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by Karen Nichols with contributions by Jeremy Tuman

Jeremy Tuman, our faculty-in-residence for service learning, recently collaborated with me on a presentation about adding service learning to online courses. I'd like to share our presentation with you and invite you to provide any feedback you may have. Thank you!

by Karen Nichols

Photos have become such an integral part of Twitter and now they can be accessible to the visually-impaired.  Earlier this week, Twitter added the capability of including descriptions of your photos (you may know the feature as alt text).  This is a great way to reach more people and this new feature serves as a reminder that we should always use "alt text" when we post photos.

Here's how to enable this feature on your Twitter account:

"Enable this feature by using the compose image descriptions option in the Twitter app’s accessibility settings. The next time you add an image to a Tweet, each thumbnail in the composer will have an add description button. Tap it to add a description to the image. People who are visually impaired will have access to the description via their assistive technology (e.g., screen readers and braille displays). Descriptions can be up to 420 characters."

So don't forget the alt text the next time you include an image in your tweet!

Two bluebirds conversing
Two bluebirds conversing


Our Educational Technology Community (ETC) had a special guest presentation this past Friday. Dr. Amanda Helm, Assistant Professor in the Division of Business, demonstrated to our virtual participants how she uses Self-Graded Checklists in Blackboard, along with the adaptive release feature, to help students "grade" their work before they submit it.

Dr. Helm posts a quiz she has developed based on the instructions and rubrics she gives to students for each assignment.  The students must complete this quiz before they are able to officially submit their assignment.  When the student answers the quiz questions, they receive automatic feedback in order to improve their work before submitting, as well as an estimation of the letter grade they can expect to receive.

A variety of quiz questions are asked, depending on the project.  They may be as simple as "How long is your single-spaced typed paper?" and "How many sources did you cite?" or more complex in nature, asking content questions which are dependent on the assignment.

To learn more, here is the guest link to the virtual presentation.  It's recommended that you choose to watch the mp4 version:

Dr. Helm reports that her students are submitting better quality work by taking this 5 minute assessment before they can officially post their assignments.  She also says that the students have told her that they make adjustments to their work after receiving the quiz results and that her students don't mind taking the 5 minute quiz before being able to submit their work.

Thank you Dr. Helm for sharing this great idea with us!

by Karen Nichols

In my previous blogpost, I presented the benefits of vertically centering oneself by taking a long deep breath. This brief exercise can be used for face to face scenarios but also as one is preparing for a virtual meeting or even to record/video oneself for students. So, the deep breath has been taken and we're ready for ... what exactly?  How do we go about creating a virtual presence?

I like this definition of virtual presence:

Ariel Group at Pearson CITE

This definition by the Ariel Group (referenced in the previous blogpost as well) sets the stage for showing how they have adapted their PRES (being present) model to the virtual world. The vPRES (virtual presence) model is outlined in their presentation at Pearson's CITE 2015 conference.  Here's a quick overview from their presentation:

virtually--Choose technology that supports your goals.

PRESENT--Focus on the now. Be aware of what’s happening in the virtual space; be flexible and adaptable.

REACHING OUT--Ask questions, use polling to obtain opinions.  Reaching out is a great relationship builder.

EXPRESSIVE--Alignment of message and physical appearance. Communicate with energy & passion.

SELF-KNOWING--Be self-confident. Be prepared & ready for virtual interactions. Be specific in your communication.  Use concise and clear language in spoken or written communications.

Can you see how keeping these suggestions in mind will help you during video conferences, webinars, virtual office hours and classes with your students and even when recording yourself for your students?


...exhale through your mouth counting to 10.  Gaze at the floor or ceiling during this deep breath.  Then roll your shoulders back and look ahead.  This one breath will do wonders to center you and prepare you to be present for the upcoming meeting or event that you're about to join.  In her blog post, Kate Nugent of The Ariel Group calls this a "doorway moment" in that she recommends this quick vertical centering exercise before entering each meeting.  (The Ariel Group offers corporate training in communicating and establishing relationships.  They employ actors and acting coaches who give seminars to demonstrate the importance of good communication as well as techniques for achieving it.)

The Ariel Group has also been sharing various techniques at education webinars and conferences such as Pearson's CITE 2015.  It was through a webinar actually conducted by Kate Nugent that I learned the benefits of taking a deep breath before taking part in meetings and such.  Why would I, as the distance education coordinator, be writing about the "doorway moment"?  Well, we can use this centering, getting to the present technique when we're going to meet our students online in a Blackboard Collaborate session, for example.  We can also employ this technique before we record a video for our students in order to help us really focus on them and what we want to say to them.  Finally, we can insert this deep breath technique into our online courses (I'm thinking at the beginning of the study guides for their tests maybe?) and recommend that the students take a deep breath before plunging into the module.

This first step, right before we begin communicating with our students, may be the most important one in establishing our virtual presence.  We're shaking off whatever came before and moving into the present moment, fully engaged and ready to engage the students.

deep breath

by Karen Nichols

Feedback Computer Key In Blue Showing Opinions And Surveys

Faculty Focus, a publication I value a lot, posted an article on January 8, 2016 explaining the benefits of screencasting feedback to students.  Dr. Ron Martinez, the author, talked about his solution to providing students one-to-one feedback about their essays in his oversized class.  He was seeking a way to give the personalization when he could not individually meet with every student about every essay.  Using Screencast-o-matic, he was able to provide that personal touch.

There are multiple screencast apps out there, and we offer Camtasia Studio to our faculty.  However, there's a bit of a learning curve and faculty have to trek over here to our office and schedule time in advance in order to use it.  I shared this article on screencasting feedback with my colleagues here in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development.

Dr. Jay Todd, our Associate Director, has already experimented with it in his English composition class.  Here's his feedback about screencasting feedback:

I used Screencast-O-Matic to make a video for my classes yesterday, since I waited until the last minute.... It worked pretty well, although the default quality of the video it posted to YouTube was significantly lower than I prefer. The free version doesn't allow any editing and includes a watermark, but the Pro version is only $15/year.  It has a much easier learning curve than Camtasia, at least the recording part.

So it seems that reading Dr. Martinez' article and downloading Screencast-o-matic may be useful, especially if you don't care to type pages of correction notes.  One caveat from Dr. Martinez is that screencasting your feedback is not necessarily a timesaver. I hope the fact that you can work outside of office hours, does give you more flexibility in how you distribute the time needed to provide such personalized feedback.  Let us know if you decide to try screencasting and what you think of it.

(For more information on various types of helpful feedback, see Janice Florent's recent blog post:  Give Students Feedback that Helps Them Learn.)

by Karen Nichols


As many of you already know, midcourse reviews are an optional, formative assessment that you can request in order to help you tweak your courses while there is still time to make a difference. CAT+FD offers this service to all of our online instructors during the same period as our face to face ones. In fact, the procedure is quite similar to the face to face midcourse review. We create a questionnaire on Survey Monkey for each instructor who requests the online midcourse review using the following three questions:

1. What is working in the online course (what is helping you to learn)?

2. What is not working(what is keeping you from learning)?

3. What are your suggestions for improvement?

We then send to the instructors the unique link for his or her students, along with a message from CAT+FD explaining what the review is, why the instructor is requesting it and of course, the fact that the survey is completely anonymous.

We keep the survey open for a few days and once it’s closed, we create the midcourse review report which summarizes the student feedback and then delete the survey. We will meet with the online instructor either face to face or via videoconference to discuss the report. Like the face to face midcourse reviews, CAT+FD does not keep copies of the reports.

So, if you’re teaching online this spring, don’t worry! We’ll be sending out notices shortly. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions about midcourse reviews for online You may also check out this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

by Karen Nichols

Happy New Year! During this time we are bombarded with lists of the best (and worse) from 2015 as we attempt to summarize what last year was all about. Well, I'm adding to this assortment a list from Faculty Focus' Top 15 Teaching and Learning Articles of 2015*, in order to see what topics interest the faculty.

If two of the articles focused on "flipped" classrooms, then we can gauge the continuing interest in this technique.  Two of the top articles pertain to effective discussions, in the classroom and online.  The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development has posted several blogs on discussions (such as The Ultimate Guide to Discussion Boards! and  Improve Online Discussions using ABCs) plus hosted a workshop, but it may be a good idea to keep in mind the need to continuously improve in this area.

And what is Faculty Focus' number one article of last year?  More Evidence That Active Learning Trumps Lecturing

This is actually reflected on our campus as well as we have given presentations and workshops on metacognition and active learning for several individual departments in addition to a general offering to all faculty.

Here's a four minute YouTube video, "What is Active Learning?"

Please feel free to contact us for more information on metacognition and active learning.

*According to Faculty Focus, "each article’s ranking is based on a combination of factors, including e-newsletter open and click rates, social shares, reader comments, web traffic, reprint requests, and other reader engagement metrics."

by Karen Nichols

Last year at this time, I wrote about using sound files in your courses and shared with you an audio recording of Louis Armstrong reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. This year, I wish to share with you an app called audioBoom. This app offers numerous possibilities and resources for including audio components in your teaching. This is one of the apps featured in the 12 Apps of Christmas that I recently wrote about and I'm thoroughly enjoying all of the information, instructions and tips being provided.

audioBoom is free and offers one the possibility of posting one's own audio files, podcasts, etc., as well as numerous resources. You may just hear the sound file or click on a player which features a photo or some type of graphic.There is an American version of offerings, but you may curate whatever you like from the BBC news to personal channels to lifestyle magazines. is one such lifestyle magazine that I found while browsing and thought it was a good example of the variety of topics and formats you can see and use.

audioBoom interfaces with Facebook, Twitter and Google+. In addition to explaining how to get started with audioBoom, the entry from the 12 Apps of Christmas also gives excellent suggestions for its educational uses, so I recommend that you check it out.

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year!

by Karen Nichols
The University of London and the Dublin Institute of Technology both launched on 1 December their respective 12 Apps of Christmas. It's not too late to sign up. These are free online courses, aimed at students and instructors of all ages who are interested in learning more about integrating mobile learning technologies into their studies or classes. I have to admit that I was disappointed on December 1st when the University of London revealed the first app--Google Translate. I thought I knew all about this app, but I was surely wrong! Their presentation was easy to follow and well-illustrated. I truly had no idea that sound files would work on Google translate. Each app includes educational applications and actual activities for you to try of which there are several for Google translate. So check out the site and see if you may be interested in participating in reviewing the apps and these mini-courses and providing feedback. 15-20 minutes a day are kindly requested for you to give feedback to them. Here's the link:

And here's a demonstration of Google translate and the song LaBamba!