Considerations for Digital Assignments

Image of the handout on considerations for digital assignments

My colleague in the Center for Educational Resources, Reid Sczerba, and I often consult with faculty who are looking for alternative assignments to the traditional research paper. Examples of such assignments include oral presentations, digital and print poster presentations, virtual exhibitions, using timelines and mapping tools to explore temporal and spatial relationships, blogging, creating videos or podcasts, and building web pages or websites.

Reid, who is a graphic designer and multimedia specialist, put together a handy chart to help faculty think about these assignments in advance of a face-to-face consultation with us. A PDF version of this handout is available for your convenience. The text from the chart is reprinted below.

Learning objectives
♦ Have you determined your learning objectives for this assignment? Deciding what you would like your students to learn or be able to do helps to frame the parameters of your assignment. http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_learning-objectives.pdf

Type of assignment
♦Will there be analysis and interpretation of a topic or topics to produce a text-based and/or visual-based project? Consider alternatives to a traditional research paper.
http://ii.library.jhu.edu/2016/04/08/lunch-and-learn-alternatives-to-the-research-paper/
♦Will there be a need to document objects or materials for a catalog, exhibition, or repository? Defining meaningful metadata and the characteristics of research materials will be important considerations.

Access and visibility
♦Will you want the students’ work to be made open to the public, seen just at JHU, or shared only with the class? Decide up front whether to have students’ work be public or private in order to get their consent and choose the best platform for access.
♦ Will they be working with copyrighted materials? The fair use section of the Copyright Act may provide some latitude, but not all educational uses are fair use. http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/copyright-ip

Collaboration
♦Will you want students to work collaboratively as a class, in small groups, or individually?
Group work has many benefits but there are challenges for assessment and in ensuring that students do their fair share of the work.
http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_MakingGroupProjectsWork.pdf
♦ Will you want the students’ work to be visible to others in the class or private to themselves or their group?
Consider adding a peer review component to the assignment to help the students think critically about their work.
http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-Ped_peerinstruction.pdf

Format
♦ Will you want your students to have a choice of media to express their research or will all students use the same solution?
An open-ended choice of format could allow students to play to their strengths, leading to creativity. On the other hand, too many choices can be daunting for some, and it may be challenging to assess different projects equally.
♦ What would be the ideal presentation of the student’s work?

• spatially arranged content (mapping, exhibition)
• temporally arranged content (timeline)
• narrative (website, blog)
• oral presentation
• visual presentation (poster, video)

Formats for digital assignments are not limited to this list. More than one approach can be used if the result fulfills the learning objectives for the assignment.

Some of the solutions that we have recommended to faculty in the past are OmekaOmeka NeatlineTimeline JSPanopto (JHU), Reveal (JHU), Google tools (Google SitesGoogle Maps, Google Docs), Voicethread (JHU), and WordPress.

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Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Development Specialist
Center for Educational Resources

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Image of the handout created by Reid Sczerba

Creative Student Assignments: Poster Projects

Looking for a final course project for your students that might give them an authentic learning experience – building skills they can use in their post-college careers? Think about a poster assignment.

For STEM career-path students, poster sessions are certain to be a part of their futures. Increasingly, those in Humanities and Social Sciences are finding that poster sessions are being seen in their professional/academic conferences. Posters and similar presentation approaches are becoming part of business (including non-profit) practice as well.

Student presenting at a poster session.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss

Poster projects can be designed to foster student research, writing, and presentation skills as well as pushing them to think visually. If having students print out their final product for presentation is too costly and/or space for a poster session is limited, students can present electronically. In fact, the easiest way to create a poster is to use a size-customized (e.g., 48”x36”) PowerPoint or Keynote slide, so presenting on a large screen to a class is feasible and cost effective.

You will want to provide students with specific objectives as well as concrete instructions, and, preferably, a few checkpoint deadlines along the way. Fortunately there are many online resources and guides for poster creators.  Here are three (if you have other sources, please share in the comments section):

SUNY at Buffalo Libraries – Designing Effective Posters
A collaborative effort hosted at NCSU: Creating Effective Poster Presentations
This one combines short videos and text in an introduction to Poster Design, especially good for layout and design elements.

There are many more, as well as YouTube and Vimeo video tutorials.

First time poster creators tend to err on the side of having too much text, so you should give your students some specific guidelines.  These, for example, can be adapted according to your pedagogical goals and academic discipline:

Title = 1-2 short lines
Abstract (if required) = ~50 words
Introduction = ~200 words
Materials/methods = ~200 words
Results = ~200 words
Conclusion = ~100 words
Other sections (footnotes, acknowledgements, sponsors) = ~50 words
TOTAL < 800 words

A total word count of 800 is may be difficult to achieve, but getting as close to that as possible will keep the content concise and focused. It will also leave more room for images and diagrams, the elements that will be most attractive to viewers in a crowded poster session.

You will want your students to think about using consistent design elements (layout, font, color, images, and data display) so that their visual language is both unique and subject-appropriate. This attention to consistent design will also set them apart from other displays. Looking at examples of posters in class and having your students discuss what is effective and what is not can be a good way to get students thinking visually. Use Google Images  to search for “examples of scientific posters” or “examples of humanities posters” or examples in your specific discipline to start the conversation.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa_goddard/7651333914/in/set-72157630763357278

These are a few of our favorite… apps!

Faculty often ask CER staff about our favorite smart phone apps. There are many categories of apps including entertainment, games, books, lifestyle, productivity, communication, collaboration, news, shopping, social, and education. This post will focus on apps that can enrich the teaching experience or help instructors with their daily work flow.

Control
Apps like “Gmote” for Android and “Touch Mouse” for iOS allow you to control a computer’s cursor from across the room using your smart phone. This can un-tether instructors or presenters from podiums and allow them to walk about freely while controlling their presentations. The “Crestron Mobile for iOS”  and “Crestron Mobile for Android” apps allow these devices to control lights, media, climate and projector controls remotely in any of the “smart” classrooms at JHU. Contact IT@JH for information on using this app in specific classrooms on the JHU Homewood campus.

File Management
Android has a convenient app for managing the files on your device: “ES File Explorer.” With it you can move, copy, rename, make folders, and even unzip compressed packages. It also comes with a simple text/image viewer to give you a better sense of the content of a file.

File Transfer
When you need to make files available for multiple people to view later or on a different computer, “Dropbox” for iOS and Android lets you store your files “in the cloud” for sharing. Using “SkyDrive” with your Windows Phone affords a similar ever-present file repository.

Note Taking
Simplenote” and “Evernote” are very popular, easy to use programs that let you
take notes, tag them, and sync them with your computer from an iOS device. The
latter has more features, such as storing audio, images, and maps, and it is available
for both Android and WP7.5. WP7.5 also comes with “OneNote Mobile,” which
gives you more features than the basic note taking app.

 Photography
One of the most useful aspects of a smart phone is the ability to take photos. Each
device comes with basic camera functionality, but apps like “Camera Zoom FX” for Android and “Camera+” for iOS will give you control of the camera’s settings, increase the chances you’ll take a good photo, and support post-production editing/enhancing of the photos. “Thumba Photo Editor” for WP7.5 also allows you to extend your post-production editing options and edit GPS data. If a single photo doesn’t do your location justice, apps like “360 Panorama” and “PhotoSynth” for iOS and WP7.5 can stitch photos together for a panoramic experience.

Reader
The portability of a smart phone makes it easier to bring your normally heavy
reading material with you wherever you go. Apps like “Instapaper” and “Pocket” (formerly Read It Later) for iOS and Android allow you to save, sort, and share webpages with or
without images for reading anytime, even if you don’t have a cellphone signal or
wireless internet connection. The “GoodReader” app for iOS is a robust reader
that allows you to render just about any file, annotate PDFs, view videos and share
what you’ve read with others. The “Kindle” app is available for every device; it
allows you to sync and read all your purchased Amazon e-books.

Reference
With information at your fingertips anytime, reference apps like “Merriam-
Webster’s Dictionary” for iOS and Android will ensure you are never at a loss for
words. And when your reference material needs to be translated to different languages,
“Google Translate,” also for iOS and Android, allows you to write or speak words
for translation to over 20 different languages. “Wolfram Alpha,” another great reference
app available for iOS and Android, gives you robust answers to technical questions.

Task Management
Everyday tasks can be managed through your smart phone using apps like
Remember the Milk” on an iOS or Android device; Windows Phone has a task
manager built in. Staying on schedule is made easier by the app’s ability to sort,
send notifications, and sync with your computer.

Where to get apps
Online app stores are available for each device operating system:

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer
Center for Educational Resources


Image source: © Reid Sczerba