avatar-man in hat June 8

Channel Your Inner Avatar and Add Interest to Your Online Content

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Have you ever experienced the eerie, but familiar, sensation that your students have not done the required reading and are not prepared for class? We all know that our class sessions would be a lot more enjoyable—for us and for our students—if our students were better prepared for class discussions. After one particularly challenging session, we discovered that while our students spend around 20 hours a week preparing for class, they spend about 10 hours a day using a variety of digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, video games, and TVs.

After some contemplation, we decided to embrace our inner avatar! We found CrazyTalk Animator 2, which enabled us to put a face, body, motion, and a voice to the instructor. This program allows users, even those without any coding experience, to create short video clips using a selected avatar and voice. The avatars can run, smile, frown, dance, write, and do a number of other things. Moreover, the user can simply drop the avatar into any PowerPoint presentation to add an additional component of animation to an otherwise lifeless slide. We created the avatars to present short, focused discussions of course topics.

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online student June 5

The Power of the Short: Making the Most of Brief Instructional Videos

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When it comes to instructional tools, few can deny the benefits of using videos in the classroom. Since the days of the filmstrip, this medium has been used to supplement classroom instruction. Today’s classrooms are filled with a myriad of images, video clips, and other multimedia resources. Integrating multimedia elements is how we gain students’ attention and engage them in our content. Videos can also improve working memory and learning, especially with focused attention on visual-spatial and pictorial elements (Gyselinck et al., 2000). However, if multimedia content is not used effectively we lose the opportunity to harness this powerful tool.

Many believe that brevity is key to using multimedia elements in the classroom. There are many news outlets espousing that human attention spans are shrinking. While this has yet to be proven in actual research, it does highlight the fact that this perception is prevalent. Think about how this perception pervades our society with short snappy headlines, hashtags, text language, emoticons and other social networking pictures and posts.

Brief videos can not only capture students’ attention, but are also quite effective for learning. Think back to the days of School House Rock. During the 1970s and 1980s, these short, animated films were a staple of the Saturday morning cartoons. The educational influence of these short videos was, and still is, tremendous. Many children learned multiplication, grammar, and even memorized the Preamble to the Constitution through these engaging short films, which live on through a dedicated YouTube channel.

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Characters flying out of a computer screen. April 4

Unbundling the Learning Management System

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The Learning Management System (LMS) was developed to allow faculty to create online courses without having to learn HTML. It provided even the least technologically sophisticated faculty member with an opportunity to teach online by centralizing all course functions in one “mothership.”

However, Google proved that you didn’t need a single system to perform all possible functions as long as you had a constellation of different systems—each performing a different function—that worked well together. Sign up for a single Google account and you have access to email, YouTube, Drive, and literally a hundred other apps to perform whatever functions you would like. Not interested in posting videos on YouTube, but would rather do so on Drive? No problem, just use your Drive account and ignore YouTube. It’s a bit like baking with precisely the ingredients you want to use, not what you are given.

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creating instructional video March 31

10 Tips for Creating Effective Instructional Videos

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Instructor presence is an important component of effective online teaching, and video can help make it happen. Instructional videos have become increasingly easy to create and can turn a good online class into an engaging learning experience. Video humanizes the online experience by letting students know their instructor as a real person, not an abstraction. Good quality webcams are available for less than $100, and there are numerous free and easy-to-use resources for creating and publishing video content so it can be streamed back into our courses.


female student at computer February 17

Getting Started with Blended Learning Videos

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“There’s just not enough time in class with students!” It’s a common faculty complaint, and when students are provided quality course materials they can use outside class, this blended learning approach gives faculty more time in class. A variety of materials can be developed for use outside class. In this article, we’d like to focus on creating video content that students use for a blended learning course.


February 7

Easy Content Creation with Whiteboards

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A number of video types work well in an online environment, each with its own strengths that make it appropriate for teaching certain types of content. One of the most powerful types is whiteboard videos.

Whiteboards are basically blank canvases on the computer onto which you can write, draw, or place different sorts of content. The ability to draw is particularly helpful for instructors teaching quantitative courses, as instructors can write out equations freehand, rather than going through the laborious process of typing them onto a computer. But drawing can be used in other subjects as well. An art instructor can teach how to identify a particular painting style by placing images of different paintings on the whiteboard and circling their defining features while recording the lesson. Whiteboards also work for assessments. Students can demonstrate their understanding of a physics principle by recording themselves solving equations on a whiteboard while describing the steps. This allows the instructor to see whether an error in the student’s thinking has led them astray.

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teaching and learning graphic February 7

Let’s Solve the Right Damn Problem: Intentional Teaching with Technology

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We’ve all experienced failed learning activities, such as painful class sessions, online disasters, or group projects gone wrong.

When we analyze what went wrong, we usually wring our hands and lament the state of college students today, but is it possible that we ourselves are the inadvertent cause of many of these problems? Could our lack of intentional planning be the issue?

Misalignment in our classes can cause many problems. Consider what happens when the wheels of your vehicle are out of alignment. The tires aren’t all pointing in the same direction, making it difficult to steer, causing undue strain and wear, and possibly endangering the safety of those in the car.

The same things can happen when we teach a class that is out of alignment. It’s hard to direct the flow of learning; learning activities and assessments become more burdensome than they need to be; and the safety and well-being of those in the car, so to speak, are unnecessarily put at risk.

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video assessment January 9

Making Learning Visible with Video Assessment

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In winter 2015, I was given the opportunity to design and teach my department’s first fully online course, in calculus. Some design challenges emerged in the process, not least of which was the question of assessing homework. In a face-to-face class, students either turn in handwritten solutions to online problems or present them orally in class. But how can you have students presenting work to each other when they don’t even meet?

My solution—the only solution that could really work—was to have students present work via recorded video and then put those videos in an accessible place for the rest of the class.

The process worked as follows:

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unplugging cord December 8, 2016

Use It but Don’t Depend on Technology to Teach

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This article is not a Luddite’s rejection of digital technology. Even though I feel some intellectual kinship with Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in regard to how some tools affect people constitutionally, I readily admit that digital technology has made my job as a teacher much easier in a number of ways. Courseware makes it possible for me to share handouts with students without having to make copies. I can post web links for easy in-class access. Using email, I can make important announcements when my students are not in class, and they can contact me with questions about their essays. After my students visit a local science museum, I can have them post their thoughts about the visit to a discussion board, responding both to me and to each other as they ruminate on connections between the museum displays and related content in the course text. In short, for teachers and students—including sometime skeptics like me—digital technology, despite occasional overuse, facilitates interpersonal communication and accessibility to information.

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