Better Class Discussions with Highlighter

One of the beauties of asynchronous, online education is the discussion forum. Teachers know the pitfalls of the, say, fifty-five minute synchronous/traditional classroom discussion. In the attempt to both pose a question and collectively find an answer, we swim purposefully towards the answer, rather that splash around in the messy pools of possible answers. We reach conclusions too quickly. And, while asynchronous discussions allow this “splashy” discourse, the challenge for the teacher is to direct and redirect a discussion which can become long, fragmented, unfocused.  Part of this problem is structural. Discussion forums are usually located at the bottom of the article/web page. Comments are stacked, and, unless every respondent has done a good job of quoting and paraphrasing, comments are without context. Take a look at any thread spread out over the course of three pages on the NY Times website and you quickly see what I mean. Yeah, I’m talking to youSupreme Court Lets Health Law Largely Stand

Highlighter, a new-ish highlighter/annotater for content, works to solve this problem. And while I haven’t given up on using the regular comments section on my course wiki, I’ve taken to using the highlighter plug-in on assignments where I want a close reading of a text/where I want students to comment on specific parts of a longer text.

A  few things that I like/my students liked about this tool.  Read More→

photos by: The U.S. National Archives & The U.S. National Archives

Author Dominic Saucedo

If the F Pattern is true

If the “F pattern for reading web content” is true, then where would a crafty teacher post comments or ideas in response to student work?

Top left baby!

That’s my epiphany, my sad, sad little epiphany. One of those moments when one realizes the importance of putting two and two together and getting four . . . and when one realizes just how far behind the curve one is (what curve? where? that one disappearing over the horizon?).

This blog is clearly not for those on the cutting edge.

For years I’ve put my summative comments (when typed rather than verbal) at the bottom of student documents and pages.  Well . . . that appears to be dumb for so many reasons, not the least of which is how people read webpages.

Now, I just have to break the habit. Note to self: “comments at top; comments at top; comments at . . . .”

photo by: milesopie

Author Gill Creel

MeeboMe No More

We have been using the handy little MeeboMe widget in our PBWorks wikis to give students an easy way to chat quickly when they and we are online– either as planned office hours or serendipitously.

It was a quick, easy solution for quick, easy questions and answers.

I say “was” because the Interwebs continue to eat their young, and not so young.  Yes, the Google “has acquired” the Meebo, and they appear to be trimming the fat or perhaps trimming away the competition.  Hard to tell.

Perhaps beautiful things will arise from this acquisition, but in the meantime I have to go searching for a new widget (annoyed brow furrowing).

And suddenly I find myself thinking back to

And adding to the list of reasons why open source solutions are so important for small fry like me and the small fry institution I work for.  Like Blanche DuBois, I have often “depended on the kindness of strangers,” but when those strangers are profit-driven it often ends about as well for me as it did for Blanche. When the suits take away the free lunch and there are no open source replacements, then my students and I will really be out of luck.

RIP MeeboMe; you were a good a little helper.

photo by: marioanima

And adding to the list of reasons why open source solutions are so important for small fry like me and the small fry institution I work for.  Like Blanche DuBois, I have often “depended on the kindness of strangers,” but when those strangers are profit-driven it often ends about as well for me as it did for Blanche. When the suits take away the free lunch and there are no open source replacements, then my students and I will really be out of luck.

RIP MeeboMe; you were a good a little helper.

photo by: marioanima

Author Gill Creel

Triple Troll

This isn’t about a tool, and it isn’t even about an assignment I do. It’s about an assignment I want to do . . . plan to do.  It’s the pedagogical equivalent of aspirational dressing.

I learned about this type of assignment from trolling the Jim Groom and the fabulous experiment that has come to be called DS106.

The ur assignment is here: http://ds106.us/2011/06/24/triple-troll-attack-go/

The baseline learning and fun here is that one has to know a certain body of information or discourse community well enough to make thoughtful and, if you’re lucky, amusing connections between disparate points.

Like all overworked classroom teachers, I immediately saw how I could twist this for my own nefarious purposes. In a content-focused course such as history or literature, one could ask for connections between authors or thinkers within a given literary or political movement or across particular movements or time periods.  In a writing course, the Triple Troll becomes a starting (or ending) point for an analysis of  . . . of any number of things. The mind boggles really.

To prove that it could be done easily and by the graphically-challenged, such as myself, I put together my first Triple Troll using my brain, Google Drawing, and the interwebs, et voila:

For the record that’s John Dewey next to a quote by James Gee attributed to Ira Shor.  I should be able to get a pretty good essay out of that!

photo by: Cali4beach

Author Gill Creel

A Beautiful, Simple Thing

It is sometimes useful to get a word count in a student document or webpage– or in one of your own to find out just how verbose you actually are– unless you are George Pelecanos, in which case you know it’s not a problem.

Avoiding extra clicks and extra software in this situation is key to keeping a happy, smiley teacher face.  The most elegant solution I have found is an ancient piece of technology called a “bookmarklet.”  In this case it’s a little piece of code that is dragged into the toolbar of your browser.

Drag this link to your toolbar and a bookmark will appear: Count Words

To use it, highlight the text to count and then click the “Count Words” bookmark in the toolbar. The word count should appear in a small dialogue box in the middle of the screen.

A beautiful, simple thing.

photo by: bjornmeansbear

Author Gill Creel

Your Online Learning Platform Should Be Central Park, Not Gramercy

Gramercy park is beautiful, but it’s private–one of only two private parks in New York City where “only people residing around the park who pay an annual fee have a key, and the public is not generally allowed in – although the sidewalks of the streets around the park are a popular jogging, strolling and dog-walking route” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Park). Central Park on the other hand—people sprawled out reading, talking. Interaction. If you’re new to online teaching, you’ve seen the Learning Management Systems (LMS)/Online Learning Platforms used by your school (Desire2Learn, Moodle, BlackBoard). Lots of shiny bells and pretty whistles. Wrought iron gates and ivy covered walls. But once you get it, you realize that it’s just you and your students, separated from the outside world. Your students don’t live in these gated parks, however.

If the public can’t get in, neither can new technologies.

 Twitter, Facebook, Instagram–all social media apps which, at the check of a box, allow users to share contents and comments. Typical LMS systems don’t allow this. Or, at least, you need permission. Someone has to give you the okay. Mimeograph a form in triplicate and then send to the Central Registry. And by then? By then the moment has passed.

You need control over your LMS.

…so you can let in visiting colleagues, experts in other fields, past students who want to chime in on the work of a current student or simply want to lend a fleeting, helping hand.

And here’s another reason: Read More→

photo by: Bosc d'Anjou

Author Dominic Saucedo