Monday, May 23, 2011

Tools for a hybrid class website

Life goes on. Prof Hacker (aka Professor Nicholas C. Martin) lists tools for a hybrid class website some of which I want to look into this summer and implement this fall (need more memory on the laptop first):


  1. Self-Guided Pre-Course Assessments: We wanted to provide a fun and relevant introduction to the course as well as learn more about the biases and backgrounds of our participants, so we created a module that asked our participants (1) how tech-savvy they were and (2) how optimistic or skeptical they were about the impact of technology in addressing social problems. Based on participants’ responses, the module recommended readings and multimedia that were specific to them (one to reinforce their position and one to challenge them to think differently). To build the module, we used a rapid e-learning authoring tool called Adobe Captivate. Some other popular programs for this kind of rapid authoring are Articulate and Lectora. Captivate is great for building interactive self-guided simulations and branching scenarios. Adobe Captivate outputs to Flash Media files, which can be a problem for older browsers. However, Adobe has just released a Flash to HTML5 converter, which should expand accessibility to browsers such as Google Chrome and Safari for mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone.
  2. Visual Maps of Readings and Other Multimedia: We also sought to find new ways to visualize course content (readings, videos, case studies). One tool we really like is called PearlTrees, a visual social bookmark and curation tool. We created our unit in PearlTrees by adding links to all the web-based readings, videos and articles for the course and then embedded it into our LMS. Seeing all the content in one space gave participants a better top-level understanding of the material and afforded them the flexibility to focus on the content they found most interesting, all without having to leave the class website. The students indicated they preferred using Pearltrees to access materials relative to the static .pdf syllabi found on traditional course support platforms.
  3. Zooming Presentations: To date, zooming presentation tools such as Prezi have primarily been used as PowerPoint alternatives because they allow for more engaging and non-linear navigation of content. We decided used Prezi to create a Case Study Library with six categories (Health, Education, etc.) to introduce our students to the tools organizations are using to address different elements of the peacebuilding and international development spectrum. We divided the class into small groups and had each group explore the profiles of three tools listed under each category. Our participants definitely enjoyed the non-linear navigation and integration of multimedia that Prezi provided, although the tool can be a bit buggy at times–particularly when trying to use the YouTube video embed feature. Hopefully we’ll begin to see some other tools competing in this space soon.
  4. Community Links and Bookmarks: Over the past few years as a classroom teacher, I’ve often lamented the fact that when participants share relevant web-based articles, organizations, or projects during discussions there is no way to capture them for others to revisit later. However, new tools for social bookmarking allow participants to share links and to add tags and descriptions to shared content. Our LMS had a built-in functionality for users to submit links and tag them, but other options include setting up a class Diigo account with one class username and password. If the majority of participants are already on Facebook and Twitter, other options include creating a dedicated course Facebook group to share content, or setting up a class hashtag (ex. #AU1234) for Twitter to categorize and easily reference all class tweets. (Read further ProfHacker reflections on teaching with social media.)
  5. Shared Whiteboarding and Mindmapping: Finally, we’ve also tested a number of interactive whiteboard and mindmapping tools. Some of our favorites include Corkboard.me, Edistorm, and Mindmeister. Before the course, we asked students via email to post what specific skills they wanted to gain from the course and what questions they had. They used Corkboard.me to capture and visualize their individual expectations and view comments from other students. In our first in-person meeting, we discussed the corkboard and used it as a framework for the remainder of the course. At the end of the class, we reviewed it to assess if all of the expectations had been addressed. Students greatly appreciated the ability to add input and shape the direction of the course. It also made our job easier as facilitators in making sure that we were aligned with student interests. One challenge to note is that it can be cumbersome to have students use a separate login account to access these tools. Corkboard.me does not require students to be logged in, but the drawback is that there is less accountability for posted content.

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