We Have a Solution for That: Student Presentations, Posters, and Websites

Some of our faculty are moving away from traditional end-of-semester assessments, such as term papers and high-stakes final exams, in favor of projects that can be scaffolded over a period of time. These may include having students share their research in an oral presentation, poster, or website. The question is, how do you support their research output? Fortunately, we have some solutions!

If your students are doing either oral presentations or electronic posters, check out Prezi Next, the new version of the online presentation application. [See our post on the original version, The Power of Prezi, from October 2014.] The new version, which runs on HTML5 rather than Adobe Flash, offers many more templates, a more intuitive interface, supports more file types, and is easier to navigate while presenting. While Prezi is great for a linear presentation, one advantage is that presentations can be designed to be non-linear, useful for facilitating a less formal discussion for example.

Looking for a presentation software that allows for easy collaboration among student team members? Check out Google Slides. Like Google Docs and Google Sheets, access to the slides can be shared and multiple users can work on the sides remotely and simultaneously—there’s even a chat feature to make group editing easy. There are some nicely designed templates, themes in Google-speak, and you can easily integrate content from Google spread sheets and documents. There is also a downloadable version of Google Slides for desktop use.

If you don’t like the templates in PowerPoint or Google Slides, check out Slides Carnival, which has many creative templates available for download, including fonts, icon sets, maps, and charts, graphs, and tables styled for each template. These work with both PowerPoint and Google Slides.

If you are looking to have your students create a website, Google Sites has recently come out with a new version of its website creation application. When you sign into Google Sites you can choose to use the classic version or the new one. The new version gives you fewer options (just six themes available currently), but is a snap to use, being essentially drag and drop. There no messing with HTML code, and it is easy to tie into the content from your other Google apps. There is an “add editors” feature that will facilitate group work. It’s a great option when you want your students to be focused on creating content, not on struggling with technology.

We also have some resources for students doing presentations and posters—online videos on creating and designing effective PowerPoint presentations and posters, as well as some handouts on these topics. See Presentation Strategies on the CER website. If your students (or you) are looking for freely-available and rights-free visual resources (images and multimedia) check out CER’s Visual Resources page.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: cc Wikimedia Commons

Making Infographics with Easel.ly

Back at the beginning of the year I wrote a post on Scalar (a multi-media authoring tool) that mentioned another application called Easel.ly. I’d first heard about Easel.ly from a colleague last fall and have been wanting to try it out ever since. This week, I got my chance and I am really excited about this application.

Creating an Easel.ly Infographic lists the three steps to creation 1) create an account. 2) select a vheme or blank canvas and drag and drop objects to it 3) share the completed infographic.Anita Say Chan and Harriett Green wrote about Easel.ly in an article published in the Educause Review, Practicing Collaborative Digital Pedagogy to Foster Digital Literacies in Humanities Classrooms (October 13, 2014). Their description captures the essence of the tool: 

Easel.ly is a free, easy-to-use web-hosted platform for creating infographics. Users can insert icons and shapes, change background and orientation, and rearrange the pre-inserted graphics in the pre-set template (called a “vheme”) to create their own vibrant infographics.

We chose this tool because its features let students rapidly build professional, visually captivating infographics in a user-friendly environment without requiring mastery of graphic imaging software (such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator).”

The term infographic has a broad meaning – a visual depiction of information – and the end results of an Easel.ly creation cover a wide range as can be seen from the hundreds of thousands of posted examples. Timelines, annotated maps, flowcharts, posters, public service announcements, instructional guides – if you are thinking in terms of a course assignment that will involve visualization or visual display of data/information – take a look at Easel.ly. Easel.ly also has a feature that allows you to create groups to work collaboratively. See creating groups: http://www.easel.ly/blog/easel-ly-groups-new-feature/. This would be a great way to allow students to work together on a course project.

It’s easy to create an account and start to work. The interface is simple and intuitive. You can start with a blank canvas, pick a template (vheme), or select from thousands of published examples to modify. From there it is a breeze to drag and drop from menus that include backgrounds, objects (images, icons, maps, flags), text boxes, shapes and arrows, and charts. All of these can be easily modified (size, orientation, font, color in some cases). You can also upload your own images, icons, maps, graphs, etc.

Once you have completed your work there are several ways to make it available to others. According to the Easel.ly blog post on sharing options:

Shareable Link: A shareable link allows a user to both See and Reuse your infographic – The only people that can see and reuse the infographic are people who you give the link to.

Embed Code: If you would rather embed your infographic within a blog post and not have to download and upload to your blog, then “Embed Code” is the way to go.

Group Share: Probably our coolest feature. This option allows you to share an infographic that you have created with everyone in your group (see here: Creating a Group) and allow them to reuse your infographic as a template for their work.

If you want more information on using Easel.ly, take a look at the blog. If you’d like more features, there is a paid version available for only $36.00 per year.

I opened a free account on Easel.ly and within an hour had tried out all of the features and created the infographic that accompanies this post. The About Us section of the Easel.ly website summed up my experience:

“…[I]n 2013 Easel.ly was honored to receive the Best Websites for Teaching and Learning Award from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The AASL commended Easel.ly for being user friendly, intuitive, and simple enough that even a child in the 6th grade could successfully navigate the site and design their infographic without adult assistance.”

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Infographic created by Macie Hall on Easel.ly

 

 

 

Summer Reading: Three Articles for Your Consideration

Celebrating the end of the academic year and looking forward to some time for summer reading? It’s always good to have solid research to back up our teaching practices. Three recent articles highlight scholarship behind the claimed benefits of collaborative learning, improved student performance with the use of active learning, and taking notes by hand provides better cognitive retention than using a laptop.

Woman lying on grass reading a book.A tip from the Tomorrow’s Professor mailing list sent The Innovative Instructor to IDEA (Individual Development and Educational Assessment) and POD (Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education). “IDEA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide assessment and feedback systems to improve learning in higher education.” [http://ideaedu.org/about] As part of IDEA, POD produces “succinct papers” to address specific ways for instructors to employ innovative teaching methods. The POD Center Notes on Instruction is definitely worth a look.

POD Item #5 Formed “Teams” or “Discussion Groups” To Facilitate Learning Overall, reviews the research supporting the benefits of collaborative learning. “Learning is enhanced when the material to be learned is thought about deeply and also when related material is retrieved from memory and associated with the new material. When students have an opportunity to work together to learn course content, particularly when applying that material to a new challenge, both deep thinking and retrieval of associated materials are realized.” Specific tips are presented for implementing group work in a course, including setting clear expectations and monitoring group progress. Applications of group work for online settings are examined, and assessment issues are addressed.

Next, a study on lecturing versus active learning was recently highlighted in both Inside Higher Education and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The results of the research, Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Scott Freeman, Mary Wenderoth, Sarah Eddy, Miles McDonough, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Michelle Smith. The lead researchers are in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle.

From the abstract: “This is the largest and most comprehensive meta-analysis of undergraduate STEM education published to date.” “These results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” As for the significance of the report, “[t]he analysis supports theory claiming that calls to increase the number of students receiving STEM degrees could be answered, at least in part, by abandoning traditional lecturing in favor of active learning.”

From the April 2014 Psychological Science, The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, reports on the benefits students gain by taking lecture notes longhand rather than on a laptop. Although using laptops in class is common (and instructors complain about the distractions laptops present), this study “…suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.” “In three studies, [the researchers] found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.” The authors conclude “…that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image Source: CC Spirit Fire on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirit-fire/5733726521/

Resources for Peer Learning and Peer Assessment

Students doing group workSeveral weeks ago our colleagues in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health presented the very informative half-day symposium Peer to Peer: Engaging Students in Learning and Assessment. Speakers presented on their real-life experiences implementing peer learning strategies in the classroom. There were hands-on activities demonstrating the efficacy of peer-to-peer learning. Two presentations focused on peer assessment highlighting the data on how peer assessment measures up to instructor assessment and giving examples of use of peer assessment.  If you missed it, the presentations were recorded and are now available.

A previous post highlighted Howard Rheingold’s presentation From Pedagogy to Peeragogy: Social Media as Scaffold for Co-learning. You will need to bring up the slides separately – there is a link for them on the CTL page.

For additional material on peer learning and assessment the JHSPH CTL resources page is loaded with information on the subject, outlining best practices and highlighting references and examples.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Two Keynotes – Part 2

In the last post, I wrote about a keynote presentation by Philip Yenawine, the co-founder of Visual Thinking Strategies. A second remarkable keynote address came during a half-day symposium, Peer to Peer: Engaging Students in Learning and Assessment, sponsored by colleagues in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (JHSPH).

Screenshot taken from Howard Rheingold's websiteHoward Rheingold delivered his presentation From Pedagogy to Peeragogy: Social Media as Scaffold for Co-learning remotely as seems appropriate for the person Wikipedia  describes as “… a critic, writer, and teacher; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing).”

Rheingold is a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in the Department of Communication where he teaches two courses, Virtual Communities, and Social Media Literacies. He is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in the School of Information where he teaches Virtual Communities and Social Media. He is the author of numerous books including Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, [2002, Perseus Books], and Net Smart: How to Thrive Online [2012, The MIT Press]. He has given a TED Talk titled The New Power of Collaboration.

On the bleeding edge in terms of technology and thinking about the power of the human mind, Rheingold has long been an advocate and advancer of the collaborative nature of networked communities and communication. Rheingold spoke to the audience at JHSPH on the evolution of learning from lecture-based to learning-centered, self-directed, social, peer-to-peer, inquiry-based, cooperative, and networked models.

He started in the mid-2000s with the Social Media Classroom, a wiki-based site that acted as a place for communication and served as an asynchronous element to a face-to-face class he was teaching. In the process students, working in teams, became co-teachers. He promoted the use of blogs, and mind maps that provided students with a non-linear way of looking at materials and making connections between things. In an effort to reach out to different learning styles, Rheingold presented the course syllabus as a concept map, a Prezi, and on the wiki.

Since then we have seen a proliferation of peer-to-peer learning platforms such as YouTube and Khan Academy, as well as self-directed, peer-supported courses such as ds[digital storytelling]106. Since January 2011 ds106 has been taught at University of Mary Washington (UMW) and other institutions as a course for credit but also has at the same time been open (non-credit) to participants from the web (learn more about ds106).

Howard Rheingold’s Rheingold U. is a natural extension of this phenomenon.  “Rheingold U. is a totally online learning community, offering courses that usually run for five weeks, with five live sessions and ongoing asynchronous discussions through forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, and social bookmarks. In my thirty years of experience online and my eight years teaching students face to face and online at University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, I’ve learned that magic can happen when a skilled facilitator works collaboratively with a group of motivated students. Live sessions include streaming audio and video from me and from students, shared text chat and whiteboard, and my ability to push slides and lead tours of websites.”

Rheingold asked, “What do self-learners need to know in order to effectively teach and learn from each other?” This question led him to the development of the concept of peeragogy (a collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work) and The Peeragogy Handbook: a peer-to-peer learning guide in the form of a wiki-based “textbook” created cooperatively. Of this Rheingold says, “I was invited to lecture at UC Berkeley in January, 2012, and to involve their faculty and their graduate students in some kind of seminar, so I told the story of how I’ve used social media in teaching and learning – and invited them to help me create a handbook for self-learners.”

Rheingold inspires us to rethink traditional teaching models, reminding us that not only do we learn best by doing, but also that teaching someone what we have learned reinforces our own knowledge.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Johns Hopkins University


Image Source: Screen shot from http://rheingold.com/

Bring on the Collaboration

Getting students to participate in class discussions is a common challenge. Every instructor has faced the dreaded silence after posing a question. Active learning activities can stimulate student engagement, but they can be difficult to implement in classrooms that were designed for lectures –  fixed seating inhibits opportunities for collaborative exercises such as group work and discussion.

Research has shown that active learning strategies can improve students’ retention of content taught in class [Michael Prince. Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 2004. http://ctlt.jhsph.edu/resources/views/content/files/150/Does_Active_Learning_Work.pdf.] A variety of teaching methods – such as peer-instruction, discussion groups, and collaborative problem solving – can foster greater student engagement. Each of these methods requires students to connect, share information, and discuss possible solutions to posed problems, anticipating real life workplace situations.

eStudio-309_2D-finalFaculty who want to implement active learning strategies may find it challenging to manage in a space designed for lecture-based instruction. In the last decade, universities have introduced classrooms to address this challenge. Typically known as studio  or collaborative learning classrooms (CLC), such spaces often have round, movable tables for group work, ample whiteboard space, and large display screens for each group. This learning environment has a positive effect on students’ engagement; it alters their roles in the classroom from passive recipients of knowledge to active participants in their own learning.

At a National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education last summer, several Hopkins colleagues and I participated in group work in a space designed for collaboration. We were impressed by the power of that learning experience. Shortly after the workshop, we learned that the Provost’s Gateway Sciences Initiative would be underwriting the conversion of a traditional learning space (Krieger 309) into a collaborative learning classroom.  I decided to offer my Biology Workshop course in the new CLC in the fall semester of 2012.

The course was designed as a guest lecture series with some meetings set aside for group discussions.  Although we continued to offer the guest lectures in a large hall, we moved to the CLC for the group discussions and were delighted to take advantage of the features of this new space. During a typical class, I provided a 5 to 10 minutes overview of the day’s lesson plan, often using the instructor projectors to play a video or podcast highlighting a current event or controversial topic in biology. For the majority of the class time (30 minutes), students worked in groups using their own laptops to conduct research, discuss potential answers to questions, create charts and other graphics, and post content to the course Blackboard site. For ten minutes at the end of class, groups took turns presenting their work to the entire class, using their team projectors to display their work.

View of collaborative learning classroom - Krieger 309 - no studentsThe room’s design allows students to work comfortably in groups, using tools ideal for collaboration. Each group has a whiteboard adjacent to its table where students can jot down notes or conceptualize and work out problems. Students can easily project their individual laptop screens for viewing by the whole class. In addition, the instructor has control over two large screens, which is helpful when presenting materials to the entire class or sharing a group’s display with the class. The room’s layout facilitates instructor visits to each group while they work, something that is difficult in a lecture hall.

One of the nicest things about teaching in the new CLC was that students seemed toStudents inCollaborative Learning Classroom - Krieger 309 know what was expected of them. Seeing the space they knew the class would not be a typical lecture format, which intrigued them. Moreover, the students responded positively as they engaged in the discussions and participated in their groups, producing a higher caliber of work than I experienced in this course previously.

Students were amazingly “on task” during group work, which speaks to their high level of engagement and enthusiasm. They clearly felt a strong sense of responsibility for their group’s performance, particularly when presenting their findings to the class.

View of collaborative learning classroom - Krieger 309In comparison to previous iterations of this course, the students’ grades were in the same range; however, the level of engagement was much higher and it was a significantly more enjoyable teaching experience. I know that the students appreciated the active learning aspect of the course because when I presented in lecture format for more than 15 minutes, I could see them squirming in their seats.  They couldn’t wait to get started on group work. It has been a challenge to limit my introduction to just a few minutes, and then post supporting material for the students to explore during class with their groups.

Because this class had more discussion and collaborative work than when I previously taught the course, I found that it helped to prepare learning objectives for each session. This kept the focus in place during class and ensured that the group work would meet the goal for the day. It also helped set the students’ expectations for what they needed to accomplish and learn for tests.

A number of faculty have taught in the new CLC since its creation, from the departments of Chemistry, French, Physics, Mathematics, and Civil Engineering. The room is flexible enough for a number of uses and can support classes from any discipline. The way I conducted my course for instance, is similar to the teaching approach for humanities courses in which class discussions are standard. Although the students in my Biology Workshop did not often use the whiteboards, other classes used them frequently.

There are many methods for generating effective group assignments in class. I found that when my 35 students first entered the CLC, the room’s layout clearly suggested that they would be working together at the round tables, which seat seven. They gravitated naturally to self-defined groups around the tables. This proved to be effective way of forming lasting and productive groups for this class.  Other instructors may wish to randomly assign groups or to purposefully break and re-form groups throughout the course.

Additional Resources

The text for this post originally appeared in the print series of The Innovative Instructor.

Rebecca Pearlman received a PhD in Biology from the University of Wisconsin.  She has over fifteen years of teaching experience ranging from small laboratory courses at a two-year college to large lecture courses at Hopkins. She is delighted to be a lecturer in the Biology Department working with amazing colleagues who are dedicated to improving the undergraduate experience.  Her past collaborations with the CER include work on creating videos of laboratory techniques and piloting in-class voting and course management systems.


Images Source: © Reid Sczerba.

 

Making Group Projects Work

Instructors often find that student engagement increases when active learning strategies are implemented in the classroom. One strategy is to assign problem-based collaborative learning projects. Well-conceived group projects help students develop critical thinking skills, learn how to work in teams, and apply theories learned in the course to real-life situations, producing an appreciation for how the knowledge gained will be useful once the class is over. The end result is a richer learning experience for the students.

Drawing of chairs around gears, screw driver tightening screw in center of second gear.

Students are more likely to appreciate and retain information when they see a correlation between course work and what they expect to experience as working professionals. Problem-based group projects typically require an array of cognitive skills, induce collaborative learning, and allow students to take ownership of the process. Moreover, students who learn to work in teams are better prepared for their future work environments.

Developing effective problem-based group projects requires assignments that reflect your course learning goals and incorporate course information, permit management of the student groups, and facilitate assessment of student progress. Advance planning and thoughtful strategies will go a long way towards ensuring successful implementation.

I. Setting Student Expectations

  • Weight the project fairly. You want your students to take the project seriously but you don’t want to weight the project so heavily that experimentation or risk-taking is stifled. Consider dividing the project into parts and grading each separately, so the team understands which aspects of the project went well and what needs improvement.
  • Discuss student roles and what’s needed. Get the students thinking about what will be required of their team and how they can organize and manage the project.  Emphasize the importance of a team schedule. Discuss the qualities of a good teammate so that students begin the project with mutual respect.
  • Start with small exercises as a warm up. Consider starting with a couple of smaller in-class team-based exercises so that students get used to working collaboratively

 II. Group generation methods

  • Allowing self-selection of teams can create problems. Students like to choose friends as teammates. Personal issues then carry over into the project, friendships may suffer, or the members may take the project less seriously, resulting in poor group performance.
  • Random selection is a reasonable alternative to student choice. This method is the fastest way to generate groups and more reflective of the real world. While random selection is convenient, consider ensuring diversity in each group to the extent possible.
  • Skills based alignment is ideal for creating groups. Identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses through in-class exercises can help establish well-rounded teams. As a part of the preparation for the project, generate a list of the skills needed, have the students identify their strong and weak areas, then group the students accordingly.

 III. Getting each student to contribute

  • Assign the students to roles. The difference between a dysfunctional group and a successful team lies in assigning roles. If students are assigned tasks with deadlines, they are more likely to take ownership and responsibility for completing their work as part of the team. Establishing roles can be a part of the group creation process. Avoid having students doing the same task for the entire length of the project. Instead, make the skill requirements for the team more conceptual. Use abstract concepts (Researcher or Synthesizer; Gatherer of Data or Analyzer of Data) so that broad expertise is required for each role.
  • Require that a different student present the team’s progress for each report. Make sure that each student has an opportunity to participate in an in-class presentation. Presenting their work is a skill that all students will use in the future. As it involves an understanding of all the parts of the project, these presentations by each team member also help to ensure successful group collaboration.

 IV. Assessing the team/individual in and outside of class

  • Have the students do evaluations. This can be done both during and after the project. Evaluations serve as reflective exercises for the students, allowing them to comment on how the process could be improved. Evaluations are particularly useful for gauging the team and individuals’ contributions for grading. Questions that require students to evaluate their own performance, the performance of each team member, and the team as a whole can provide insight into how the team functioned.
  • Schedule time for team work in class. Scheduling group work outside of class is always a challenge for students. By allowing time during class for team work, you also will have an opportunity to monitor student progress. This is a great way to gauge whether the students are experiencing difficulties and provide an opportunity for questions, clarifications, or assistance with problems. Some of the best learning comes from spontaneous discussion in class, and peer-learning can be extremely effective when students are working together to solve problems.
  • Ask for regular status updates. Starting class with a brief progress report from each team will bring up questions and concerns that can be addressed at once, eliminating redundancy and saving time.

V. Build in time for reflection

  • Reflection is key to learning from failure as well as success. Make sure you build in time for students to reflect on their progress. The best time to get the students to reflect on their experience is after the project during a debriefing discussion. Questions such as “What went well or not so well?” and “What would you do differently?” will enhance the opportunity for learning from their failures as well as their successes.

This post was adapted from The Innovative Instructor article series: http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_MakingGroupProjectsWork.pdf

Pam Sheff,
Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University
Pam Sheff is an award-winning writer and marketing communications consultant, with experience developing marketing, public relations and communications strategies for clients ranging from start-ups to large corporate, institutional and government organizations. Now a full-time lecturer in CLE, Pam has taught classes on business communications and entrepreneurship.

Leslie Kendrick,
Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University
Leslie Kendrick has taught in the CLE program since 2002 and developed the five core marketing courses. She has 12 years of experience as a marketing practitioner. She has  worked for Harper & Row Publishers, Londontown Corporation, and Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.


Image Source: © Reid Sczerba, 2012

Create an Online Space for Students to Collaborate

Working in groups can be a very positive experience for students; it allows them to take ownership of their learning, and they become active rather than passive learners. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of the subject at hand, the interaction that students have with their peers is equally valuable. Students have the potential to develop life-long learning skills including critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making abilities, as well as social skills such as effective communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Instructors may help ensure the success of group work by following some of these simple guidelines:

  • Establish clear expectations of participation by group members.
  • Specify the roles and responsibilities needed within each group and have students delegate them.
  • Have group members assess each other at various times throughout the project/activity.
  • Periodically check to monitor group progress.
  • Use rubrics to assess both group and individual contributions.

For more on student collaborative work, see Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, 2001.)

Screen Shot: Blackboard Groups - Creating a GroupInstructors at JHU who have the option to use Blackboard (course management system), can create an online space for students to work collaboratively. The Groups Tool in Blackboard is a convenient way for instructors to create subsets of students for collaborative activity. Once created, group members have access to a number of communication and collaboration tools within Blackboard, as determined by the instructor. These tools include: a group discussion board, blog, wiki, journal, email tool, chat tool, a file exchange tool, and a task list.  The instructor has access to all group tools at all times.  This allows him/her to monitor each group’s activity as needed. The blog, wiki, and journal tools have the option of being graded; they are connected to the Blackboard grade center, so any grades entered are automatically transferred and recorded in the grade center.  Within these tools there is the option to grade each member of the group individually or grade the group as a whole. Blackboard groups can be created one at a time, or as a set. Members of groups are selected manually, with the instructor choosing students from a pre-populated list, or by using the self-enroll option, where students use a sign-up sheet to enroll themselves into a group. There is also a ‘random enrollment’ feature (if creating a group set), where Blackboard will randomly assign students to groups. This feature is often helpful in large lecture courses.

For more detailed information about using the Blackboard Groups Tool, please see the Groups Tool tutorial.

Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Screen shot: Blackboard.

VoiceThread – “Conversations in the Cloud”

VoiceThread is web-based presentation application that allows users to create and share interactive multimedia slideshows. VoiceThread presentations are used to showcase audio, video, images, and documents while allowing users to comment on them in a variety of different ways. Comments can be made using a microphone, a webcam, uploading a prerecorded audio file, using a phone, or by simply typing text. There is also a “doodle” tool which can be used to annotate presentations with digital overlay while leaving a comment.  The result is an ongoing, asynchronous, digital conversation that can be easily shared with individuals, groups, and/or embedded into different websites, including Blackboard.

Image for VoiceThread application. Conversations in the Cloud.

Originally developed at the University of North Carolina, VoiceThread has been used at  the Johns Hopkins Schools of Nursing and Public Health for several years. IT@JH recently obtained a university-wide license for all members of the Hopkins community; instructors and students from all JHU schools now have the ability to access VoiceThread free of charge.

At JHU and other institutions, instructors and students have been very creative in the ways they are using VoiceThread. Here are some examples of how this tool is being used:

  • Student presentation tool – Students can use VoiceThread to create individual or group presentations on any number of topics, which can then be shared with the class.  An added advantage – students can watch and comment on each other’s presentations outside of class, freeing up valuable class time.
  • Online lecture tool – Instructors can use VoiceThread to create online lectures for fully online classes or as a supplement to face-to-face classes.
  • Peer assessment – Students can use VoiceThread to share assignments (papers, images, audio, video clips, etc.) with their peers for comments and critique.
  • Foreign language assessment – VoiceThread is especially useful to foreign language instructors who would like to hear their students speak. Instructors can create a presentation (upload an audio recording, image, video clip, etc.) which students then have to translate, describe, or narrate, for example.
  •  Brainstorming session – Students and instructors can use VoiceThread to brainstorm ideas for project topics, group presentation strategies, etc.
  • Digital storytelling – In groups or independently, students can use VoiceThread to create interactive digital stories using various media artifacts (audio, images, etc.).
  • Review Session – Students can use VoiceThread to record a content review session in preparation for a test or exam.
  • Facilitate Discussions – Students can present a topic and then facilitate a class discussion in VoiceThread about the topic.
  • Student Introductions – Especially helpful in a fully online environment, students and instructors can use VoiceThread to introduce themselves, helping to build a sense of community.

JHU instructors and students can go to http://jhu.voicethread.com and login with their JHED ID and password.  All users are automatically set up with a ‘Basic’ account that they can begin using immediately. There is no software to download as all VoiceThread presentations are created and stored in the “cloud.”

Additional Resources
VoiceThread Overview: https://www.voicethread.com/about/features/
VoiceThread ‘How-To’ Basics: https://www.voicethread.com/support/howto/Basics/
JHSPH VT Site: https://sites.google.com/site/ctltteachingtoolkit/resources/voicethread

Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: VoiceThread image [http://d25wzyo6b5ic8t.cloudfront.net/rev/c32981bd/media/custom/www/banner_cloud.jpg] edited by Macie Hall