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

 

 

 

Scalar: A Multimedia Authoring Tool to Investigate

For a new initiative here in the JHU Center for Educational Resources I have been researching multimedia authoring tools.  What is a multimedia authoring tool? These are software or online applications that allow for the creation web- or computer-based content using multimedia objects. Media includes, but is not limited to, text, image, audio, video files. This is a broad definition and there are many examples of such applications. I’m especially interested in tools that can be used by students (and faculty) for course projects, especially ones that allow for collaboration. Omeka, which I wrote about here, allows for the creation of online exhibitions and display of collections of content, and can be used collaboratively or individually.

Scalar logoRecently another tool came to my attention: Scalar. Scalar, advertised as “born-digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging,” was developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. ANVC includes people from an impressive list of universities. Scalar was developed with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Scalar allows a user to take media files from multiple sources, lay them out in a variety of ways, and provide extensive annotation or commentary. It is flexible in that it allows users to “take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats.” Collaborative authoring is supported and readers can comment on the materials presented. Showing is better than telling, so take a look at the Scalar Showcase for some examples of how it has been used.

I found a number of articles on using Scalar in teaching by Googling for “using scalar for student projects.” Two immediately caught my attention.

In the Educause Review published on Monday, October 13, 2014, Practicing Collaborative Digital Pedagogy to Foster Digital Literacies in Humanities Classrooms by Anita Say Chan and Harriett Green, has a case study describing students using both Omeka and Scalar in courses on information ethics and economics of the media. The article also mentions two other tools that might be of interest – Voyant (“a web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts”) and Easel.ly (an application for creating infographics). I liked the article because it addressed some of the challenges in introducing “digital pedagogy practices” to students.

Jentery Sayers, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria, notes “research interests in comparative media studies, digital humanities, Anglo-American modernism, computers and composition, and teaching with technologies.” He has a blog and posted examples of his and other faculty use of Scalar in their teaching.

It’s free and easy to create an account and try out Scalar for yourself. Just click on the Sign Up button found on most of the site’s webpages.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Scalar logo – http://scalar.usc.edu/scalar/

The Power of Prezi

Are you looking to spice up your presentations? Do you find PowerPoint and Keynote limiting? Maybe you should take a look at Prezi.

Prezi logo.What is Prezi? It’s a free, cloud-based, presentation tool that allows users to place content on an open canvas. Prezi uses a Zooming User Interface (ZUI) to enable navigation and

display of content. ZUI is a term used in computing to describe a graphical environment wherein users can change the size of a viewing area by enlarging or reducing it, navigate by panning across a surface, and zoom in and out of content.

The Prezi website describes the application as “…a virtual whiteboard that transforms presentations from monologues into conversations: enabling people to see, understand, and remember ideas.”

The application offers a cloud-based environment with a limited number of templates or the choice of using a blank canvas supporting a number of themes. There is a basic, easy-to-use interface for creating content. The templates include two different types of world maps, which would be ideal for geographic content. Another template is a subway map type schema that might be useful for demonstrating workflows.

Prezi takes a different approach to presentations. Instead of slides that advance in linear order, the Prezi canvas allows multiple approaches. Users can create a path to allow for a planned progression of the content or can zoom in to specific concepts as desired without a pre-programmed order. One of the great things about Prezi is the ability to zoom out to see the big picture–the layout of the entire canvas. This kind of visualization can be very powerful.

Images can be embedded and YouTubes videos can be inserted as well.  You can insert the following video file formats–FLV, MOV, WMV, F4V, MPG, MPEG, MP4, M4V, and 3GP. Other videos found online can be linked from the presentation. Sound can be an important component and Prezi supports voice-over narrations and music as a background track or applied to specific path steps. Supported audio files include: MP3, M4A, FLAC, WMA, WAV, OGG, AAC, MP4, and 3GP.

Some viewers find the ZUI to be distracting, even motion-sickness inducing. Careful use of the ZUI by the creator can minimize this consequence and turn it into an effective tool. Prezi presentations are inherently dynamic and this feature can be used with great advantage to keep audiences awake and engaged.

At the free end, all content that is created is public and users are given 100 MB of storage. For a small monthly fee, users have the option to keep presentations private and receive 500 MB of space. There is also a desktop version of the program available for an annual fee. This comes with additional editing features and unlimited storage space.

To get a better sense of what Prezi is and can do, take a look at some of the examples provided on the Prezi website.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Prezi Logo from http://prezi.com/

 

 

Resources for Multimedia Creation

I’ve been compiling a list of resources for creating multimedia for faculty to use either for teaching or in thinking about tools students could use for course assignments or projects. Many of these have how-to videos on the application websites making getting started an easy task. Most have a free-to-use option, although premium features may be fee-based. You might want to check a previous Innovative Instructor post on Multimedia Assignments. If you have a favorite application for multimedia making, please share with us in the comments.

Image showing icon-style examples of text, audio, still images, animation, video and interactivity.Animations

Powtoon: Free software for creating animated videos and presentations. [http://www.powtoon.com/]

Pixton: Online comic creator. [http://www.pixton.com/]

Audio

Audacity: Audacity is a free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds. Audacity is available for Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. [http://audacity.sourceforge.net/]

Blogs, Websites, Wikis

Blogger: Google’s blogging application. Users can select templates and customize them, or create their own templates using CSS. [https://www.blogger.com]

Google Sites: Sites is Google’s wiki- and website-creation tool. Facilitates collaboration and team-based site creation. [https://sites.google.com/]

Tumblr: Tumblr is both a blogging and a social media application. A dashboard interface makes creating multimedia-rich blog posts easy. [https://www.tumblr.com/]

WordPress: WordPress is a free and open source blogging and website creation application. You can host your own WordPress instance or use their free hosting service.  Upgrades are available. Easy to use with hundreds of themes to choose from. [https://wordpress.com/]

Collections/Exhibitions

Omeka: Omeka is a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions. [http://omeka.org/ to download for self-hosting and http://www.omeka.net/ for online hosting options]

Padlet: A web-based application that gives you a “wall” (think of it as a multimedia bulletin board) that you can drag and drop content onto in service of any number of pedagogical objectives including exhibits, timelines, and posters. [http://padlet.com/]

Pinterest: This social media tool can be used for pedagogical good. Think of it as a series of bulletin boards on which you or your students can assemble and share ideas for projects or create virtual collections and exhibits. [http://www.pinterest.com/]

Mapping

Google Maps: With Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) users can expand, customize, and embed maps and mapping tools into their websites. This includes combining Flickr (the photo sharing website) content with maps. These work well with Google Sites and Google Docs. [https://developers.google.com/maps/]

Online Posters

Glogster: Originally a social network for teenagers that allowed users to create (for free) interactive posters called glogs, Glogster has now expanded to a full online learning platform providing educational content and tools for creation at different price points. There is still a free version for educators that allows for adding up to 10 students. You can mix text, audio, video, images, graphics and more to create professional-looking posters. [http://edu.glogster.com/]

Padlet: A web-based application that gives you a “wall” (think of it as a multimedia bulletin board) that you can drag and drop content onto in service of any number of pedagogical objectives including exhibits, timelines, and posters. [http://padlet.com/]

Presentations

Prezi: Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software tool. A zooming interface allows users to move in and out from one concept to another. Good for both linear and non-linear presentations. [http://prezi.com/]

Screen Capture Recording

Screencast-o-matic: Free one-click screen capture recording on Windows or Mac computers with no installation. http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/

Timelines

Padlet: A web-based application that gives you a “wall” (think of it as a multimedia bulletin board) that you can drag and drop content onto in service of any number of pedagogical objectives including exhibits, timelines, and posters. [http://padlet.com/]

Timeline JS: TimelineJS is an open-source tool that enables you to build visually-rich interactive timelines. [http://timeline.knightlab.com/]

Video

Freemake Video Converter: Free application that converts video to AVI, MP4, WMV, MKV, FLV, 3GP, MPEG, DVD, Blu-ray, MP3, iPod, iPhone, iPad, PSP, Android, Nokia, Samsung, BlackBerry. [http://www.freemake.com/]

Freemake Video Downloader: Download video free from YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, 10,000+ video sites. [http://www.freemake.com/]

iMovie: iMovie is a proprietary video editing software application sold by Apple Inc. for the Mac and iOS devices. Users can create movies by editing photos and video clips, adding titles, music, and effects, including basic color correction and video enhancement tools and transitions such as fades and slides. [https://www.apple.com/mac/imovie/]

PowerPoint: PowerPoint features such as timed animations and transitions, voice-over recording, audio and video insertion, and the ability to save a presentation in a video file format make it a platform for easy video creation. Check YouTube for how-to videos.

WeVideo: WeVideo is an online video creation platform for video editing, collaboration, and sharing across any device. It is easy to use, cross-platform, cloud hosted, with sophisticated editing and enhancement tools. There is a free version and upgrades are inexpensive. [https://www.wevideo.com/]

Windows Movie Maker: A free video editing application from Microsoft, Windows Movie Maker offers the ability to create, edit and publish videos. Users can combine still images and video clips, sound tracks and voice recordings with themes and special effects to create movies. [http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-live/movie-maker]

Video Annotation

Zaption: Students, teachers, and trainers use Zaption to create high-quality, engaging video lessons. Add images, text, and questions to any online video, creating interactive lessons that meet your students’ needs. [https://www.zaption.com/]

Visualizations

Silk: Silk is an online data visualization application. Each Silk contains data on a specific topic. The visualizations are interactive. You can upload a spreadsheet or create one on the site. A number of options, including charts, graphs, maps, and other data displays are available. [https://www.silk.co]

 

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC Kevin Jarret –http://www.flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/2856162498/in/photostream/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia

A 100-year-old Lesson in New Media: The Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching in the New Technology Language

Engagement and interactivity are teaching buzzwords, but they are not new concepts. Technological engagement and interactivity is how our students relate to the world, but how do we bring this to our classrooms? In her classic 1912 study, Romiett Stevens found that 80% of class time was spent on teacher questions and student responses. Perhaps part of the future of instruction can be rooted in the past.

YouTube logoThe truth about Romiett Stevens is that most of those early teachers’ questions focused on recall of facts versus questions that prompted thought. Does recall still have a place in education? Of course. Every discipline has its base principles and concepts, yet we must also teach critical thought and empower our students to learn by doing.

We need to involve students not only for their own deeper learning, but also for their knowledge and understanding of new technology. They’re living it. Many of us may still be reading about it, but true understanding only comes from use. I saw a response on Yahoo! Answers by a retired math teacher who said, “Asking a question is a sign of intelligence not stupidity.” So let us ask ourselves some questions about how we are instructing our students and preparing them for the 21st century.

We now have computers, projectors and Internet access in the classroom, but are we using them and how? When I first taught a Law & Ethics class I received a student comment that said, “Use more YouTube.” It would have been easy to dismiss that comment with rationalizations about the way I had to learn or that I didn’t have time to find relevant examples or dedicate classroom time to funny cat videos. Yet today I use YouTube a lot. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and are no longer the future. They are how our students communicate.

How did I start using YouTube? One example is a video of Phil Donahue interviewing Ayn Rand to kick off an activity where students are assigned a viewpoint and have to make arguments for or against her ethical perspective. What better way to learn about a moral philosophy than to hear it directly from the philosopher’s mouth?

I also used to spend most of my time lecturing. I delivered a lot of information followed up by, “Does anyone have any questions?” Now I try to involve the student’s perspective and practice as much as possible. But engagement and interactivity takes time. I had to give up content and the false expectation that I can and should cover everything. My PowerPoints today have roughly 30% fewer slides than when I first started teaching. And those remaining slides contain less content, more examples (case studies) and more questions (application exercises).

What does this look like? A Federal Trade Commission law or regulation I’ve introduced comes to life with a local news report video about the corporate sponsorship of new fitness equipment in a public park. Are the signs on the equipment considered advertising? Do they go against the city ordinance that forbids it? I divide students and ask them to argue for their assigned point of view: the corporation, the city, the protesting citizen group. I intervene to bring the discussion back to the law. Forced perspectives helps them learn how to see all sides of an issue and make a better argument.

I also try to listen more. Are you okay with silence? Ask a question and wait. Wait longer. In some courses, I assign topics related to what we will be discussing in class and let student groups present the concept and provide an example for the first 5 to 10 minutes of class. I and the other students ask questions and they have to defend what they’ve presented. We get new student relevant examples every class and the students feel empowered to learn on their own.

Not all interaction has to take place in person. In my Social Media Marketing course (scroll to 660.453 for description), I have students continue our in class discussion virtually throughout the week via a course hashtag on Twitter. How? By asking them to respond to questions related to a core principle. They learn by doing and bring more new, relevant information to the course. Plus, each student participates equally – something we don’t always have time for in class.

Technology is changing so quickly it can be overwhelming. The good news is that the way to keep up is to go back to something teachers were doing over a hundred years ago: ask more questions. What are ways you are bringing engagement and new technology into your courses?

Keith A Quesenberry, Lecturer
Center for Leadership Education
Johns Hopkins University

Image source: YouTube logo by HernandoJoseAJ via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Solid_color_You_Tube_logo.png

Using Facebook in the Classroom

The idea of using Facebook in the classroom may seem radical to some. The standard advice is to not friend your students due to privacy issues – yours and theirs.  Yet there is a way to leverage the power of social media in teaching without actually friending your students. It turns out that by creating a Facebook group for your course you can provide a means for students to communicate and collaborate outside of the classroom in a medium with which they are very familiar.

Facebook logo: blue square with with lowercase f.

Dr. Alexios Monopolis teaches in the Global Environmental Change & Sustainability (GECS) program at Johns Hopkins and serves as the program manager for JHU’s Sustainability & Health doctoral program. He is a strong advocate for using Facebook groups in his classes and authored one of our Innovative Instructor print series articles on the subject: Interactive Collaboration Using Facebook (April 2014).  Noting that most students are already familiar with Facebook, Monopolis states: “I wanted an online application that would facilitate communication and collaboration between faculty and students, allowing for interaction and the sharing of information beyond the confines of our formal classroom. It needed to be asynchronous so that students could easily access and use it at any time. I also wanted a way for students to reflect on the content learned in the classroom, as self-reflection is an important means of reinforcing learning. With Facebook, when one student offers an observation or posts an article, video or link, others can respond by commenting on the post. Although Blackboard offers a discussion board tool, Facebook has the advantage of being instantly familiar to students, and they have no hesitation using it. Its interface is also simpler and more intuitive.” The article details the process for creating a Facebook group and discusses other reasons to adopt social media in the classroom.

What if a student doesn’t have a Facebook account and doesn’t want to create one? The answer may depend on your institutional policies. Dr. Monopolis acknowledges that he has “…been fortunate that all of [his] students were Facebook users and did not object to using Facebook for academic purposes. In the future, if a student does not already have and does not want to open a Facebook account to join the group, an accommodation would be necessary.”

Dr. Monopolis is not alone in his enthusiasm. According to a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, Why This Professor Is Encouraging Facebook Use in His Classroom by Avi Wolfman-Arent, August 5, 2014: “Kevin D. Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, has spent the last two and a half years measuring how the Facebook group he created for his introduction-to-sociology course affected student performance.  He found that students who participated in the online group enjoyed the course more, felt a stronger sense of belonging, and got better grades than those who did not participate.” Dougherty’s class had 250 students and while they were not required to participate, those who did formed a strong learning community.

Matthew Loving and Marilyn Ochoa, faculty at the University of Florida, Gainesville, went even further in their study in 2011, Facebook as a classroom management solution, [New Library World, Vol. 112 -3/4, pp.121 – 130]. They concluded that University of Florida faculty found “…the tradeoffs between the appropriation of Facebook as an online classroom management solution and using a conventional CMS [course management system] were relatively few and in many ways worth the necessary workarounds. Facebook allows instructors to distribute documents (via posting and messaging), administer discussion lists, conduct live chat and handle some assignment posting as long as it is alright to cut and paste and share between students. Areas where Facebook cannot compete with other CMS is in grading, assignment uploading and online testing.” They offered other solutions for these tasks.

A number of studies have linked social engagement to student retention. Kelly Walsh, Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY, reviews the research literature on both social engagement and student retention, and more specifically, the use of social media and student retention, in Can Social Media Play A Role in Improving Retention in Higher Education? Research Says it Can [October 28, 2012, Emerging Ed Tech]. As the article title suggests, her findings support the argument for using social media as a tool for engaging students and increasing retention.

KQED, a pubic media outlet for northern California, posted 50 Reasons to Invite Facebook Into Your Classroom by Tina Barseghian, August 5, 2011, on the blog Mind/Shift. This list provides some food for thought if you are weighing the pros and cons of adding Facebook to your teaching tools.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: By Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cd/Facebook_logo_(square).png

Padlet – A Web and Mobile App with Possibilities

One of my favorite activities as an instructional designer is seeking out and experimenting with new applications. Some of these are web-based and work best on laptops or desktops, others are designed for mobile devices, some are platform specific (Mac, Windows, Android, iOS) and some work well regardless of your hardware and software. Finding apps that have potential for classroom use is always rewarding, especially if the app is free and easy to use. Enter Padlet, a web-based application that gives you a “wall” (think of it as a multimedia bulletin board) that you can drag and drop content onto in service of any number of pedagogical objectives.

Example of a Padlet Wall: photo exhibit of cemetery.A Padlet wall can be adapted for many uses. The first thought I had was to create an exhibit using photographs I had taken at a cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina that had been originally used for slave burials. It was easy to drag images and a text document onto the wall (which can be customized using a number of different backgrounds), and to use the built-in text boxes for annotation.  Audio and video clips can also be inserted, as well links to web materials. In less than 10 minutes, I had a photo exhibition. I’ve recommended other applications for faculty who want students to create online exhibits including Google Sites, WordPress, and Omeka. These offer more features and flexibility, but for being easy to use, Padlet takes the prize.

Other uses include creating timelines, assembling evidence to support an argument, building a visual data set (the world map background might be particularly useful for such an exercise), or to create an online poster presentation. See the Padlet gallery for more ideas.

Padlet’s website lists the application’s features. It can be used as a collaborative tool with team members’ additions appearing instantaneously, making it great for groups that aren’t co-located. The privacy settings are flexible. I set my wall to public so that you could see it, but it’s also possible to keep it completely private or to give others access and set permissions as to their use. Moreover, it works on your laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet.

Take a few minutes and check out Padlet. How would you use it as an instructor?

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Screenshot of Padlet Wall by Macie Hall

Quick Tips: Paperless Grading

Just in time for the end of semester assignment and exam grading marathon, The Innovative Instructor has some tips for making these tasks a bit less stressful.

Male instructor 's head between two stacks of papers.Last year we wrote about the GradeMark paperless grading system, a tool offered within Turnitin, the plagiarism detection software product used at JHU. The application is fully integrated with Blackboard, our learning management system. For assignments and assessments where you don’t wish to use Turnitin, Blackboard offers another grading option for online submissions. Recent updates to Blackboard’s include new features built into the assignment tool that allow instructors to easily make inline comments, highlight or strikeout text, and use drawing tools for freeform edits. All this without having to handle a single piece of paper.

If you don’t use Blackboard, don’t despair. The Innovative Instructor has solutions for you, too.  A recent post in one of our favorite blogs, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Professor Hacker, titled Using iAnnotate as a Grading Tool, offers another resource. According to its creators, the iAnnotate app “turns your tablet into a world-class productivity tool for reading, marking up, and sharing PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoint files, and images.” This means that if you students submit documents in any of these formats (Professor Hacker suggests using DropBox, Sky Drive, Google Drive, or other cloud storage services for submission and return of assignments), you can grade them on your iPad using iAnnotate.

Erin E. Templeton, Anne Morrison Chapman Distinguished Professor of International Study and an associate professor of English at Converse College and author of the post, has this to say about how she uses iAnnotate’s features.

With iAnnotate, you can underline or highlight parts of the paper. I will often highlight typos, sentences that are unclear, or phrases that I find especially interesting. I can add comments to the highlight to explain why I’ve highlighted that particular word or phrase. You can also add comment boxes to make more general observations or ask questions, or if you would prefer, you can type directly on the document and adjust the font, size, and color to fit the available space.

I frequently use the stamp feature, which offers letters and numbers (I use these to indicate scores or letter grades), check marks, question marks, stars of various colors, smiley faces–even a skull and crossbones…. And if you’d rather, you can transform a word or phrase that you find yourself repeatedly tying onto the document into a stamp–I have added things like “yes and?” and “example?” to my collection. Finally, there is a pencil tool for those who want to write with either a stylus or a finger on the document.

Not an iDevice user? iAnnotate is available for Androids too, although it is limited at the time of this posting to reading and annotating PDF files.

The Professor Hacker post offers additional links and resources for paperless grading and more generally for those looking to move to a paperless course environment.  Be sure to read the comments for additional solutions.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Using Blogging as a Learning Tool

With the increased interest in introducing digital literacy skills in the classroom as a means of preparing students for the 21st century marketplace, our teaching and learning center has had more questions from faculty about using blogs as a teaching tool. The Innovative Instructor doesn’t advocate using technology for technology’s sake, but student blogging can be a way to achieve several learning outcomes for your course.

Diagram of interactions: Student Blogs-Classroom-Comments

CC Jeff Utecht: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jutecht/

For example, blogs can be used to improve student writing, especially for developing skill in analysis and critique. The blog format is particularly useful for shorter, less formal, assignments. Blog platforms allow for inclusion and display of multimedia, which may offer an advantage over paper submissions. Blogs provide a means for student response to or discussion of outside-of-class readings that are not adequately covered during class. They can be useful as a forum for group projects, or act as a collaborative authoring tool for students to develop and present a group assignment or project.  Blogs can be a place where students reflect on readings, much as analog journaling was used as a pedagogical tool in the past.

In order to achieve your curricular goals you could use individual student blogs (each student has his or her own blog), group blogs for team projects, or a class blog to which everyone contributes.

The Innovative Instructor gathered some tips for ensuring that implementing blogs in your class will be a success.

The most comprehensive advice comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Professor Hacker blog columnist Mark Sample (assistant professor of literature and new media at George Mason University) in a somewhat tongue in cheek commentary entitled A Better Blogging Assignment.  Sample claims to be sick of student blogging, but then goes on to provide very useful guidelines for different ways of using blogs as a pedagogical tool. In fact, Sample is looking “for ways to re-invigorate [his] blogging assignments.” He outlines methods for structuring blog assignments using all of the course blog types (individual, group, class), and recommends having a schedule or assignments for posting and commenting. He advises being detailed in your expectations and provides this example of student guidelines:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 200-300 word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.

Read the post and the comments and don’t be disheartened by Sample’s momentary discouragement with ways in which he is using blogging assignments.

From the Georgetown University blog Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning – Engaging Students through Blogs in Large Classes comes this idea.

For his introductory course on the U.S. political system, which enrolls nearly 150 students, Mark Rom turned to a course blog to help stimulate class discussion and personal interaction among students. Because class discussion can be intimidating in such a large course, Rom decided to integrate a course blog into his curriculum in order to ensure that all students had the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion about American politics.

As a side note, instructors should consider making blog participation a percentage of the grade to encourage student use.

Course blogs are often thought of as a way to provide an authentic learning experience. And yet the product often falls short of the promise. Read Using Blogs in a College Classroom: What’s Authenticity Got To Do With It? by Sarah Lohnes,  a doctoral candidate at the Teachers College of Columbia University. She cites the following “necessary ingredients” for creating effective class blogs:

  1. Blog posts should be original, “well-crafted,” “well- informed”.
  2. [There should be] an authentic purpose for maintaining the blog.
  3. A blog should offer a window into the author’s identity and community affiliations.
  4. A blog should take advantage of the medium to offer a sense of immediacy and intimacy.

Faculty have shared some lessons learned from experience with course blogs. Hillary Miller, Baruch College of CUNY, in her post Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger talks about the “out of sight, out of mind syndrome” noting that “the blog can feel like that side dish you ordered but weren’t quite hungry for. It’s easy to lose track of the blog, and its implementation should be planned with an eye towards avoiding this. “… I had good intentions – I wanted to comment on posts frequently, but commenting is time-consuming…. From the student side, they were assigned a date for one post; once students posted, they didn’t have a strong incentive to return, which would leave me begging them to “visit the blog!” when I myself was embarrassingly behind on reading their old posts.” In other words, set specific expectations for students’ blog assignments and for how often you will grade or comment on their posts.

Miller writes that students not always comfortable with new-to-them instructional technologies and methodologies. She suggests “[m]aking some class time available to teach students the rhyme and reason behind some aspects of the blog is arguably essential, and yet somehow easy to overlook.” Letting students know why you are having them blog is a key to successful implementation.

Finally, what platform should you use? Here at Johns Hopkins, we have Blackboard, which has a built in blogging tool that can be customized for individual or group work and can be made private (between instructor and individual or group) or public – in the sense of being available for the entire class – not to the outside world. Course blogs, where all students contribute to a shared blog, are also an option. Other Learning Management Systems (LMS) offer similar tools. If you are looking for a more “authentic” experience or don’t have an LMS or blogging application at your institution, there are free, public options available. WordPress and Google’s Blogger are two popular ones. WordPress, in particular, offers the ability to easily create a full-fledged website. For facilitating multimedia assignments, tumblr might be a good choice. If you want more options, Six Revisions ( a website with useful information for web developers and designers) offers a list and descriptions of the Top Ten Free Online Blogging Platforms.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: CC Jeff Utecht,  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jutecht/

Quick Tips: Managing the End-of-Semester Crunch

Stressed female with stacks of paper, clock in background.

CER staff member Cheryl Wagner came across a timely post on another educational blog and we wanted to share it with you. Professor Hacker, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, is one of our favorite blogs. It’s an advice column for faculty and future faculty that focuses on using technology to simplify the lives – professional and personal – of instructors in posts that give “tips about teaching, technology, and productivity.”

This post, entitled From the Archives: Getting Through the End of Term, has some great ideas for managing the end-of-semester crunch with tips on grading, handling stressful meetings, and taking care of yourself in the process.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art