Friday, July 01, 2011

What Me CIO?

Today is the beginning of my new job: Interim Chief Information Officer. I should say my additional job. I will still be Director of Learning Technologies. The leanest administration in higher education here in Wisconsin, ya know.
That Interim puts kind of an odd spin on it. There's no press release for an interim appointment and by definition, it's temporary. It's not uncommon around here for the interim appointment to turn permanent, but that's not written down anywhere. Anyway, CIO is a "limited" appointment, serving at the pleasure of the the Provost, in this case, so nobody ever has a lock on an administrative job.
I kind of prefer "Acting" as a preface to the title. I once heard Dustin Hoffman relate an anecdote about working with Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man. Hoffman went deep into the method approach, dieting and running long distances to prepare for the role. Sir Larry's response was "Wouldn't it be easier just to act?" That kind of appeals to me as an approach to the job.
Provisional Chief Information Officer has a nice historical sound, but that's even more temporary and undefined than Interim.
I haven't decided how I'd like to be addressed by my staff. I'm leaning toward "Il Cio," but "El Jefe InformaciƓn" has a grand ring to it too.
This should be interesting.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

High stakes reading quizzes

I had an idea that was actually the result of considering another problem for which the answer was making the class more student centered. One issue faculty always mention as an impediment to both effective class discussions and problems learning the material in general is that students don't do the outside-of-class reading, so you have to lecture in more detail than you might if they were familiar with the material. So is there a way to get them to read? This is my crazy idea. Have daily on-line reading quizzes (not a new idea), and (the crazy part) make them a significant part of the grade in the course, say maybe a third.

Everybody seems to agree that students are really motivated by grades, and if reading the material was high stakes enough, they would have an incentive to do it.

I'm not saying this wouldn't be a bit of work. In order to prevent students from just exchanging text files as to what the answers were, you'd have to use the Random Section feature of the D2L quiz tool (I'm sure other LMS's have this feature) to deliver ten questions out of a bank of about thirty to each student. From what I've seen of publishers' test banks, this isn't really unreasonable if the reading was a chapter, but if the reading wasn't in a publisher test bank, somebody would have to write it. Since a lot of the classes where this is a problem (cough, general ed, cough) are probably taught by several instructors, you could probably divide up the load and come up with a significant bank of questions without any one person having to do all the work (also sounds like great duty for a grad assistant).

One objection that I could think of is students could get together and work out the answers together, but that might not be such a bad thing. If a few laggards in a group depended on the smart kids to just find the answers, that would probably be pretty obvious to the group and the laggards would be, let's say, subjected to group pressure.

Maybe this has been tried. I'd be curious to hear about it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Instructor presence more than you thought

Last week I attended a planning session on our General Education program. At one point a discussion centered on the fact that many of our general education courses are offered in 200 seat lecture halls.

Several methods were offered to improve student engagement, but the one that surprised me was team-teaching. That not only included the obvious gen-ed value of finding cross disciplinary connections to content, but emphasized the value of having more than one faculty member present.

What surprised me was the value that having a faculty member out in the audience with the students gave the students was the feeling of connection and interaction with the instructors they didn't get with a single sage on the stage.

In on-line education we constantly harp on the need for "instructor presence" so the student doesn't feel like they're taking the course from a disembodied program. It's interesting to see that this is a issue in face to face courses too.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A digital amuse bouche

I'd like to announce a new series of Learning Technology workshops intended to showcase small but useful applications that are available for free. "A Digital Amuse-Bouche" will consist of one-hour hands-on IDEA Lab workshops offered 3:30 to 4:30 on Thursday afternoons five times during the semester. (The day was chosen using clickers to poll the audience at Passport to Technology last month)

February 10th. Poll Everywhere (
http://polleverywhere.com ). A web based system to get instant responses to questions posed to your class. Responses can be made with any device that can access the web–a computer, smart phone, iPad, iPod Touch or any of the new Windows mobile and Android products currently flooding the market–as well as through cell phone text messaging. It's totally free for up to 32 respondents. Pro options allow up to 1000 respondents. The instructor side is web-based, so it doesn't matter if you're a Windows, Mac, or Linux user.

March 3rd. Pixlr (
http://pixlr.com/ ) Modest on-line photo-editors have been available for years, but Pixlr has ramped up the capabilities to near-Photoshop levels. Totally web-based, it requires no installation and works with any operating system. The function that really caught my attention is the clone tool with a soft brush–in case there's a stray hair or zit you needed to remove from a family portrait.

March 31. Jing (
http://www.techsmith.com/jing/ ) A free application that does either still or video computer screen capture with audio narration. Very simple to use. It has a limitation of 5 minutes so you can't use it to record an entire lecture, but you'd be surprised how you can explain how to use a particular function in Excel, analyze a painting or navigate a government database in under 5 minutes. (see Chunking - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunking_(psychology) ). Not only is it easy to use, it's easy to make available on the web. You can either let Jing host it for free with a single click or save it locally and put it on one our streaming servers if you've got the geek cred for that. Available on both Windows and Macintosh.

April 14. Folio 21 (
https://www.uwosh.edu/career/documents/Folio%2021-new%20handout.pdf ) Kind of a big byte for this series, but totally free to any UW Oshkosh student, department or class (well, funded by Student Technology fee anyway). Folio 21 is an ePortfolio system in which you can upload a collection of documents, and then assemble web-based portfolios for specific purposes with restrictions to specified individuals or audiences. These portfolios persist after a student graduates so it can meet the student's career objectives, class objectives and departmental assessment objectives. Jaime Page-Stadler, Director of Career Planning and Placement, will lead this event.

April 28. Viewers Choice! If there's a handy little application out there on the web that you think your colleagues might find useful, let us know about it–or maybe they'll invent something new this spring!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Clicker alternatives and a New Year's wish.

Classroom response systems, aka clickers, are a great way to provide some interaction and student-centeredness to a large lecture hall class. Even in smaller classes, these systems can provide useful feedback to both instructor and student as well as providing stimulus for discussions. They are expensive though, and I always have my eye out for alternatives. Recently I've found two that can be had for free, but with major limitations.


The first is from Microsoft. They have developed the Interactive Classroom for Powerpoint plug-in, available as a free download It seems like a well designed system. Instructors can put questions up right on a Powerpoint slide, start and stop when the question is open for responses, and immediately display results. You can even spontaneously pop up questions on the spur of the moment. There are two limitations, on the instructor side it only works with the latest Windows version of Powerpoint, 2007. The second limitation is that all the respondents must be connected to the network, and have Microsoft OneNote installed. OneNote is bundled with the version of office available to our students, but except in our Windows teaching labs, and maybe some classes in the College of Business, it's far from likely that every student in a class would have a Windows computer available.


A more likely scenario which uses devices almost all students have in their possession, is Poll Everywhere. The instructor side is entirely web based, so you can use it on either a Windows or Macintosh. On the response side, you can use any device that can access the web, via a web page or Tweet, and also regular phone text messages, a modality dear to the heart of college students. Between laptops, notebooks, smart phones, iPod Touches, iPads, and regular cell phones, almost every student would likely have some device that could respond. Each individual question is set up as a poll, but you can group polls and move from one to another rather easily. You can choose to view a "static chart" that just displays the possible answers and the codes needed for submitting, and when you've received all the responses, switch to a "live chart" which displays the results. Polls can be embedded in a Powerpoint slide. The big limitation with Poll Everywhere is that it's only free with up to 32 respondents. There are paid plans that allow up to 1000 respondents per poll, but they're not exactly cheap. $399 per semester for each instructor. (This would actually be cheaper than we're paying now for eInstruction's CPS System). There are also plans where each student subscribes for $14 apiece for a semester for each class.


It should be noted that there are some features available in the classic clicker systems not available on these. The most noticeable one is that it is not recorded who responded to what. You get the interactive benefits in class, but lose the ability to track how students are doing, as well as using it as a way to record attendance. The other issue is the question of whether every student would have a compatible device, and if that were a basic free cell phone, a text messaging plan that wouldn't cost them extra to use it.


It would really be great if someone created an open source solution for this. It seems like it would be within the capabilities of the Plone content management system which we use on our campus, although it would probably require some special scripting or workflows to make it workable. (You know who I'm talking to here).


The system would probably have to be web based. Eliminating text message responses would reduce the universality as with Poll Everywhere, but I think it would still have a lot of application. For example, in our College of Nursing, all students are required to have a smart phone, and in several nursing classes I've been in recently, every student had a laptop open (following the instructors Powerpoint, I might add). I'd be willing to bet it's not unusual to see College of Business classes where everyone had a laptop, netbook, ipad or smart phone, and likely upper division science courses too. And keep in mind, the price of admission here would be as low as a refurbed iPod touch, which college kids could also find lots of other uses for, and who knows how cheap Android devices will get. If the system was free otherwise, and lots of instructors adopted, I'd bet it would encourage students to get some kind of device to make use of it.


The basic system would consist of a series of one question polls. A sophisticated Plone user could probably rig this up without special scripting, but to make it widely applicable, I think some special tools to simplify it would be necessary. The nature of the questions would primarily be multiple choice, but numerical entries and text entries would be useful too. The Instructor would have to be able to move to a particular question (from a menu maybe), make it active to receive input from users, and stop it from being active. When they had received all the input, they would then display the results, perhaps as a graph or a histogram in the case of numerical answers (This would be a great way to demonstrate a normal statistical distribution).


On the client side, you'd probably want to strip it down to all but the essentials needed to vote, since you might have as many as 200 users logged into the wireless network. If the users were on mobile devices a special CSS for them could do the trick, but I'm not sure how you'd do it for regular laptop users, maybe having one display for the page owner, and a different simpler display for the rest of the world. It would be great if they didn't have to move to a different page to go to a new question, that is, it would just update as the instructor moved to a new question.


I'm sure Plone stores survey results, so the instructor could later review how the class did, but it would probably be difficult to track who voted how without creating an account on Plone for each student. I'm not sure how much this would clog up the server, but we spend enough on conventional clickers that it would probably be worthwhile for a specific Plone server just for this purpose to be set up and connect it to the LDAP server.


If this could be set up as a Plone "product," I'm sure we could see some widespread use of it around the country, and it would probably be a sure conference presentation, and of course it would be the ultimate of cool.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Rhythm Guitar Therapy

I've played guitar since I was thirteen years old. In college, I was an active local folkie. Except for one spontaneous coffee house performance in the late '70's, and accompanying Christmas carols at a pack meeting, I hardly touched it for the rest of the century. Then, in 2001 Sarah and Andy gave me an American Standard Telecaster, and a year later a Marshall amp. I've been a regular basement rocker for the last decade. (They're also responsible for moving my listening habits from Classic Rock 'n Roll to the harder, metal edge–Loud Rock according to Andy's title at his college radio station.)


There are three impetuses for this post.


The first is my friend, George Possley, with whom I played and sang regularly in college. George recently retired from being a higher education techie and former math teacher, and has set about his life's dream of being a recording star. Accordingly, he posts a daily song to YouTube on his channel Geoman7447. George wondered in a Facebook comment on my wall what I sounded like now and encouraged me to record and post something, OK, here ya go, George.


The second was a blog post by Lisa Golden last fall about why she blogs. My take away from that post was that to really follow through with any creative process , you have to put it out there for an audience to chew on. Thanks for the nudge, Lisa.


The third was an article this weekend in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about an upcoming performance by Los Straightjackets. One member of the band stated that they had been moving to a more punk, metal sound. I have always described my guitar playing as surf punk metal and I wanted to establish my precedence as surf punk metal hero.


So I recorded the piece below sometime in November. It's through a Line 6 Pod into Audacity on a Mac Book. This is the fourth take. I tried different settings of amp type and effects, but they all ended up sounded much the same once I fiddled with them to sound like me. I'm not sure which guitar it was, either the black Ventura or the Warlock.


The basic riff is one of the first things I learned to play on the guitar.


Listening to the playback, I get the impression that this is a long rhythm part in search of a lead. From the title of the post, you can see I consider myself essentially a rhythm guitarist.


One of the things guitar magazine editorials always encourage the beginner to do is follow their own style. I've always been of the opinion that you really don't have much control over it, a style is going to emerge once you start doing something with enough facility to not have to concentrate totally on the mechanics. I should mention that I've been taking formal lessons for three years, and it's starting to stick, and by the time I retire, I may have the confidence and skill to approach other musicians to play with, but, I don't think it has had much influence on what you will hear here. That having been said, if this sounds like something you might think it's fun to play drums or bass to, give me a call.


It might fall into the category of what Sarah occasionally characterizes as more fun to play than to listen to, most commonly applied to Yingwe Malmsteen and Steve Vai.


So here it is, my riff on Rebel Rouser–Nick Dvoracek raw and unfiltered. I don't think I'm the kind of rebel Duane Eddy had in mind.


Rebel Rouser (MP3, 4MB, 4:18)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Better handouts, fewer dead trees

One practice that wastes a lot of paper yet doesn’t yield any benefit is printing Powerpoint presentations one slide to a sheet of paper.


One real downside is that it creates quite a stack of paper. Who needs to carry around 36 sheets of paper when you could get away with six. Another problem other than the simple mass of the extra paper is the hassle of leafing through all those pages to review the presentation.


When you go to print a Powerpoint file, there’s a “Print what” menu. The default is “Slides” meaning print one slide to a page. If you pull down the menu, you’ll see a choice for Handouts. When you select that just to the right is a choice for 2, 3, 4, 6 or 9 slides per page. 2, 4, 6 and 9 fill the page with reduced size versions of the slide. 3 only fills half the page with slides, and fills the other side with lines for writing notes.


A common response is: How am I going to read slides that are reduced that much in size?


There are two things that compensate for this reduction. One is that the type size for a Powerpoint presentation is typically in the 32 point and up range. The type you normally read on a page is 10 or 12 point so although six slides to a page is reduced from the size that you need for the whole audience to read, the type on the printed page is pretty much what you’re used to. Legibility studies show that readibility on a printed page is much better at 10 to 12 points than at larger sizes.


The second control is that the printer has much higher resolution than the projector you use to watch the presentation in class. The projector is probably 1024 x 768 pixels (There is some variation, but that’s been the standard for about 8 years). At the average laser printer’s resolution of 600 dots per inch, thats only about 2 x 1 1/4 inches, so the 3 x 2 1/4 reproduction you’re seeing on a six-to-the-page handout is actually more detail than you see in class.


Another thing you can do to make a better handout and be more sustainable is the Color/greyscale menu just below the Print what menu. (Output on a Mac) The default is Color which is pretty obviously reproducing exactly what you see on the screen, although you’re probably printing on a black and white laser printer, so what you get is a grey scale interpretation of the color image. Unless the presenter was pretty careful in keeping the contrast up, that could make a difficult to read print.


The second choice under Color/greyscale is Greyscale, kind of a confusing choice for the menu item, but what it does is drop out any background color of the slide to just white paper, changes the color of any text created in Powerpoint to black, and reproduces any graphic or photo to a grey scale rendering. So basically you get high contrast, easy to read text, and exactly the same information for any illustrative materials, and you save a lot of toner and wear and tear on the printer.