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 –
- upload and save from your desktop
- edit any time, from anywhere
- pick who can access your documents
- share changes in real time
- files are stored securely online
- 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.
Here’s a breakdown of the articles on education I’ve come across recently.
The core of her argument is here: “But the real disruption comes when you stop measuring academic accomplishment in terms of seat time and hours logged, and start measuring it by competency. As all employers know, the average BA doesn’t certify that the degree-holder actually knows anything. It merely certifies that she had the perseverance to pass the required number of courses.” She is projecting a time when everything is going to be overturned. Where it’s not just the point where online courses take the place of face-to-face courses, but where the whole model of how we teach gets overturned. Who knows if she is right that this is going to happen anytime soon or in our lifetime, as revolutions are predicted all the time, but the argument is certainly compelling. Alternatives to the 4-year, sit-down degree have been growing, and at some point, it is easy to see us reaching a point at some time where we have fewer and fewer “traditional” students. Even now, I know that we could fill as many online classes as we could offer at my community college. My history ones always fill in a day or two after they open, and we could keep going. Of course, then there becomes the question of who is going to take the traditional classes if we just have more and more online classes? Right now, we limit the alternatives, forcing most students to take a traditional, face-to-face class. And, right now, there is a distinct population that wants that. However, at some point we are going to stop being able to keep that gate closed, and students will start going to places that offer more flexibility. The other thing that occurs to me on reading the article is that even our most “non-traditional” offering at my community college, the online course, is still strapped into the traditional course calendar. It starts and ends at the same time, and the guidelines we are given have the students not able to work ahead but instead completing the course like a traditional course. Breaking those boundaries will become necessary I think. We should be moving to classes that are self-paced, classes that work outside of a semester schedule, classes that can be completed in 4-, 8-, 12-, 16-, 20-, 24-weeks or whatever. Classes that start at odd times and classes that end at odd times. I can see the day, at some point, where we have rolling enrollment and completion on a student’s schedule. The student registers and starts, finishing up when he or she finishes, with assignments graded as they come in. We create the content, monitor the course, are available for consultation, feedback, and assessment. In other words, the day where a lot more places look like Western Governors University. And, the scary thing is, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
And, if we are going to move to this more self-paced model, then we need to have better tools to check in on our students as they are doing their work. So, this article’s title certainly seems to go along with that. This is a quite interesting use of Google Docs. He details how to create a spreadsheet to keep track of where students are and what they are doing. As it is shared among all students, everyone can then see whatever common dimension you are looking for. In his case, he was having common reading and having the students post up before each class on how far they had read. That way he knew roughly where all students were, including a class average that gave a decent idea of how far most students were. I could see this used in a lot of different cases for common assignments in a traditional class or with a self-paced class, you have to post up to that in order to keep track of each individual student’s progress as they make their way through a self-paced course. I could see something like this really working well at tracking students on those types of assignments that they do outside of class that don’t have specific end points/assessments (like textbook reading and the like). That gives you another way to check progress rather than just waiting on them to complete a chapter test. The only thing this relies on is the students accurately and honestly recording their progress. I do think this would matter less if you were thinking about a self-paced course than one where it would be embarrassing for a student to show up to class not having read the required reading. With a self-paced course, this tool could also serve to remind the students at regular points that they should be working on some piece of the course.
This article was a bit shorter and lighter on substance than I thought when I posted it up to Evernote to read later. Still, it does cover some of these same ideas that something needs to change, as I think many of us can agree. In this case, Harvard is dealing with the problem that “researchers already know what works to promote deeper thinking and learning and it’s not sitting in lectures, taking tests, and then moving on to the next topic. Instead, students need the opportunity to make meaning of what they’ve learned and apply it to real-world challenges.” I can certainly agree with that. What I don’t buy is the last section, which implicitly tells us to wait for Harvard to make its decision on how we should change things, and then we can all rely on their expertise and change afterwards. I’m not waiting for them, and I don’t think the field is either.
I’ll close today with this one, which goes back to a concern I raised in the first article. “Many students simply want to be lectured to. When I taught the MATLAB course inverted, all of the students were initially uncomfortable with the course design, some vocally so.” Challenging the way things have always been done is going to lead to resistance. The student in a lecture class is in a passive role. Little is asked of that student, and they can just go through and do the minimum and do fine. Show up, take a few notes, and we will consider you to be learning. I hear that all the time from my colleagues (not going to name any names here), that the students they have won’t even take notes in class. I wonder two things about this.
First, is taking notes the thing we are seeing as the highest level of learning? I hear that more than anything else, that if you aren’t lecturing and the students aren’t taking notes, then learning isn’t happening. I go the route where I give all of my students my lecture notes ahead of time, which they are welcome to bring to class or use a laptop/tablet to access in class. I have had a number of students comment positively about that, saying that it allows them to actually pay attention to what is said in class rather than furiously trying to take notes on it. I’m not sure when it happened, but we seem to have elevated taking notes on a heard lecture to the highest form of academic achievement. Yet, I have plenty of students who don’t take any notes who do well and students who take a lot of notes who struggle.
Second, listening to a lecture and taking notes on it is the most passive of activities for a student. It might seem active to watch the pencils flying out there in class, but, at its heart, this exchange requires very little of the student beyond paying attention. There are not a lot of jobs out there where the ability to listen to 75-minute lectures and take notes about them is going to be a regular part of what they are asked to do. Yet, that seems to me to be the primary skill that we ask of the students. And while it is, why would a student want to change it. All they have to be is a listener and a note-taker.
Of course changing out of the model is going to breed resistance. If you told me that instead of sitting and listening to a lecture, I had to actively participate, presenting my opinions, engaging the material, and thinking and doing, I would have resisted as well. I can’t say it a lot better than this author did: “What I think this illustrates is that there is a cultural expectation about how college classes ought to go that is very hard to change. Many students — and faculty! — in higher education are sold on what I called the renters’ model, which is basically transactional. I pay my money and inhabit this space while you take care of my needs, and when I’m done I’ll move on. The inverted classroom is one style of teaching that insists on ownership. There will be some friction when two fundamental conceptions of class time are in such disagreement with each other, no matter how much sense it might make in your content area.” It is something I worry about on a regular basis about making change to my class. The question is, do we let expectations hold us back or do we move forward anyway and try to change those expectations?