Friday, August 30, 2013

First week back on campus is a wrap. This was taken yesterday on the way to my afternoon class.  It's quite a shock to see so many people after my quiet summer! Two changes in student "style" noted: 1) Enormous Jansport backpacks are back in and 2) Huge black-framed eyeglasses are all the rage.
It was good to see these guys after my long day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I settled on how to use Collaborate this Fall in all my classes. I recorded the welcome lecture for online class using it. The upside was that I can have the slideshow captured with the audio and video. Using my old record pad for audio uploaded to required students to run the powerpoint & audio file separately/manually. The downside, the audio quality is not as good as with record pad, so I am undecided whether to record future lectures with it. I'm wondering if using a separate mic would help. I don't want to use my table mic because it will be awkward on video, and I think my headset would also be awkward. I have seen clip on USB mics, perhaps something to consider. Regardless, I am planning to try it for the first optional real time “office hours” chat I offer (9/9), rather than using the built-in blackboard chat tool, which I have never liked.

On campus, I decided that I would show it to them on the first day, and plan to use it to record their group presentations in November. Whether I will use it otherwise is TBD. I think if weather is bad later in the semester or something else crops up that would result in canceling class, I might try holding a collaborate session instead. I’ve also been considering using it to tamp down two behaviors I dislike, excessive absence and non-class related laptop / tablet / smart phone use in class. If students know they are expected to join class via Collaborate when they are absent, and log into it from their laptop (or tablet) when they have devices in class, that would be turning negatives into positives. I’m not sure of the logistics at this point, so it’s still just under consideration. Yesterday few (no?) Students had laptops and while smartphones were almost as common as ever (some students are careful on the first day), I saw few tablets.

In general, the two on campus foundations sections seem to be less familiar with technology than usual. That's not strictly true, I don’t really have a sense in the afternoon class, as much time was wasted (by me) with Collaborate in the beginning. (More on that later.) In the evening section, I asked about their experience with Blackboard, and significantly less than half were familiar with it. I think maybe I have a lot of transfer students, because how can that be? Are a lot of UA faculty not using web-enhanced approaches?

In the afternoon, I headed to my first class really early. I wanted to get the webcam set up and upload my powerpoint into Collaborate. Alas, things did not go exactly as planned. There are only 10 minutes between the prior class and mine. The instructor of that class went the whole time and had not erased the board, gathered up her crap or surrendered the console and exited yet. A couple students had things they immediately wanted to talk to me about such as permission numbers, or routinely leaving early to make the bus because his next class is downtown. The machine demanded a log on and password, and “Guest” didn’t work. I called Classroom Tech Support and it rang at least 20 times before they answered. The connection was not good, but I managed to hear that the machines were upgraded to Windows 7 and now require individual log on by every instructor. Was there an email alerting faculty to this change that I’ve neglected to read? Oh, probably, LOL. The only “change” email I noticed was gushing about all the new eateries in Campus Center. Bye-bye Tim Horton's!

I finally got Collaborate & my powerpoint running, but couldn’t get the webcam to work. It seems I needed administrator rights to accomplish this. Oh well. I muddled through the class, but afterwards was sure I’d confused the students. I didn’t remember to ask them whether they were familiar with blackboard or if they needed me to walk them through it, instead I spent too much time with Collaborate (not really working) and it probably seemed intimidating. Ha ha, they will probably go on Rate My Professor and report that I’m disorganized & “out there.” Is that better or worse than being “weird” (my all-time favorite Rate My Professor slam from one of my students).

I have been thinking about how the task force I was on last spring and various offices try to encourage innovative approaches to teaching, but bureaucratic processes and technical glitches get in the way. Today Classroom Tech Support said they would install the drivers for the webcam on all three classroom machines I’ll be using this semester. Yay.

Monday, August 26, 2013

My classes start tomorrow. Feeling a little blue today. The end of summer break is bittersweet and it is particularly so this year.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about how to use Collaborate in my fall foundations classes (not sure about toleration), and put the final touches on my fall online class. I used Collaborate to record the welcome, and I am pleased with the result. I am likely to use it for the real-time chats as well. I still have to figure out how to use it in the classroom, but today I updated all syllabi and I do plan show it to them on the first day. I'm practically brain dead from all the syllabi revisions I made today, many more than the average semester. Tomorrow I have to get all the Blackboard materials ready, and I will be all set for the fall semester.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A little reflection...class is over, grades are done, and I’m thinking so much more positively about this class than I did after the first time I attempted a blended class, in Spring semester 2008. There are many reasons for this, including that it was graduate, students knew in advance about the delivery method, I designed assignments that were more realistic for a blended class, and it was a summer class. But the positive impact of Collaborate cannot be ignored.

Students seem to really like the class design, and this includes many who were skeptics. Some students shared reflections on Collaborate, online and blended learning in their journals:

•    The webinars were a great opportunity to come together with my peers in an open and non-intimidating forum.  I love technology and always enjoy learning new ways to use it myself and in my classroom.
•    Had this course been purely campus-based, there would’ve been several “classes” I would’ve been unable to attend. On more than one occasion I was traveling for work or had a meeting directly before our 4-6 pm class, and was still able to “attend” via the webinar.
•    I think that there is a big difference between online and blended learning. While this blended learning had online components, the face-to-face, video lectures, and webinars really made a difference in the quality of interactions that took place. I would really like to take more blended learning courses myself.
•    Traveling makes a big difference. It is much more convenient to take an distance education course, even if there are synchronous meeting times required. I found that having the set time scheduled every week for the course, whether we met in person, online, or not at all helped to structure the course work.
•    I had never utilized Blackboard Collaborate which was a really interesting medium to hold virtual classes. After this experience, I would definitely consider enrolling in another online class. It was a great term and worked very well with the summer season. It proved to be an enriching experience.
•    The webinars were easy to use and was a nice way to work in groups without having to coordinate everyone’s schedules to meet in person. This type of schedule works perfectly, especially for the summer when people tend to travel more.

For me, the biggest disappointment had nothing to do with Collaborate, or even the blended delivery method. Unfortunately, the quality of the papers was disillusioning, to say the least. Of course there are a few papers that were excellent, and many that were at least a very good effort, but there were too many that were mediocre "gift" B/low B/even C+ range. One was so off the mark that I had asked him to revise it (with offer of incomplete).

Except in that student's case, their use of research was OK (if missing something obvious occasionally). But the writing, with the exception of the As -- was cringe worthy. Some even bordered on illiterate, and I don't mean only the nondegrees (in fact, two of them submitted a quality papers). I had to read sentences several times, out loud if I still couldn't comprehend the point. It took hours to review a (10 page) paper. I had hoped to read fascinating, insightful, thought-provoking things and write "deep" comments in response -- instead much time was spent deciphering mangled logic and making corrections to grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word choice.

Luckily, I used 30% peer assessment, which offset the bad papers enough so that I didn't have to give any final grades that will result in student appeals! I only got pushback from one student about the paper evaluations. If I teach the class again I will assign a two page paper early in the semesters to catch the bad writers and will distribute a checklist of common mistakes as well.

I’m working on getting ready for my Fall classes now, and to say I need some inspiration for my on campus foundations classes would be an understatement. I created a new reader, so that’s one change that will help. Today I was thinking about how to use Collaborate. Would it be a mistake? Will students be pissed, because I’d be repeating the folly of Spring 2008? (The classes aren’t graduate, aren’t summer classes, and students don’t know in advance?)

Monday, August 19, 2013

My summer grades are done! Yay! Now I have to get ready for the Fall semester. Where did the summer go?

Aside from my forgetting to turn on audio recording until minute 4:45 (duh), I was pleasantly surprised by how well the capture worked with the widescreen video cam at the last FTF class. Admittedly, the audio is a little difficult to decipher at times, but overall it is OK. The best part was that the video was available by the next afternoon!! This was important because three students had to leave class before the presentations were over. One student had informed me of his need to leave early before he registered, and two students had to leave because the presentation of the third team to ran twice as long as they were allocated (and I hate yanking students off the stage, even though I had a fantasy of the Gong Show). I figured, it’s summer, I didn’t require much seat time all semester, no biggie. But apparently some folks have other commitments. Go figure! Anyway, it was not an issue because the video worked out, yay.

I was a bit worried before class that the slideshows would be a hassle, as I was having a hard time loading four different files or URLs without wasting a lot of time, but using a combination of and application sharing, it worked like a charm. My feeling about the tool in general is that Collaborate is worthy of adoption by UA so that more faculty could utilize it in classes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Took a break from grading the final papers in my grad class to get my fall online foundations class ready (it goes live two weeks before the semester begins). About the papers...well, let's just say I feel a Nileston News coming on, and leave it at that.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Great column, will be useful in Toleration.

Grades submitted yesterday for one summer class, the other ends 8/16.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

I have not had a burning desire to write very much here. I think during the first half of the summer it was enough of a challenge to keep up with my work, even the much lighter workload of summer session. Now that my life has returned to something resembling normal (and Bob finished his vacation), I spent the first two days of this week power-working -- and got completely caught up! Yesterday I worked on my plants. The beans are coming, the cukes are in blossom, the flowers look OK overall. Sadly, the tomatoes are pathetic. My inattention, and the rainy spell in June have taken a toll. I hoped the intense heat & humidity would help, but it didn't. So I fussed with them yesterday, but I am not optimistic that this will be "a good year for tomatoes" (as Mimmie would say).

Weekend visitors in Samsonville, should be fun. Harry is doing well. It's already a harmonious group.