Category Archives: Weekly Writing

Teaching Philosophy as Welcome Letter

I wrote a teaching philosophy back in 2009 and this class presented a great opportunity to revise it and reflect on how my pedagogy has changed since then. Some of the wording remains the same, while a new paragraph emerged because of the literature I’ve read this semester. I really liked the idea described on iTeachU of the Welcome Letter, so I tried something new and wrote my teaching philosophy as if I were writing to my students, instead of a hiring committee.


To help you learn more about the course and what to expect this semester, I’d like to start by telling you more about myself. A key objective of my teaching is building and maintaining a sense of self-efficacy in our classroom. To accomplish this, I need you to understand that I believe in you. More importantly, the skills-based assignments are designed so that you come to believe in yourself. I follow the maxim that the greatest competition in life is against one’s self. Think of me as a coach. I’m here to help you discover that you are capable of what I ask in this class, and encourage you to set goals that tie in to what you want for your future. Sometimes it will be a long process of small steps. But if you believe that you can be an effective speaker in my speech class, it is then easier to become an effective speaker outside of class.

I feel fortunate to have the experience of teaching skills courses. In my view, learning how to manage your relationships, work in groups, and give presentations helps you believe in the power of self-presentation. In teaching these communication concepts and terms, I am offering you the chance to develop a more precise language for your experiences. When you learn the language for something, you begin to conceptualize it more completely. To aid that conceptualization process, I make an effort to help students set objectives and track improvements. I also track your progress by collecting mid-semester feedback in order to adjust the course as we go along.   For example, many students have indicated that they find quiz games an entertaining memory aid, so I adapted a slide version of Jeopardy! to help them build team spirit in groups as well as actively review course material.

The objectives I set and the activities I choose are guided by theories of learning that emphasize learning at multiple levels in both cognitive and interpersonal arenas. That means I will challenge you to go beyond recalling vocabulary and thinking of hypothetical examples. You will integrate research-based concepts and best practices to generate original speech outlines and visual aids, and will present them live to an audience. In addition, we will always be mindful of the human element of the communication process. Perspective-taking and considering diverse needs is important to bring context to the class.

In this communication course, you will practice how to explain your craft, support your positions, and express your passions. I am humbled by the responsibility of fostering that expression, and the activities I conduct in class are geared toward maintaining a supportive environment for it. The first rule on the policy statement for all classes I teach is about respect. Although you are learning for yourself, you also are learning with others. Peers provide an invaluable resource as each of you builds self-efficacy in a community of knowledge-seekers. It is my hope that if we believe in each other, that support will help us continue to rise to new challenges.


Fink, L. D. (2013).  Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing

college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 University of Alaska Fairbanks. (2014). iTeachU- Welcome Letters. Retrieved from


Extended review of Skitch, Moodle and Mango

Here is my follow up on initial impressions of three web-based learning tools.

Mango is a language-learning platform. The free version is limited. Mango claims that it is better than other programs because it is utility focused: “Mango teaches through examples like ‘What time are they arriving?’ instead of much less useful phrases like ‘The dog is under the table.'” I have to disagree. Learning how to say a dog is under something or a parrot is flying above something are both key concepts (under and over) just like other directional words, foundational in any language. Mango’s focus on “intuitive and contextual” language learning assumes that the contexts they provide are relevant to whomever signs on to the class. The context of  Tom trying to party with Rosa wasn’t working for me. As I mentioned last time, there are some good interactive elements like being able to record your own pronunciations and compare them to the native speaker. However, I don’t find the free version of this tool robust enough to use it as part of classroom assignments.

Skitch is a creative tool that allows people to manipulate photos and screenshots. I can see it being useful for assignments like having students critique digital images, or make a collage that represents their understanding. I attached an example of how I could use it in the classroom to highlight certain aspects of sample visual aids. Skitch allows you to add arrows, commentary, pixellation and more in a variety of styles. I am not an EndNote user so I was not able to test Skitch’s integration with that particular organizational tool.


Lastly, Moodle is an alternative to content managment systems like Blackboard. You can host online course material in Moodle, an open-source platform. I thought I had found a simple download link for the free version at and opened version 2.8.1. Unfortunately the first link offered is if you have your own server, which I didn’t realize. I also didn’t appreciate the extra “junk” that the program tried to install, attached to a VLC media player download I didn’t realize wasn’t the main file. I had to click “decline” on several “browser enhancers” including one that BullGuard automatically blocked for me as a potential virus/spyware.

After all that, I finally sought help from my husband John, the resident IT person in my house who found the right download link for my PC. Make sure you click on the one that’s labeled for people who don’t have their own server. Sadly, as the screenshot shows below, I still wasn’t able to get very far. John used to work for SERRC and provided support for their Moodle. He said it was a nightmare due to coding issues back in 2008, and apparently not much has changed. So, I have to give Moodle a thumbs down for newbie accessibility. If you want to see what it can do, here is a sample course page you can check out since I wan’t able to make my own. It is appropriately themed “New to Moodle” at


Online Pedagogy: Personal philosophy — Bob

Often times we are significantly formed by negative role models — positively.   I mean, that we define ourselves positively in opposition to bad, weak or shabby experiences.   For me K-12 was a shabby, at best, series of experiences.   Fortunately, college and then graduate school were valuable and positive experiences — that I attended was a stroke of luck as I had written the whole of formal education off.   However, in being self-reflective of that disparity my early thinking about a philosophy of pedagogy was susceptible to radical theorists.   So for example:

  • Dennison, G. (1999). The Lives of Children:   The Story of the First Street School: Heinemann.
  • Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (2nd ed.): Vintage.
  • Illich, I. (2000). Deschooling Society: Marion Boyars Publisher.

The physical site of schooling and the unnecessary connection between teaching and learning, or more explicitly the priority of teaching the  sub-texts, order and discipline, over content and learner, are at the heart of these critiques.   Moreover, in my early phase of theorizing about schooling, teaching and learning these were liberatory insights.   I needed to swing to the extreme as a process of healing to correct  my feelings of shabbiness.   However, one cannot long operate at extremes.   Gradually, additional thinkers softened and complicated these notions:

  • Bateson, G. (1972b). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Schumacher, J. A. (1989). Human Posture: The Nature of Inquiry. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Wigginton, E. (1985). Sometimes a Shining Moment: The Foxfire Experience. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

All of these thinkers explore ways to be radical, thoughtful, and engaged in auditing their organization, even as they practiced their professions within that organization.   Through these and my own positive experience in higher education, I could imagine myself a teacher in this venue.   I even started a PhD program, ill-timed and so unfinished, I had to make my peace with earning a living to contribute to my family.   This, although at the time like a door closing, was actually another fortuitous turn in my professional life.   I started taking business and IT classes — a seeming radical turn from the libertarian, and philosophical leanings.   Yet, in truth, communication and leadership were the skills and interests that developed in this turn — very practical applications of the theories leading up to this moment.   In the latter part of those courses, I took some online classes and found a learning environment with which I resonated.   The, architecture of the classroom was ruptured (no sitting in ranks and rows) and the tyranny of the clock, gone (I could spend hours on interesting material and minutes on uninteresting).   Self-motivated learners were rewarded (or conversely the unmotivated weeded themselves out).   Pace was personally dictated (faster, and more being my preferred approach).   Interaction with other learners was by choice (at least far more than in the classroom).   Professors who realized that they were not in control and so instead became facilitators and coaches supporting my learning.   The timing is fortuitous for me as I see one more re-invention of my professional self, one more push before retirement.   Tied to that is my laser like desire to return to Alaska, my time as an undergraduate in Sitka — well like a salmon returning to the river of origin — it has always been my horizon.

Online Pedagogy is a new enough set of concepts, to me, that I do not yet have a defined set of categories.   Therefore, my vague set of categories:   I am fascinated by learning communities, by augmented reality, and gaming (both a model for inquiry, and fun thing to do).   In the specific context of Alaska, I see online learning as having a very important role in cultural preservation and transmission for Alaska Natives — it is a way to cross generations and locations.   I am interested in alternative forms of certification, the high school diploma, the BA, MA, instead of standing on their own are part of a wider set of credentials informed in part by real life (parenting should damn well count for some credentialing).   Another fascination aspect of online instruction is the creation of teams to do the work that used to be done by the “sage on the stage.’

Learning Communities:

I find the example of these provided by the surfer’s learning community described in earlier post to be deeply satisfying.  I love it because it reminds me of the Temporary Autonomous Zones    celebrated by Hakim Bey in the mid-80’s.  A relapse to my anarchist roots, timely as we have just survived an episode of higher educations self- reflexive bitterness.  For years I have subscribed to the mission of higher education only to be burned by the privilege of the tenured.  And here we get to the heart of why I love the story about surfers’ learning communities in YouTube, along with a host of other specialized skills, none of the cost (financial and spiritual) and all of the benefits and we do it ourselves.  I no longer buy, under questioned, the value of tenure track academics.

The TAZ is an encampment of guerilla ontologists: strike and run away. Keep moving the entire tribe, even if it’s only data in the Web. The TAZ must be capable of defense; but both the “strike” and the “defense” should, if possible, evade the violence of the State, which is no longer a meaningful violence. The strike is made at structures of control, essentially at ideas; the defense is “invisibility,” a martial art, and “invulnerability”–an “occult” art within the martial arts. The “nomadic war machine” conquers without being noticed and moves on before the map can be adjusted. As to the future–Only the autonomous can plan autonomy, organize for it, create it. It’s a bootstrap operation. The first step is somewhat akin to satori–the realization that the TAZ begins with a simple act of realization.

I love that our text for the course is so completely focused on learners and learning outcomes.  It is not about being in need of teaching rather we share the need for learning and only rarely is teaching the way to fill that need.  Indeed let me appropriate Bey’s musing:

The {learning}  is an encampment of guerilla ontologists: strike and run away. Keep moving the entire tribe, even if it’s only data in the Web. The {learning} must be capable of defense; but both the “strike” and the “defense” should, if possible, evade the violence of the State, which is no longer a meaningful violence. The strike is made at structures of control, essentially at ideas; the defense is “invisibility,” a martial art, and “invulnerability”–an “occult” art within the martial arts. The “{learning}” conquers without being noticed and moves on before the map can be adjusted. As to the future–Only the autonomous can plan autonomy, organize for it, create it. {Learning} is  a bootstrap operation. The first step is somewhat akin to satori–the realization that {learning}  begins with a simple act of realization.

It is important to remember that Bey was writing this at the dawn of the internet.  Yet he saw the parallels between pirate communities in the Caribbean and life online.  Certainly the internet feels a lot more like the Las Vegas strip these days, but, one can still find biker bars, so to speak, and wilderness.

Gamification:  serious play, flight and surgical simulations

I wrote a masters thesis once upon a time and there I celebrated the seriousness of play.  I urged the point that we are playing for our very lives.  Since it is unpublished you will have to believe me and accordingly  I will not bother to quote myself.  I have time and again raised the matter of skills along with knowledge and motivation.  Some of these simulations are an amazing opportunity to create skills without the price tag of real failure.  Flight simulations, combat simulations, are examples from the military and the airlines.  But, we hear as well about surgeons in a distant city using 3D printers to create an image of a damaged organ from which they create a strategy for surgery.  We raise eyebrows as our children spend hours perfecting fingering combinations on a game controller — but it is no stretch of imagination to see delicate tasks virtually and robotically augmented and controlled through… game controllers since they are familiar.

But this is only a part of what I mean.  I do not want to forget the giggle and rapture of discovery, of halting success.  Jumping rope, skipping stones, sandlot baseball, singing, and sometimes just messing around — how do we remember that and capture it and inject it into our classroom?  Part of it is certainly starting with the learner as sacred and central, but, that is not all of it…. Fun, discovery, invention, improvisation are fundamentally human just as learning is fundamentally human.  How can I in my role of “teacher” remember myself as having fun too, as learner too?  Is there a way to drag the state mandated learning outcomes into the rough and tumble of life — to make them authentic again, so that learners see themselves in them?

Resisting Cultural Extinction:  Cultural Preservation and Transmission through online learning

There is an irony (perhaps ironies) in making the connection between cultural preservation and online learning.  Life on the internet is virtual and representative of altogether different activities in the flesh and blood world.  Native cultures are very aware of starvation yet many of us online merely have to brush the Cheeto crumbs from our neck beards.  A picture is worth many words (some adult language, long and graphic illustration of processing food):

I love the Cree family processing Goose, the radio playing oldies in the background, I love the busting of chops as his Mom corrects his sloppy job (notice in the comments folks telling him to listen to his Mother) so many cultural values reinforced, even if unintentionally and by non-natives .  I love that the conversation switches between Cree and English.  I learned (but not practiced), from this how to pluck and bone a goose (though I have processed chickens, ducks and turkeys, never geese) and I was fascinated to watch the transition of cultural knowledge across generation — and so much laughter.  The next step might be to make a VR where I practice what I have learned.  And we see video conversations frequently on YouTube and native communities (though perhaps not constrained by ethnicity).  Indeed:

So between these two videos I have points of comparison between hunting and gathering practices and across cultures.  So in the classroom we can explore this theoretically through concepts of anthropology or history.  We can explore it as practical activity and process our own food.  We can share it with elders and create conversations.   I also see getting people to play with their food as a subversive activity in this age of mass produced and processed food.  For me  this at the heart of what I am relevating in this post  — this is Online Pedagogy.  To whit our jobs are more and more to help learners refine their art and inspire them to lifelong learning.

Final Project: Rational and Method — Bob

I suspect that most academic libraries struggle with similar problems, limited permanent staff, multiple locations, extensive hours of operation, and many part-time student employees with frequent turnover, and schedules that do not overlap with supervisors.   The work consists of customer service, technology support, providing directions, basic research assistance, and building security.   Our part-time employees consist of traditional age undergraduate students.   Colby is a highly selective liberal arts college — accordingly our talent pool is a good one.   However, these young adults have little previous job experience, and while they have good work ethic developed in schoolwork and sports they often struggle to transfer that to the workplace.   While we have tried hard to make “workplace expectations’ more transparent we still have more work to do in this area.   One way to do this is to move a portion of our training to our Learning Management System.

Online instruction and e-Learning tools are increasingly being used in the academic setting for faculty to deliver course content; however, most libraries have yet to apply the advantages offered by these tools to employee training. This case study from the University of Arizona Libraries (UAL) presents the challenges of sustaining traditional training approaches and the steps to develop an online training program, including identifying specific competencies needed to create effective online training, an approach to prioritizing where to start your program, and requirements for training platform selection. (See and Teetor 2014)

Therefore, the project for this course is to create a blended learning environment for our training purposes.   While online presentation is important, what is really at stake is creating a multiplier effect that significantly increases our training contact hours with our employees while not increasing the number of our supervisory staff nor significantly increasing their workload.   An important technique is creating a “flipped workplace’ so to speak.   The Flipped Learning network website offers a straightforward definition on their homepage.   “Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.’   There is however, the question of how much content and what type of content moves to the “individual learning space.’   Likewise, what are the expectations, and motivations, and reasonable limits to pushing workplace training into the “individual learning space’?

Since the workplace already consists of a “dynamic, interactive learning environment’, there is an inherent logic to this configuration of employee training.   “Transformative learning involves ‘reflectively transforming the beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and emotional reactions that constitute our meaning schemes or transforming our meaning perspectives’ (Ally 2008).   In the case of our professional demeanor unit, the question becomes — what behaviors, performances, or changes in performance and behavior would convince me that learning occurred because of employee’s interaction with the resources in the unit?

In this unit, employees learn skills and practices of workplace professional demeanor.  First, what do we mean by “professional demeanor’?   A definition of “demeanor’ lists, conduct, behavior, appearance, and deportment as key elements — we modify that by setting it in the professional circumstance.   Really, these skills and knowledge are assumed in many workplaces but we have learned over years that we cannot assume this; we have to make these expectations explicit.   Therefore, this unit will cover:

  • library mission, vision and values,
  • work ethic,
  • workplace appearance,
  • basic workplace communication
    • phone
    • written
  • basic customer service

The selection of Moodle for a presentation format is because it is the college’s LMS.   Alas, I cannot simply link to this presentation as it is behind Colby’s security protocols.   So instead I have provided a screen-cast “tour’ of the unit, linked here.
Where Moodle is Colby’s LMS, our student employees are already familiar with it.   The use of our existing online training/reference manual linked from within the LMS creates a feedback loop for our employees reinforcing our instructions to use this resource as they try to answer customer questions or engage in review to reinforce training.   The use of “question and answer’ forums is also an important tool within the LMS.   Specifically this type of forum requires a participant to post before they can see co-workers posting.   I am hopeful this will help us avoid superficial engagement, for example, “I agree with Sally.’   Another tool used in this unit is this because of our campus subscription to this resource.   Leveraging this reduces the amount of content we have to create from scratch.   Certainly, there are costs and benefits to outsourcing training in this way.   We will seek feedback to understand these tradeoffs.   We will pilot the content with our seniors this year.   From this, we learn about the usefulness of the content and about the assignments themselves.   Indeed one possible scenario is after our seniors “take the course’ we give them the keys to the kingdom, give them “teacher’ status, and ask them to help us re-write the weak sections.   We will also implicitly certify that they do not leave us without exposure to these key workplace skills/knowledge.

A recurrent question both from my direct reports and from the instructor of this class has to do with — what gives us some teeth?   — “teeth,’ meaning both requiring participation and assessing learning outcomes.   One way to give the online instruction “teeth’ is for me as the Assistant Director of Customer Service and Administration to be the main instructor.   Another is to grade the course like a graduate course, A, B, F.   This has some logic because although this grade will not show on their transcript “grading’ is an experience this demographic is familiar with and driven by.   Once we have all employees, returning and new hires, through the training the number of participants will drop to between six and twelve.   Frequency will be at the start of fall and spring semester.   One element of this is simple participation — does the employee do what is asked?   If they refuse to participate, they are showing a withdrawal from the workplace much like absenteeism.   Absenteeism is addressed, though progressive disciplinary procedures.   Probably, I might weight non-participation in online instruction differently from missing several shifts, none-the-less both are unacceptable behavior and addressed with the same protocol.   Additionally, each year employees receive evaluations.   One aspect of this is participation is training.   Our move into the online environment simply provides one more piece of evidence for these conversations.

I see two opportunities for assessment.   First is in the LMS as they work through the assignments; second in the workplace as they do their work.   I care most about their demonstration of learning in the workplace.   I think that constructivist theories are also important in thinking about the learning we are encouraging and our assessment.

Inquiry and community were at the  core of John Dewey’s educational philosophy and  practice. Dewey (1959) believed that an educational experience must fuse the interests of the individual and society,  that individual development was dependent upon  community.  He  believed the essence of community was the organic fusion of the public and our private worlds. He also believed that the process of inquiry  went to the heart of the  educative experience. For  Dewey, inquiry involved the generalization  of the scientific method to practical problem solving and worthwhile learning. It defined the relationship between thought and action. For Dewey, inquiry was also an essentially social activity.  Dewey believed that through collaboration that respected the individual, students would assume responsibility to actively construct and confirm meaning. It is this collaborative constructivist approach that is worthy of further exploration in online learning. (Swan 2009)

This online presentation creates a site for community and practice of peer feedback.   This is important in all workplaces simply because learning occurs at all levels of the organization.   If this learning is not shared, the organization is vulnerable.   However, it is very difficult to create a culture of trust and respect in the workplace.   There is no single right answer to creating trust and respect just many approximations.   I hope that forum discussions in the LMS about shared learning can be part of these approximations.   Another element of using the forums as a public display of learning and requiring peer-to-peer commenting is practice with accountability (“teeth,’ as it were) to each other, not just to the supervisor.

Regarding the mission, vision and values section, I am looking for employees to understand themselves as part of a larger organization and part of an important mission.   Another aim for this section is to create some context for our work.   I think such understanding makes the work meaningful rather than rote.   Regarding the work ethic unit there are specific behaviors that could change because of this learning, for example, timesheets completed with greater accuracy and timeliness.     This section as drafted has eleven learning outcomes hence our hopes for it is significant (in truth, some of these outcomes may have to move to other instructional activities).   Some of this is about reliability creating trust and respect between employees.   Some of it is about accountability creating self-awareness about performance and knowledge in the workplace.   Finally, some of it is about choosing to do the right thing in the workplace.   Regarding the appearance section, first, we are not requiring a particular dress code instead, rather we are suggesting one, by setting the mark for business casual, we will likely achieve smart casual.   That said assessment could be defined in behavioristic terms — that is if we see employees more frequently in appropriate clothing and less frequently in inappropriate clothing then we have achieved a change in behavior.   For our purposes in the workplace that could be enough.   Finally, all of these issues and matters pertain to the last section about workplace communication.   If we have done a better job of creating knowledge, we will see among some of our employees an improvement in how they answer the phone and transfer the calls.   Some will require additional feedback as they develop skills and some will require additional motivation for us to see this improvement.   For us the improvement will look like answering the phone and transferring calls professionally and correctly.   In addition, notes left for us regarding customer problems that the student employees had to refer will be more complete and legible.

In conclusion, I think we have made some progress in identifying skills and knowledge we all too often take for granted and assume that our student employees will value and demonstrate.   I think there is a coherence to the content and sequence of the instructional unit.   However, it is only through usability testing that that will be confirmed.   Rather more likely is that some sections will be modified significantly after testing.   As mentioned, we will pilot this unit with our seniors this spring.   One of the open questions is do we march through the unit, five weeks, at the start of the semester?   Alternatively, do we spread the unit across the entire semester?   The former solution has the possible problem of overwhelming a new hire, the latter runs the risk of losing impact as the students shift to doing their schoolwork and losing efficacy in the workplace — we need the employees to do the work well immediately.   I am not as worried about requiring participation as some of my direct reports.   Nor, am I worried about having the employees doing some or all of the work during their regular shifts.   That said I perhaps should be listening to them more closely — only practice will show.   I have felt distanced from the student employees as my job responsibilities shifted to an administrative nature.   I am hopeful that I can reconnect with them through “teaching’ this unit and helping them see that these workplace fundamentals are important to us, but more to them.

Ally, M. (2008).  Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In  Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.).  The theory and practice of online learning  (2nd ed.)  (pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

Andrew See & Travis Stephen Teetor (2014) Effective e-Training: Using a Course  Management System and e-Learning Tools to Train Library Employees, Journal of Access Services,  11:2, 66-90, DOI: 10.1080/15367967.2014.896217,

Swan, K., Garrison, D. R. & Richardson, J. C.  (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the Community of Inquiry framework. In Payne, C. R. (Ed.) Information Technology and Constructivismin Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 43-57.

6.1 tool survey — Bob

So, I didn’t read the assignment closely enough to understand the difference between the two tool assignments — my bad.  Hence, this is some makeup work.

I found, JoyTunes, and more specifically their apps, PianoMeastro and Piano Dust Buster.  Since I have slightly more musical aptitude than a sack of potatoes but, a great fondness for music these apps intrigued me.  I watched a couple of their promotional videos and particularly resonated with the “gamification” of music practice.  The adults mentioned the shortened attention span of young people these days.  Yet the kids recounted practicing for perfections as a result of using the apps.  Apparently,  PianoMeastro can be used rather like an LMS where the teacher can add assignments for particular students and push these out between classes.  I suspect that additional research might show me a number of companies and a number of instruments in this market niche — none-the-less thought this was really cool.  Easy to see applications in home or enrichment schooling on a families tablet or, in school, or the traditional instrument instruction — many of the adults in these promotional videos were introduced as “piano teacher” for example.  I’ll have to look around for an app that teaches blues guitar — maybe Jack White has been recruited for the voice acting .

On far other end of the spectrum is zSpace.  Here we are talking high powered software, and big school districts, big money.  This is an immersive 3D simulation using “pens” and glasses.  All the teachers and students are smiling and fascinated by what they are interacting with.   One video describes “heart dissection”.  I suspect it doesn’t come with senso-rama so no stink of formalin, nor any real body fluids, ohh, like blood.  There was no cutting of the sternum and spreading of the rib cage….  Maybe they save that for the version for medical schools.  The expense, and the hyper-real sanitary and unreality of it are really off putting for me.  The heart I saw in the video looked like a drawing — I didn’t see any real plaque in the veins or fatty buildups.  It is cool and sexy technology and probably a very interesting use and application.  But it troubled me too.

After a lot of poking around I was able to find  Tynker.

The website offers modules for home, for school and for partners (enrichment programs). The point is that coding is a literacy that we all, but particularly our children need to learn.  The coding here is embedded in interfaces that are a lot more pleasing and interactive then the lines of basic we had to write in the bad old days.  The product seems to be aimed at kids elementary and middle school age.   Each module builds on the previous, and there are several different  modules, each costing $50.  It appears that they are moving into coding for mobile devices too.   I suspect that the company is building a community as well though exactly how that works is a little unclear to me.  The have a page called the “hour of code” which they are participating in and supporting it seems to be an intentional effort — kinda cool.

Tools of the Trade, An Initial Look

Weekly Writing 10 – Lori Sowa

For an online pedagogy course, I thought we’d jump into tools fairly early on.   However, it is refreshing to wait until this stage, after exploring course design, objectives, and assignments, to look at tools with this perspective in mind.   I prefer to encounter a need, and then find the right tool for the job rather than finding a cool tool and trying to figure out how to use it.   Although, it is certainly possible that a new tool can provide inspiration for a unique way to achieve a learning objective.

In an online course, the method of delivery and interaction becomes more scripted.   I truly enjoy walking into a classroom with a general idea in mind, and having the course of the class period take a sharp turn based upon student needs and interests.   I’ve been teaching long enough now that I can pull this off (in certain situations), and chalk and a chalkboard are the only tools I need.   I have not mastered this in the online classroom.   Perhaps with time, experience, and the right tools I could achieve that level of flexibility in an online classroom as well.   I suppose a better, interactive white board than what I’ve found in Blackboard would go a long way to achieve this goal, at least for synchronous sessions.   Perhaps the answer is as simple as an external writing pad such as this.

Many of the tools that I initially think of as student project tools – such as Thinglink – can actually be used by instructors to present content.   Video lectures, especially those with interactive features, are useful, but expanding our horizons as instructors to think about creating content through various means that students will engage with in an active way may produce better learning outcomes.

In the near future I’ll be reviewing Thinglink, Camtasia, and Quizlet.   Thinglink is a tool for adding content to an image – text, website links, or video.   Camtasia is a screen capture tool.   Quizlet is a simple quiz-making application.   Perhaps it says something about these particular applications and the type of learning they support (active, passive, and lower-level Bloom’s taxonomy, respectively) that I’m most looking forward to exploring Thinglink.

New(ish), cool, tool review — Bob

Review of   Quia is pronounced “kee’ah’ if it matters… it is a mnemonic for “Quintessential Instructional Archive’.     I sensibly read the “About Quia’ page first after landing on the site.   Quia is more than a site to make quizzes, or learning activities it is an archive of such objects.   The site has been active for 10 years (so not new)  this and its international popularity results in a huge set of resources.   While the site claims to serve students of all ages, I would be hesitant to use the kinds of activities and games beyond elementary or middle school age learners.

I created a 30-day trial profile and immediately linked to activities and created a deer hunting word jumble activity.   I listed 20 words related to the topic and clicked the next button a script generated the activity.   I made it:   this quiz however, I simply linked too:   The tools are simple to use and the outcomes are significantly better then what I remember for elementary school — think drum mimeograph duplicated work sheets.   That said, are they snazzy enough to capture the attention of more privileged students?   On the other hand, perhaps this is appropriate technology?   I think the answers to those questions depends on where one is teaching and what age group.

My original intention was to beat this resource up, however, the more I think about it the more generous I am with it.   If I had internet access but no real IT support, was teaching children, and had $50 dollars to spend, this resource could really have some potential.   I can see this being a treasure trove for home schooling.   I am perplexed that they offer a corporate subscription rate of $200 dollars…   I can see how some of the tools would be useful for HR departments, how supervisors training skills might use it, but the site is clearly for children, or elementary teachers, that impression just does not fit for corporate setting.   A teacher can create and manage a class, in many ways identical to using any other learning management system.   They can link activities and quizzes to that page.   The teacher can enroll students or the teacher can opt for self-enrollment.   I spent a bit of time clicking through to see if the material was fresh and current or older, perhaps outdated.   I found a lot of current material a lot being created and used by elementary schools in the US.   Interestingly, many teachers have made their profiles public and have provided work contact information, hence, creating a learning network for educators.

Along with the core, service described here comes an e-bookstore sub-site that lists materials available online from Quia.   The IXL sub-site appears to be a huge library of learning activities in math or language arts — again, my mind went to home schoolers, but any learner needing additional problem sets or review could benefit from the resource.   Both the e-bookstore and the IXL sites have materials appropriate for high school age learners.   If I were working with K-12 age learners, I would take  the resources the site offers seriously.

Review of   Immediately on landing on the page, I concluded that it was for elementary age learners.   I then clicked on the link “For Teachers’ and watched the promotional video; I will wait here while you view it, hmm, hmmm, hmmm.   Therefore, again we see how wrong first impressions can be.   This site is aimed at high school and college students.   The simulations are created by a team of designers at University of Colorado Boulder I figured out that I would not be making a simulation but rather using one, for example, this one:


Each simulation has a page from which you can download the particular simulation.   Accompanying the download is a chart of teaching ideas, which appear to be teaching resources submitted by folks using the simulation with their students.   There are also translated versions of the simulations to support international learners.
I played around with the simulation on the introductory level.   I was intrigued with the slider adjustments balancing snowfall and air temperature trying to find where the glacier broke into advance or retreat with each variable.   I could see my classmate using these in her unit on ecosystems.   Alas, I found the toolbox perplexing although I eventually sorted most of them out.   The advanced mode offers graphing tools that far exceeded my interest and attention span — perhaps, an assignment that required me to answer questions that the graphs explained would tease me into understanding.  Since, I am not making a simulation.   I guess I am left to make an assignment….       Maximize one slider variable or the other, snowfall or air temperature use the other variable to stabilize the glacier’s advance or retreat.   Repeat with the other variable.   Explain how these experiments help you understand climate change.   Measure the ice thickness at its extremes measure, the temperatures at these points offer an explanation for the temperature variations.

I do not know, I am making this up, I am no earth scientist.   However, I will wait here will you play with the simulation… hmmm, hmmm, hmmm.  Simply this web site and these resources are the bomb.   I am sure that if I had more of a clue about the topics I would think they were even better than that.   You gotta get some of this.

Review of Google apps or, more specifically Google Classroom.   Google Classroom is an LMS integrated with the Google apps/drive.   On one hand, it is weak tea now.   There is currently no compelling reason to leave Moodle or WordPress, however, given how powerful and pervasive the suite of Google tools is it is just a matter of time for it to become a serious contender too.   Combine it with Chromebooks and with Google Hangouts and it just keeps getting more interesting.

There are quite a few video presentation on using Classroom:

I can see early adoption by K-12 programs, particularly those committed to putting iPads, Chromebooks or laptops in the hands of their students.

Colby is a Google shop and a ton of work is done in this way.   Here I am thinking about administrative as well as academic.   Having a single login and accessing communications, collaboration, storage/archiving, scheduling, word processing, spreadsheet and a classroom is seductive.   It is seductive in terms of ease and relative transparency in getting work done.   It is seductive as well from an IT and management perspective, licensing and installing software is expensive and iterative, whereas having Googles tools in the cloud for all employees/students to access is easy and less expensive particularly for education customers.   As Google builds functionality into Classroom, it will take some time to gain momentum but for sites saturated with Google this will be an easy and logical transition even as  the tool becomes robust.   In addition, increasing pressure will be felt to adopt it in higher education as students matriculate.   In truth, I did not make anything with Classroom because I do not have access to it yet.  However, we make stuff with Google apps everyday, all day, so nothing sexy here at all, and yet I am really hopeful that my employer turns Classroom on.  I will seriously consider migrating my employee instruction developed in this class, to it.  According to some of the reviewers, folks with personal domains could set it up and experiment with it.   Personally, I work with Google apps all day long and I do not really see the big deal… what learning curve?  For folks that have a lot of experience with LMS systems I likewise think that once the functionality is more developed it will be as easy as falling down.

Preliminary impressions of Skitch, Moodle and Mango

First tool: I tried Skitch once before, on my Android phone. I had heard about it at TechFest on campus, and the demo was impressive. Of course, navigating it on a smartphone screen was a little less exciting than what I had seen up on a projector screen. So, I gave up after tinkering with it once or twice. This time, I downloaded it to my Mac instead, assuming some upgrades have been made in the two years since I last tried it. There are a few cool features, like a pixillation layover that makes it easy to obscure names if one wanted to share a Facebook or Twitter post for critique. I’ve included an example where I’ve used that and added an arrow, alert icon and text. The program also integrates with Evernote, which could be huge if you use that to organize your stuff (I don’t). Saving the photo wasn’t smooth for me  (I had to screenshot my result to my desktop because the version it allowed me to share to iPhoto wasn’t uploading). I will think of a more teaching-focused example for next week.

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Second tool: Several land grants within the Cooperative Extension system, as well as the e-learning arm of eXtension, use Moodle to deliver content to clients. One example is at So, I decided to finally check it out myself and download Moodle 2.8 for Mac. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work. The instructions might as well be written in Sanksrit. Seriously, it contains lines like “You can start the new cron service in the Terminal.” WHAT? My ability to “install” something on a Mac is limited to knowing I need to drag an icon into my “Applications” folder and hit “Open.” Except it tries to open Moodle in a web browser and I get messages about a server error. I get that “open source” usually involves more effort (like the difference between R and SPSS), but this is like asking a restaurant reviewer to taste a meal that’s been placed inside a firesafe– with a broken off key. I will have to enlist some help from IT to be able to review this more fully for next week’s post.

Third tool: The home page of Mango Languages features some very cute mango fruits dressed up in various scenarios. The sign-up process includes tests for Java and Flash, which are pretty standard. I had no problem accessing the lessons on my Mac. I have taken Spanish before, so I figured I’d be in better position to judge the utility of Spanish lessons than I would any language completely new to me. I was disappointed when the only available lesson on the free version appears to be “A Language Love Affair” which trots out the tired old youth and hetero centered boy-meets-girl dating scenario where you practice how to invite someone to a party. I wish Mango had stuck to its cute and neutral mango fruit to represent the two sides of the conversation.

Guiding question 1: How many of the proposed tools are contextualized primarily for teacher presentation (passive learning)? I think one could post a lot of passive (sit and read) content on Moodle. It’s really up to the teacher to put in the time it takes to make hyperlinks, videos, quizzes, and other interactive content. Just like Blackboard, it is as static or dynamic as you make it.

Guiding question 2: Which have potential for active learning or afford students opportunity to display a product of their learning? Mango does ask the learner to practice the phrases out loud and offers a chance to record your own voice and play it back, so you can compare your pronunciation to the instructor. It shows you a voice pattern comparison and you can even play both recordings simultaneously. It doesn’t score them though; you must interpret.

Guiding questions 3 & 4: Which of the tools have potential for developing or enhancing the community of learners? Which features most actively support learner engagement in a community? I like the sharability of content made with Skitch. I think it could be integrated into collaborative projects. Just have a chat with students about “fair use” first. Moodle has the most potential simply because it can be used for any content, not just for language learning or photo editing. Since I couldn’t try creating my own, I went to to see what others have done. One example was a literature class that noted “peer evaluation and review is done by an add on software that passes the essays from person to person” so students can interact over their readings of Pride & Prejudice.

A preliminary look at new tools: Weekly writing 10

For this week’s writing I spent some time looking at Edudemic’s Best Free Education Web Tools Of 2013 and Steven’s (2013) Teachers’ Favored Web 2.0 Tools and I felt that the majority of the top tools focused on active learning through student project creation, rather than passive teacher presentation. While there were tools dedicated to helping teachers manage and organize educational materials, most tools that were teacher centric included ways for teachers to improve interaction with and engagement of their students. Tools such as GlogsterEDU, KidBlog and Thinglink are all tools that can be used by both teachers and students to present and share learning in a fun and easy to use way. These tools appear to be highly engaging and could help students build positive eportfolios.    Other tools that featured active learning were Storybird, an tool that allows students to create and share books and Scratch, a tool from MIT that allows students to create animations, video games and other products. Scratch also has the added bonus of teaching coding, which is of great interest to many of my students. All of these tools can be used in both individual and group projects and would lend themselves to the community of inquiry idea. I believe these tools have a lot of potential, particularly at the secondary level.

Part of the challenges in teaching at the K-12 level (and in an alternative high school as I do), is the issue of motivation and behavior tracking. Steven’s (2013) list of tools included quite a few classroom management and behavior tracking tools, that I was unfamiliar with. ClassDojo is a free behavior tracking tool that allows teachers to assign points to student avatars for the desired behaviors in a game-type program. As student’s earn points they can redeem points for incentives. Another motivation tool, that has possibilities in the badge earning tools. Students can earn badges through Khan Academy and Open Badges. Here students can track their learning and earn badges for new skills of concepts. I know that my students are highly motivated by online “badges’ and this would be a way to increase engagement.

One tool that I was very excited about was called Nearpod. This tool is a way for teachers to present new material to students while embedding interactive activities into the material. This tool requires all students to have access to a mobile device or laptop, but allows for engaged synchronous learning.  The program allows you to insert polls, quizzes, drawings and other types of formative assessment into your presentation and prompts all students to participate. It then generates feedback for the instructor and instantly gives you an assessment of student understanding. I can envision using this in my face to face classroom, with all students in a circle interacting together, but it can also be used to actively engage distance learners in synchronous discussions.

I am excited to further explore many of these tools, as I think they could improve the overall quality of my course and the work produced by my students. It is important, of course, to lay a solid foundation of content to maximize the use of these tools, but they have the potential to greatly improve engagement and motivation overall.

Work’s Cited

Lepi, K. (2013). The Best Free Education Web Tools Of 2013 | Edudemic. Retrieved from

Stevens, K. (2013). Teachers’ Favored Web 2.0 Tools. Retrieved from