eLearning Technology Blog

Expert professors show their favorite classroom tools

by WSU Online 10. May 2014 10:33

By Richard H. Miller/Global Campus

The flashing VCR clock—00:00, 00:00, 00:00—was once as ubiquitous as the response: Let a teenager fix it. While the belief that young people are more adept at technology—how do they text and walk at the same time?—is not baseless, it is often overinflated.

Case in point: Classroom technology at Washington State University.  Four WSU faculty members recently led a workshop on using new tools to engage students. Two of them, communication professors Rebecca Cooney and Brett Atwood, were comparative youngsters; each looked able to program an interactive whiteboard while windsurfing. The other two presenters may have predated the overhead projector.

The first speaker, Richard Zollars, associate director and professor in the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, has been a professor for 37 years. He has seven times been named to the WSU list of Outstanding Teaching Faculty.

Zollars began by giving out clickers—more like a small remote control than a castanet. He showed a slide with a tricky question about the mass of gas, and asked people to push the button representing one of four answers. He then tracked the results or, as he put it, “probed for misconceptions.”

Engagement means success

Clickers help keep the video-game generation engaged, he said, and reduce the embarrassment associated with raising one’s hand—a side benefit for which last week’s audience seemed grateful. Most importantly, more engagement means more success.

When Zollars started teaching his introductory course, about a third of the students usually didn’t get the minimum C required to pass. After he introduced new techniques, the no-pass rate was cut in half.
The changes have also affected his enjoyment level. “After 30-plus years of standing in front of a classroom talking, you get tired of listening to yourself speak,” he said. “Turning the tables and having the students do more is a nice break.”

Cooney came next, and discussed Screencast-o-matic and VoiceThread. The first lets you capture whatever’s on your monitor, combine it with voice and web cam recordings, and put it online. The second is like a chat area, but includes audio and video—such as her screen captures—making it a great access center for course materials. “It’s quick, lovely, and works very, very well,” Cooney said.

Appealing to the video generation

Business faculty member Jan Koal, who has been teaching since the Nixon presidency, described YouCam 6, which adds video and audio to PowerPoint slides. Koal has a homemade green screen in his basement, so he can add custom backgrounds to his YouCam 6 videos, such as live palm-tree shots from a Costa Rica webcam. He then posts the videos on YouTube, and links to them from Angel.

The videos are an attention getter, he said. If he simply talks, he said, some students seem distracted. Last semester, he happened to play a video of himself talking. “It was eerie,” he said. “Every eye in the room was riveted on the screen. I don’t get that kind of attention when I’m live.”

Virtual reality headsets

Atwood explained SoundCloud, Screenr, and Narrable, then finished with a leap into the future: Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that changes the view when you move your head. It’s like having a 360-degree IMAX theater strapped to your face, and equally attractive.
While virtual reality technology is in its infancy, Atwood said, it has incredible potential. “All sorts of amazing things are possible with these sorts of virtual reality headsets,” he said, including giving students virtual views of science, engineering and history. 

Workshop attendee Raymond M. Quock has been a professor for 40 years. He was previously Allen I. White Professor and chair of WSU’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Department. He was named to the WSU President’s Teaching Academy in 2004, has earned 14 other teaching awards, and just recently moved to the Psychology Department.

In sum, he’s a proven master of his profession. Why did he attend the workshop? Because he intends to stay that way.

“I’m here to learn about all the tools in the toolbox that we can use for teaching,” he said.

For a printable summary of all the tech tools mentioned here, please select this link. For a list of future WSU workshops, including ones on VoiceThread and flipped classrooms, please go to the Global Campus’ eLearning Service page.

Not on an Island

by WSU Online 6. May 2014 14:33

We all know that quasi-existential question about being alone on an island, but if you could have one . . . something . . . what would it be? I had a similar thought while preparing to teach an online course for the Global Campus.

This summer, I will be teaching my first online course:  English 201, Writing and Research. In all my previous courses at the Pullman campus, I utilized Angel as a place to collect most student work. I feel very comfortable using Angel, but I was still somewhat circumspect about what an online course would entail. I had heard, informally, that online courses are “pre-built” and that all one needs to do is show up and teach. Well, Yes and No. In my particular course, the textbook previously used was out-of-print. The new book added a chapter and combined two other chapters, which then changed the page numbers for exercises and assignments.

Here is where the Course Verification process stepped in. The fine production team at WSU Global Campus had already changed the dates to match the Summer of 2014 and had prepared several specific questions for me to work through regarding the revised textbook. As I worked through each section—especially the General Maintenance Tab—I discovered the innumerable tweaks the course needed in order to be updated to coincide with the new textbook. I ended up copying and pasting each lesson into a Word Document so I could make alterations and tracking everything with Track Changes. I also made other changes. The course had a couple of quirks. As a best practice, I prefer to have one place where all dates are kept so as to ensure accuracy. I also needed to delete some activities that the previous instructor used, and I added some of my own. Even though the course was “pre-built,” I still played an integral process to putting the course in its best and most applicable form. When it launches in just a few weeks, I will certainly feel a sense of pride over the materials.

The process went very smoothly and efficiently – to such an extent that I decided to opt for the Virtual Mentor to see me through this summer. And that’s just it. If I was on an island, teaching a course, what would I want? Easy answer. The support team from the Global Campus.

Sometimes, online education is cast as an isolated experience, for students and teachers alike. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, especially when instructors realize that the supposed “island” is really a community of people dedicated to making the course a success for students.

Aaron M Moe, PhD

Instructor, Department of English


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