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Month: April 2013

NEWS: Mahara Upgrade

NEWS: Mahara Upgrade

Mahara has been upgraded to version 1.6!

This version has enhanced capabilities for creating course groups and viewing student content.  It also has improved options for embeddable media.

Read the Mahara 1.6 user manual for more directions for use.  To learn more about how ePortfolios can improve student engagement and ownership of learning, read our previous blog post or better yet, call your Educational Technologist!

Screenshot of Mahara website

Assessing digital projects

Assessing digital projects

GradebookI’ve always been interested in assessment and finding better ways to go about determining student performance.  Some individuals are anti-rubric, but I find that it’s one of the few transparent ways of informing students what your expectations are and conveying their grade on a specific project without having to deploy copious amounts of comments.

While rubrics are somewhat less personal (you can certainly add your own write-in feedback), they tend to make not only the directions for creating digital projects easier, but also ease scoring.  Because digital projects don’t always contain a written component or something more tangible to grade, rubrics assist with ensuring students have the opportunity to meet each requirement.  Granted, rubrics can tend to cause us to unnecessarily inflate or deflate grades due to their prescribed number values, adding an extra category, using some decimal values or even additional explanation of what’s required for each point value can go a long way towards adequately assessing student work.

Creating assignments and rubrics along side one another can also be helpful in the planning process.  Each category and description of grade values causes us to evaluate the kinds of skills, techniques and level of mastery desired from the project itself.  Actively developing these objectives together can help you determine the scope of the project and how much time you allot as well as the kinds of resources or tools to implement.

There are several options for creating rubrics.  I prefer good old fashioned Microsoft Word, but if you want some additional guidance in terms of point values and category creation, try these resources:

Rubistar has been around for awhile and it shows a bit, however, this remains one of the standard rubric creation sites available.  If you aren’t enamored with the overall aesthetics of your final rubric, you can always transfer the content into Word to pretty it up a bit.

This site contains several examples of already created rubrics for various digital assignments.  Not all of them are applicable for higher education as is, but they can certainly be modified to make them more suitable.  Regardless of the grade level, there are plenty of rubrics to get an idea of what you might want to incorporate into your own.

Looking for an added teaching challenge, but one that might have big pay-offs for student interest and ownership of learning?  Try allowing your students to create the rubric for an assignment.  Come up with some guidelines to scaffold the process, like pre-created categories or an example rubric.  You can engage students in a discussion about what makes a quality [insert digital product here].  Perhaps you can have them look at online examples of a project that is similar to the one you are assigning and ask them to look at what makes them good, better and best.  They might need your assistance with the gritty details, but this can have a huge impact on how they might go about their project creation.

Image courtesy of morgueFile:

What’s a TAPoR?

What’s a TAPoR?

Photo of a TapirA TAPoR is a South American pig-like mammal.  No, that’s a Tapir!

TAPoR, recently mentioned in a NITLE-IT webinar offering, is an online resource for text mining tools.

A couple of things first:

What is ‘text mining’?  Text mining is the search for the prevalence of words or phrases to identify patterns and other correlations to assist in a deeper interpretation of written works.  Text mining is done by using a digital copy of a specific text or texts (either scanned and then OCRed so that the document can be searched or an existing searchable text document).  Once the document is searchable, it can be put into various software programs which, depending on the software, will display the text patterns in different ways.  These software programs can pull chunks of words, phrases, etc. from the reading and display it in a visual manner which allows readers to identify how these patterns might contribute to an author’s purpose, message or other more in-depth analyses of written work.

How does text mining help teaching and learning?  Before text mining tools, we used highlighters, pens and pencils to write in the margins and identify concepts and phrases.  Text mining streamlines this process and also allows instructors to expand a discussion or analysis of a reading due to the speed with which words and phrases or concepts can be found.  Students can be broken up into groups and work with specific kinds of searches or tools to share multiple perspectives based on their text mining research.

Key among the reasons individuals use text mining is to be able to see words in a more visual sense.  Seeing the prevalence of various words or concepts based on their size and distribution in relationship to their use and the use of other common words in a text help students to think more critically about word choice and its implications.  It may also be useful for students to make observations that were formerly more difficult to see and can create their own theories to explore and research.

Text mining can even be useful for students to analyze their own writing to search for over-use of words.

TAPoR provides a slew of text mining resources for different purposes.  Text mining activities can range from simple to complex and isn’t for everyone or for every reading of a written work.  If this is your first attempt at text mining, check in with your EdTech for recommendations on tools and best practices.

Tapir image courtesy of

Puget Sound faculty featured in The Chronicle!

Puget Sound faculty featured in The Chronicle!

Just after publishing our last post about tips on flipping, I was sent a fantastic article from The Chronicle of Higher Education written by the University of Puget Sound’s own chemistry professor, Steven Neshyba!

In It’s a Flipping Revolution, Neshyba talks about the journey and observations he’s made throughout his first semester of flipping his chemistry courses and how its made an impact on his teaching and student learning by using technology as a vehicle for content delivery outside of class.

A key takeaway from this article is Neshyba’s point “…about how technology, in tandem with innovations in pedagogy and the evolving nature of our students, is driving changes even at traditional private liberal-arts colleges like [his].”

A big congratulations on this excellent article!Clip from "It's a Flipping Revolution" by Steven Neshyba

Critical questions regarding ‘flipping’

Critical questions regarding ‘flipping’

BMX bikers doing a flip off of a rampTechnology is exciting.  Technology is innovative.  It makes us think.  It makes us do!  It can change and enhance the way we teach and learn, as long as it is used thoughtfully and with a primary focus on teaching and learning goals.

Recently, we posted about ‘flipping the classroom’ and have spoken about this to many folks interested in this methodology on-campus.  As new methods and tools emerge, it’s always important to periodically reflect on your goals and practices and how those are impacting learning in the classroom–especially when technology is in the mix.

Flipping can certainly prove to be a great solution for some individuals and content areas (students and faculty), let’s take a look at some key questions raised in an article written by Kevin Makice:  Flipping the Classroom Requires More Than Video.

Some critical takeaways:

When flipping, it is imperative to be continually aware of what your pedagogical objectives are as well as the ways in which information is disseminated to the students.

Cautions also include staying in-tune with the balance of online components and the out of class time that students are required to devote to content that was formerly done in-class.

Something to remember:  blended courses on other campuses (courses which meet less frequently face-to-face and supplement online components for the reduced face-to-face meetings) are usually structured using a variety of instructional design methods to facilitate student learning in more efficient ways while employing technologies to do so.

Makice cites Richard Taylor’s (CMO for Echo360) caveat to be wary that “If you structure your class exactly the same way you have always done but employ it flipped…effectively what you have done is added an extra hour of class for every hour of class the student has.”

Good tips:

“Flipped” lectures/videos should be short clips (typically about 10 minutes or less of content).

In-class time is for collaborative work, project-based learning, and to practice and work on homework problems/concepts in order to allow them to learn from one another or ask for additional assistance from the instructor.

Out of class time should remain the same amount of work/time commitment as any other face-to-face class that was not being ‘flipped’.  Typically, out of class time is for lecture content, but is not for homework (e.g., attempting math problems that were introduced in the video lecture watched at home).

Have questions about ‘flipping’?  Contact EdTech!

Image courtesy of morgueFile:

Swivl sets are here!

Swivl sets are here!

Educational Technology is pleased to announce that the Swivl personal recording devices as well as their accompanying iPods are here and ready for checkout by faculty for 1 week intervals.  We currently have two Swivls with iPods.

This is a pilot period where we will loan out these devices to interested faculty for one week and ask for a brief summary of its performance and usefulness to help us guide future tech purchases!

Swivl with iPod 5th generation. Remote (foreground) is worn by the presenter and has a built in microphone that integrates with your iDevice when the Swivl app is installed and the iDevice is plugged into the Swivl base. NOTE: Not compatible with all iDevices (see Media Services for details).
Swivl with iPod 5th generation. Remote (foreground) is worn by the presenter and has a built in microphone that integrates with your iDevice when the Swivl app is installed and the iDevice is plugged into the Swivl base. NOTE: Not compatible with all iDevices (see EdTech for details). 

If you prefer to use your own iDevice (iPad, iPod or iPhone), let us know prior to checkout to make sure that it will be compatible with the Swivl system.*  Also note that new iDevices will require a 30-pin to lightning adapter (contact your EdTech for additional information on compatibility or questions to help you get started right away).

If you missed our earlier post about Swivl, read the post and watch the video to learn more!

*Compatible with the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPod Touch (4th Generation). Also iPhone 5, iPad Mini, iPod Touch 5th Gen with Apple Lightning adapter and in landscape mode only. Not compatible with iPhone 3GS or older, iPod (non-camera versions), or original iPad.

To checkout these devices, contact your Educational Technologist!

5th generation iPod.
5th generation iPod. 

Do you Mahara? Changes are coming…

Do you Mahara? Changes are coming…

Mahara scribe logoMahara will be undergoing an upgrade this spring to reflect some new theme-ing as well as minor functionality changes.

Never heard of Mahara?  Mahara is our ePortfolio system, an open source platform that supports student documentation and reflection of their work over time at the university.  This is a program developed out of New Zealand.  The name “Mahara” is a Maori word meaning “to think,” “think,” or “thought.”

ePortfolios are widely popular in Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand and have been gaining popularity for their pedagogical value in The States and other universities across the country for several years now.

With all the talk about online learning and what it means for small liberal arts settings, ePortfolios could be the ticket to differentiating the types of learning that take place here versus larger institutions.  Much of the focus of online learning, MOOCs and the like have pointed to a shift in the way we think about our teaching by using strategies such as ‘flipping’ or other methodologies that facilitate students taking a more active role in their learning.  To quote John Fischman, author of a Chronicle of Higher Education blog post:  Electronic Portfolios:  a Path to the Future of Learning, “If we truly want to advance from a focus on teaching to a focus on student learning, then a strategy involving something like electronic student portfolios, or ePortfolios, is essential.”

In 2009, Fischman’s post commented on the work of two researchers’: Randy Bass and Bret Eynon.  Fischman relayed the importance and value behind ePortfolios.  According to Fischman, Bass and Eynon believe that:  “At the moment, ePortfolios represent perhaps the most promising strategy for responding to calls for accountability and at the same time nurturing a culture of experimentation with new forms of learning.”

Want your students to begin taking ownership of their learning, reflecting and actively thinking about your course?  Contact your EdTech and get started with Mahara!