. Over the last couple of weeks, K201 instructors held several meetings using Adobe Connect, in order to gain experience and to iron out any wrinkles with enabling audio/video.

On the first day of my section, I used Connect in the classroom. It has a feature that allows the "host" to create one or more polls and solicit responses at planned times. These polls take place in real-time and the results accumulate as students click responses. At the instructor's discretion, the result summary (as shown on the right) can also be broadcast to the students, so they can see where they stand with respect to the rest of the class. This is similar to how the clickers function, except there is no separate physical device required.

I find this to be beneficial in many ways:
  • Students get to participate, instead of just listening
  • Such polls help to break the monotony
  • This gives the instructor an opportunity to measure how well the material is being understood. If the results show that most students got the answer wrong, then the topic needs to be revisited in depth.
  • Students like this better than raising their hands, because it provides some anonymity. In fact, anonymity can provide benefit in two different ways.
    1. Students feel more comfortable answering questions
    2. Since they don't know how the others are answering, it increases the chances of an honest response, instead of just attempting to be in the majority
K201 instructors are planning to use Connect in three ways:
  1. Online Office Hours
  2. In-class to ask questions in real-time
  3. On a pre-selected day, the class will meet remotely to simulate a campus closing. This will give the instructors and the students a level of comfort in meeting via a web conference, in case we get forced into the situation by some unplanned campus closing. The students have already been made aware of the fact that if there is a campus closing for any reason, the class will still be in session via this "Virtual Classroom"