COVID and Teaching and Fear

You might think by the title of this blog that I’m going to state just how afraid I am of potentially teaching in Fall 2020 with students in the classroom.

You’d be wrong.

I’m not going to say I’m too afraid to teach or do my job because no matter what, I’m at risk of exposure. My wife is a high school teacher – she is at risk of being exposed.

My kids are junior high aged. They’re at risk when they go back to school.

I’ll be at risk every time I walk into a campus building or my classroom.

Here’s the trick…my exposure will be less than they will deal with. Why? My team is working from home. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I’ll be teaching for 50 minutes in a classroom on campus – and I’ll be driving in, teaching, and heading home. 50 minutes, three times per week.

My wife teaches 5 classes with a duty period (lunch), plus she’ll likely have kids visit her during her actual lunch for academic help.

My kids will be around their peers for 6-7 hours, plus lunch, plus the bus ride to and from school.

My exposure will be the least of my family. That will be on my mind every day as school starts in Fall. Am I afraid for my wife, my kids, and me? Yeah, you bet I am.

What will I do? I’ll wear my mask, I’ll carry a tub of disinfecting wipes so I can wipe the instructor podium and technology controls down (I don’t trust others), and allow my students to borrow a sanitizing wipe to clean off their desk. I’ll mandate mask wearing, I’ll change my teaching to reduce close instructor-student or student-student interaction in the classroom.

…and I’ll hope for the best. However, I will not allow the COVID-19 virus to paralyze me due to fear.

I’m not sure what else I can do.

Mobile Tech Off-Topic Rants

Tech Struggles

This weekend, I gave up my Samsung Galaxy S7 for a shiny new iPhone XR. Ok, the XR isn’t the newest model, but the price was right and with my oldest kid now getting a phone, going the iPhone route was the easiest.

My S7 was starting to get a bit old – the battery lasted maybe 3/4 of a day if I didn’t use it much, and the last straw came when I was trying to get a picture of Drew Brees at the Purdue football game this past weekend (on 11/2/2019), and the camera completely failed. Oh sure, it worked again after a restart, but I missed my chance to get a picture of Purdue Football’s current largest legend.

So I spent Sunday evening between grading and doing other prep fumbling around with my new iPhone. I don’t like pages and pages of apps, so I was trying to come up with groupings of apps – so for example I put iMovie, GarageBand, Keynote, etc into a folder called “Apple Apps”. I put my Roku, Hulu, and other streaming entertainment apps into a folder called “Entertainment”. Boring, right?

The worst part was Contacts. I scrubbed nearly 400 unneeded contacts out of my iCloud contacts on Monday night while trying to watch football. Somehow, Facebook (yuck) imported all of my “friends” information into my Contacts. First – that was unnecessary, and second – I don’t need to see the contact info for my seventh-cousin-thrice-removed* when I’m trying to write an email (unless they’re a work colleague, and that’s a different story).

The worst part was on Monday – I was used to muting my phone just by turning the volume all the way down until all system sounds were muted. I tried to do that with the iPhone – and realized it doesn’t work that way. I found out about this while one of my students was giving a speech, and my phone went off three times during his presentation. I gave him three bonus points; 1 point per incident.

The iPhone XR does have a small switch on the left side of the phone that I can toggle on/off to shut down system sounds and alerts. Wish I had known that before getting embarrassed in front of my class. Oof.

I did have an iPhone in the past – a 4s. In between, I had a Galaxy S5 and S7. I got used to the Android environment, so this is a change. I’m sure I’ll still be fumbling around with this for a bit.


*I don’t know if there’s a real thing as a seventh-cousin-thrice-removed, and at that point of separation, does it really matter?

Teaching Stuff

Like Work/Life Boundaries in Teaching? Don’t Give Your Students Your Real Cell Phone Number!

(Note: this was inspired by a mass email I received touting a service that I actually do use. I’m not being paid anything for this, but it does open up a bigger conversation about where to draw lines in the technology realm.)

When I was teaching online, I had several students ask me if they could have my home phone or cell phone number so they could call me with questions. One student actually found my home phone number and called me (even though it wasn’t published on my syllabus).

OK, first…let’s talk boundaries. When I was teaching online, I provided ample opportunities for students to reach out to me. My institution at the time used Blackboard IM (and Pronto IM before that) for synchronous chat between instructors and students – students could talk to each other, or talk with their instructor – or a controlled group chat could occur. It was great and it did allow for voice communication.

I’ve always been of the opinion that unless my institution is directly paying for my cell phone, I’m under no obligation to give that information out to anyone – faculty, staff, or students. It’s a boundary that I set between myself and the workplace. Do I get work email and calendar information on my phone? Sure, but that’s a choice I make, and if I want to take Slack or my work email/calendar off my phone at anytime, I can do so without having to answer questions. For example, if I choose to uninstall Slack or take my work account off my phone during vacation because it’s my vacation, I can do without worrying about someone sanctioning me for doing so. It’s my phone, my device – my choice.

So I did think about what to do though that would preserve my privacy but meet my online students’ need to reach out to me via text message versus email. I found my solution in Google Voice. First, the price is right (FREE!) and I have an alternate phone number that I can give out that allows me to receive messages and calls without me giving up my personal phone number. Now, I do have to purchase credits if I want to make outgoing phone calls via Voice, but I make it clear that the number is for texting only. If they do call me, they call my Voice number – my actual real cell phone number is obscured.

Since I teach on campus now, I don’t feel a need to hand out a phone number other than my office phone number to my students. However, recently I did have a student ask if they could call me during my office hours due to being out of town for interviews that day. I gave the student my Google Voice number, and they called me – and we had a great conversation. Since I don’t do my office hours in my work office, the student had a number to reach me at, and we could have a conversation without me giving up my personal information.

What are the drawbacks? Well, inbound calls and all texts are free. Outbound calls require you to have paid credits. Also, if you don’t have any activity on there for a while, Google will threaten to pull your Voice account (I fix this by just calling my Voice number from my home phone number and answering via Voice). Also, you might not get a local number so if your students call, they could have to pay any long distance charges – if that’s even a thing anymore.

So here’s my final thought – if you feel a need to give your students a phone number to call or text you and you want to keep your personal number private, consider a Google Voice account or another service that will shield your personal phone number.


Take Responsibility for Your Grading Delays

So far this Fall, I’ve been pretty good at keeping my grades up-to-date. However, after the last major project my students turned in, I’ve fallen behind.

Look, I know this happens. We want to give fast feedback to our students, but sometimes life gets in the way. No matter what though, students depend on that feedback. It can help them improve their assignments, and in my class – it can help them improve their presentations by being aware of things they’re doing right (and wrong) so they can get better.

We can’t yell at students about not getting their work done on time when we aren’t prompt at getting grades done. But we should know that when our lives get complicated as instructors, and we can’t get the grading done – it’s up to us to do one thing – take responsibility.

So today, I put aside my pride and admitted to my students that I didn’t have their grades updated and it wouldn’t be until the end of the week. However, in exchange for their patience, I’m giving them 10 bonus points. It’s not much, but at the end of class one student asked me, “Can you tell other instructors to do what you’re doing?” I think they appreciated that I owned up to my problem in getting the grading done.

In a way, I like to think I’m demonstrating something important – I’m owning up to my mistake in not having the work done and admitting it.

In graduate school, I turned in an assignment in January and it wasn’t graded until mid-March. I get the frustration of waiting for your grades to be done. I’m only a few days behind right now, but that’s not the point. They expect their grades back, and rightfully so. All I can do is try to make it right as much as possible.


Can I Get a Real Collaboration Tool Over Here?

You want to ruin your students’ day? Tell them they have a group project as part of your class.

Yes, the dreaded group project. Where a student puts their grade in the hands of others. You know the joke… When I die, I want my group members to be my pallbearers, so they can let me down one more time.

The perceived problem with group projects is that students have to work together outside of class. That’s not necessarily a problem, to be honest, but it can be inconvenient when students have schedules that don’t match up, some live in residence halls on campus while others live in apartments far away from campus, some have club responsibilities, and so on. Students’ schedules don’t always work the way we want them to. So what can be done? Technology can help, but what kind of tools do you need?

First, you probably need to make sure students have access to collaborative document creation tools. Gone are the days of when students would send chunks of a paper to one person to slap together – now we have tools like Google Docs and Microsoft Word 365 to allow for real-time collaboration and versioning of documents. If a presentation is required, slide decks can be built using Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint 365. These options can allow all group members to contribute no matter where they are, even if they’re using their smartphone. These are obviously great tools, but now here’s the question…

How do you get students to have meetings together?

This is where it can get difficult. Some students might want to use FaceTime, but that automatically excludes those with Android phones or PC’s. Google Hangouts? OK, there’s an app on iOS for Hangouts, and that could be an option for now, but some reports have Google stripping Hangouts from consumers by 2020 [1]. So that’s OK for now, but down the road it might not be an option.

Of course, there’s other tools out there like GroupMe that do allow for collaboration and communication, but it’s not a tool that is likely going to be sponsored by the institution.

So what about the LMS, does it have a tool? Where I teach, we use Blackboard Learn, and while there’s group tools…they stink.

What would be ideal is a group tool that is provided by the institution that the instructor can set up for the teams in their class, and that the instructor can also actively participate in if necessary. This tools should allow voice, video, and text chat along with posting of links to documents (and maybe the occasional animated .gif for a little bit of a humor break). The tool, though, must be accessible – which could limit options.

If we want students to work together in groups, we have to provide them with the needed tools to accomplish their tasks. Not doing so opens the doors for anything that is convenient to the students to be picked, and those tools may not allow for full accessibility by all students, and it may take away some oversight by the instructor.

Ed Techy Stuff Teaching Stuff

Don’t Get Impressed by the New Shiny

There’s a lot of glitz in technology. When something new comes along, if it does something really cool that nothing else does, there’s something in your favor. Easy to use app? Awesome. Is it free*? There’s another plus. Are all the cool kids using it? OH MAN SIGN ME UP!!

But to revisit the old saying that not all that glitters is gold, is completely true. Sometimes that which glitters is glitter, and it gets into everything and ends up being horribly annoying.


The same goes, I feel, with educational technology. That old and busted technology may be a heck of a lot more stable than what’s new and hot. For example, iClickers. Sure, there’s web-based polling tools, but if you’re sitting in a large lecture hall deep in the bowels of a building where your cell service doesn’t reach and wifi is sketchy at best (or the network itself is sketchy), that old and busted radio frequency based iClicker device will work. No, there’s no glamour and it doesn’t have a cute app where you share unicorn or poo emojis, but it just works. And sometimes the pain of having to deal with old technology is worth it to ensure that the overall goals are met.

So why do I bring this up? In a time of limited budgets and expectations that things just WORK, it’s hard to chase after every new technology to see if it meets needs for everyone. That new technology, for example, might have a great iOS app, but no Android app. That technology as well might be free for a faculty member to use but cost students additional money. That new LMS might be eye-catching, but it lacks integration with standards and is hard to customize for your institution’s specific needs.

So my final point on this is that while its fun to chase the new shiny objects in the ed tech realm, that new technology may just not be as functional as what is available. Don’t get dazzled by the glitter…because the last thing you want is a glitter bomb.

*Free as in there’s no financial cost, but we’ll get your personal information for marketing 

Ed Techy Stuff Teaching Stuff

Considering Course Redesign…

The institution where I work and teach is in the middle of an LMS review as I write this (mid-December 2018), and as I prepare to teach my Science Writing and Presentation class this Spring, as I prep my class in Blackboard I’ve had a few things running through my mind:

  • If we’re possibly changing the LMS, how much work do I want to put into my course design?
  • Do I plan on the new LMS being “flatter” so I can only go two folder layers deep – meaning I have to rethink completely how I’m arranging my content?
  • Do my students really care what my course looks like as long as they know where to find stuff they need?

Now for each thought – points one and two actually flow together. We’re on Blackboard Learn where I teach and work, so if I want to create folders-on-folders-on-folders going ten layers deep…I can. However, that’s lousy design. Do I want to start putting any level of work in to redesigning and flattening my course? Of course I do. This way if we do make an LMS change, I can prepare myself for a more limited (yet easier to navigate?) experience.

I’m not an instructional designer by trade/education/etc (although I did complete a one week instructional design boot camp at the University of Virginia), but I feel like I know bad design when I see it. However, I’m pretty particular about my courses and when I taught online at my previous institution, even though they gave me my course content “ready to go” – that was a load of garbage. It was full of mismatched fonts, spelling and grammar errors, and more. I’d spend 10+ hours fixing my courses so my students didn’t think I was 100% inept. Mainly because I believe that if your course appears like you care, your students will get the point.

So…for several years, this was me the weekend before classes starting trying to fix the errors others had so kindly left for me in the pre-packaged class (and me not wanting to look inept):


But now if I have crappy course design, it’s all on me! But with a potential change to an LMS that won’t let me nest things six folders deep (like I’d do that anyway!), I need to rethink how I arrange my content. I’ve started by simply embedding the links to content within items, which are blocks of text, files, video, etc inside of Blackboard. I can have students read the context of what I’ve uploaded for them to review, instead of them seeing the file to download first, then seeing the context. Good design? We’ll see. My plan is to keep everything two folders or less deep this semester.

So what does the potential switch of an LMS have to do with redesigning a class? Well…it has everything to do with redesigning that class! Each LMS offers a new set of features – or, unfortunately, a more limited set of features – that has to be accounted for. If I’m teaching a class where I can embed videos or images into quiz questions in my current LMS, but the new LMS won’t allow that…that’s a massive change that must be accounted for. For me right now, if I really look at a) making my course as flat as possible, b) using only quiz questions that will likely be compatible with another LMS, and c) keeping the fact that my course might have to be tweaked upon migration in mind, I might stand a chance to see my content migrate to the new system with only a few needed changes.

…or I might have to start all over again.

Ed Techy Stuff Teaching Stuff

Good Old Fashioned Presentation Technology

So in addition to working full-time as an educational technologist, I also teach a writing and presentation course in our School of Communications.  Now it’s all fine and good to work with students on their verbal communications (“Don’t say “like” again, you’ve uttered that word 10 times in the last 30 seconds.  Come up with a more unique filler word.”) and their non-verbal communications (“LET GO OF THE PODIUM.  You’re going to shake it to pieces!”), as well as addressing presentation anxiety.  However, we have forgotten to include something that could impact every presenter out there…

Imagine you’ve created your presentation in Google Slides or the PowerPoint app in Office 365, and you’ve saved it there, expecting to just log in and open up your presentation when you get to class, or to your interview, or to that conference.  All of a sudden you realize you can’t get to your slides, and you have no backup plan.  You have not downloaded your slides to your computer, or saved them to a flash drive.  So you’re standing there, ready to go, but your slides are completely inaccessible because the network has crashed, and where you’re at in the building you have zero cell service, meaning that you can’t even use your cell phone as a hotspot to connect the computer to.



Basically, you’ve failed Presentation Prep 101, which is simply the infamous Murphy’s Law:  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

We’ve become dependent on cloud storage and effective network uptime to the point where if things crash, it’s a shock.  It shouldn’t be.  Technology isn’t 100% foolproof, and we should know this by now.  We’re not stupid…we’re arrogant.  We believe that everything will work when it should.  We never fully comprehend the cost to us of being unprepared for presentation failure.  It could be that your grade for your presentation will be much lower than it should be. It could be that the time you took preparing your argument is wasted because you had everything online. It could be that you don’t get the job  you wanted because you couldn’t present your materials during an interview presentation, and you looked unprepared and foolish.

Now to me, there’s several easy ways around this.  The easiest thing to do is to save your presentation offline.  Save it to your computer, save it to your flash drive – get it off the cloud.  This should be a no-brainer, but it’s not.

The second option is to have printed copies of your slide deck available, in the event a) the network is down, and b) the computer is unusable. You’ll have your slides – it’s not pretty, but you were prepared.  Now, this won’t help you if you have a crowd of 1,000 – but in the event you’re presenting to a possible employer and there’s 10 people viewing your presentation, it could demonstrate that you were ready for the unforeseen – making your presentation maybe not as effective, but demonstrating that you were ready in case of an unforeseen problem.

The third option is a throwback. This option rarely fails, and if so, the fix is quick and cheap.  I give you…the transparency projector.


So why do I bring up the old fashioned transparency projector?  Well…it’s not network dependent, it can work anywhere you have a wall, and if a bulb burns out, there’s usually a reserve bulb available, and switching it out doesn’t require a lift or fancy tools.  The only way it doesn’t work is if the power is out, and if that happens…there’s bigger issues!

And transparency projector bulbs don’t cost hundreds of dollars like they do in regular projectors!  And no need to have HDMI, DVI, RGB, or any other masses of cables involved!

So…ok, back to reality.

The old transparency projectors are dead and gone, but at the end of the day it’s critical that we understand that technology does indeed fail.  For students (and instructors!) the taking of granted of our technology working the way we expect will come back and bite us at bad times, and it can have a real cost when it comes to our credibility and performance on the presentation.

Teaching Stuff

No, You Can’t Have My Slide Decks…Not Yours.

Every so often I’ve read or heard about students taking instructor material and posting that material onto third-party sites. Now, these sites (which shall not be named) ostensibly claim to be there to help students, but at least on one site the more documents you upload, the more material you can access.

So, being paranoid protective of my materials,  I dived into one of these sites to look up content for the class I teach.  What did I find?

Three sets of my slide decks that I shared in Spring 2018.  And I have to ask…

It’s not like my slide decks would be super-helpful for the student looking to learn how to adequately communicate scientific information to the masses.  Most people would likely find my first class of the semester slide deck as useless as the 3 of hearts in a game of euchre.  However, here’s the deal…that’s MY creation.  Not the student who pulled that information and posted it.  This student took advantage of the fact that I put my slide decks on line.  Again, why?  What did this student get from it?  Did they get deeper access to a website full of materials that probably shouldn’t be shared in the first place?

What did I get out of it?  Nothing.

Not a dime. Not even free credit from this third-party site.

So this semester I’ve gone a different route.  I’m still posting my slide decks, but I’m sharing them via Google Slides and I’m shutting off the ability for students to download or print them.  I can’t stop them from doing screen captures, but if I can provide this information to students without them being able to download/print my work, that’s what I want to do.  However, is it too much to ask that my material not be taken and shared with others that I have not given permission to have that content?

So students…think twice before you take your instructor’s work and post it online. Would you want them to post your homework online for everyone to view?  If the answer is no, then return the favor.

Teaching Stuff

BlendKit Week 2 Reading Reaction


In my teaching experience at a community college and at my current institution, I’ve taught both online and face-to-face.  I’ve never taught an academic blended course (although I’ve facilitated a sort-of-blended training course).

I’m really interested in student interaction.  This semester, in my traditional course, we’ve had several classes where the students had very strong feelings on the topics and in several cases, some excellent (and civil) arguments occurred, where I had the opportunity to simply play referee when needed.  The students, after a month together, now felt comfortable with each other – and me – to engage each other in a vigorous debate.  But they kept it civil, which to me (other than staying on topic) was the most critical part.

Of course, this was, as defined, face-to-face synchronous expression. Otherwise known as a conversation.  An argument. A discussion.  An element where the students can’t hide behind a screen, with their non-verbal expressions out there for everyone to see.  Their body language, tones of voice, rolling of eyes.  No ability to scrub out the unfortunate reactions. No ability to quickly stop the conversation from going off into the ether quickly if the students choose to drive the conversation off into the abyss.


However, there’s a value in this in my opinion.  There’s a certain organic feel that I don’t feel can be replicated in an asynchronous conversation.  In the online courses I’ve taught, asynchronous conversations take place in the impersonal comfort of a graded discussion forum where it was required for students to post an original thought and two responses to fellow students.  Students are expected to keep the conversation civil and it’s written down as a rule of conversation, and to stay on topic.  This is not to say there can’t be strong debates in an asynchronous environment, but a lack of non-verbal communication may not make readers of another student’s post fully aware of that student’s passion for or against the topic of the day.

Do I feel there is a value in asynchronous conversation?  Yes, but it is lacking.  As an instructor I feel I have to control the topic(s) for discussion, as I have to trigger the discussion.  If I don’t require student-student interaction in an online course, will the students interact?  I hate to say this, but I’m not confident they would.  Sure, some students might interact through discussions if I allow them to have an open discussion forum, but if I don’t provide the medium for them, would they reach out to each other?

I could break out WebEx or another web conferencing tool for students to have live interaction with me and/or each other, but there is still the ability for students to simply lurk and not interact with each other.

There’s also the question now of time.  Providing meaningful feedback during a synchronous face-to-face conversation is easy.  I can do this through my non-verbals, encouraging statements, or my work on bringing the conversation back to the topic – this feedback is immediate and takes very little time.  Asynchronous feedback takes much more time – I have to read the statements by students, reflect, and then write back an appropriate response.

Perhaps in a blended course where F2F and online interaction is split, the synchronous and asynchronous expression by students can take on a different feel – where the synchronous expressions in the classroom can also carry on to the asynchronous discussions in the LMS.  In the end I think the trick is trying to find a balance.