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The Center for Transformative Teaching Posts

Annotate Videos for Use in Your Courses

In the world of online, blended, hybrid, and “flipped” courses, video is one of the things that separates an average learning experience from an exceptional one. Unfortunately, the majority of videos–70%? 80%? quite possibly more, based on personal observations over the past several years–in these types of courses follow the same general model: a narrated slide presentation or screencast, sometimes a recording of a live lecture or webinar-style presentation. Video, in these cases, is really just a substitute for conducting an in-person lecture. And, like it or not, that isn’t something most students  consider particularly exciting.

But course videos don’t have to be warmed-over lectures. Video has some real strengths when it comes to things like establishing social presence (a topic I’ve written about previously on this blog), demonstrating actions or phenomena that need to be observed visually to be fully understood, or leveraging the potential of multimedia learning to draw out and illustrate connections between concepts. Of course, making videos that do those things can be both difficult and time-consuming–and if there’s one thing that most faculty don’t have a lot of, it’s time.

So what can you do if you want to create more than a voiceover of your lecture slides but don’t have the time or skills needed to do so? One potential answer is video annotation. The idea is simple: take an existing video that someone else has produced and generously uploaded for public viewing and then add annotations that guide students through it, thereby connecting it to the specific topics or activities in your course. Carefully annotated, a video becomes something more than a lecture intended to convey information. Instead, at its best it functions as an exercise in modeling for students a thought process or a line of inquiry. An well-annotated video can establish a kind of dialogue between the video’s content and the larger conceptual or theoretical structures of the course or program of study. It can invite students to explore or understand a topic more deeply, and to connect that topic to others they have studied, rather than passively view and process simply for its informational content.

Video annotations can work in a number of different ways, depending on the specific tool being used to create and display them, but the general idea is to attach notes, usually in the form of text (although some tool support images and multimedia), to specific spans of time within the video. Once the annotations have been created, many annotation tools allow the viewer either to watch the full video and see the annotations displayed in a synchronized fashion as it plays or, alternatively, to jump immediately to specific portions of the video based on a selected annotation.

Some video annotation tools can also facilitate individual or group annotation by students, opening up a variety of possibilities for student projects or, potentially, for moving course discussions out of traditional threaded forums or message boards and into a world where comments are attached directly to the object of study itself.

Used thoughtfully and creatively, annotated videos provide numerous ways to move beyond the conventional video lecture in an online or hybrid course. In a companion post, coming soon, I’ll highlight a couple of free tools that you can start using right away to experiment with video annotation in your own courses. Stay tuned!

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In 2019, Try a Teaching ‘First’

 

Colorful graphic with the words "Happy New Year 2019"

After an extended hiatus during the second half of 2018, it’s time to dust off the ol’ CTT blog and start posting again: a new year, a new beginning, etcetera. But rather than exhort anyone who may still be reading the blog (you’re still out there, right?) to strap on your willpower and set yourself some tough resolutions for 2019, I’ll get things rolling this year with a gentler suggestion: deciding to try a teaching ‘first’ some time this year.

What’s a teaching ‘first,’ you ask? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: adding to your teaching practices, just once, something that’s new to you. Unlike a resolution, which usually comes with weighty expectations of long-term persistence and forming new permanent habits, a teaching ‘first’ involves committing to nothing more than trying something new. Whatever it is, you don’t have to stick with it. Just try it, see how it goes, and then move on if you want.

I should note that I’m shamelessly borrowing this idea from a Washington Post column by Erik Orton: “New Year’s resolutions are hard to stick to. So try out New Year’s ‘firsts'”. Here’s how Orton describes it:

Just one thing, one time. Once we’ve done it, we’ve met our goal. It’s a win.

Anyone could do this. You could say, “Hey, we’ve never ordered that kind of pizza before. Let’s try it.” Call in the order. Boom. You’re done. Success. You could say, “I’ve never done a triple feature at the movies before.” Get down to the multiplex, buy tickets for three back-to-back movies and settle in. Success. Or, if you’re a little more ambitious, you could say, “I’ve always wanted to watch the sunrise.” Check online to see what time the sun comes up, get out of bed 10 minutes before that, walk outside, and face east. Stand there for 10 minutes. Success.

As Orton makes clear, the real beauty of the ‘first’ is that it can be extremely simple. Sure, you can set yourself the goal of trying something big and ambitious. You might think, for example, “I really admire how my colleague Edna hosts virtual office hours in her classes. I’m going to do that every week in all of my online classes this quarter!” But you don’t have to set goals on so large a scale (and for practical reasons, you really may not want to). You could instead say, “When classes start next week, I’m going to try at least one new technique for learning my students’ names on the first day.” Maybe you want to try using a mid-quarter feedback survey for the first time to better understand how your students perceive their progress in the course. Or maybe you want to introduce a quick active learning technique into one of your lectures, just once, to see how it goes.

If you think you’re ready to set a teaching ‘first’ for yourself in 2019, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Pick a ‘first’ that you care about. It’s easy to pick something that is, well, easy. But to make it worth the effort, it’s usually best if it’s something you find meaningful, that holds genuine interest for you, and that you’ll be able to learn from.
  • Choose a ‘first’ that makes sense for your class or teaching context. The goal of the ‘first’ is to grow and expand as a teacher, so choose one that has the potential to be constructive in your specific teaching circumstances. You know best what ‘firsts’ make the most sense for you, your students, and the course.
  • Select a ‘first’ that involves a reasonable amount of effort. It’s good to be ambitious and to develop new skills in the process of completing your goal, but choosing a ‘first’ that involves too great an effort can be counterproductive. Know what you’re comfortable with and work within that scope.
  • Reflect on what you’ve learned. This is the most important tip of all. After you’ve successfully completed your ‘first,” take some time to reflect on the experience. Even if you vow never to do it again, did your ‘first’ help you learn anything that you can be helpful to you as a teacher?

Are you up for the challenge of a teaching ‘first’ this year? Let us know in the comments what you’re hoping to do for the first time in your teaching during 2019!

Happy New Year 2019 image licensed under Creative Commons, CC-BY 4.0.

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When Is Your Computer Unlike Mine? When We Consider Technology Opportunity Gaps

Regular readers of this blog will know that EvCC, like many community colleges across the country, continues to engage with knotty, challenging questions of equity in higher education. Conversations about equity have been central to Guided Pathways efforts at the college (and long before), and they’re also part of our work at the Center for Transformative Teaching. A few months ago, I wrote on this blog about my initial investigation of potential equity gaps in online course enrollments, and I’ve continued to think about this problem since then.

Equity in online, hybrid/blended, and technology-enhanced learning environments is in many ways a classic manifestation of the digital divide — inequalities in “access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies” (Wikipedia). The heart of the problem, in my mind, lies in the final part of that definition: the impact of technologies on the people using them. While we tend to be pretty good about asking important questions related to students’ access to technologies, all too often we overlook an even more significant question. Once we’ve ensured all students have access to learning technologies (for instance, through low-cost laptop rentals — a service we provide to students here at EvCC) what are we doing to ensure that the use of those technologies is providing the same advantages to all students? Are we inadvertently perpetuating inequities by assuming that the beneficial effects of educational technologies are evenly distributed and available to all?

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A Small Assortment of Ideas for the First Day of Class

Despite the dusting of snow on the ground in Everett this morning (and a few lingering flakes falling outside my window at this very moment), it’s officially the first day of the spring quarter here at EvCC. That means a new set of classes–and new opportunities to try out ways of engaging your students from the very first moment of class.

With that in mind, here’s a question for you to consider as you start each of your new classes this week: How do you engage students and welcome them into the intellectual and practical work of the next ten weeks?

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Bring Them or Ban Them? Laptops (and Mobile Devices) in the Classroom

In the list of perennial ‘controversies’ at the intersection of teaching and technology, the lowly laptop computer has always played something of an outsized role. I’m old enough to remember a time when the laptop’s extreme portability was breathlessly heralded as something that would revolutionize how and where learning would take place. (“It only weighs eight pounds; ten if you include the charger! Now students can read, conduct research, or write papers anywhere and everywhere! The era of ubiquitous learning has arrived!”) I also remember some of the dire predictions that were lobbed back in response. (“Students will be endlessly distracted! They will use their computers as intellectual crutches instead of learning to think and do for themselves! The end of deep, focused learning has arrived! Besides, what’s wrong with going to the computer lab — or using a typewriter, for that matter?! “)

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Revisiting Online Quizzes

The Teaching and Tools workshop series included two seminars with a tongue-in-cheek title “Beat the Cheat.” The first session was a broader exploration of the general premise of exams as an assessment tool (spoiler alert – Derek is an occasional skeptic), and the second session explored some of the Canvas features that allow for “security” measures when online quizzes are offered.

Feel free to take a listen to the Podcast versions here:

Part One podcast

Part Two podcast

You can also access the transcripts here:

Beat the Cheat part one transcript

Beat the Cheat part two transcript

And the handouts from the in-person workshops are available as well!

Beat the Cheat part one handout

Beat the Cheat part two handout

 

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Succeed in College by … Sleeping More?

Man and dog sleeping on couch

Sleeping by Andrew Roberts licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0

Do you ever talk to your students about what they can do to be successful in your class and in college more generally? When you have that conversation, what are the essential factors that you discuss?

Is sleep one of them? If not, maybe it should be.

I recently finished reading Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, a book that is considerably more substantive than its vaguely pop-sci titles makes it sound. Walker, a respected sleep researcher, directs the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California – Berkeley, and his book offers a very readable synthesis of what scientists have learned about sleep’s essential role in human health, psychological well-being, and–as it now turns out–learning.

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Rethinking the Syllabus

After a late-2017 hiatus here on the CTT blog, I thought the first post of 2018 should touch on something many of us might be thinking about as winter quarter classes begin at EvCC today: the course syllabus.

Useful information about constructing a course syllabus can be found almost everywhere these days: here, here, here — I could keep this up for a long time, but won’t since you get the idea (and know perfectly well how to perform your own internet searches). But over on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ChronicleVitae blog, Kevin Gannon last fall posted a series of musings that go beyond the general “how-to” approach you’ll find in most syllabus guides, tutorials, and similar resources. Instead, he invites us to ask what a syllabus is for, why it matters, and what we can do as teachers to bring the present-day syllabus back into the realm of “good pedagogy.”

Here’s a taste, from the first of the series, “What Is a Syllabus Really For, Anyway?“:

The key role of this document is spelled out clearly in The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach: ‘The syllabus provides the first opportunity faculty have to encourage and guide students to take responsibility for their learning…When reading a learning-centered syllabus, students learn what is required to achieve the course objectives, and they learn what processes will support their academic success.’ In short, students need to know what they need to do to succeed in your course, and how they’re being empowered to do it.

But the syllabus has evolved (hideously mutated?) from a course guide to its present-day incarnation as a lengthy compendium of policies and procedural statements where the course material almost feels like an afterthought.

So how do we reclaim the syllabus for its rightful purpose? The first step is to ask, What is a syllabus for, anyway? If we can’t answer that question concisely and unambiguously, then there are conversations that need to happen.

Read the full article here, then see Parts 2 and 3 of the DIY Syllabus series, “What Goes Into a Syllabus?” and “How to Move Beyond the Transactional“.

How do you approach your syllabus? Have your views on “what a syllabus is really for” changed in recent years? How do you keep your syllabus fresh, engaging, and useful as a teaching instrument?

 

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What Words Appear Most Frequently in Our Course Learning Objectives?

Here’s a fun way to spend a few minutes, assuming you’re the kind of person who enjoys looking at things like course learning objectives. (Is there anyone who doesn’t?)

This is a word cloud representation of the current course learning objectives for most of EvCC’s courses. This is generated using Voyant Tools, a online text analysis platform that can do all sorts of neat and sophisticated things with large quantities of text.

By default, the word cloud displays the most common words appearing in the collected course learning outcomes across all departments and divisions. You can move the Terms slider to display fewer or more words. If you’d like to look at the outcomes for a single course, click the Scale button, select the “Documents” option, and then choose the specific course you’re interested in.

I find this visualization interesting to think about in relation to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (a nice web version can be found here). By removing a lot of the domain- and subject-specific words that often appear in learning objectives, the word cloud view illuminates some of the broader categories of learning our courses identify as essential to a student’s progress through a given course and program of study. Looking at these categories in terms of their position along Bloom’s spectrum of lower-to-higher-order thinking strikes me as productive and potentially revealing exercise: what should we make of the prominence of words like “demonstrate,” “describe,” and “identify” and the diminutive size of “analyze” and “create”?

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A First Look at Equity in eLearning

As EvCC has continued its Guided Pathways efforts over the past year, equity has been frequently discussed as essential to  helping students make informed decisions about their education and future careers. In a post on the Guided Pathways blog last spring, Samantha Reed discussed some of the ways that increased awareness of equity considerations can help programs identify gaps in outcomes, thereby creating openings for change that will help us “make sure our institution serves all our students equitably.” More recently, Director of Institutional Research Sean Gehrke has been posting on using data to identify equity gaps. Equity was also a topic of discussion at the summer meeting of our system’s eLearning Council, where we noted as a clear priority the need for more research on “equity gaps in applying technology to learning” and “structural barriers to access to technology-mediated instruction.”

Prompted by some of these ongoing conversations, I decided to do a little initial investigating of my own to see where there might be obvious equity gaps in the context of eLearning at EvCC. The real work of examining equity is difficult and potentially requires multiple types of data in order to get meaningful analytical purchase on its many dimensions. So as a somewhat easier starting point, I posed a fairly simple question: “Are there significant differences between student populations in face-to-face and online courses at EvCC?” Granted, that’s probably a diversity question rather than an equity question–but it creates necessary space for considering those more challenging equity issues in online learning. Once we have a better sense of who might be missing from online courses, we can take up the questions of why they’re missing and how their absence may by symptomatic of systemic inequities.

To answer my question, I turned to our institutional Enrollment, Headcounts, and FTE Tableau dashboard (thank you, Sean!) and starting crunching some numbers.

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