Monday, November 9, 2015

Dave Ghidiu

OLC 2015 - Wrap Up

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) hosted the 21st annual international conference in October. Situated at the Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, the conference welcomed 1,800 onsite attendees (with another 1,300 people virtually attending) from over twenty-six countries.

I think the best way to describe the conference is “immense”. There were over four hundred informational sessions (probably around twenty-five or thirty per session), along with dozens of discovery sessions happening in the vendor hall. I found that I was torn between five or six extremely appealing options every session.

Admittedly, I tend to be attracted to sessions that deal with emerging technologies, but there was something for everyone at this conference. The OLC conference is aimed at Instructional Designers, Distance Learning Directors, and faculty. While there were a few sessions dedicated to policy and administration, I think most of the sessions were a solid “where the rubber meets the road” mentality. I would strenuously recommend attending this conference in the future for faculty and staff that like to keep their thumbs on the pulse of higher ed and emerging technology.

A few of the sustained themes offered throughout the conference were open educational resources (OER), meaningful discussion forums, and gamification (although the trend seems to be avoiding “gamification” as a moniker and instead leveraging game dynamics in the classroom). Although all three of these have been on the radar of educators, it was refreshing to see multiple examples of how they are being implemented in online learning. Given the immensity of the conference, it was easy for attendees to gain multiple perspectives and implementation ideas for any particular technology.


The presenters were high caliber at OLC. Most of the presentations were a happy mix of theoretical framework and practical take-aways. The following highlight four of my favorite presentations. Note that the links will take you to the specific page at the OLC website that provides not only an abstract, but a link to the PowerPoint or PDF resources. A comprehensive list of the sessions can be found at the OLC conference website.

UODIT, No, You Do It: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Accessibility by John Raible and Nancy Swenson from the University of Central Florida

  • This work won an Effective Practice award, and deservedly so. UCF designed an add-on to their LMS, Canvas, that will walk through an entire course and check the content for accessibility. As far as I know, this is the most comprehensive solution I’ve seen to the accessibility problem that is plaguing higher education. UDOIT will provide a report that shows the faculty (or course designer) all the issues in the course, and provide them with ideas of ways to fix them. The best part is that the user does not need to go to each piece of content individually - they can remedy all the issues from one screen. Unfortunately, this software is only available in Canvas (although they published the code as open source, so hopefully someone will adapt it to Blackboard and Moodle).

Displays the report from running UDOIT in a course - aggregates all the accessibility issues and offers way to fix them.
Screenshot showing accessibility issues

How Game Dynamics (not Gamification) Will Save Higher Education by Kevin Bell from Northeastern University

  • Engaging and practical, this talk provided the participants with a fundamental understanding of some basic game dynamics as well as pathways and examples to introduce them into the classroom. The slideshow in the conference notes is good, but does not accurately reflect the potency of game dynamics. If this talk becomes available as a video (or if you have the opportunity to see Kevin Bell present), take advantage of it.

Instead of a steady climb up a hill on a bike, the path goes up, down a bit, up more, down a little, up even more, down just a little. Ultimately, the path gets to the top of the hill, but it's not a steady climb.
Games allow players to achieve a skill and then
practice with it before taking on another challenge

Opening Up Opportunities for Students and Faculty: A University Transitions to Open and Digital Resources by Jill Buban from OLC

  • Jill outlined the process she used to provide affordable alternatives to textbooks and course material that best meet the course and program outcomes. The process changed the OER strategy of the institution, and in one year went from only 18 courses to 324.

Cycle for implementing OERs
A continuous cycle for OER adoption

Get Ready for Your Close-up: Strategies for Creating Awesome Instructional Videos by Karen Costa from Southern New Hampshire University

  • Karen shared an incredible wealth of information for making videos. From software to storyboarding to sharing platforms to scripts, her talk was loaded with helpful, practical tips. There was a lot of participation from people in the room, offering up tips and software they found helpful. This talk was very engaging, and a great starting point for anyone who makes instructional videos.

These steps sum up the conversation in the presentation regarding the filming process:  1. No script, be real 2. Keep going, mistakes OK 3. High energy 4. Field trips
Karen's nomenclature is awesome


There were a few standout concepts and exemplary practices that were given prestigious awards this year. The “Best in Track” list is published on the OLC website, and offers links and abstracts to amazing presentations in each track.

This year, Alex Pickett assisted OLC in an effort to provide the first ever “Spanish Presentation per Concurrent Session”! This year also saw a devoted track to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Open SUNY COTE was presented with an Effective Practice award for OSCQR. The presentation that Kim Scalzo and Dave Ghidiu gave was an overview of Open SUNY and COTE, followed by a live demo of the OSCQR Rubric and Dashboard.

Awards lined up on the table


You should totally plan on attending next year! The conference really has something for everyone in distance learning. It’s a great look at new tools, applicable implementations, and practical guides. 

Plus, it’s in Florida - although I did not get out much because the conference is stacked with opportunities to network and learn. By the way, I ate the absolute best hamburger of my life while at the Swan and Dolphin. There’s a restaurant called “The Fountain”, and (in addition to the ice cream stand there) the Fountain Signature Burger was out of this world. I’m not even joking.

Mark your calendars for November 16-18, 2016 at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando. And if you run into any members of the planning team, be sure to congratulate them on a phenomenal job with the conference.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dave Ghidiu

The Best Piece of Advice I Can Give

Note: Yes, there is some really good advice in here, but you'll have to either suffer my ramblings for a few paragraphs or scroll down for a bit. 

I think that teachers unanimously agree that the two most popular questions are:

"What did I miss when I wasn't in class?"

"What's my grade?" 

Happily tools like Blackboard, Moodle and SchoolTool are have been developed to help make the learning process more personalized and portable for students. In the K12 realm, it even helps give parents some traction for their student's success.

But when I taught Computer Science, there was a much more annoying question. Something that plagued me - not because it was so annoyingly popular - but because it provided insight into the product of our educational system.

A question that, because it was asked with such frequency over so many years, leads me to conclude that it wasn't a specialized question that surfaced because of a particular language my students were learning, or a difficult topic that we were covering.

The question was:

"What would happen if I do this?"

When I first started hearing that question, I thought it was reasonable. After all, I was a Geometry teacher, and it's often a good idea to let students ponder and discuss the "what if's" in the world. Especially in Geometry, where it's hard to visualize different scenarios (happily, products like Geometer's Sketchpad, Geoboard, and GeoGebra have helped tremendously with visualization). 

But in a science class, "What would happen if I do this?" isn't a legitimate question. My response evolved into, "I don't know. Try it and find out".

Maybe it's because in Chemistry labs, it's not a good idea to let students pour all sorts of chemicals together. The experiment part of Chemistry should be controlled to some extent. Even in Physics, there's probably a cause for restraint.

Maybe it's because no one thinks Computer Science is a science. And (worse yet!), maybe we don't treat it as a science. Maybe it's more like a foreign language class, where students learn how to translate thoughts into another language.

Or maybe it's because schools don't let students play much. Maybe kids don't get to be kids these days. Maybe schools are so concerned with tests and evaluations, that it's often quicker to give kids the answer than it is to let them figure it out on their own.

I submit that Computer Science is probably the purest science that can be taught, because it is the only class where students can try whatever they want and risk nothing. Science - the systemic study of the world through probing and testing - isn't mimicked in Computer Science; science is enabled in Computer Science. 

There is no better representation of logic, planning, implementation, evaluation, and refining than Computer Science.

As long as students hit Ctrl + S every few minutes to save their work, there is no harm in trying things. The most sincere way of learning how to program (or do anything on a computer) is to try things and see what happens. That's how lessons are learned. That's how those networks between dendrites are formed. By probing. By extending. By telescoping. By seeing what works, and what doesn't.

Most of what I've learned on a computer falls into three categories:
  • Things I learned because I accidentally hit the wrong keys (for instance, in Excel I hit Ctrl + D instead of Ctrl + C and realized that it copies the contents of the cell directly above the cell you're in) [30%].

  • Things I learned because I just pressed a button, not knowing exactly what it did [40%].

  • Things I learned by Googling it [30%].

I would even venture to say that the mentality of clicking on things and pressing buttons is a good metaphor for life. Believe it or not, I have friends that can't use a screwdriver (not a powered one - I'm talking about the traditional hand tool). But they lack the confidence to try it out. They are afraid to try. Even when there is nothing to lose.

I guess my philosophy is, "What could go wrong?". Google isn't afraid to try new endeavors. They know that some of their ideas will fail. But at least they try. And they learn from their mistakes. Book publishers only make money on twenty percent of the books they publish. I don't think there is anything wrong with trying, and then failing. Maybe Computer Science gives students an opportunity to fail with no negative consequence. Heck, even raising your hand in class to volunteer an answer is risky - but sitting in front of your own computer with no one watching is as safe as it gets.

So, on to my piece of advice. I like to start and end every training (no matter what) with this:

"If you don't know what a button does, press it. You can't really do any harm. And if you press a button and break the computer, well, at least in this computer lab it isn't even your problem".

I find that sometimes people I'm training just need that reassurance. Maybe it's because in the days of Windows 3.1 and Apple IIe's, it was easy to screw things up. But not so much today.

The moral of the story? Every student should take Computer Science, and no one should be afraid to press buttons on a computer. There's very little that could go wrong.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dave Ghidiu

Believe What You Read

As I finish designing an online training for our faculty who are migrating to Blackboard, I'm reminded of a simple problem with a simple solution, although many people don't even know the problem exists (and what tools are available to fix it).

The problem is compliance

Compliance means that visitors of your website can consume it. For instance, for visitors with vision impairments, it is important to have alternative text with images so that screen readers can describe the image appropriately. For users that are hard of hearing and Deaf, videos should provide closed captioning.

Outside of education, compliance is a good thing to do. It makes your content more universally accepted.  

In the scope of education, however, this failure to comply could result in a lawsuit.

Happily, it is very easy to add captions to videos. There are free resources that make the job easy to do (Chromebook friendly, too!), and it is very simple to do.

Before we begin, check out this quick video (less than 40 seconds) with closed captioning (to enable the closed captioning, click on the "CC" button in the bottom right).

This video was made with the Screencastify extension (which automatically uploads to YouTube - check out my tutorial) and then captioned with the video editing tools in YouTube (did you know you can edit video right in YouTube?).

Here's how to do it:

Go to YouTube after uploading a video. In the upper right of the screen, click on the gear icon and choose "Video Manager".

Choose "Video Manager" from the gear drop-down in YouTube
Betcha didn't even know this was here.

Choose a video, and use the drop-down next to "Edit" to select "Captions". By the way, this is one of the ways to access the editing features (like video editor, enhancements, and music).

Choose "Captions" from the Edit menu
And I bet you really didn't know this was here.

Click on the "Add Captions" button, and choose "Transcribe and sync". 

Click "Add captions" to, well, add captions
Hit "Add captions" to, well, add captions.

YouTube has a feature that will play the video, and then stop playing when you start typing. This makes it easy to transcribe the whole video. There are even shortcut keys (SHIFT + LEFT to rewind and SHIFT + SPACE to pause and play).
Just type what you hear
This part of the process is very enjoyable if you like hearing yourself talk

What a video transcription looks like, before the sync

Dude. Hit the "Sync" button.

'N Sync.

Check that the captions are synced properly. Once YouTube is done crunching the captions, you can go back in and take a peek at them. Sometimes you'll need to manually tweak the time stamps (for when the text should appear or disappear).

Tweak the syncing if needed
Transcribing puppets is mentally taxing. They make up a lot of words.

So. That's it. If you host your video in YouTube, you're done. I usually plan on taking about three minutes to transcribe and tweak for every one minute of actual speaking. The process is very simple. And the return on your investment is immeasurable. 

If you want to read more nerdy stuff (about Camtasia, Ensemble, and converting .srt to .dxfp), read on. Otherwise, see you around.

I actually do most of my captioning in Camtasia (and the process is strikingly similar). Actually, one workflow change that I make is having the software "convert" my voice to text (there are a lot of errors, despite substantial calibration) and then fixing the errors. Both Camtasia and YouTube do this. And both let you export the closed caption tracks as .srt files, which can be converted to .dxfp using this free service at, and then uploaded into Ensemble (if you host video content there, you'll need to convert to .dfxp and change the extension to .xml). Ensemble only accepts .dxfp as an .xml file, so the conversion is necessary.

Ok. I'm really done nerding out now.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Dave Ghidiu

Playing With the Blogs - by Kenny Bloggins


Blogs are one of those things that have been around forever in the intertubes. Some blogs are great. Some blogs are awful. But blogs are empowering in that anyone can blog. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has opinions and perspective. Blogs - despite being one of the oldest modes of participative web technologies - are still one of the staples of internet conversation. The tools have gotten better, and we've (as a society) discovered more ways to enhance them and make them engaging. But I'm going to share a few tips and observations I've learned about blogging, and then in my next post, I'll furnish some examples of how to use blogs in education.

Use images.
Images certainly add visual appeal to a blog. But there are two other reasons why images should always be employed.

  1. Pinterest will only allow you to pin sites with images. If you don't have an image, you can't be pinned. And Pinterest is a beautiful way to promote your idea quickly.

  2. Regardless of how your blog is set up for viewing, it may look radically different on a mobile device. FringeEdTech looks just like a plain ole' blog when you visit it from a computer. But from a mobile device, it uses images. So I make sure to place a nice image in my blog.
How FringeEdTech resolves on a mobile device
Pictures appear, by default, in the mobile view.

Other things to keep in mind when using images:
  • Always use the alt text when using an image. This is the text that is read on screen readers for visually impaired readers. There are only a few ways to make a blog incompatible to all visitors, and this is one of them.

  • Credit photos when you use them. Google's advanced image search has a feature called "usage rights" that helps you find images with specific licenses (including free to use!). You will find some great stuff at the Creative Commons website.

  • If you want software to edit photos, I would certainly recommend Pixlr. It's a complete suite that has hardcore software known as Pixlr Editor (think Photoshop) as well as lightweight stuff like Pixlr Express for some nice filters and borders. The whole suite is free and plugs in to Google Drive. For a quick peek, check out the blog I posted in December of 2013.

  • I always center my images. I think it makes the page look better. While it's true that an image surrounded by text looks professional, that doesn't always translate well on mobile devices and certainly is problematic if you elect to publish your content in an eBook. The post I did on "mobile mentality" digs a bit deeper into this. 

  • For the same reason, I also prefer to have a border on all my images. Some blog platforms will allow you to put a border on the image, but there is no guarantee that when someone is reading your blog, the border will be there (because of RSS feeds and mobile viewers). So I always add a 2 pixel border on my images before I put them into the blog. Now I know my readers will enjoy the benefits of a border because it is part of the image. I use Pixlr Express, although PicMonkey does the job too (and also plugs in to Google Drive as well).

Test your blog.
And test it before you go live with it. I use Blogger, and there is a "Preview" function built in. Unfortunately, it does not show dynamic content (like photo sliders, videos, links etc.). For this reason, I have another blog set up in Blogger called "Diagnostic". Whenever I'm using content that the previewer won't render, I'll copy my entire post from FringeEdTech and paste it into the Diagnostic one (the Diagnostic blog is not listed, and I delete each post as soon as I'm done testing). The, I'll go "Incognito" ("Private Browsing", "InPrivate" - read my blog about private browsing if you want more information) and check all the links and embedded content to make sure they are functioning properly. Once I'm convinced, I'll delete the post from Diagnostic and publish it in FringeEdTech.

I try view my blog posts on a mobile device frequently. I have the Blogger app (which is not all that spectacular, although viewing my blog on it is the same as viewing it on a mobile device through the web browser). I also have the Glimpse extension in Chrome which gives me a perspective of the mobile version.

I also use the private browsing function whenever I test a link in my blog. I want to know it works for everyone, not just me.

Find the "sweet spot" for publishing.
There's a few different schools of thought about the best time to publish, but my friend (and fellow blogger) Erin publishes on Wednesdays. It makes sense to me, so I try to do that, too. I think Wednesdays or Thursdays are good, and I try to publish in the morning. I suspect that Mondays and Fridays are pretty busy, and who doesn't love some fresh, easy reading during the middle of the week. And I also try to announce a new posting via Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. I bet more people are listening in the morning than at nine in the evening.

Find your voice.
I like my blogs to be very conversational and playful. Since most of my blogs are explorations (and borderline tutorials), I like to have an inner monologue feel to the post. It takes time to figure out your voice, although it may come easier to you than it did to me. I feel like the evolution of many blogs are evident. There's usually a big difference between the first few blog posts and the most recent ones.

You should also consider what your blogging style is. I like to do one meaty blog a week. Sometimes it's just a diatribe, although most of the time I want the posts to be nice resource for people to come back to. One of my favorite blogs to read, Free Technology for Educators, has multiple posts a day. I don't know how Richard does it, but it's pretty awesome (you should also follow him on Twitter - not only do his tweets contain great tips, but I learned a lot about good tweeting just from watching him). 

As you find your voice, one thing is important - be reliable (see the "sweet spot" tip above). I read an article about Jenna Marbles, and it mentioned how she religiously posts a new video on YouTube every Wednesday. I like that for a few reasons. For starters, it is incentive to work on my blog (Wednesdays and Thursdays are manageable goals). Additionally, Jenna's fan base now has expectations. I bet if she missed one or two, her fans would forgive her. But sporadic posting leads to sporadic consumption. She has a fanatical fan base, and they have demands!

Also decide if you want to monetize. Many bloggers do - and that's great. Why shouldn't you be compensated for quality writing. Some of my blogs take upwards of nine or ten hours to create - time I could spend doing something else. So I understand why bloggers want to monetize their content. I, personally, don't monetize. That's just my preference. I tested it out, but it didn't really appeal to me. If my blogging is so profound and perfectly crafted, maybe someone will hire me to blog someday. That would be sweet

I've also read a few bios from bloggers disclosing affiliations, sponsorships, or advertising deals. I've never been in that position before, but I know that if I were affiliated with an organization or compensated by a company, I would certainly disclose that. You should definitely check out Jeff Jarvis' blog (pay attention to his disclosures). And if you haven't yet, I would highly recommend reading What Would Google Do?, a great book that Mr. Jarvis wrote. I'm not his primary audience (it's intended more for business owners), although I took away an awful lot from his anecdotes (especially regarding social media).

Think carefully about your layout.
There are hundreds of articles and blogs devoted to choosing your platform. I think two of the biggest are Blogger (I use it) and WordPress. I prefer Blogger because I thrive in the Google ecosystem, I am talented enough with HTML to do some swanky things, and because it's free. WordPress has more plugins and templates, but there are some people who don't have very good things to say about it.

I pay for the URL name (it's only about twelve dollars a year, so I can swing it). This way, I don't have to have the ".blogspot" in my URL. Twelve dollars is a small price to pay for a professional URL (of course, I also have other derivations like "FringedTech" just to catch people who type in the wrong URL).

Get a "favicon". That's the little icon that appears in your web browser (either in the search bar or the tabs). There's plenty of tutorials on how to create them (and add them to your blog). Currently, mine happens to be a shrunk down version of my logo. 

Example of "favicon"
My fave favicons

Don't go overboard with widgets. Widgets are the extra information on a blog (for instance, I have the "Popular Posts", "Blog Archive" and "Follow by Email" widgets). Sure, they are cool, but they can increase load time and make your site looking tacky. Be smart about which ones to add.

I stripped out the Blogger header and footer (the things that says "Powered by Blogger"). I thought my blog would look more professional. It's not hard to do - I just Googled it and found a solution that took sixty seconds. Just be sure that when editing the HTML for your site that you copy and paste the functioning code somewhere so that if you muck things up, you can always paste it back in.

Speaking of HTML, there is one trick that I like to do with numbers and bullets. I prefer spaces between each item. For instance,
  1. This is line one
  2. This is line two
  3. This is line three
is less appealing to me than:
  1. This is line one

  2. This is line two

  3. This is line three

All I did was add the <br /> tag in the HTML. Easy to do, and way prettier to look at.

Adding the <br /> tag
When you need a break...

Be a part of the blogosphere.
Being a blogger is good, but being a blogger that can engage other people and reference other bloggers is much better. There's "street cred" to be had. And it builds your fan base (and thus your exposure). Holly, a runner I know, has great engagement on her blog, FueledByLOLZ. She asks pointed questions and interacts with people who leave comments. It gives her readers a sense of ownership.

But more importantly, interact on other people's blogs. That will get you exposure to interaction as well as the opportunity to read some really great blogs. Or terrible blogs. When I was a student teacher in 1999, I had a really great supervising teacher and a really poor one. I learned an awful lot from the great one, but I learned just as much from the bad one (I learned what not to do). Reading blogs will give you perspective.

Get social.
I'm not even going to go into ways to become involved in social media, but I will tout the value of it. Use social media! Twitter is a great way to draw people to your blog from companies or products you reference in a tweet. Mention "Microsoft" in a tweet about your most recent blog about Publisher, and you'll be visible to the four and a half million people who follow Microsoft on Twitter.

I don't really promote myself on Facebook, although if I have a particularly relevant post that I think many of my Facebook friends will benefit from, I'll post them in my status. But in general, I don't like doing that. I suppose I could create a Facebook page for FringeEdTech, but I haven't yet. I also maintain a Pinterest board. One note about Pinterest - make sure you pin the URL that goes directly to your recent post, not just to the URL of your blog. 

I also love Google+. For me, Google+ is the best place for me to find more information about my passions and career. Google+ is a great venue for targeted, niche insight. Especially for me, as I love all things tech. So I make sure to post every time I publish a blog (Blogger will automatically prompt me for that anyhow).

One thing I do when I post a link to my blog is shorten the URL. I like TinyURL because it allows me to customize my new, shorter link. Sure, other services provide an even shorter link, but I can customize my link as It's free advertising! I can brand the link with my initials (FET).

Use pages.
Blogger and WordPress both offer you the ability to publish pages as well. Pages are merely venues for you to put content up that isn't a blog. I have a page for my biography and one for presentations I do (this is great advertising - whenever I do a presentation, I put all my content up on my blog. That way, I ensure that everyone there can access the material and I introduce them to my blog!).

You can hide pages, too. This means they aren't visible to viewers, but you can always access them directly by punching in the URL. I do that sometimes for things I want to share with certain people, but don't want to make public.

One last lesson about blogging - don't put as many links in one post as I just did. I went link crazy. But that's because I think there is a lot of valuable information that demands further exploration. So go explore!

That's everything I know about blogging. I hope there's something you can takeaway from this post. I'd be interested to hear how you use blogs in your classroom. Please also comment on tips that you have for bloggers!

If you do want to read some more quality blogging information, Richard Byrne also has a blog dedicated to people who want to increase their blogging efficacy. Check out WormsInTheFridge, but specifically The Secret to Successful Blogs and Making Time to Blog.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dave Ghidiu

Take me to Embed or Lose me Forever!

FringeEdTech is designed to help educators maximize the potential of existing technology - not necessarily the newest, latest, and greatest (although I did just order my Amazon Fire TV today!) toys. So today, I'm not talking about a sweet, shiny new thing. I'm talking about an old philosophy and technically easy idea to implement. 

I'm talking about embedding.

I work in the Office of Online Learning at the college I'm at, but that's a bit of a misnomer as faculty leverage our learning management system (LMS) to deliver content in face-to-face courses as well as hybrid and online. Using an LMS is great, even if it is just a repository to hold files (like a syllabus, handouts from the class, etc.). Most LMSs make it easy to administer assessments, collect assignments, and participate in discussion forums. Therefore, many of our faculty use our LMS (we currently use ANGEL, but we are in the middle of a migration to Blackboard - Moodle, CourseSites and EduOnGo are great systems, too). Even if you don't have access to an LMS, the following holds true for general websites, as well.

Overwhelmingly, I see a huge philosophical mistake when it comes to distributing files (for today, I'll use PowerPoint as a euphemism for any attachment). The easiest way to get a PowerPoint to students in an LMS is to attach them, but there are many reasons why it is better to embed the file. 

When a presentation is embedded in an LMS, it renders nicely. No extra clicking or downloading. Here is what it looks like in Blackboard when a student encounters an embedded presentation:

Embedding ensures a smooth, seamless educational experience
Yeah, this presentation makes subtle references to Harry Potter. Cistem Aperio!

Juxtapose that with attaching a file in ANGEL:

Attaching a file can cause great confusion for the student
DANGER WILL ROBINSON! The dreaded "Red Text Countdown" is ANGEL's defense mechanism to clarity.

In no particular order, here my compelling reasons why embedding is far superior than attaching files:

No need for external software
The best example of this is when Office 2007 rolled around and faculty were distributing .docx files to students who only had Office 2003 and couldn't open them. Shame on Microsoft for not addressing this sooner, but shame on faculty for not understanding this was an issue for their students. Even today, this is problematic. As more and more students consume content on mobile devices, it's hard to know if the user will be able to view attachments.

But more importantly, if you embed a Google Presentation (I'll use Google products in the discussion today, although OneDrive is a viable  - albeit inferior - substitute) in your LMS, students don' have to manage dozens of files for the semester. If you think poor file management is not an epidemic, look at the desktops of your colleagues and try to make sense of the files littered about. And I shudder to think about managing downloaded files where some are on my iPad, some on my phone, some on my desktop and some on my laptop.

Version control is not an issue, either. If I embed a Google Presentation today, but make changes to it next week, students will always have the most recent edition - this isn't true with attached files. I would have to redistribute the updated PowerPoint.

Students can assimilate content into their own cloud
In most institutions, students lose access to their courses when the semester ends. That's it. All the experiences in that class terminate. All the content is inaccessible.

If you use a cloud service to host your content, students can apprehend it into their own cloud (this is especially true for Google Drive). Generally speaking, it is easy to take an embedded Google Document and capture it into your own collection. While this may be a deterrent to some, I would posit that anything you put in your course can easily be apprehended by students; you can't protect your content (and the Instructional Designer in me asks why you would want to). More and more students are arriving at college already accustomed to Google Drive (thank you Google Apps for Education), and many colleges and universities are even adopting the Google platform.

Embedding Google Documents helps the student retain the information from their class for as long as they want.

Students don't leave the environment
When I was in fifth grade, Mr. Massa was reticent to have me leave the classroom and go to the bathroom (a sentiment many teachers share). There is a common fear that students will get distracted and either A) take some detours on the way back, or B) never come back. YouTube is the perfect example. Why would you link to a YouTube video when you can embed it? Giving a YouTube link to a student is like giving a one hundred dollar bill to a five year old in a candy shop - if they ever come back, they'll be exhausted, lost, and all hopped up on goofballs. We understand this; that's why YouTube makes it easy to embed videos and why most LMSs have tools built in to embed a YouTube video. 

The same is true with documents. Don't give students a wild goose chase; provide a clear, concise way to consume the information. This is the twenty first century! We should be able to embed content in lieu of attaching it. It's way more convenient for the student. It's all about encapsulating the experience so students don't need to go to other software to view documents that are made available to them. 

Faculty can modify content without being in the LMS
For me, this is the game changer. If I am sitting at JiffyLube, getting my oil changed and thinking about how I can tweak some content I posted in Blackboard, I might not be able to do it easily if the content resides in Blackboard. The Blackboard Mobile Learn app is geared towards students, and using the web interface from a mobile device to modify content isn't the easiest thing to do. And boy do I hate authenticating into Blackboard. 

Enter Google Drive. I can modify my content ridiculously easy from my mobile device, and the changes will propagate into my LMS (assuming I embedded the Google Documents) instantaneously. How awesome is that?

Easier to push out updated content
I alluded to this earlier, but this is such a potent idea that it is worth repeating. Content will never have to be redistributed. Let's imagine I teach five courses a semester. Even better - let's assume I'm an adjunct at three different colleges. If I have a document, say a PDF that has a brief biography of me, as well as contact information and how I can be reached, and I distribute it on day one, it's in everybody's hands. Now, let's say something changes and I need to modify it. Hey, these things happen. Well, now I have to modify it and push it out to three different systems. However, if I had designed it in a Google Document and embedded it (even better - published it ), then I can instantaneously push the changes out to all instances of where that one document resides.

This is especially handy if you have multiple venues where your content is accessible. But let's face it, if you build content into your LMS the old fashioned way, you might find out down the road (if you teach at another institution with a different LMS or your current institution elects to use a different LMS) that the content might not transfer well. You'd be insulated from this if you choose to embed your content (because the HTML code for embedding tends to translate from LMS to LMS).

Productive cloud software is more collaborative than most LMSs
Blackboard, ANGEL, Moodle, and many of the other learning management systems are great. They do a wonderful job of managing learning. But they were not built to be collaborative. The next generation of LMSs have a more collaborative flavor, but really still lack the collaborative tools that other platforms have. 

On the other hand, Google Drive and OneDrive were built with collaboration as the focal point. So it seems to be a no-brainer - use the framework of the LMS to organize the information, and embed the really collaborative tools like Google Documents. Most students probably will not even recognize that an embedded document is not native to the LMS.

An decidedly beneficial byproduct of using the model of embedding is the collaboration that is opened to faculty. Sure, ANGEL has LORs and Blackboard has Content Collections, but neither one of those mechanisms are truly easy to use for faculty collaboration. It is very limiting. Once you start using Google Drive (or OneDrive), then it instantly becomes a lot easier to start collaborating.

Automatic backups
Again, there are features in ANGEL and Blackboard to back courses up. The system administrator might even have scripts to do that for you automatically. Where I work, every Friday we automatically backup any ANGEL course that has been accessed in the past ten days. There is a sense of safety there, but that doesn't preclude catastrophes from happening.

Google Drive will backup every single change made to any document (with the ability to revert to any particular version). And that happens with no extra effort from you. So whereas content created in an LMS may or may not be backed up reliably, all content in Google Drive (and OneDrive) are always saved.

With all this said, there is one extremely important thing you need to know - to enable the content such that anyone can view it - not just Google Drive or OneDrive account holders, you have to change the permissions. Roughly speaking, you typically want "Anyone with the link" to be able to view (or comment, or edit) a document.

If you don't like HTML code, or you are not familiar with sharing in cloud services, then come back on May 15th to get a free book on embedding in the framework of an LMS. An intrepid librarian and I have joined to create an OER book that covers the rationale (and the mechanics) of embedding within an LMS and LibGuides. You can see our work in progress here, but come back in mid May for a truly spectacular show.

I'd like to close by briefly outlining why I prefer Google Drive over OneDrive. I think there are three distinct advantages to Google Drive:

  1. Google Drive is much easier to edit on mobile devices. OneDrive requires extra software and subscriptions whereas Google Drive is free and encapsulated in one clean, concise app.

  2. Sharing on OneDrive is less intuitive and harder than Google Drive.

  3. Embedding a OneDrive product into an LMS is risky because it is easy for students to leave the LMS (engaging full screen mode on an embedded PowerPoint opens another tab with the document in OneDrive). Google Drive does not hijack the browser.

So, that's it. I am fully aware that the topic of embedding might seem daunting or technically too complex, but I assure you that if you can copy and paste, you have the requisite skill set to embed anything.

I am also fully aware that some of the concepts I've presented today might be a little polarizing in the tech geek world. But That's why there is the ability to engage in conversation! I would love to hear what people have to say (I do not, by any means, presume that my ideas are the best presentation methods). I do stand by my assertion that Google Drive is a better alternative than OneDrive for embedding content, though! 

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Extra points to the first person who can attribute the movie that the title of this post is based on.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dave Ghidiu

ScreenCastify Me!

I love recording my screen. I love it. It's an extraordinarily potent way to asynchronously teach and demonstrate . Whether you are creating lessons for a flipped learning experience or you are making tutorials be able to capture action on your monitor, screencasting is an integral part of education now

I submit that TechSmith's Camtasia is the industry standard for educators. It is very reasonably priced, and provides a complete solution. Their lightweight version, Jing, is great for quick screencasting. I use Screencast-o-Matic occasionally, as it is quicker (but offers less flexibility). It's a moot point though, on a Chromebook, as none of those tools will work (they require either installation or Java). It's also a moot point if you just prefer to live in the cloudAs tools for cloud productivity increase, we've been holding out for the silver bullet to screencasting. Technically, it's been around for a while in the form of Google Hangouts and screen sharing, but the process is cumbersome. 

A few weeks ago, Richard Byrne blogged about the three ways to screencast in a recent post. I like a lot of what he said. He reviews the pros and cons of different screencasting solutions, but I wanted to dive a bit deeper into what I believe to be one of the most seamless solutions.

ScreenCastify is an extension in Chrome, and it's pretty slick. It works out-of-the-box, is ridiculously easy to use, integrates with Google Drive, and is free! I'm not saying I wouldn't ever use Camtasia, Jing, or the like. I'm saying that there is a trade-off. Heavy weight software like Camtasia affords you more options (like professional editing, for example). ScreenCastify does not. I don't think that's a bad thing - it's just a different tool. For professional grade tutorials, I'd probably use Camtasia. But for most of what I do, I think ScreenCastify is perfect.

To get started, go to the Chrome web store and search for ScreenCastify (or click here).

ScreenCastify in the Chrome Store
A few clicks away from awesomeness.

Install it. It's harmless.

Permissions for ScreenCastify
Loving their logo.

When you click the icon in the Extension Bar in Chrome, a menu will drop down. Here's the important part - the default options really should be tweaked to optimize productivity. 

Modifying the options
The default options should be tweaked. A lot.

Things to consider:
  • This menu allows you record the entire desktop (instead of just the current tab) which is a good option if you plan on using multiple tabs (although this is experimental right now and on a traditional computer - not a Chromebook - requires a modification in your settings for Chrome).

  • You should probably change the "Target frame rate". Ten FPS (frames per second) is very laggy. You can up it to 25 (which is pretty dang good). 

  • You can also elect to record the cursor (which is the default, but is only an option when recording one tab - not the whole desktop).

  • Consider if you want the audio to be captured from the tab that is being recorded or from the microphone.

  • Also, decide if you want to embed the webcam video in the bottom-right corner or not (by default, this isn't selected). The Instructional Designer in me endorses this practice, as it humanizes the lesson that is being captured.   
Not on this screen, however, is another setting that should be tweaked. Right click on the ScreenCastify icon in the Extension Bar, click on "Options". Alternatively, click on the "Extension Options" link at the bottom of the menu that appears if you left click on the ScreenCastify icon.

Accessing one more option screen in ScreenCastify
See all of those extensions? That's what PRODUCTIVITY looks like!

By default, ScreenCastify will publish any video to your YouTube account with a "Public" setting. I recommend changing the setting to "Private". It can be changed later if you want to share it (I usually choose "Unlisted" (which is the same as sharing files in Google Drive by "Link only"), and then embed the video where I want it to be seen). The problem is that if a video is published on YouTube and it isn't private, subscribers will get a notification (which is not desirable if you aren't quite done with the video, or if the content isn't aligned with your normal video posting habits).

Important options for YouTube!
I know how you like options, so I have options for your options

That's it. You're ready to go. Whenever you want to capture the screen, just click the ScreenCastify icon in the Extension Bar. Hit the "Start Recording" button, and make a video!

I find it easier to use the keyboard shortcuts, as they eliminate the need to navigate menus with your cursor when recording. Access this menu by clicking on the "Extension Options" link on the ScreenCastify menu, or by managing the extensions via Chrome.

Keyboard shortcuts
Control + Shift + S = ScreenCastifying like a BOSS.

A few tips for screencasting:
  • If you plan to type while making the video, be aware that most embedded microphones will pick up the clack of the keys. You may be better off using an external microphone that is close to your mouth, or a quiet keyboard. I like to use a USB keyboard and move it as far away from my microphone as possible. 

  • Experiment first. Don't try to do a six or seven minute clip right off the bat. Get used to the tools. Watch the videos you make. Learn from those experiences. 

  • With photos, it's easy to correct a bad photo with software. Audio is a different story. If you don't start with good audio, you will not be able to enhance it easily. I'd recommend investing in a good microphone if you intend to do a lot of screencasts. You might even consider a "pop filter" to help reduce the "puh" noises from words with a "p" in them. 

  • It's okay to make mistakes. It's human. I think that making small jokes, clicking on the wrong thing once or twice is okay. People trip over words in a face-to-face class, so why should it be different for an online video? Videos that have personality and shy away from the sterile environment of a robotic presentation are engaging. Embrace that!

  • As mentioned earlier, think about including your face in the lower corner (captured from a webcam) when making the video. This personal touch has been proven to help students feel like they are part of an individualized experience. Just be aware that you won't see the rectangle in the lower corner as you are recording, so be aware that content on the screen in that region may be obscured by the video of your face.

  • I also mentioned this earlier - use shortcuts! It will help keep your presentation on point (you won't be flinging the cursor all over the place trying to click on the start/stop functions). You can also pause the recording with the keyboard shortcuts.

  • If you are using a Chromebook and recording the whole desktop, hide the Shelf (analogous to the Taskbar in Windows or the Dock on a Mac). Otherwise, if you have the video stream from your webcam included, it will look odd as the webcam rectangle is a bit transparent and will be distracting as it goes over both the screen and the Shelf.

  • Have a script prepared. Or at the very least, have an outline. If you don't know exactly what to say, it will be evident. You don't want to appear unprofessional.

  • Film with good lighting. For me, it's easier to get good lighting during the day. But I can make do at night in a well lit room. I usually use the onboard camera to check the framing before I start recording.

  • Be conservative with hand gestures in the webcam. It can be distracting. One unfortunate byproduct is that webcams can sometimes distort scale, so in the video I demo here, it looks like I have freakishly large hands (admittedly, they are large - just not freakishly over sized).

That's it! You can go out and record your own screencast now. Don't be afraid. Poke. Prod. Figure it out. But know that Screencastify gives you immediate access to a cloud based solution for screencasting. Go out and have fun.

If you have any questions or comments, make a screencast that clearly articulates your concerns, and send me the link!
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