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by Karen Nichols

At last month's OLC Innovate Conference here in New Orleans, I attended many interesting sessions. I found the one on particularly useful and would like to share it with you.

The Brainfacts site is the brainchild of the Society for Neuroscience.  According to the presenter, Alissa Ortman, the original intent was to publish correct information in easy to understand language and dispel myths about their field.  The site, which now has numerous partners and contributors, is a safe, reliable resource for you to recommend to your students.  The contributors are all vetted and the information is presented using a variety of tools and platforms and written at about a tenth-grade level.  You can also sign up for their blog, or follow them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Information for Educators, the Press and Policymakers may be accessed from the top right of the homepage.  The information has been curated into 6 categories in a dropdown format which can be accessed from several different webpages.  They are:  About Neuroscience, Brain Basics, Sensing, Thinking & Behaving, Diseases & Disorders, Across the Lifespan, and In Society.

Here are a few links to give you a sample of the information and formats:

Video:  Why Does Food Make Your Mouth Water?

Podcast: Patient HM and His Missing Memories

Blog:  Zika:  10 Things to Know

I'm following on both Facebook and Twitter and I hope you'll find the information interesting and useful too.


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

Download Conversation #43

Robert CrowA conversation with Dr. Robert Crow of Western Carolina University (WCU) on teaching, learning, and distance education.

Robert Crow, Ph. D., is an assistant professor of educational research. Before joining the faculty in the College of Education and Allied Professions, Dr. Crow served as Coordinator of Instructional Development & Assessment for WCU's Coulter Faculty Commons, working primarily in faculty professional development. Dr. Crow's expertise in assessment and evaluation has led to collaborations with other 4-year institutions, community colleges, PK-12 schools, and institutional accreditation agencies such as SACS-COC. Dr. Crow's research interests include assessment and evaluation of student learning and of learning environments.

Links for this episode:

...continue reading "Conversation #43: Robert Crow on Distance Education"

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!

by Karen Nichols

National Distance Learning Week 2015 has been a whirlwind of free webinars and events across the country and even a few other countries participated as well.  I'd like to share with you a few of the webinars I attended that I found interesting and useful. When you click on these links, you'll be taken to Blackboard Collaborate so you'll need the Bb Collaborate Launcher installed in order to view the archived presentations.

"Discover The Latest Mobile Learning & Collaboration Technology" This one includes a discussion about the merits and disadvantages of native apps and web-based apps as well as some good questions posed by the participants.

"Virtual Presence: Inspire and Engage in the Virtual Classroom and Beyond" An actually inspiring presentation to me as a trained actress discussed techniques to use as an instructor in an online environment to engage your students.

"10 Signs That the Shift to Digital Is Underway – and 5 Ways to Get Ahead of the Curve!" One of the signs is that we have proof that students really do their homework at 1am!  This presentation contains several resources including the one below.

e-Literate TV is also an interesting concept introduced in this latter presentation. What do you think of it?

by Karen Nichols

I attended a presentation on using social media to engage underrepresented students at the most recent Online Learning Consortium in Orlando.  Several apps were discussed and Twitcam was one of them.  I decided to investigate it for myself.  If you go to the twitcam website: the directions say you can begin in three easy steps.  Well, that wasn't quite my experience, but it was still pretty easy just the same.

So, from the Twitcam homepage, I was told that Flash needed to be installed.

Then I was told to set up my webcam.  Fortunately, mine is built in.

Next I have to log into Twitter.  But wait, there is no sign of Twitcam inside my Twitter.  What they should say is to "scroll down to the bottom of the Twitcam page and click on Broadcast Live.  THEN you'll be taken to Twitter where you can log in and see Twitcam.

Once there, you must "allow" Twitcam to access your webcam and microphone and then it really is easy to follow their directions.  You will be tweeting live which could be a really wonderful learning experience for various concepts you're teaching.

When finished, click on stop recording and you'll be asked if you want to archive your video.  So not only could you reach students as you streamed your video live, you can provide the link to the video for anyone who missed it or who would like to replay it later.

So here's just a quick example of a twitcam video I made.  Because this is a free service, you'll have to view all or part of an ad before the video will play.  Since you can tweet as you're videotaping, you can add the text of what you're saying to make it accessible since I don't see any way to add captions, or add something else like an assignment.  You can provide a link to the archived video or embed it.

I'm really interested to know if you think you may like to try something like this and create a video tweet spree for your students.  If you do, please share!