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ScreenJelly - Fun, Free Screen Recording

If you need to explain to students how to turn on "Track Changes" in a Word document, or to print PowerPoint slides as "handouts" (rather than one per page), or how to navigate an online website or database, sometimes "showing" works much better than "telling."

ScreenJelly.com is a website that allows you to create "show & tell" videos. Whatever is on your screen can get recorded into a Flash-based video. Link to the video or embed it in your courses or blog sites.

The application allows you to record up to 3-minutes at a time.
James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Blogs and Surveys Enhance Face-to-Face Course Commnication

Two professors at the University of Westminster in London have completed research which shows that face-to-face communications in classes can be made more efficient when supplemented by surveys and blogs.

The professors provided surveys after tests and assignments to get feedback from students. Students also post entries to online blogs about these assessments; the listings are then read by tutors who reply back to the student. Tutors are using RSS feeds to aggregate the blog postings, and this allows quicker individualized feedback to students. In the student, each student was assigned a specific tutor for the course (which allows the student to build a relationship with that tutor).

The communication processes are made more efficient while still providing the face-to-face contact that the students expect.
James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Do It Yourself (DIY) Lighting

Martin Catt posted a great DIY article on how to create your own video lights out of aluminum cake pans. The advantage of the cake pans is that they can be grounded for safety. Also - they are light weight for easy mounting to light stands.

Richard Wright demonstrates how to rebuild "brooder" style clamp lights into video lights which can mount to traditional light stands.

Cool Lights provide a demonstration for adding barn-doors to outdoor halogen and clamp lights.

The site CreativityToSpare.com has posted a YouTube video on how to create easy DIY lighting.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Thinking Like an Innovator

I came across a great video from Brainpark.com which gives tips on "Thinking like an Innovator." The video should be mandatory viewing by all faculty and staff in higher-education.

The video is embedded below; I suggest that you use the Full-Screen toggle to view the video.

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Online as Utility

I just replied to a Facebook question about the online / hybrid / face-to-face modes of teaching.

For those of us who grew up with computers from an early age, we just expect to have the information and resources available on-demand.

Online course sites will become a "utility" in the same way that we expect to have electricity to turn on the lights. It is something that all users will expect to be there - and the control will be more in their hands whether they want to "flip the switch" or not. Just like electricity - they will consume online course sites at different times and rates based on personal preferences -- and they will become instantly frustrated when they are missing or inaccessible. (Ever attempt a PowerPoint presentation with a blown-out bulb in the LCD projector? Multiply times 30 students in a section.)

We're over-thinking the questions relating to online education. There has always been distance education; the only things that have changed are the tools we use to accomplish the task. I think that the "trinity" is actually "on-site / off-site / independent." Instructors who are not willing to support the service of Online Course sites are basically removing the fuse and ensuring their students sit in the "virtual" darkness.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Plagiarism: Preventing or Punishing?

I stumbled across a great set of presentations from Douglas Johnson who serves as the Director of Media and Technology for Mankato Public Schools in Minnesota.

Of particular interest is a presentation titled "The Fence or the Ambulance: Are You Punishing or Preventing Plagiarism in Your School?" When you view the handout he has posted online you will see Doug's Qualities of LPP (Low Probability of Plagiarism) guidelines.
Here is the list:

  1. LPP projects have clarity of purpose and expectations.
  2. LPP research projects give students choices.
  3. LPP projects are relevant to the student's life.
  4. LPP projects ask students to write in a narrative rather than an expository style.
  5. LPP projects stress higher level thinking skills and creativity.
  6. LPP projects answer real questions (which students would ask).
  7. LPP projects involve a variety of information finding activities.
  8. LPP projects tend to be hands-on.
  9. LPP projects use technology to spur creativity.
  10. LPP projects use formats that use multiple senses.
  11. LPP projects can be complex, but are broken into multiple steps.
  12. LPP projects are often collaborative and produce results that are better than individual work.
  13. LPP projects have results that are shared with people who care and respond.
  14. LPP projects are authentically assessed.
  15. LPP projects allow the learner to reflect, revisit, revise, and improve their final projects.
  16. LPP projects are encouraged by adults who believe that given enough time, resources, and motivation, all students are capable of original work.

Each of these points is accompanied by a paragraph which gives context and strategies.

The presentation handout then goes on to present grading rubrics and assignment instructions which would be delivered to students.

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Bloom's Taxonomy updated for the Digital Classroom

I found a presentation by Joshua Coupal on Prezi.com which explains Bloom's taxonomy of learning as it relates to the digital classroom. If you haven't yet seen Prezi.com - it is a free way to create dynamic and interactive presentations (rather than the same old PowerPoints).

Joshua Coupal created a great presentation which also demonstrates extremely well how Prezi.com might be used.

Check out his presentation at: http://prezi.com/128821/>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

11 Reasons Why a Tablet is Better than a Whiteboard

I came across a great article written by Jim Vanides of HP in which he argues 11 Reasons Why a Tablet PC is Better than a whiteboard.

Three key points are the ability to continue without erasing, the ability to capture and share notes from your presentation, and the ability to face your audience (rather than facing the whiteboard).

Great article on points I've similarly argued in the past. (But... if an expert from HP says it, it might carry more weight. *grin*)>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Charter Cable Out of Service in St. Cloud

Something is gone horribly wrong again with Charter Cable. I can only get to a few websites (like Google) with almost all others resulting in a "Network Timeout" message. I can't even check my email or send a message to complain (even Yahoo.com is failing to load) - so... I decided to "say something" here. It has been down for 2 hours so far (maybe more... I only checked after I got home from work).>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

New Studies Suggest eLearning Advantage over Traditional Classrooms

The article "The Evidence on Online Education" posted in today's Inside Higher Ed website suggests that online learners have definite advantages over face-to-face learners.

Evidence suggests that the students in well-designed "blended" classes perform the best, followed by online students, followed by face-to-face students.

This is an improvement over past studies which have suggested "no difference" between face-to-face and online modes of delivery. The key factor appears to be the "time to study" which is more flexible using online delivery methods.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

MnSCU eFolio Summit

The 2009 eFolio Summit will be held on August 5th and 6th at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

eFolio is an web-based software application which allows any resident of Minnesota to create a free, online portfolio.

The summit will cover how the eFolio site can be used in assessment of student learning, in building program pages to support accreditation, and tips and techniques for building content in the application.

The website for more information is:
2009 eFolio Summit>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

OpenOffice as substitute for Microsoft 2007

OpenOffice is a free, open source software suite which provides virtually the same productivity tools as Microsoft Office 2007. The software uses the familiar menus structures of the Microsoft 2003 Office suite. In May 2009 the OpenOffice version 3.1 was released. For students on a tight budget, this is an easy and legal way to get productivity software for completing assignments.

The "hitch" is that for best compatibility, everyone should save their documents in the 2003 "Compatibility" mode. At this time, instructors should do this anyway as not to disenfranchise students using older computer systems and software.

OpenOffice Ninja is a site with articles to help users of OpenOffice get the most utility from the software.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Inkscape - open source drawing program

Inkscape is an open source drawing program available on SourceForge.
What GIMP is to Photoshop, Inkscape is to Illustrator.

Tuxmagazine has an "Introdcution to Inkscape" (pdf) which helps new users get started.
Additional tutorials are available from Inkscape, InkscapeTutorials, and a step-by-step lesson in how to create a logo with arched text is available at Sixthings.

Inkscape is available in multiplatform (Windows, Mac OSX, Linux) and is also available in a portable version to run off a USB memory drive.
There is even a plug-in which assists in creating 2-D animation.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Nursing by Cell Phone

I just heard a great program on Minnesota Public Radio (The Story - by American Public Media).

The show was an interview with Jo Holt, a student in nursing school.

She is using patients' own cell phones to record photos and detailed voice instructions for follow-up care once patients leave the hospital (especially relating to wounds and dressings). This helps the patient understand exactly how to care for their own health - providing easy and individualized patient care.

Also - this use of technology could help patients communicate back with doctors and nurses to determine if a follow-up visit is needed.

When I heard it ... it made so much sense.
It could probably extend to dental and other health professions - to help patients know "what to look for" in the follow-up care.

Here is the link:
Nursing by Cell Phone Story and Podcast>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Video Tutorial on Audacity

I've put together a 25-minute video-based learning object on how to use the free, open-source software Audacity. Audacity is a program which allows you to do audio recording and editing, and also allows you to do multi-track production (if you want to fully produce music).

The Introduction to Audacity video walks you through the install process, presents an audio-production model, and shows how to use some of the editing controls and effects available in the tool.

Audacity is multi-platform (Windows, Mac OS, Linux) and is also available in a version which runs off a USB Flash Drive, called Audacity Portable.
>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

FREE Audio Books!

You and your students can download hundreds of audio books for free!
Finding the free books is very easy with a set of lists compiled by the site OpenCulture.com.

You also can go into iTunes and do a search on "audiobook" or "ebook" and then sort the column titled PRICE to be ascending (the free books will list first).

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia

The Consortium of College & University Media Centers has a set of Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia (pdf).
While these guidelines are not part of copyright law, they are agreed upon standards which can guide the non-commercial, educational uses of multi-media.

An important point in the use of multi-media in online courses is that materials must be password protected and prevent students from downloading the work (which normally means using a streamed media server). If the network cannot prevent downloads, then the materials can be placed on a secured network (password protected) for a period of 15 - and then removed (and students must be advised that they cannot make any copies of the multimedia).

Guidelines for the amount of work are also provided. The following assume that non-commercial, educational uses are being made and that materials are not copied by the students to their own computers.

  • Motion media: 3 minutes or 10% whichever is less.
  • Text materials: 1000 words or 10% whichever is less.
  • Music, Lyrics, and Music Video: 10% or 30 seconds, whichever is less.
  • Illustrations and Photographs: 10% or 15 images from a collection, whichever is less.
  • Numerical Data Sets: 2500 cells or 10%, whichever is less.

The site also provides a caution against using materials found on the Internet and labeled as "public domain" - because most often these works are protected by copyright and mislabeled (intentionally or otherwise).

Also - a reminder that any sources and materials must be attributed to the copyright owner. The © symbol followed by the year of publication and the name of the copyright holder is expected. (© 2009 James Falkofske)

It is recommended that multimedia productions include a notice on the opening slide or title which indicates "certain materials included in this presentation are under the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law and have been prepared according to the fair use guidelines and are restricted from further use.">>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

LSC Workshop for Online Course Peer Review

2009 May Faculty Peer Review Workshop by LSCSummary of Notes – James Falkofske
The last two days I was in Duluth, MN attending the Online Faculty Peer Review Course Design Workshop presented by Susan Brashaw and Amy Jo Swing of Lake Superior College. Here are some notes from the workshop about their faculty peer review process for online courses.
Peer Review is Strictly Voluntary Participation

  • Instructors are invited to participate, but there is no requirement (due to labor contract concerns of “on-ground” versus “online” responsibilities and review).
  • About 60% of the online faculty members have been part of the review process at some point.
  • Faculty volunteer to have their courses reviewed; they aren’t eligible for this until they have had the training.
  • A coordinator (Susan Brashaw) is given release time to recruit faculty, recruit courses for review, handle paperwork, and provide training to reviewers. Also, the coordinator helps “teach how to teach” online (which is more than having technical training on how to use D2L tools). This was seen as a critical factor in the ongoing use of the peer review process.

Review Process

  • Rubric adapted from the Maryland Online Quality Matters Rubric while still under the FIPSE Grant (which required results be public and sharable). LSC allows others to use, adopt, and adapt their rubric. The LSC rubric is simplified to meet the best practices and needs of LSC.
  • LSC review process uses local faculty only (no outside reviewers), and instructor / designer must approve the review team prior to review.
  • Reviewers receive 2 to 3 hours of instruction prior to their first review. Faculty are only eligible to become a reviewer after one of their own courses has been reviewed.
  • Three reviewers are assigned to review a course, and one is designated the leader who meets 1-on-1 with faculty designer and has other reporting responsibilities. The leader receives a $300 stipend for this activity.
  • Instructor completes a checklist – helping reviewers identify where certain standards are being met in the course.
  • A passing score of 60/70 means course is “certified;” otherwise the course is scored as “in progress.” Roughly half the courses are given “in progress” scores upon first review.
  • Even if a course is “certified,” the reviewers provide recommendation for improvements to the course design, flow, and appearance. The review process examines structure and design much more than “quality of content.”
  • “In process” courses can have the leader of the review team review the changes to determine if the course then meets certification standards.
  • All the information is held as confidential; review team signs statements of non-disclosure; faculty may choose to share results with administrators, but administrators alone cannot request results from any review. All documents (paper and electronic) are “shredded” after one year.
  • Since starting 4 years ago, 53 courses have been reviewed and 21 reviewers trained (review of roughly 15 courses per year)
  • Reviews are only made for fully online courses; there are thoughts of expanding the review process to hybrid / web-enhanced courses

D2L Best Practices NotesMuch of the workshop was sharing of best practices for online instruction and course design; I enjoyed hearing that other faculty were using the same types of online activities which I recommend, and I was able to provide some technical assistance to participants in specific D2L settings and tools.

  • The LSC Presenters felt this was especially important: D2L Site Administrators should turn on all possible tools for faculty to control themselves; this allows faculty to be innovative and be able to have maximum control over the presentation of their online courses. This includes changing navigation bars, creating custom widgets, and modifying course run dates.
  • Provide faculty with a “Starter Course” from which they can copy & paste ideas they want. The course provides brief “how to” instructions for embedding different types of content, changing D2L tool settings, etc.
  • The processes of satisfying the rubric can be simplified by creating special tools that faculty can cut and paste into their courses (the official Virtual Campus Student Support Widget as one example)
  • Faculty and students need to have access to technology tutorials which demonstrate how to use tools (D2L, wikis, photo editors, etc.) for online courses.
  • Encourage students to express creativity using Web 2.0 tools, but don't make the use of Web 2.0 tools a requirement for an individual student's assignment.

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

D2L Setting Custom Content Homepage

If you use Desire2Learn and want to help guide your students through your course week-by-week, you can set a custom Content Homepage for each week, by picking which Content Topic should open automatically when students click Content.
Students will always get to see a Table of Contents link - so that they always access any Topic from the course.

Go to Content > Settings > then use the checkbox for Create a Custom Content Homepage. Then choose which File should be loaded automatically by using the button Change File.

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

D2L - Creating Private Discussions

Why Create a Private Discussion?

If you are using Desire2Learn (D2L) then private discussions will allow you and your students to communicate confidentially within the online course site. Rather than receiving emails from unknown personal accounts (and likely ignoring the emails), or being asked to reply to a cryptic email which lacks basic details (such as which course, which section, which student), a private discussion area allows you to easily manage your 1-on-1 communications with students.

Setting Up Private Discussions (pdf) - how to set up a 1-on-1 private discussion with each student.
Video Demonstration of Private Discussion Process (Flash)

Not only does this help keep your email box clean, but it also assists with FERPA issues, so that students who have private concerns are not feeling compelled to post them in a public discussion forum.

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Are Students Ready for an Online Course?

Some students sign up for online courses thinking they will be a breeze, since they "won't even have to go to class!" Other students sign up - because their work schedules don't allow them to take classes when the face-to-face sections are offered.

This results in some students in the "virtual chairs" not having the skills, tools, are attitudes required to succeed.

Here is a self-assessment checklist I wrote in JavaScript to counsel students if they are ready for the online environment.

Here is an exercise I created for students to assess their ability to use Microsoft Word formatting and tools.

Here is a site which offers a free keyboarding / typing test - for students to check how fast they can keyboard.

Here is a site which offers a free connection speed test for student Internet connections.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

What Sections Should Your Syllabus Share?

A syllabus for an online course needs to account the integration of the technologies being used and also should be much more thorough than a syllabus for a face-to-face course in order to avoid the small questions which students will have (which might raise their anxiety). Over-explaining is encouraged in an online course; students who are nervous will get the answers they need, and all others can quickly skim through the documents feeling reassured that if they have a question later, they will be able to find the answer quickly.
Here are some specific sections you might include as headings in your syllabus for an online course.

  • Instructor(s) and Department Contact Information
  • Instructor(s)'s Teaching Philosophy and Course Pedagogy*
  • About the Course
    • Course Description (University Catalog)
    • Prerequisites
    • Competence Statement and Course Learning Objectives
    • Required Textbook and Resources
    • Are You Ready for This Online Course?
    • Course Methods
    • Measurement of Learning Outcomes
  • College / University Policies
    • Drop/Withdraw
    • University Grading Policy
    • Disability Services
  • Communications
    • Questions and Answers about the Course
    • Email: When to Use and What to Include
    • Major Life Trauma
    • Return of Assignments / Feedback
    • Attendance and Course Communications
  • Instructor Policies and Requirements
    • Preparation
    • Quality of Response
    • Professionalism and Respect
    • Collaborative Work
    • Plagiarism and Copyright
    • Course Incomplete
    • Late Work
    • Extra Credit Policy
  • Technology Expectations
    • Backup Copies of Assignments / Save of Returned Assignments
    • Online "Snow Days"- What to do if the IMS is down (alternatives)
    • Technology Requirements and Expectations
    • Computer Hardware and Software
    • File Management
    • Document File Names
    • Campus Resources
    • Other Free Resources
  • Evaluations and Grading
    • Required Competency Activities (if these are not completed; student fails course)
    • List of Assessments and Instructions for Completion
      • Course Orientation Assignments
      • Chapter Quizzes
        • No Trick Questions - Obvious Answers are Correct*
      • Exams
      • Discussions - Participation and Posting Expectations
      • Weekly Research and Analysis Activities
      • Peer Reviews
      • Written Papers
      • Projects and Presentations
    • Grade Scale:
    • Bonus / Extra Credit Opportunities

* Students in online courses might not get as much of a chance to see your personality or to gauge whether or not you are a "trickster." If you like to play "Devil's Advocate" in Discussions, or if you use humor to try to make your points - disclose that to students right up front - so that they know you are not making fun of them. Also - to reduce testing anxiety, it is helpful to clearly state something like "when taking quizzes and exams, you will not face any trick questions. If you are very well-studied, the answers should be obvious. Don't 'over-think' a question; always pick the answer which works best in the widest variety of situations."

As a separate document, a Schedule of Assignments should be created which indicates specific due dates, readings and topics, and activities/assignments which needs to be completed. Rather than burying this information in a syllabus, placing this information in a separate document makes it much easier for your students to reference.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Making Your Documents Accessible

Here are some videos which will walk you through the basics of making accessible documents.

Please view ALL of the following videos to ensure that you know the skills needed to make your Microsoft Office documents accessible.

These videos require the Adobe Flash Player. The player is available as a free download (if not already installed on your computer).

For other videos - scroll down beneath the video window.

Video: Preparing Your Documents for Online Use (3 min 40 sec) | Handout: Making Your Word Documents Accessible (pdf)

Specific Skills
Video: Using Heading Codes in Microsoft Word (interactive)
Video: Adding Image Accessibility to Microsoft Documents (1 min 34 sec)
Video: Renaming Hyperlinks in Microsoft Documents (1 min 45 sec)
Video: Ensuring Tables Meet Accessiblity Guidelines (2 min 30 sec)
Handout: Installing the Office 2007 PDF Plug-in (pdf)
Video: Saving Word 2007 Documents as PDF files (1 min 45 sec) - screen reader voices
Video: Saving PowerPoint 2007 as PDF files (2 min 5 sec) - screen reader voices

You should convert your content documents to the PDF format so that they open directly in D2L. Microsoft Office documents uploaded directly to D2L create browser security errors; they also force a student to own Microsoft Office software to use the files (or to having to use Microsoft Internet Explorer and additional special plug-ins before files will display).

Video: Security Issues Caused by Microsoft Office Documents in D2L
(0 min 55 sec)

NOTE: If you have worksheets or other homework which students must complete using Microsoft Office programs, then it is appropriate to post those files directly in D2L with additional instructions for students on how to properly download and save the files for editing.>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

D2L Tips and Tricks

The following are some of my favorite tips and tricks.

  • Encourage Undocking: Remind students that they can use the "Undock" icon to view documents in a new window free of the D2L navigation. This allows better use of the screen real-estate, and when they close the window - D2L still remains in the background window.
  • Multi-Edit Content Topics: If you need to update short titles or dates inside content titles, you can multi-select the topics for change and then use the "multi-edit" button. This saves time over opening and saving each individual document.
  • Edit in Raw HTML: For those who are tech-savvy, you can directly edit your HTML codes in the built-in HTML editor. This allows you to link to external CSS style-sheets, so that you can create ADA accessible documents which are also rich in color and design.
    TIP: The HTML editor allows you to resize the editing panel to any size you desire. Bigger can be better.
  • Discussion Deadlines: if you have weekly discussions, set the availability of the discussions in the FORUM level rather than each individual TOPIC.
  • Quizzes Mixed Up: Build all of your quiz questions directly in the question library. Then, when you make your quiz, you can use a Random Section folder which will give every student the questions in a different (random) order. Much less worry about "hey, what did you get for question 3?"
  • Quizzes as Homework Worksheets: Online quizzes are essentially insecure. Unless you have someone standing over the shoulder of your student making sure they don't use their cell phone, another computer, a walkie-talking, text note files on an iPod or MP3 player, or any various other ways of scheming the system, students who "cheat" have an unfair advantage over the rest of the class. Instead, consider the quiz tool as a way to ask really tough homework problems. Students solve the homework and then post their answers into the Quiz tool. They get automatic grading, feedback when they've guessed incorrectly, and the ability to "redo" by using the quiz's ATTEMPTS (suggest using LAST ATTEMPT or AVERAGE OF ALL ATTEMPTS). Multiple attempts are very helpful in giving students incentive to go back and study harder - to make sure they know the materials before going onto the next topic / chapter.
  • Launching Other Websites in New Windows: If you are linking to any external website, you should open the link in a new window. Many websites "reload" themselves into the outer-most browser frame - thereby "taking over" the browser and breaking the connection to D2L. When opened in a new browser window - you don't have to worry which sites misbehave. Use the LINK property to OPEN IN: NEW WINDOW.
  • Gradebook PASS/FAIL Item Type: Online students tend to procrastinate. Breaking up any assignment into a series of "completion exercises" (all or no credit) helps motivate students to keep on task. The PASS / FAIL grade item type allows you to easily award full or no credit. I suggest using the GRADE ALL item to set everyone to PASS, and then individually setting to NONE those students who did not complete the assignment (or FAIL to those who missed the deadline and didn't do the assignment sufficiently).
    5 pts P/F - Select a Topic (Week 2)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in 8 credible sources for the topic (Week 3)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in Preliminary Outline (Week 4)
    5 pts P/F - Turn in Draft of Point 1 (Week 5)
    10 pts P/F - Turn in Bibliography (Week 8)
    10 pts P/F - Turn in Draft of Full Paper (Week 10)
    60 pts - Turn in Final Version of Paper (Week 12)
    (notice that student will "fail" assignment unless they do all the completion exercises)
  • Grade Attendance as a NEGATIVE BONUS Item: If you take deductions for missing class, then the best way to handle that in the gradebook is to create a numeric type grade item which is set to type BONUS. Since Bonus items are not added to the denominator when calculating Final Course Percentage, any score (positive or minus) is not a "graded" item. D2L allows negative scores, even in the Bonus item. Use the Comments balloon in the grade to keep track of the specific dates and times missed, and then enter a negative number to reflect how much of a deduction so far (cumulative).

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com

Tips for Online Course Content Design

Here are some of my tips on Course Content design for online courses.

  • Falkofske's Growing Your Garden Analogy-Perennials, Annuals, Cut Flowers: Make your content very granular and keep mindful of the "lifespan" of each piece of information you are presenting. This will help you avoid excess editing each time you offer the course.
    • Perennials: Permanent Policies, Procedures, and Proofs - what information will stay the same unless there is an "Act of God?" Theories and concepts normally persist over time. For example, when is the last time the theory of gravity was updated? What about the last time a major campus policy was changed? Didn't it take great effort and years of development? Isolate your "relatively" permanent information into separate documents. To twist a phrase, then you can "ed-it and forget it."
    • Annuals: Applications, Assessments, Activities - what information needs to be updated on an annual cycle to improve the quality and accuracy? Schedules of due dates for learning activities, assessment descriptions and grading (including quiz and exam questions), and current applications and uses of theories and concepts should all be updated at least once a year. Separate these items to constrain the editing to specific documents which you know need regular updates (such as the "Course Schedule").
    • Cut Flowers: Current News and Controlled by Others - have you every built a hyperlink to another site only to find that when students tried it later in the course, the link no longer worked? Any content which you did not create (or control) should be separated out as a "cut flower." These are items that should be edited / written immediately before they are needed, so that they don't "wilt and die" before students need them. I suggest putting your "weekly links" into a News item. This will help avoid outdated links in your course content and also provide you with special incentives to create News postings with the "latest and greatest" links for the current week's assignments. It also gives you an opportunity to scan the industry news feeds to find articles which pertain to an aspect of your course (showing the topic is noteworthy and newsworthy).
    • Think "Transplantation" - is it easier to transplant a 45-foot tall Oak tree, or a rose bush? If you decide that you want to re-use content in a future semester (or different course), or if your textbook changes, or if the course learning objectives change, how easy will it be for you to prune and transplant the content? It is a lot easier to create lots of small objects (which are easy to sort and shuffle) than creating a few large documents. Example: rather than a 50-slide Powerpoint on the whole chapter, what about seven 10-slide PowerPoints with one for each major topic?
  • It is YOUR Course, Not the Publisher's: too often instructors base their entire course design on the Chapter Numbers in the textbook. This creates a myopic view. Things that aren't in the textbook seem like they "don't fit / don't belong" in the online course site. Instead, start with the course Learning Objectives and use them as the Titles for the sections / units in your course. Focusing on the learning objectives and their related assessments allows the textbook to become a "resource" and not the "course." There will be less renovation of the course if the textbook changes or if a different textbook is adopted.
  • Over-explain Everything! In a face-to-face class, it is easy to get audience feedback and determine if instructions are confusing or too sparse. In an online class, trying to "save time" by giving brief instructions results in a lot of time expended in answering questions and concerns, or worse, having students complete assignments in the wrong manner (because the instructions were open to interpretation). If you worry about providing too much detail and "boring" students, realize that students can easily skim through your content. This design tactic also serves as a CYA - if a student issues a challenge to a grade; if everything is explicitly placed in writing - it should be easy for any third party to determine what the expectations were for the student.
  • Make it Accessible! When explaining an assignment, always write instructions as though you were explaining them over a telephone. Rather than "click here, then click here," use language like "click the Content Link, then find and click Manage Content." Also, learn how to use the simple operations in Microsoft Office software to make your documents accessible. These are:
    • Create Well-Structured Documents: use the Styles > Headings to indicate the outline-based structure of your document (Heading 1 for title, Heading 2 for Major Sections, Heading 3 for Sub-Sections, etc.).
    • Use Text Alternatives for All Visual and Auditory Information: add ALT TEXT to your images (right-mouse-click, choose SIZE, then ALT TEXT) to provide blind users with image captions which are machine readable. If you have a particularly complex image or diagram, add a paragraph beneath the image which explains what principles the image is illustrating (this benefits sighted students as well). If you have a video or audio podcast, make sure that you post a text-transcript of the recording (often, textbook publishers have these available for the asking).
    • Add Column Headings to your tables: If someone cannot see your data table, they need to know the layout before they hear the data. Making sure that you have headings for each of your columns is an accessibility requirement. If your table has a particularly complex design, add a paragraph directly before the table which explains the layout and structure (again - as you would describing it over the telephone).
    • Save in Universally Accessible Format: I strongly recommend using the Adobe PDF file format for online files. This format preserves document layout (if instructors want a multi-column layout), preserves images, and allows documents to be viewed without the cost of special software (the Adobe Reader is a free plug-in). Adobe has added special features to the Reader so that it can work directly with assistive technologies (like screen readers, Braille devices, etc.).
  • Descriptive Title Links: Ever click a link and not know what is going to load? Frustrating? Did you ever get a "file" instead of a web page (and not know how to view the file)? Make sure that your hyperlinks have "human text" contextual labels (Creating Accessible Adobe Documents (.pdf) instead of http://www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/pdfs/acro6_pg_ue.pdf ). If the link brings you to anything other than a web page, indicate the file type which will load (such as .pdf).

>>> James Falkofske - TechnologyBites.blogspot.com