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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.

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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.

via GIPHY

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 
purposes…

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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):

via GIPHY

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.

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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.

Um…oops?

Yeah…oops.

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.

via GIPHY

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.

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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.

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Teaching Stuff

BlendKit Week 2 Reading Reaction

Ahh…Expression.

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.

via GIPHY

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.

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Teaching Stuff

BlendKit Week 1 Reading Reaction

BlendKit Week 1 Reading Reaction

So I’m attempting BlendKit again – it’s not my first trip through the course, and last year I was pretty upset when life caught up and kept me from finishing the class.  Oh well, that’s life…right?

So as I read the chapter I get hit several times with some realities that I think get forgotten in the development of blended learning courses.  The chapter states,

Blended learning is not simply adding an online component to a face-to-face course. Technology in a course should be used wisely – to facilitate student learning.

I think sometimes it’s misunderstood why technology is added to a course. I’ve gotten faculty who’ve wanted to add classroom response systems. When I delve into why – well, they want to replace their bubblesheet attendance system with something different.  Sure, they give a quiz with the bubblesheets, but they’re not adding the response system to get real time feedback from students, they’re wanting to just make it easier to take attendance.  That’s not a good reason to use a system and force students to incur a $20-50 cost to obtain a clicker, or download an app to their smartphone.

Nor do I see blended learning as a way to maybe take a day of the week out of the classroom – this should not be seen as an opportunity to simply require students to do online activities in lieu of attending class on Friday.  Although students might love that idea, that’s not the purpose of adding blended learning.

I think what I get from this is that blended learning requires us to discard most of what we know about traditional in-class learning. We have to approach our course design from the point of view that our engagement with students will be in multiple dimensions – we’ll be engaging with the students face-to-face and in synchronous and/or asynchronous online communication.  We can’t stick to the idea that you can only email the instructor or visit only during office hours.  If we want to be more flexibility in our instruction we have to be more flexible in how students approach us.

We also can’t lecture on-the-fly anymore.  I teach a face-to-face course with the only online materials being readings, quizzes, and assignment submission dropboxes.  But if I’m not 100% prepared for my lecture, can I simply twist my class to add more group discussion?  Sure!  However, with a blended course, I have to be purposeful in my design and actions.  There’s no excuse for being less-than-adequately prepared. I feel that misuse of technology will only amplify my lack of purpose and direction if I don’t plan appropriately

I think if you do teach a blended learning course, from day 1 if there are expectations for students to participate in synchronous activities outside of normal class times, that must be disclosed immediately. Students who work or have other activities outside of class time may not be able to attend synchronous sessions; this is fair to the student so they can determine if they can continue to attend my course or if they need to enroll in an alternative section.  Like online courses, blended learning may not be an appropriate avenue for all students, and they should know from Day 1 what they are getting into.

So these are my initial reactions to the reading.  I’m ready to move forward.