Friday, December 19, 2008

Wikipedia is now a primary source for research!

Wikipedia. For academics you either love it or you hate it. One of the people on Twitter that I follow alerted me to a blog post by Frederic Lardinois on ReadWriteWeb that describes a first for a refereed academic journal. The scientific journal, RNA Biology, will now require all authors that submit a paper for review to the journal to also submit a summary of the article to Wikipedia. The Wikipedia summary is reviewed as part of the submission; however, once the paper is accepted for publication and the Wikipedia page is posted, anyone in the world can edit the contents of the Wikipedia entry.

I love it! RNA Biology is now feeding original cutting edge research into Wikipedia. That is primary source material – not simply secondary source material. I just love it. How do you feel about it? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Note: image credit here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Live classroom polling without clickers?

Almost everybody these days has a cellphone - especially students! So a company called Poll Everywhere has decided to deploy an Audience Response System (aka, clickers) by using text messaging on a cellphone instead of a wireless clicker transmitter. A colleague of mine (thanks Katia!) first let me know about this company by a comment she left on one of my blog posts. Today I spent some time trying it out and my initial assessment is that this is GREAT! It really works.

  • It's fast. When I send a txt msg it takes about 2-3 seconds for the vote to be captured in the resulting graph

  • It's easy for students to participate. As easy as sending a conventional text message and they do not have to buy a 'clicker' they can use their personal cell phone.

  • It's easy for instructors. No longer must the presentation room be equipped with a receiver to capture the signal from the clickers. All you need is an internet connection to capture the data from the live graph.

  • You can embed the 'live' graph as a PowerPoint slide into your classroom presentation. No need to minimize PowerPoint to go to a website to view the results.

  • It's cheap! In fact, you can try it for free with a maximum of 30 votes per question. For larger numbers of votes you can subscribe to the system for a monthly fee.

  • Web-voting is enabled. If you have students without a cellphone but with a laptop... then they can still vote by going to a specific link the instructor provides.

Want to try it? Here's a poll that I created below

Try it! Vote! If you want to vote by cell phone then here's how to do it:
  1. As the poll says, write a text message to this number: 32075 (Note: this is a text message short code - it is used like a telephone number for text messages.)

  2. In the text message you will place your vote. The format of your text message is specific: "Cast xxxxx". Where 'xxxxx' is a unique number associated with the option you wish to vote for.

  3. For example, in this poll, if you want to vote for Desire2Learn then write a text message to 32075 which contains this text "cast 29368". 2-3 seconds later you will see the graph change to incorporate your result. Note: Once 30 votes are tallied the poll closes so I will try to reset this poll once in awhile so that people can continue to try it.

Note: Poll Everywhere only works in some countries. Check their list.

If you want to try the web-based voting, then you can vote here.

I think this is great and I am definitely going to use it in class. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teaching with cellphones impacts learning?

Note: This is a follow-up message to an item posted to eLearning Acupuncture a week ago (19 Nov 2008), so be sure to read the original post first before reading this post.

I left off in the last post with the intention of testing if the use of cellphones in teaching contributed positively towards student learning. So here’s the simple experiment I designed.

First, a week after I exposed the class to the cellphone exercise in trying to answer the question “what is the mechanism of action of cyanide’s toxicity” via text message, I posed them the same question again. Only this time, they could not use their cellphones – they had to personally know the answer at that moment. The result is that four people out of 24 students answered the question correctly.

I approached these four people to ask the follow-up question: “Where and when did you learn this fact about cyanide?” Of the four people who answered the question correctly, two of them were the students who had successfully completed the cellphone activity last week, one was someone who independently looked up the answer because of her exposure to the question in last week’s cellphone activity, and the last person was someone who knew the answer from a previous course.

picture of resultsSo here is how I interpret this data in combination with last week cellphone data.

First, let’s examine the people who successfully accomplished the cellphone task last week and let’s see if their accomplishment from last week affected their learning. Of the two students who accomplished the cellphone task last week both were able to correctly answer the question regarding the mechanism of action of cyanide one week later. Both students identified the previous week’s cellphone activity as being the time and method that they learned this answer. So for 100% of these students, success with the previous week’s cellphone activity did indeed contribute positively to their learning. They demonstrated this by retaining this knowledge for the period of at least one week.

Second, let’s examine the student who did not successfully complete the previous week’s cellphone activity yet was stimulated by the activity to a great enough extent where she independently researched the answer and was able to demonstrate her knowledge one week later. Did the cellphone activity affect her learning? YES! On the surface this sounds quite positive doesn’t it? However, there were 19 other people in the class who where not stimulated by the activity to a great enough extent to independently research the answer as she had. So for 1 out of 20 (or 5%) the activity stimulated their learning despite being unsuccessful with the cellphone activity. For the other 95%, there was no positive impact.

Third, the student who previously knew about the mechanism of action of cyanide was unaffected by the activity – he already knew the answer.

So taken together, despite a very small sample size, there is a suggestion that cellphone use in the classroom might positively affect learning. Maybe just enough of a suggestion that further investigation on the subject is warranted. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pay Attention to Teaching with Cellphones

The Jordan School District in Sandy, Utah, produced a provocative presentation in April 2007 on TeacherTube entitled “Pay Attention”. It’s a nice video that runs about 7 mins and 40 secs. I’ve watched it a few times over the year to refresh my memory about some of the key ideas in it. I like a lot of them personally.

Starting at 3 mins 50 secs into the video, this sequence of text appears:
Did you know that over 1.5 billion people, all over the world, are walking around with powerful computers in the pockets or purses?

“When you lose your mobile, you lose part of your brain.” – Student from Japan.

“Phones have become an interesting enabling tool. Invented to connect us all together, it has become something much more…” – Warlick, D. (2007). At your Service.

Since your students already know how to use this technology, why aren’t you using it to teach?

Think of ways you could use cell phones to teach…Language, Poetry, literature, Public Speaking, History, Math, Storytelling, Geograpahy, Writing,

Text Messaging (SMS) alone could be used for: pop quizzes, student polls, spelling bees, math experiments, science experiments, book reports, peer tutoring, class presentations.

Imagine giving your class this assignment:

Class you’ve got 10 minutes to received a text message from anyone outside of this school…Please find out: 1. What they had for breakfast, 2 What the weather is like where they are, and 3. The one thing they as purchased. Bonus points will be given for messages received from people in other countries using languages other than English.

Talk about acquiring useful data! This data could then be used in nearly any class to teach a wide variety of essential skills: graphing data, food preparation, predicting economic trends. Cellphone to teach? Absolutely!

Well, I tried this experiment yesterday. I tried to see if I could integrate the use of cell phones into my class. I was teaching a 3-hour first year Chemistry Lab on the spectrophotometric analysis of hemoglobin in human blood. We used a classical reagent cocktail (called Drabkin’s Reagent) that contains potassium cyanide. I asked the students a simple question for bonus marks:
“Please receive a text message containing the mechanism of action of cyanide’s toxicity by the end of today’s class.”

Of the 10 people in the class who had their cell phones (most people don’t come to the lab with their phones), only two people were able to accomplish this task during the allotted time. 2 out of 10.

Is this a success or is it a failure? I don’t really know because I did not set out my research question ahead of time. (It just goes to show you that scientists are routinely engaging in poor experimental design! HAHA!).

However, if I reverse engineer this a little bit and think about possible research questions to judge the success of the experiment against, then these come to mind:

Q1. Were students excited by a research activity that involved cell phones?
A1. Anecdotally – yes. There was a real ‘buzz’, a sustained ‘good vibe’ in the class and it all positive.

Q2. Were students able to participate in this research activity on a cell phone without any technical training by the instructor?
A2. Yes. No one approached me to ask me how to receive a text message or how to operate their phone in any way.

Q3. Were students able to complete successfully this research activity on a cell phone?
A3. Only 2 of 10 were able to complete it in a 3 hour period. Some people, including me, might interpret this as a fail. In general, the majority were not able to complete this task in the time allotted.

Q4. Was the quality of the answer received by text message of sufficient high?
A4. Yes. I judged both answers as correct although they were quite abbreviated as you would expect with text messaging as a delivery mode.

Q5. Did this technology-enabled research activity contribute positively towards student learning?
A5. I don’t know. However, I am going to test this. I’ll be sure to put my results in a future blog post. Stay tuned!

If you have any experience using cell phones to teach, please let us know what you did and how it worked out by leaving a comment below.

Note: image credit located here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Artful Science of Instructional Integration

Note: Please welcome this guest post by Marc Tremblay - teaching on the front lines in Toronto, Ontario.

The challenges of creating effective instructional designs are an ongoing and healthy preoccupation in the minds of most teachers. Though they are often exposed to new instructional practices through professional development, teachers must consider a well-thought integration of a variety of approaches.

Beyond Monet: The Artful Science of Instructional Integration, by Barrie Bennett and Carol Rolheiser, tackles the complexity of instructional design by breaking it down into distinct elements. These components are based on psychological and social research which have been applied in education.

Many aspects of this book make it a valuable resource: concise explanations of theoretical foundations and a recognition of the need for excellence in teaching skills make this reading exciting and motivating. There are model lesson plans which demonstrate the application and integration of several instructional practices. The authors also maintain a website updated with current developments in research in education.

Key parts of this book deal with cooperative learning structures, the brain and students’ sense of well-being in the classroom, induction, differentiation, the practice of asking questions in a classroom discussion. These are all things we sometimes struggle to perfect and desire to master in order to create engaging, effective and meaningful learning scenarios.

So what’s with the title, Beyond Monet? Well, it addresses the need to apply scientific methods of self-reflection such as observation and analysis rather than simply relying on intuition: experienced teachers combine several instructional practices for effective teaching, yet often they struggle to explain clearly to novice teachers exactly what they did. One just doesn’t rely on a nebulous creative streak to be a good teacher. This book encourages in-depth understanding of teaching practices and learning content so that one can then apply one’s creativity in lesson design.

Beyond Monet : the artful science of instructional integration / Barrie Bennett, Carol Rolheiser.
(Toronto) : Bookation, c2001.
ISBN: 0969538839

Thursday, November 13, 2008

FOR SALE - Experienced Online Instructor

Are you seeking an experienced online instructor to teach at the post secondary level in the following fields: chemistry, physics, biology, biotechnology, molecular biology, mathematics, pharmacology, statistics, educational technology, education, or ethics? If so, please contact ME - I am for sale. Seriously. A CV and a detailed teaching dossier can be made available to interested parties. I can teach entirely using Web 2.0 technologies or I can teach within your school's LMS. You decide. I am 100% learner centered in my approach.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Newspaper Frontpages from around the World

Some people don't know about this. It's the website of the Newseum in Washington, DC. Billed as the 'World's most interactive museum', it contains a very nice resource of newspaper frontpages from around the world. For example, this morning, via twitter, many of my friends shared links from this website to show a visual representation of the Obama Presidential victory. This morning, Newseum showcased quite an extensive compilation of various newspapers - there were 682 frontpages from 66 countries!

Newseum's gallery of today's front pages is here. (Note: these pages load up slowly - be patient.)

Newseum's geographical index of today's front pages is here.

They even keep an archive of newspaper frontpages for dates and events of particular significance. You can see the list here.

If you are interested in infusing current events into your course materials then access to these newspaper frontpage images could be very useful! (Note: be sure to read their copyright statement before using any of this material. You can find a link to it at the bottom of each page.)

Tip: If you want to see if there are any archived versions of newspaper fontpages for a particular date in the past, then just use the following link and substitute the last 6 numbers by the numerical value of the date (i.e. for May 14th, 2008 use 051408):

Thursday, October 23, 2008

cck08: Wesch Strikes Again!

I can't get enough of this. The University of Manitoba recently posted the video of Micheal Wesch's June 17, 2008, talk entitled "A Portal to Media Literacy" where you can get a glimpse into how Micheal organized a couple of his classes at Kansas State University. He strives to create platforms of participation for students that leverage the emerging media environment. He shows how to let students participate in their learning in an open way to harness the 'upload world' they are familiar with. Some great illustrations of practices in wiki and RSS aggregator usage are found in this video... just in time for this week's CCk08 topic of Instructional Design and Connectivism! Food for thought!

In fact, I'm revamping one of my courses for Winter 2009 (Biol2: Intro to Molecular Biology) and I am going to use a wetpaint wiki as a type of portal for my students to bring together course information. I'll be sure to write about it on this blog once I get the wiki slightly more crytalized.

Note: image credit located here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Reflective Teacher

If you are a teacher then you are acutely aware that the level of effectiveness of ones teaching can vary from day-to-day and class-to-class. In fact, some days the effectiveness level is high while other days you are not so effective. Personally, I’ve often walked out of the classroom feeling that a particular class went horribly. So what do you do in situations like this? Well, you start by thinking about it… by reflecting. Many people have written about the reflective practitioner or the reflective teacher. In fact, many educators use the process of self-reflection with their students when developing skills in the classroom. Journaling is the classic example of this. Documenting the process of reflection can help the progression to solution finding. In the 21st century, blogs have facilitated the sharing of self-reflective material – they are much easier to distribute and access then hard-bound journals.

This web 2.0 concept of sharing when applied to professional reflection is very powerful. Have you ever wanted to be a fly in the classroom of a respected teacher to see how she does it? Have you ever wanted to read or hear the reflections of that same teacher on the effectiveness of their teaching? I’m guessing you answered YES to both of these questions. If so, this 13 minute video will be interesting to you. Filmed in the Fall of 2006, it shows a glimpse into the classroom of Queen’s University mathematics professor Leo Jonker and subsequently documents his reflection on his teaching style.

What do you think about Dr. Jonker’s video? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CCK08: Facebook for Academics

If you are a faculty member or administrative staff at a college or university then you might be tempted to check out Probably the simplest way I can describe it is to call it "Facebook for Academics." All institutions are organized on the top level of a 'tree' (i.e. an organizational chart). The second level of the chart shows the departments within the institution and the third level shows the individual faculty and staff. Once you add yourself to the respective tree branch, you can select your research interests, display a photo and post a professional profile which includes aspects such as articles published, books authored, CV, important websites, contacts, courses you are teaching, etc. This social networking site is a great way to connect with other faculty members at other institutions working on similar topics. This has the potential to be a very interesting resource as it grows. As of mid-October 2008, there are over 6300 people registered. (7 more people joined in the time it took me to write this blog post!)

PS: this blog post fits nicely into the Connectivism course topic for week 5: Groups and Networks.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CCK08: The most successful network in history!

Last week in CCK08, the longest thread in the discussion forum was on the question: “Which is the most successful network in history”. There were some very nice suggestions such as:
  • The network of international health care professionals linked together after experiencing outbreaks like the SARS.

  • The solar system – which networks planets

  • Evolution – as a self-assembled network that led to higher life forms on Earth

  • The brain – a dynamic, thinking and emotional network

  • The Internet – speed of information flow and repository of data

I think you might agree with me that those are all good examples. At least one important and immensely successful network is missing off this list: the telephone network. In the last 125 years, this network has evolved and adapted to serve the needs of the industrial revolution all the way into the 21st century and while I am no expert on predicting the future, I am predicting this network will continue to grow in its importance for generations to come.

This being said, the telephone network is slowly merging with the data network. So maybe in the future, all communications networks will be merged together with so much overlap and interconnectedness that distinctions will be difficult to identify.

Anyway, is this good for distance learning? YES! The telephone is important for distance learning. Not only is it a simple and reliable way for an instructor to communicate with a student but it also provides students access to a data network on some telephones. For example, I’m writing this blog post from my iPhone. It’s iFun! Access to this data network on a telephone exponentially increases the functions that a student can perform in support of their own learning using a telephone.

Can you suggest a candidate for the most successful network in history? If so, can you explain how this network might support learning in a practical sense?

Note: image attribution here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

CCK08: 69 Learning Adventures in 6 Galaxies

This week in CCK08 the discussions have revolved around aspects of knowledge. Some people have engaged in discussion around definition knowledge, others have tried to explore how knowledge is stored in the brain. Some have extended the discussion to the concept of understanding and there was a very interesting discussion on how knowledge or learning can take place in a ‘non-human appliance’ – be it social software or a robot! The topics that appeared made for quite a philosophical week in the course.

Now I’m not much of a philosopher – I’m a scientist. So I didn’t quite know what to contribute. I do know that knowledge, understanding and learning has been the cornerstone of my life as young adult all the way into adulthood. I’m a very inquisitive person always looking to learn new things. Consequently, I am a good “knowledge seeker” - a good researcher. So in the spirit of information gathering, I thought I would share with the readers of this blog a very nice resource.

69 Learning Adventures in 6 Galaxies.

Sounds like a bit of a gimmick title right? Well, it’s not. It’s a free eBook by Zaid Ali Alsagoff, the e-Learning Manager for The International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He’s assembled a very easily readable eBook that covers six major topics (aka Galaxies!): Learning, Teaching, Stories, Free e-Learning Tools, Free Learning Content and Free EduGames. In conjunction with his blog called Zaidlearn, it provides a nice set of resources for the practitioner who is in "knowledge seeker" mode.


Note: image attribution here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

CCK08: Connectivism Concept Map

This week I read a few things circulating in the blogosphere about Connectivism. Most of it is interesting. The readings provoked me to give some thought to the concept of exactly how I am connected to the message pipelines and communication networks around me. I noticed that there are some message pipelines that I exclusively make a conscious effort to take from at a time point which is convenient to me. Such as television. I do not routinely watch television. In fact, I have not been in the presence of a television (turned on) in the last four days. So how does the message pipeline of a television influence me - well, I simply take from it once in awhile. On occasion I make a conscious choice to turn on a TV and watch it. I never give to that message pipeline - I only take from it.

In contrast, I gave some thought to how I use the phone. The phone pushes information to me automatically (i.e. phone calls come to me directly on a routine basis) and I routinely push information to the phone (i.e. I call people through the day). So clearly the way television keeps me connected is different than the way a phone keeps me connected. However, both are part of my 'Personal Connectivism' map.

I tried to visually represent this phenomenon of my 'Personal Connectivism Map' visually. I used CMAP Tools. If you are new to CMAP tools then you might find this post useful.

Take a look at my 'Personal Connectivism Map' and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. Click the image below to go to Flickr where you will have the ability to choose from a variety of image sizes, if necessary (see the 'All Sizes' button).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blogroll in Pageflakes

"Blogroll in Pageflakes" ... hmmm ... what the heck does that mean? It kind of gives me a visual of someone dunking a yummmy snack into a bowl of sugar-coated cereal! But I digress *hahaha!

Anyway, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you will enjoy what I have put together for you this morning. It's a pageflakes webpage that aggregates the blogroll found on this blog together into one spot. It's one stop browsing for eLearning stuff. Enjoy!

PS: If you are new to pageFlakes and want to learn more, then see this post.

Note: photo attribution to Darwin Bell.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Free Books on e-Learning

Don't you just love the concept of sharing information for free? I sure do. So I wanted to quickly blog a link I would like to revisit in the future. Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (aka C4LPT), has assembled a running list of websites that hold free content from e-Learning books. For example, some of the items on the list are sample chapters from publisher websites advertising print books. The list is very useful and shows that even a little bit of free sharing can go a long way when someone takes the time to assemble the sources into one place. Thanks Jane!

CCK08-Connectivism is here!

The massively online open course on Connectivism has begun (see description here). Already there is so much material on the subject that some of the participants are very surprised and somewhat overwhelmed. In my view, I think the key is not to get stressed out with the large volume of material that will be channeled to participants in CCK08. Learning is supposed to be fun - so I am adopting the approach of simply 'going with the flow' for the next 13 weeks. I'm going to read a few things that interest me each day (mostly from 'the daily' email produced by the instructors and from the Pageflakes RSS aggregation page). And when I 'feel the urge' I will blog about something related to these materials in my regular blog here - I'll be sure to add the tag CCK08 to the postings. I have no specific goal (or expectation) in mind as to the number of readings I will complete each day nor the number of blog postings on CCK08 I will make each week; however, I will keep an open mind and see what happens. I am here to enjoy the ride with the least amount of stress as possible. I know I will learn
something on this journey - without giving myself a heart attack along the way (*haha*)

I hope the same for everyone else that is a participant in CCK08!

PS: If this posting intrigues you - it's not too late to join into CCK08. Give it a try!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Free File Storage Online

I attended a presentation by a colleague of mine yesterday (Hi Louise!) where the topic of free file storage online came up. Often when working in a course development team, using some central repository of files is very convenient - free file storage services online can help.

Here's a review of 10 free online file storage services via The Smorgasbord dated Aug 19th, 2008.

Here's a review of 10 free online file storage services via Online Storage Services Review dated sometime in 2008.

Here's a review of 6 free online file storage services via Enfotainer dated August 13th, 2008.

Also, Helen Barret, the E-Portfolio Queen!, has recently been conducting some Online File Storage Research. Be sure to read the opinion she's posted on her blog on March 30th, 2008.

If you have any successes, or failures, to report about a free online storage service, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gas makes a splash in 3D worlds

I spent about 15 minutes this morning with Tim Allen, Head of Technology for Crompco Corporation. I wasn’t in his office, I wasn’t on the phone with him, our time together wasn't even a series of email exchanges – it was in a 3-dimensional virtual world: Second Life!

With about 150 staff members and 65 trucks in its fleet, Crompco services gas stations from Maine to Florida on the I-95 corridor. Tim and his staff identified a “learning gap” when they were training junior technicians on the underground layout of gas stations. This underground layout isn’t visible if you visit a local gas station… it is underneath the asphalt. Previously, technician trainees at Crompco learned about the underground layout by using illustrations on a white board or other 2-dimensional learning aids in a classroom setting. Learning about a 3-D construction layout in a 2-dimensional diagram wasn’t perfect for students so sometimes they were lucky enough to find a gas station in construction where they could do a site visit. Unfortunately, there were times when finding a gas station under construction wasn't possible. That’s when Tim and his staff had a great idea: let’s do the learning in a 3-D virtual environment!

Enter Second life. Tim and his staff have created a virtual gas station in Second Life. One where the asphalt can be removed and the major aspects of the underground layout can be observed directly. In Second life, with your avatar, you walk right beside the underground tanks. One is displayed in cross section showing the gasoline inside.

The pipes are all clearly marked showing those carrying different grades of gasoline to the pumps. The recovery ventilation system is also shown. In addition to this 3-D model that students can actually walk through and examine from several angles, some slide shows are also hosted at the station, which explain related training activities and safety procedures. Tim informed me that part of the training activities also involve the driving of a fuel tanker truck onto the virtual premises to simulate filling of the underground tanks.

Are you in Second Life? Do you want to go see this Virtual Gas Station yourself? If so, you can send a message to Tim’s avatar named ‘Crompco Mecanique’, who frequently staffs the station called directly in Second Life. Alternatively you can try to find it yourself. Search for ‘Peregrin Salon’ and teleport there. The Crompco Virtual Gas Station is about 600 meters in the air above the salon. Note that you need a Second life Flight Assist Add-On to flight that high. Yikes! (*smile*)

Overall I was quite impressed. Clearly, this virtual training space met a need for Crompco in the formation of their technicians. Kudos to Tim and his staff for taking the leap to Second Life in order to meet their specific training needs. A local NBC affiliate even featured them in a story they broadcast in March 2008.

If you know of any other examples of companies using Second Life for training purposes, feel free to share them with us by clicking the comments button below.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is YouTube changing how we live?

I learned through my twitter feeds that Micheal Wesch has another video (see posts on his previous videos here and here). This time it is a recording of an academic presentation he made to the Library of Congress on June 23rd, 2008. It's just under an hour long and it provides an excellent overview of the impact some Web 2.0 technologies from an Athropological perspective. In particular, the presentation examines in detail the concepts of YouTube and of user-generated media/filtering/commentary. I found the talk to be very interesting and despite the fact that I am in the field of educational technology, this talk opened my eyes to a few broad scope issues that I have never considered. There's something in this talk for everyone. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The video's YouTube page can be found here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Recording Virtual Field Trips

Two colleagues of mine, Susan and Christine, had a great idea! They wanted to do a virtual field trip in Second Life for students in a graduate course they are designing. However, they didn’t want students to have to get their own Second Life account in order to experience the field trip. So they wondered if they could ‘record’ the instructor experiencing the field trip and simply show the recording to the students.

Answer: YES!

We developed a proof of concept for this solution to show to the instructor. It is a short, less than a minute, video showing a virtual field trip in Second Life to the American Chemical Society. We've hosted on YouTube.

You might be wondering how I did it? Well, I used a four step process.
  1. Capture the video in FRAPS while in Second Life. FRAPS does a full screen capture of what you see in Second Life. It even captures streaming video clips with audio that are playing in world. The full version of FRAPS is only $37. The free version allows you to make video capture clips up to 30 seconds in length.

  2. I recorded some audio to overlay on top of the video capture. I used Audacity. It’s a free audio recording software.

  3. I then used Windows Movie Maker to put the video, the audio and a couple of title slides together into the final movie. Windows movie Maker is free and is pre-installed with Windows XP and VISTA. Look for it under Start -> All Programs.

  4. I uploaded the final movie to YouTube.

All told it took me about 2 hours to make this video and write this blog posting. Not bad for a proof of concept. Have you used these types of techniques successfully in your distance courses? If so, let us know about it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Connectivism is about you!

Are you in EdTech or the Online Education field? If so, this blog posting will interest you.

George Siemens and Stephen Downes will be co-facilitating a course this Fall hosted by the University of Manitoba on the topic of Connectivism. This Learning Theory is relatively new and is built on the central tenet that learning is the process of creating connections and developing a network. Clearly, recent advances in Web 2.0 technologies like social networking are major players in the development of this learning theory. For more information on the theory of Connectivism you can find a general resource on Wikipedia.

The best part of this course is you can have a choice to 1) take it for FREE in a non-credit fashion, or 2) take it for credit in a paid-for version. Regardless, all students are put together into one cohort to research the topic of Connectivism. There's going to be videos, blogs, rss feeds, discussions - everything that fits into the Connectivism model will be woven into this course.

The course wiki goes on to further describe the course as:

"Connectivism and Connective Knowledge is a twelve week course that will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. It will outline a connectivist understanding of educational systems of the future. George Siemens and Stephen Downes – the two leading figures on connectivism and connective knowledge - will co-facilitate this innovative and timely course.

This course will help participants make sense of the transformative impact of technology in teaching and learning over the last decade. The voices calling for reform do so from many perspectives, with some suggesting 'new learners' require different learning models, others suggesting reform is needed due to globalization and increased competition, and still others suggesting technology is the salvation for the shortfalls evident in the system today. While each of these views tell us about the need for change, they overlook the primary reasons why change is required."

Last Sunday night (July 27th, 2008), EdTechTalk did a talk show on this course with participation by Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Alec Couros and Leigh Blackall. It now has almost 1200 registrants! WOW - 1200! If you are interested in this course, you might want to have a listen to the audio recording of EdTechTalk #81.

It's going to be a very interesting experiment. I'll be there. Will you?

Note: photo attribution.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Eureka! Jott is here!

Have you ever had that ‘eureka’ moment when you’ve stumbled upon a piece of technology that is so interesting and useful to you that you can’t believe it’s real or free? I experienced this feeling today when I tried Jott. I first learned about it this morning as I managed to catch a few minutes of a presentation by Michael Wesch entitled ‘A Portal to the Future of Education” where he showcased several Web 2.0 applications that together can serve as tools for education today and into tomorrow.

In a nutshell, what Jott does in allow you to call a phone number and leave a voicemail message and then Jott transcribes the voicemail message into a text message that can be sent to a recipient’s email address. Very nice! Let me give you some good scenarios for its use.

[Update on Jott - 08 January 2009. Six months after this original blog posting - I have learned about changes in the Jott plans. The Free plan only allows you to jott yourself. The scenarios below were originally written when the Free plan allowed you to Jott anyone. Keep that in mind when reading the rest of this blog post.]

Scenario #1: My wife is a clinical social worker. I can’t call her during the day to communicate a message because she’s usually in a counseling session with a client. So I usually pass a message to her by email which she receives between clients or at the end of her workday. With Jott, I can now do this on the road with my cell phone! I can leave a voicemail with Jott that will be transcribed into an email and sent to her inbox. Nice!

Scenario #2: I like to use Twitter and so when I am traveling, or away from my computer, I can send a text message from my cell phone to Twitter. I can use Jott to plug-into Twitter. So by calling a telephone number, I can update my Twitter status. No clumsy text messaging on my small phone keypad required. Nice!

Scenario #3: I’m a Blogger – as you know. I learned that Jott has a plug-in to Blogger! So now blog posts can be made by voice using Jott! Nice!

Scenario #4: I use my email inbox as my ‘things-to-do-list’. I often find myself sending myself an email to remind me of something I have to do. Well, now I can do this while I am away from the computer. A call to Jott and I can send myself an email reminding myself of something. Nice!

I definitely had the ‘eureka’ moment today after only using Jott for an hour. I will use it for a month and report back the pros and cons of Jott as a comment to this post. If you use Jott, let us know how you like it and how you use it by leaving a comment below.

Note to Canadian readers: Jott's 1-866 number will not work so long distance charges may apply. Major cities have a local number and you can find the list here.

[Note: phone image, originally uploaded by Liquid Lucidity. Usage licensed by Creative Commons.]

Monday, June 16, 2008

iPhones are for the birds!

In 2006, I blogged about iPods as training aids in sports. Since 2006 there has been many examples about iPods being used as a just-in-time performance support aid for various training and educational contexts. I was recently at the Eastern Ontario Symposium for Educational Technology in Ottawa and a presenter from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology showed how the nursing school was using a PDA to help nursing students. These students on the floor had access to just-in-time resources on the PDA (textbook, drug guide, etc.). In addition, these students were able to log their training competencies as they complete them, instead of logging them once they arrive home for the evening. A lovely example of how a portable device can enhance a learning environment by both being a resources for information and by storing data for later use.

So by now you’re probably asking yourself, what does this story about nursing students have to do with the title of this posting? (i.e. having anything to do with and iPhone or with birds). Well, I’m sorry to report that it really has very little to do with it. However, I thought it was a nice little introductory story to what I want to describe next: BirdJam! Yuppers. No typo here - definitely BirdJam.

13May06-RoseBreastedGrosbeak-Pair, - photo by Eric Tremblay.

Bird watching is a popular hobby and many companies make resources for the avid birdwatcher. A myriad number of field guides and a long list of bird song CDs are available. I recently came across an application that uses an iPod, or an iPhone, as a performance support for birdwatchers. Paper-based field guides with photos have routinely been used at the time of a bird sighting for identification purposes; however, operating a series of birdsong CDs is much harder to manage when you are out in the field. That’s where BirdJam comes in. With what I consider to be a very elegant solution, BirdJam will transform your iPhone, or iPod, into a virtual field guide which integrates together both photos and the accompanying bird songs. BirdJam is a piece of software that converts data from the popular Stokes Field Guides for Birdsongs into a format that leverages the unique features of the iPhone and iPod (such as cover flow, and fast title searching, etc.). The result is a portable encyclopedia of photos and songs that is fast and easy to use. The technophilic bird watcher will salivate at the first sigh of BirdJam! If you don’t already have your own iPod or iPhone don’t worry. They will sell you a pre-loaded iPod ready for the field right out of the box. Several different add-ons are available, so not only can you obtain photos and audio of bird songs from eastern and western regions of North America, but you can also obtain data packs for birds native to Mexico and Costa Rica. I would bet that in coming months that BirdJam, and it’s partners, will continue to expand its available selection.

Much of our education and learning takes place outside the classroom. BirdJam is one example of a tool that creates a just-in-time performance supports for birdwatchers. Just another example of how people are thinking outside the box to make learning a lot easier for us all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flickr images for YOU!

Flickr allows its users to grant Creative Commons licenses to their photos and as a result many of these images can be available for YOUR use! There are different types of Creative Commons licenses and Flickr breaks them down for you and categorizes its database of photos accordingly. One example of a licence type is “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivitives License”. What this means is that you can use any image tagged with this license if you meet 3 conditions:
  • Attribution: you must give credit to the photographer

  • NonCommercial: you must not use the image for commercial purposes

  • No Derivitives: you may not modify the image in any way

It turns out that at the time I am writing this posting there are over 23 million photos on Flickr that you can search and use with this license. WOW! It is a veritable Gold Mine for educators putting together course materials.

Check it out Flickr's Creative Commons page here.

Take care


PS: The image above was found on Flickr with a Creative Commons license. Credit to Kevin Day. []

PSS: I've posted on this blog before about free image databases, add Flickr to the list now.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Wikis in the Classroom - iGlobe

I attended the Eastern Ontario Symposium on Educational Technology (EOSET) hosted by the University of Ottawa last Thursday (May 29th). The format this year was different than in the past. It consisted of a series of short 10 minute presentations. One talk that I found interesting was by Mark Salter in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. He described his large introductory class in "Politics of Globalization" which he branded as ‘iGlobe’ to attract student attention on the materials and to convey that this course was different than other politics courses. It sure was. Mark mixed aspects of problem-based learning (PBL), wikis and pod-casting into the materials of his course. His course has two assignments (in which students had choice as to what deliverables they had to submit) and two exams. Mark reported that often in undergraduate politics courses, professors give feedback to students on their papers and students do not get the opportunity to integrate that feedback into future assignments. He felt that by using the wiki in the course that students could take advantage of professor (and peer) feedback to improve their work by incorporating feedback. I have written on the topic of using wikis as class assignments before, so it is clear to the readers of this blog that I am very pro-wikis. Mark mentioned a good point that I took away from this presentation: he felt that students need a significant amount of training on how to use a wiki in the context of education. In his experience, the concept of a wiki was new to some of his students and so basic training on how to operate it was necessary.

In addition, he felt it was important to emphasize to the students that the goal of using a wiki in this course is not to create as many pages as you can, but rather to create a few pages and edit them extensively and repeatedly. The cycle of ‘research-write-feedback-edit-repeat’ was the preferred activity here. Not simply a linear ‘write as much as you can’ scenario. It is this feedback integrating cycle that is the key in an educational context! The entire course is still a work in progress and you can check out the iGlobe wiki here.

If you use wikis in your undergraduate courses, let us know how they are working in your context by leaving a comment below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Audio Feedback on Student Assignments in Online Courses

I attended the inaugural Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE) annual conference earlier this month in Banff, Alberta (this was formerly the Canadian Association of Distance Education conference). It was both a spectacular location and a spectacular conference. One talk that I thought would be interesting to the readers of this blog was by Dr. Phil Ice (formerly of University of North Carolina Charlotte now of American Public University System).

Phil and his colleagues investigated the use of the audio commenting tool in Adobe Acrobat Pro to provide audio feedback on student assignments in an online course.

The experimental design and analysis was rigorous with aspects such as alternating between text-based and audio-based feedback types between assignments throughout the term, a question on the final course survey asking for student preference for audio versus text-based feedback, and 27 post-course interviews with students, etc.

The project started off on the right foot when 40% of students spontaneously emailed the instructor about the first occurrence of audio commenting with all of those emails expressing satisfaction with the technique.

On the end-of course survey, the results remained impressive. 26 students preferred audio to text, 4 students indicated no preference and one answer N/A (due to a defective sound card).

The transcript analysis of the 27 post-course interviews with students revealed four themes:
  1. Ability to understand nuances in feedback (70% of students). Humor, tone, encouragements and emphasis were much easier to interpret using the audio feedback.

  2. Feelings of increase involvement (56% of students). The connection between instructor and student seemed to be increased and consequently students were engaged in their online course.

  3. Content retention (44% of students). Students reported that they retained the content of the audio feedback better that text-based feedback.

  4. Instructor caring (30% of students). Students reported that audio feedback was more personal than text and they perceived the instructor as caring more when he left an audio message.

Phil and his colleagues actually did more analysis than I am describing here, but you get the idea. If you would like to see his PowerPoint presentation from Banff you will find it hosted at SlideShare and if you would like to see a recent article on this subject then this is a good one:

Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P. and Wells, J. (2007). Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students’ Sense of Community. J. of Asynchronous Learning Networks. 11(2).

If you have any similar experiences with using audio feedback in online courses, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

20,000 visits!

A big thank you to everyone who has ever visited e-Learning Acupuncture. Today the website reached 20,000 visits! Wow! Thank you, thank, you thank you!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Invest 45 minutes in PowerPoint!

In the same vein as my ‘Life by Powerpoint’ blog post from last year, I have stumbled across another excellent demonstration of useful ways to make PowerPoint presentations less boring for students. Alvin Trusty, Director of Educational Technology at The University of Findlay in Ohio has provided his recorded presentation from the eTechOhio conference of 2008. It’s 45 minutes long. But wait… I know exactly what you’re going to say here.

Eric… I can’t waste 45 minutes watching a PowerPoint presentation on the web.


If you are a frequent user of PowerPoint in the classroom, then this will be the BEST 45 minutes you will ever spend watching a PowerPoint presentation. Alvin gives tons of tips and tricks and interweaves the topic of best practices in PowerPoint with some very useful concepts in Copyright Law (tailored to the US audience but useful in general to others.) He shares his personal blog and a bunch of links stored in So instead of ‘wasting’ 45 minutes, I say ‘invest’ 45 minutes and watch this presentation from start to finish. Then leave me a comment below. In your opinion, did you just waste that 45 minutes or not? I want to know!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wikis as Assignments

I attended a very useful online presentation last week by Mike Orey of the University of Georgia (via the Wimba Distinguished Lecture Series). In one of his graduate courses in education, as an assessment activity, he asks students to contribute to a wiki-book that he and his colleagues have developed: Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching and technology. The reason I am making this posting is two-fold.
  1. The concept of asking students to contribute to a wiki that will remain for future users is very interesting to me. Clearly an assignment of this nature fits into the highest levels of Bloom's Taxonomy and could even serve as a capstone assignment in some types of courses. In Mike's example, he created a privately owned wiki for this purpose; however, Wikipedia could be used as well.

  2. Mike's eBook is excellent from a practitioner’s point of view! Have a look it. It has some interesting sections on topics such as Motivation, Adult Learning, Problem-based Instruction and Learning Communities as an Instructional Model. Chock full of case studies and well referenced with supporting literature. If applicable, Mike encourages you to adopt all or part of this eBook as a textbook in your course. He's so nice (*smile*).

Kudos to Mike & friends on more than one level!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Project Management using Google Sites

My office has been playing around with the Google Sites wiki for the last few weeks (I’ve written about Google Sites before.) We’ve been using it to collaboratively author mini-reports as well as staff meeting agendas.

I would like to try to use a wiki site to track an online course development project. It would be a place where the project team could define goals, publish milestones, post files and monitor progress on project activities. I think Google Sites would be perfect for this and it is an easy to use and free online application. I am definately going to use it when I start my next project.

Today I came across someone else who has built a nice Google Sites template for project management activity. Check out the link and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Nursing Simulation in Second Life

If you want to be a nurse then you need to go to school. Many schools and registered nurse programs are using technological tools to delivery nursing education; especially in the area of nursing simulations. I came across one particularly interesting example of this just today. John Miller, a Nursing Professor, at Tacoma Community College in Washington is spearheading a nursing simulation hosted within Second Life. He’s also working in collaboration with the nursing school at nearby Centralia Community College. The simulator allows students to react to a situation, to choose what medications to administer, to chart their actions, to monitor the consequences, and to adjust their treatments accordingly. Scenarios can be simulated which reproduce life-threatening conditions in a safe ‘virtual’ environment. I've written about Second Life before and it seems to me with the work of simulation pioneers like John Miller, the potential of Second Life as a simulator are being slowly unveiled.

I contacted John Miller in Second Life (his avatar's name is JS Vavoom) and he let me view the simulator. Here's a screen shot of my avatar lying down on the operating table. Yikes!

Important Update:

As of late 2008, John has removed his original 5 part series of YouTube videos (listed below) demonstrating his nursing simulation. He now has new videos. I will write about them in this blog here.

Do you want to check out John Miller's nursing simulator but you don't have a Second Life account? No worries! John has made a video tour of the simulator and posted the tour in a 5 part video series on YouTube (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5). What do you think about it? Leave a comment below.

PS: Take the time to check out John Miller's blog too.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Who are your students?

Do you really know who your students are and the challenges they face with education? If you answered 'yes' to this question then you are most likely in the minority. Check out this excellent video made by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University. Very thought provoking!

(Click here for the native YouTube page for this video.)

PS: Do you recognize the name 'Micheal Wesch'? Check out this posting I made a year ago on another of his videos.

Poducate Me!

Micah Ovadia, a digital designer at the University of Cincinnati, provides this excellent and free guide to everything you wanted to know about Podcasting. It is a must-bookmark site.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Free Wiki Hosting by Google

Google finally gets into the Wiki game by re-launching the product they acquired last year (JotSpot) under a a new name: Google Sites. See this description of the product via TechCrunch blog. I'll be trying it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

12 Screencasting Tools

Keep this link handy. Sean P. Aune, from Kirksville, Missouri, summarizes 12 Screencasting Tools that are currently available. Half of them are FREE of cost. I have never tried any of the free tools on this list. If anyone has any experience on how well they perform, please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is Second Life 100% experimental?

If you were running a business and your clientele rose from 3 million to 11 million in just one year, then people would be buzzing about you too. That’s what has occurred on Second Life (SL) in the 2007 calendar year.

Maybe there’s been some buzz about Second Life (SL) in distance education circles for awhile now but the massive increase in users is fueling some new excitement.

If anyone is clueless about SL, a quick read of the wikipedia article on the subject would be useful before continuing on with this blog post.

I have been a casual SL user for the last couple of years. Recently a colleague of mine (Thanks Louise!) has had her first experience with SL and in discussions she brought to the forefront some of the most common concerns that distance educators might share about SL:
1. SL is very heavy on the ‘social scene.’ It appears that a great many people in SL are here to meet other people with intentions or striking up more than just a casual friendship. This type of environment could be a distraction to educational pursuits.
2. SL has a very steep learning curve. New users start off at Orientation Island. It can take almost 20 hours to complete the island tasks in order to be reasonably proficient with the SL interface. Being a long time gamer, when I joined SL, I skipped the entire Orientation Island experience and chose to figure out the interface by trial and error. However, I fully understand that non-gamer type people would probably find it very frustrating to proceed in this manner. Orientation Island therefore is a must! However, what distance course can afford to have 20 hours allocated to it on the front end for students to learn a software tool? OUCH!

If I were teaching a graduate-level distance course that required synchronous student-to-student interaction and was on the topic of technology in education, then I would be tempted to run it on SL. The up-front investment of the steep learning curve might be worth it in this special case (i.e. a requirement for synchronous interaction on the topic of education technology). I can see that a dozen students having voice discussions in an immersive world using their custom built avatars could really be fun and could really stimulate some interest in synchronous simulation technologies. However, if I were teaching a graduate-level chemistry course that required synchronous student-to-student interaction, I would not invest the time required for every student to climb the steep SL learning curve. I would choose something like Elluminate Live for my synchronous activities. Elluminate's learning curve is a much more gentle slope. (Not to mention the fact that the potentially distracting 'social scene' is avoided.)

Despite this conclusion, I can’t help but feel that SL has enormous potential to develop into something more useful for education purposes as time progresses. I'm just not sure how much 'time' will be required. Two more years? Ten more years? Who knows. For now, I view it as 100% experimental - it is simply an intriguing social simulation environment.

Are you in SL? What do you think about reality, or the potential, of SL from a distance education perspective? Please leave a comment below.

Also, if you want to look me up in SL, my avatar’s name is EricT Nastula. See you there!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Putting the microscope on Flickr

Last semester I taught an Introductory Microscopy laboratory course. The course was basically divided into 3 parts:

1. Microscope operation
2. Basic histology
3. Specimen preparation

There was no required textbook for the course and a lab manual containing protocols and theory was provided. In past offerings of this course, students had great difficulty with the 3-week long basic histology section because they had very little resources they could study with at home. The laboratory manual was not detailed enough to compete with commercially available textbooks in histology. So students had difficulty studying away from the lab. A histology textbook was not added to the required readings list because it was difficult to justify the additional cost if this textbook was only to serve a 3-week period in the course. (Histology textbooks are expensive!) In the absence of any significant material to study from at home, it proved difficult for students to assimilate the material with the mandatory laboratory time alone. Some were creative and used Google to surf some online histology sites at other institutions.

This year we tried something different. We (*Thanks Nancy!*) photographed all the histology specimens used in the lab and we posted them all to the Flickr photo sharing website. Additionally, we annotated the photos to give students a guide to the hallmark features of the specimens. With this resource available to students anywhere they could find a computer, all of a sudden studying away from the lab became much more effective. The results were such that the grades went up when compared to last year! Students reportedly loved the online Flickr resource. They found it a major advantage to their studying and they placed great value in being able to visualize on the web the exact slide that they used in class.

From an instructor perspective Flickr was a joy to use. No special technical knowledge was required to use it. No significant photo editing, no HTML coding, very easy to annotate photos, organization of photos was simple and the best part was that it was free. Flickr is completely free if you use less than 250 images. So the effort to create this student resource was very manageable.

So clearly this was a win:win for both students and instructors.

Want to see it? It’s publicly available here.

What do you think? Would this work for you? Post your comment below.