Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 2 – 4/8/2015

Today, I am attending the Texas Distance Learning Association Conference in Dallas, TX.  Today is the first full day of the conference, and I will be here throughout the day today.  I am going to be blogging this event today and for the next two days, with a breakdown of each of the sessions that I am attending.

As a note, I have already been here a long time, as I came in rather early to beat the traffic of driving into Dallas.  Thus, I had about a 2-hour starting window for the breakfast (yay! food!).  Getting here at 7 with the first session at 9 meant a long breakfast.  The good thing is that I was joined by several people that I was able to talk with and pass the time.

According to what I have heard from people, attendance is down this year, maybe because it is in Dallas rather than in Corpus Christi or Galveston, as in previous years.  Still, there seems to be a good variety of people here at this point.  I do not have any concept yet about how many either instructors or community college members are here this year.  I hope to find that out as I hit the more specific sessions.

Session 1 – Opening Keynote

Presenter – Ross Ramsey – Executive Editor and Co-Founder, The Texas Tribune

A general overview of the Texas legislate session, discussing issues that affect out budgetary outlooks, both at the state level and in terms of educational focuses.  An overall interesting talk about what the issues are going to be in the last 8 weeks of this legislative session.

Session 2 – SoftChalk – Create-Your-Own Interactive eBooks for iPads and Chromebooks

Presenter – SoftChalk – Paul Miller

I have always been interested in SoftChalk but never seen anything about it.  One distinct idea is that anything you create in SoftChalk can be shared with a web link on any platform.  Following the twitter handle @PaulSoftChalk gives the link for this session.  I am going to be following along with his presentation through his created SoftChalk page.

Showing the use of internal polling, use of frames to display content inside your lesson, use of media (video, images), quizzing embedded in the lesson.

As a note, if you are going to give a presentation to a room full of professionals, you should at least spell check your presentation.  Some credibility is lost, either in the presenter or in the product.  It raises the question to me if spell check is a part of what you can do.  It is so key to what you need in preparing course materials that, if it is not included, this is a weakness.

Next part of the presentation – SoftChalk Cloud – started as a desktop application – now it is in the cloud for both development and distribution.

To create an eBook, you use the eBook Builder within the SoftChalk application.  In this example, he pulled in from a Word document with the majority of the formatting coming over as done in Word.  So, you can bring in material well from what you have created elsewhere – it creates the html code for what you bring in.  Then, you insert page breaks to paginate your book.  Inserting activities goes through the menus with 20 different types of activities available to insert.  As for media, they have a set number of things (Khan Academy, Getty images, and the like).

Seems pretty straightforward in use.  The question is, how different is it to create when you don’t have content ready to go?  How long would it take to set up a new lesson?  And, do you want all the small activities that the students have to do as you go along?  That is what SoftChalk seems designed for, if you want essentially PowerPoint like slides with interactive materials in it. I am not sure if it would work for something more robust in scale.

Also, as was raised in the discussion here, the question is if you want online or offline access.  The advantage to online access is that you don’t have to imbed the whole media content in the lesson, making it a smaller file overall but requiring internet access to use.  If you want it to be completely offline, then you have to embed the material into the eBook itself, leaving you with restrictions on the size of your document, depending on how much stuff you brought in.

And now, the link that I had above is now the thing that he created here (using already made content) in about 15 minutes here. Something to look at and see what I think about it.  The final .epub file is here that you can download and use with students.  I tried opening it in iBooks, and it is certainly pretty rough in how it carries over.  This is a beta product, and it is not all the way together and ready from what I can see.

Session 3 – Exploring “Helper” Apps to Hit Productivity High Notes

Presenter – Sharon Huston – Texas A&M University – Instructional Designer

Looking for ways to make the annoying busy work side of our jobs less monotonous.  How much time do we spend copying and pasting and the like rather than the real essence of our jobs.

ClipMate – clipboard manager that keeps track of what you have copied and pasted so that you can pull multiple different things out of it to paste.  Not a Mac tool – PC only – paid product (about $20) – couldn’t use on work computer, as you have to install program.

ColumnCopy – Chrome extension – Allow you to copy a column of material off of the web

Text Mechanic – webpage that allows you to manipulate text in multiple different ways.

Example of using these two together – pull a list of student email addresses and then clear spaces and add commas to delineate them.

Text Expander on a Mac (Phrase Express) – shortcuts for commonly used phrases – why haven’t I thought about using this with grading?  Can turn my standard comments into something that I can use by typing a short phrase and then getting the entire thing written out.

word2cleanhtml.com – if you want to convert a word document to clean html

Passwords – LastPass – 1Password – DashLane – All set up to get you to have to have one password to work through all of your different password.  LastPass is a browser extension.  Also, the passwords are completely random and not tied to anything that you would have as a connection.

 Using Google Docs Technology to Promote Collaboration

Presenters – Carolyn Awalt and Teresa Cortez – UTEP

Google Docs, Voice, Calendar, Scholar – to be demonstrated today.

Google Docs –

  1. upload and save from your desktop
  2. edit any time, from anywhere
  3. pick who can access your documents
  4. share changes in real time
  5. files are stored securely online
  6. can tell who does what work and people can’t easily slack off

Google Drive – essentially a cloud-based hard drive.  For students, this can be used as a student portfolio if your program needs that.  For instructors, you can share information with students that you are working on with them.  You can determine their level of participation, read only or edits allowed.

Google Contacts – can use it to tag based upon what class they are in.  Not that relevant for me and the way we interact with students.

Google Calendar – ability to share your schedule, access on any computer/mobile device, send invitations and track RSVPs, sync with desktop applications, work offline Could use with students to schedule office hour visits and appointments.  Would that get more students to come by my office hours if they saw that I was available there?  Could also automate when assignments were due without having to send out Announcements to my students when I remember to.  With all students having access to Google through our student gmail accounts, I could add them all to my list and have these things set up for them.  Need to talk to IT to see if I can use my gmail account to add in our students, even if their emails aren’t ending in gmail.

Google Voice – Can set up one number to get at your cell, home, and work phone – that way students call one number and it will ring wherever I am.  Are we allowed to put this as our office number for students?  Accommodates both phone and text, and it will give you a transcript of the phone call.

Google Scholar – for research – an alternative to just the basic Google search – even being able to set up alerts on when certain topics come up.

I was going to stay for one more session, but with not having a hotel room here, I really needed to leave before rush hour traffic began.  As with so much of any conference, I certainly miss out on a lot by not being able to actually stay at the conference hotel, as I have to drive in and out and organize my time around traffic.  I made it to the sessions, but I essentially missed a lot of the networking possibilities by not being able to do any of the late afternoon to evening sessions.

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

One response to “Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 2 – 4/8/2015”

  1. Margaret says :

    hey. Do they have drinks at this conference? 🙂 some of this reminded me of some websites I read about only recently like socrative.com. Do you know it (or similar) and what do you think?

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