Vertical Videos

June 26th, 2015

by Karen Nichols

We have been touting the importance of the presence of the instructor in an online class by using videos, audio files, photos, discussions, etc.  The students should feel the teacher’s presence throughout the course.  Many instructors are including videos and while at the Institute for New Faculty Developers last week, one of the presenters shared that they encourage their instructors to post a weekly video of themselves explaining the upcoming week’s activities and assignments.  They use their smartphones with the YouTube app to record the video and upload it, then they link to it inside Blackboard.  What a good idea!  But can you hold your phone vertically to record this video?  Well, there are two sides to this argument as I have discovered in my research.  Vertical video syndrome is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “an affliction of those that record video using an upright mobile phone – as if taking a portrait photograph. My left eye is not in the centre of my forehead, my right eye is not on the tip of my nose. ” When these vertical videos are posted on such sites as YouTube, they are skewed and appear unattractive.  There are even mock PSAs posted against the dreaded vertical video.

But here’s an article from the Washington Post which details apps to help users either avoid vertical videos or make the most use of them with Snapchat or Mindie:

Vertical videos, long scorned, find a niche on smartphones

A recent article published on Litmos, Effective Use of Vertical Video for Training, offers an even more positive view of the vertical video.  Brent Schlenker believes we’ll be seeing more and more of vertical videos in the field of mlearning (mobile learning) and sooner rather than later since mobile devices are becoming so prevalently used in distance education.  Here’s a discussion from April 2015’s International Journalism Festival on vertical vs. horizontal video:

Improve Online Discussions Using ABCs

June 23rd, 2015

by Janice Florent

image of online discussion

In a recent eLearning Industry blog post, Dr. James W. Brown suggests using ABCs of high quality online discussions as a starting point for feedback that impacts student performance.

Acknowledge the student’s input. A quick response by the instructor helps to begin the interaction with the students and keeps them motivated.

Build on students’ ideas by adding content, perspectives, experience, reference to the readings, etc.

Conclude with a focused follow-up question as a way to tie off the conversation with all students. Try using a provocative question that facilitates critical thinking that goes beyond the facts.

It is critically important to encourage conditions and behaviors for successful learning in discussion forums.

Dr. Brown offers these additional suggestions for improving asynchronous discussions in your online course:

  1. Build community in your online course from the start.
  2. Actively contact students who don’t show up online.
  3. Go after the lurkers and engage them.
  4. Pick a hot topic.
  5. Use a light hand and encourage other students to take the lead.
  6. Plan for the unplanned.
  7. Timing is critical.
  8. Quality counts.
  9. Employ a “final thoughts” posting to conclude the discussion.

For more information you can read Dr. Brown’s “The ABCs of High Quality Online Discussions” article.

Digital Storytelling for Teaching and Learning

June 22nd, 2015

by Bart Everson

Many teachers know about the power of storytelling in the college classroom. You might start class with a personal story, which helps you connect with your students, or helps your students connect with the course content. You might even get your students telling stories to one another.

Less well known, perhaps, is the power of digital storytelling — of using digital technology to tell stories. This takes a little more doing, but with today’s tools it’s not as hard as it might seem. Write a script, record your voice, throw in some photos and background music — voilà!

As an an example, I’d like to point you to The Joy of Summer by Lisa Garza.

For teachers, this can be a new avenue for delivering your own stories to your students. It can also be an exciting assignment for your students; properly integrated into the course as a whole and combined with reflection, it can lead to a truly transformative experience.

Of course, there are some great resources to help you get started. The Center for Digital Storytelling is the premier organization that has championed this new form. You’ll also want to check out Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling from the University of Houston.

If you’d like CAT to offer a workshop on this topic, leave a comment.

Video Assignments

June 22nd, 2015

by Janice Florent

image of film strip and clapboard

Traditional writing assignments are appropriate for many types of assessments, but there is no law that says traditional writing assignments are required for all.

In a Faculty Focus article, Dr. John Orlando explains how student videos can be used to demonstrate learning. He writes,

A good video assignment is to put students into small groups with instructions to make a video that teaches a key concept related to class. If done well, the video not only demonstrates students’ understanding of the concept, but also serves as a resource that can be used by others.

Recent technologies have made video creation remarkably easy and video assignments can be shared in Blackboard. However, you should opt to have the students upload their video files to a video sharing site like YouTube and just provide a link to the video inside Blackboard. The reason for this is your Blackboard courses have a 1.25 GB course size limit. This course size limit includes all content the instructor uploads as well as all content uploaded by the students. Most video files are large and you will find that if students attempted to upload their videos into your course you will reach your course size limit rather quickly.

If you are interested in video assignments, you can read more in Dr. Orlando’s “Ask Your Students to Create Videos to Demonstrate Learning” article.

Additionally, I prepared some instructions for recording, uploading, and sharing video on YouTube that you should provide to your students to help them post a link to their video in Blackboard.

Ideas to Keep Your Online Course Interesting

June 17th, 2015

by Janice Florent

image of light bulb that is on

The underlying theme for last year’s Sloan Consortium International Symposium on Emerging Technologies for Online Learning (ET4Online) was on how instructors can refresh their online course to keep it interesting for students.

In an Online Colleges blog post about the symposium, Dr. Melissa Venable writes,

The primary goal of keeping an online course current or fresh is improving the experience and environment for all involved. This effort can include content and assignments, as well as social interaction and technology upgrades, and it doesn’t have to mean a large-scale initiative. Small changes and modifications can make a positive difference for both students and instructors.

Dr. Venable posted a few ideas from the symposium to help instructors refresh their online course. Those ideas are:

Threaded Discussions

  • Include student generated discussion questions.
  • Vary your comments and replies.
  • Use the Content Editor to format a text-based response (e.g., bold and italics, bullets) and add embedded links, images, and multimedia.

Multimedia Options

  • Build a community with audio.
  • Increase your presence with video.
  • Use the Content Editor…MORE! Audio and video options are integrated into the Content Editor, allowing you and your students to record from within the course.

Assignments and Activities

  • Consider assignments that foster student interaction with each other.
  • Give students choices for assignment completion (i.e., choosing between writing a paper and creating a video.)
  • Integrate “active learning” breaks.

If you are interested in getting more information about refreshing your online course, read Dr. Venable’s “9 Ideas to Keep Your Online Course Interesting” blog post.

Photo Credit: work found at Christophe / CC BY SA 2.0

Create a Sense of Community for Online Learners

June 10th, 2015

by Janice Florent

Online instructors must find new ways to engage their students and create a sense of community in a virtual world. Simple participation in an online course is not enough to create and sustain an online learning community.

image of online community

How do you engage your students and inspire them to engage one another? In a THE Journal article, Chris Riedel, shared tips he got from the FETC conference to help educators create a sense of community online. Those tips are:

Create a compelling first impression – use tools like a smart phone, a webcam, or iMovie to build a memorable introduction to the course and course material. This is a great way to break the ice.
Encourage students to create their own spaces for learning – these include blogs, wikis, social media and other outlets.
Connect to students in multiple ways – find digital spaces students are comfortable with and let them take control.
Create support groups – create “support groups” of students who can be there for one another and provide an additional mechanism for learning.
Video trumps text – use video to communicate with students and encourage students to use video to connect with each other.
Audio trumps text – there is value in using voice; audio can add real value to your interactions with students and their interactions with each other.
Be a connector first, a content expert second – find guest speakers to add context and value to what is being learned in the class setting.
Play together – give students the freedom to explore new things and play with new ideas and technologies.
Define the expectations of the community – every class should have to answer two questions:
  • What did you learn from others?
  • What did you contribute to the learning of others?

While the focus of THE Journal website is on informing and educating K-12 teachers and administrators, Chris’ tips for creating a sense of community for online learners are relevant for any online instructor. For more information read his “9 Tips for Creating a Sense of Community for Distance Learners” article.

2015 NCF Honorees

June 9th, 2015

CAT salutes this year’s recipients of the Norman C. Francis Faculty Excellence Awards. The university has produced a short video tribute to each faculty member.
Read the rest of this entry »

Tips for Mouth-watering eLearning

June 9th, 2015

by Janice Florent

image of chef cooking

In a recent blog post Shazia Wajid writes,

Have you cooked up a delectable feast of content for your elearning course? It’s time to take a taste and analyze it. How is the pace of your course? Is it “well-spiced” with things that engage and delight—but not overloaded with elements fighting for attention? Does it leave your learners feeling satisfied after they consume it?

There are many ways to improve your eLearning content. Take a step back and consider Shazia’s five tips to fine-tune your eLearning content before serving it up to learners.

Visual appeal: Images can play an important role in learning, either as a garnish to set the mood or as the primary element served up on a given page. An image can break up the monotony of “text only” pages.
Bite-size: Split content in small pieces or “chunks.” When content is divided into small chunks (also referred to as microlectures), learners find it easier to understand.
Flavor and nourishment: Keep learners focused by asking questions, either rhetorical or integrated into activities. Involve learners with compelling stories. Grab their attention by using real-life examples and use expressive words with which the learner can relate.
Is there a fly in the soup? While writing and reviewing content, always double-check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
Is everything else as it should be? Copy and paste is convenient but it can be the source of unexpected formatting errors. Always preview your content after you copy and paste. If you’ve copied content from another course that has links to external websites, verify those external links are still working.

If you take these tips into consideration when designing your eLearning course, you will be well on your way towards developing a course learners will find tempting and mouth-watering!

For more information on Shazia’s tips read her “Top 5 Tips for Mouth-watering eLearning” blog post.

Building or Updating Your (Online) Course? Here’s a Resource!

June 8th, 2015

by Karen Nichols

Summer is a great time to build a course for the upcoming school year or to make updates to an already existing one. As you’re choosing to add new content or perhaps provide some links to Open Educational Resources, check out the educational resource site for the Illinois Online Network (ION).  The site is easy to use and is chock full of a variety of information.  Click on the Online Teaching Activity Index to find dozens of mini-lessons on such topics as brainstorming and scavenger hunts.


The Pointers and Clickers, Podcasts and Case Studies tabs are restricted to ION members only.  However, there is a section of posted blogs on current education topics. Perhaps most useful is the section on Articles and Tutorials.  This area is further subdivided into such categories as Assessment/Evaluation, Instructional Design and Intellectual Property.  The latter is a great resource if you’re not sure whether or not you can use a photo or video clip that you’d like to include in a lesson.  It also outlines your rights to your course content should others wish to use it.  So check out the ION site and give us some feedback on what you’ve found.  Please also share any other resources you have found useful when creating your course content.  Wishing everyone a happy and productive summer!

Using Slides

June 3rd, 2015

by Bart Everson

I just got back from Meaningful Living and Learning in a Digital World, and I’ll be sharing a number of ideas from that conference over the course of the summer.

Always on the lookout for alternatives to Microsoft (shudder) PowerPoint, I was quite intrigued to see the keynote presenter (Tonya V. Thomas) using Slides.


If you haven’t heard of it, Slides is a web tool for creating and sharing presentations. Because it uses HTML 5, all you need is a web browser. There’s nothing to download or install. It doesn’t use Flash. Everything is stored in the cloud, so as long as you have internet access, you’ll have access to all your presentations.

Other features of note:

  • Works well with tablets and phones
  • Can be embedded in web pages
  • Exports to PDF
  • Supports mathTeX (for displaying complex equations)

Most interesting to me, you can add slides in both horizontal and vertical directions. Traditional slideshow presentations are one-dimensional (linear) but Slides can be two-dimensional, which opens up some intriguing possibilities.

The free version is pretty good. You can try Slides yourself at In my own tinkering, I’ve found it very easy to get started. If you’d like CAT to offer a workshop on this topic, leave a comment.

Photo credit: Khedara ආරියරත්න 蒋龙.
For other PowerPoint alternatives, see The Whiteboard Blog.