Friday, July 31, 2009

Digital Me: Writing tools, sites, services

An ASU-Centric Guide to Web-based tools for student writing and scholarship.
Major Resources Referenced on this Page:

Sometimes, it's about the Tool

One aspect of technology where higher education has worked collaboratively and created a strong community of practice is in the area of student writing.

writingSoftware, sites and shared ideas are available to all student seeking to improve their writing and to the instructor that is looking for materials to help with specific aspects of student work.

Beginning locally, the ASU Library has a site with resources for online students. Their tutorials section has an extensive set of short, easy to understand guides into beginning a research paper or project.

Starting earlier in the process, the Purdue Online Writing Lab offers an open set of resources for instructors and students. Instructors wishing to help a student with a particular problem (outlines, brainstorming, the meaning of a paragraph, grammar, academic writing, APA...) will find help, language and examples on the OWL site.

An important part of scholarly work is being able to synthesize readings and research, and instructors can incorporate the use of RefWorks by reviewing a student's annotated citations before allowing them to begin writing. You will find the RefShare Web function of RefWorks an excellent way of sharing resources. Colleen has a public example online, and Yale Medical School has a nice tutorial on uses of RefShare.

Techniques in online pedagogy

For faculty teaching online or in reduced seat time (hybrid) formats, a number of best practices can be considered in creating a learner-supportive environment:

1. Set clear standards and expectation.

  • A rubric sets objective standards that allow the learner to critique their work before submission. Rubistar provides free tools and support for creating effective rubrics, as well as providing a site for sharing by assignment category. Here's one for a persuasive essay.

  • Provide an overview set of resources on scholarly writing, plagiarism, and standards for the discipline before assigning writing projects. Students often don't associate certain writing practices with "plagiarism". Rutgers University has an excellent, informal, light-hearted review of plagiarism and what it means to be an intellectually honest college student.

2. Consider making writing more public via posting writing assignments in the Blackboard discussion board so that students can see other posts, comments, critiques.

3. Posting work in a public Blog e-portfolio also assists in helping the student to take more ownership of the work and in having them see themselves as public writers.

4. Provide a framework for student critique and revision. GoogleDocs at MyASU might be a great tool for both collaborative writing and peer review assignments.

5. Be very specific in addressing the student's weakest writing point. OWL is a very good site for breaking these down and offering aids to improve that issue.

One simple practice

If you're still using the Blackboard Drop Box, stop! Create a BB assignment. It allows you to assign comments in the gradebook, where students focus much more of their attention than red markings on a paper. Tom Angelo (Classroom Assessment Techniques) often reminds us that red marks on paper aren't as effective as summarizing improvement needs. All your hard work can be lost if you don't reach the student where they are.

Not every student can be a great writer, but every student can be taught to be a better, clearer, more scholarly writer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Revisiting Respondus

Many faculty at ASU don't know that long before ASU purchased the Respondus LockDown Browser, we site licensed the rest of the Respondus suite to make faculty lives easier.
On request, instructors are provided with these easy-to-use quiz creation and learner flash-card/memorization authoring tools. The major (and most time-saving rather than draining) component of the software is a PC-only piece of software that allows the instructor to quickly type up exam questions (albeit in a stylized, Respondus format) and upload to Blackboard. If you're a Mac user, type up the questions and install Respondus/load into your BB course shell from a department PC on campus.

If as an instructor, you make use of Blackboard exams, Respondus saves you the tedious, time-consuming, dull BB process of creating exam, typing each question and answer in a little box, setting points, clicking next and waiting, etc. Yes, it takes a bit of time to download and configure the Respondus software, recognize the BB server and find your course, but do it once, and then you're good to go for all your courses. It helps to keep a cheat sheet of Respondus question formats nearby, as the format is strict, documentation hard to find and it's easy to forget an asterik or parenthesis where needed. If you're willing to learn the process, then creating a Blackboard exam can truly take just minutes.

Here are a few links to help you with the learning curve:
Now wasn't that easy?

Friday, July 17, 2009

ASU changes BB course request process (again)

When returning for Fall semester, ASU instructors will be surprised to find that the process for creating/copying BB course shells has changed without any notice going out to them. Again. The positive piece of the news is that for courses with existing SLNs, the system now pulls in the details and we no longer have to know #, title, SLN on hand to request a course.

New process for instructors requesting BB course shells:

Log in to, and click on “My Info” tab at top if not already taken there. At the top right, you’ll see “My Classes” with all their courses listed by semester. If the BB image on right for a course has a “+” sign, there is currently no course shell for this section and it can be requested by clicking on the BB icon. The yellow icon now takes instructor to Class tools (roster, submitting grades, academic status report).

IF the course doesn’t yet have an SLN, and instructor wants to begin work developing the BB material, click on Course Request farther down in Faculty Tools and put in a working title for a DEVELOPMENT shell that can then be copied to an SLN course at any time.

Clear as mud? I'm here most of summer if you need help.

click on image to display larger view

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

PollEverywhere, Poll Everyone!

PollEverywhere did it!
Every once in awhile, affordance of a technology reaches across the Web and grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me till my teeth rattle. I don't have to think deeply about how to use it or how to convince instructors to struggle with changing their teaching practices to use it in meaningful ways (Blogs, Wikis, RSS, RefWorks, shared docs, etc).
Every once in awhile (and oh I love those awhiles), there's a tool that can instantly be adopted across the disciplines to make learning more active, engaged and participatory. Student response systems (clickers) were all that, and I lobbied long and hard ~5 years ago for budget to purchase enough TurningPoint clickers for ASU West to outfit the auditorium. The mobile service my cracker-jack sharp team created was popular with a number of instructors, but never caught on the way I thought it would because of the difficulty for instructors in:
  • learning the software to pre-incorporate questions into PowerPoint
  • installing in the desired classroom
  • ordering equipment
  • passing out the clickers
  • working around hardware problems (line of sight, battery, etc)
Too much wasted time. Too hard to work around the glitches. Lots of effort simply to give learners a voice in polling, checking understandings, determining results. Mostly I failed in my convincing arguments and the mobile cart of clickers sat in the supply room.

I tried writing a Web application that instructors could copy and use in the computer classrooms to do their own polls on the fly, but it was kludgey and little utilized. I KNEW the research showed better engagement and attention when learners were involved in thinking, deciding, choosing, responding and that instructors paced and re-evaluated lessons based on awareness of student understanding. What to do about that?
PollEverywhere did it!

Recognizing that people in an audience generally have access to SMS, or Twitter or the Web...they built a Web-based audience response system that takes input from all three. Plus, they made it time-and-idiot proof for me to put up a poll in moments via their Web interface. Each response has a number (clearly displayed) that the audience chooses if they want to vote for that option. And PollEverywhere even keeps track of machine/browser, politely telling your students that they already voted on a particular question.

From my poll authoring account, I can instantly display all incoming results via the Web site, or close the poll and download results to a slide. (Don't forget to upgrade to the slightly more generous, higher education account for this option).

It couldn't be easier and here's more info on that. I can use it online and in F2F classes. Advice: if there are students in the F2F class that don't have an SMS-ready phone, Twitter feed or their laptop with them, tell your students to work in teams. Ask everyone who does have access to raise their hand. Start there and in no time, you may find more students bringing their laptops to class. And that's a good thing! Feel free to ask me why.

The bid disadvantage: free accounts only allow 32 responses per question. Your students will have to work in teams. This isn't a bad idea as you may find students in your F2F class that still don't have an SMS-ready phone, Twitter feed or their laptop with them. Ask everyone who does have access to raise their hand. Start there, form <32 groups and collaborate.
If I had a bucket of wishes, one would be that ASU purchases the site license for PollEverywhere and makes polling possible for all instructors, for classes of all sizes. We'd be able to tie responses to student ID, take attendance automatically, use as team reporting tool. Plus, we don't need to be passing the cost of expensive clickers on to students at a time of spiraling tuition and textbook costs. We do need access to meaningful learning technologies embedded in the fabric of the university. So that's what I'd wish for if I had a bucket of wishes.
Failing that wish, I'd wish that PollEverywhere had kinder pricing for teachers going it on their own. Right now, education budgets won't support this pricing, and no HE instructor is going to reach into their pocket for $700/year to replace student-purchased clickers. We're stuck with free, limited seat option for now.

My poll on ASU's efforts in digital literacy, results and info on voting via Web, Twitter or SMS are all available here.