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  • August 2010
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New Version of DimDim Released

At Lake Superior College, we have our own licensed rooms (tech plan update) for using the DimDim webcast service. This is the first semester we’ve made it available to the college community and quite a few faculty and some staff members have expressed an interest in using it, and a few have already started using it during the first week of the semester.

DimDim released a new version over the past weekend with lots of changes and several additions to the features and functions. The four minute screencast below (click it to open in a new window) shows some of these new features.

Some of the new features include:

  • Application and/or region screen sharing – which means that you can share your entire desktop, or a portion of the desktop, or a single application running on your desktop.
  • They did away with the rather lame feature of “Share a URL” which could be used to share a webpage, but only one at a time. I much preferred screen sharing where I could easily click through different tabs on the browser, which is still the recommended way for using websites in your webcast.
  • Document library – finally the ability to upload documents into a library where they will be available the next time you hold a webcast without uploading again. You can upload up to 2GBs of docs before, during, and after your meetings.
  • Document file types: the “Share Presentation” app (should be called Share Documents) previously was limited to only PowerPoint (PPT and PPTX) and PDF files. The new version adds to that list with the following: .doc,  .docx,  .docm,  .dotx,  .dotm,  .xls,  .xlsx,  .xlsm,  .xltw,  .xlsb  (or virtually all versions of Word docs and Excel spreadsheets).
  • Instant polls. Although limited to a single type of poll question (multiple choice with single select), this could still be useful in a pinch.
  • Web mashups – you can paste any YouTube URL, and Picasa URL (really? Picasa? Huh?). or any embed code for any web app that you might like – such as SlideShare, Vimeo, Blip.tv, a Twitter widget, a music player, photo slideshow, screencast video, Google map, or whatever as long as it has an embed code.
  • Four-way video chat – allowing you to see more people with webcams with a  new fullscreen mode for video.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no improvement in the recording functionality of DimDim after the update. Most of the sessions that I have recorded for future playback result in corrupted or empty files. This has been an ongoing problem. Sometimes you get lucky, but overall I have found that you CANNOT rely on the recording function to work properly.

Other than the recording issue, our experience thus far with DimDim has been positive. More to come.

Educause Review – Don’t Miss It

The July/August 2010 issue of the Educause Review has several really good articles. Here’s some info about two of them.

David Wiley: (@opencontent on Twitter) has an article titled “Openness as a Catalyst for an Educational Reformation.” He believes that all the various aspects of openness in education all come down to the same common denominators. “They are acts of generosity, sharing, and giving.” When you talk about openness, you generally also have to talk about the lack of openness. Consider the examples of educators unwilling to share their content, their course resources, their syllabi, their text materials, etc. “Unfortunately, modern law and college/university policy tend to enable this bad behavior, allowing us to shout “Mine!” ever more loudly, to stomp our feet with ever less self-control, and to hit each other with ever harder and sharper toys.”

He also laments the LMS/CMS affects on the idea of sharing and openness: “If Facebook worked like Blackboard, every fifteen weeks it would delete all your friends, delete all your photographs, and unsubscribe you from all your groups.” That’s good stuff, as is this: “The conceal-restrict-withhold-delete strategy is not a way to build a thriving community of learning.”

FYI: David Wiley will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2011 ITC eLearning conference in St. Pete Beach on February 19-22.

Dave Cormier and George Siemens penned an article titled “Through the Open Door: Open Courses as Research, Learning, and Engagement.” They start with this passage:

“Over the last decade, as educators have increasingly experimented with social technologies and interactive pedagogies, the concept of a “course” has been significantly challenged. In particular, questions have arisen as to the key value of the course in the educational system. Is the value the content — the academic journal articles, lectures, textbooks, and libraries that compose much of the teaching and learning process? Or is it the engagement and interaction that occurs through discussions? Or is it the self-organized activities of learners in the social spaces of a college or university?”

Throughout the article, the authors try to deal with the concepts of “open” and “openness.” As they say, “The word open is in constant negotiation.” They talk about Open Educators, Open Curricula, Open Learners, and even Open Accreditation.

I agree with them about the value of content in the academy. Content is definitely NOT king. “The actions of institutions like MIT suggest that the true benefit of the academy is the interaction, the access to the debate, to the negotiation of knowledge — not to the stale cataloging of content.” Lots of good stuff in this article by George and Dave.

I’ll follow up soon with some info about at least two other articles from the issue.

Network Segregation: is that a question?

Bryan Alexander got me thinking about a blog post I started writing 2 or 3 months ago and never finished. I’ll just start from scratch and go from there.

He tweeted: “Wondering if I should stop sending Twitter content automatically to Facebook. Any thoughts, readers and followers?”

I have not been a fan of having a message automatically sent to several networks at once. You can connect together your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts (and probably others) so that whatever you post to one of them is automagically cross posted to the others. Whereas some people probably look at that as an efficient way of communicating something to all your various contacts across all those networks, to me it just seems a bit weird and even unnecessary. It certainly wouldn’t work with the way my own usage of these networks is developing.

My Twitter friends are my most valuable learning network. Almost everything I get out of Twitter comes from educators from around the world to whom I am connected. Here’s an example of a couple of posts today that were valuable to me:

@busynessgirl RT @PCSTech Online Lectures That Will Make You A Better Teacher – http://bit.ly/91yeyC #edtech

@c4lpt The Jane Hart Daily is out – read this Twitter newspaper on http://paper.li/c4lpt (247 contributions today)

None of my family members and personal friends would be interested in that stuff whatsoever. They don’t want to be in my Twitter network and I don’t want them there (sorry).

However, I enjoy Facebooking with those same family members and personal friends. I can somewhat keep tabs on my precocious daughter, follow along for life’s lessons with nephews and nieces and others, and (more recently) get reconnected with lots of my old college buddies.

The biggest problem of having those networks mixed together is probably very obvious. All the Ed-Tech news and notes would just be a bunch of noise to the friends&fam, whereas all the personal “hi, how you doin’?” to the F&F would be completely boring to the Ed-Tech people. Both groups would be more likely to tune you out due to white noise.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have all this figured out when I started “friending” people on Facebook a few years ago. So, there’s quite a few educators in there that probably find me not too informative about Ed-Tech issues. Most of them are in my Twitter account, but a few are not. To those of you who are in my Facebook network, don’t be offended when I UN-friend you in Facebook. I really want that to be my Internets tube for personal use and keep the professional stuff in Twitter. I’m sure you’ll understand.

To summarize: Yes, I am in favor of segregating my networks into personal and professional. YMMV.

First Look at Instructure

Instructure logoOn August 4, 2010, I spent 70 minutes with Cory and Devlin from Instructure Canvas getting a personal tour of their fairly new entrant into the LMS space. This is one of the recent additions to the field that is trying to differentiate itself from the Blackboards of the world by being more open, more flexible, less complicated, and more student-centered (and less evil, I suppose).

In the video below (7:42 running time), I narrate a series of screenshots that I captured as I started to create my first course and my user profile in Canvas. For my money, the important part starts at about 3:15 as I look at making a connection between Canvas and several web-based tools (G Docs, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Diigo, and LinkedIn) and right after that where I set some notification preferences that allow me to customize how I receive class information updates (email addresses that I control and text messaging if I choose), and how often I receive these updates. (Try using the full-screen mode in the lower right corner of Vimeo screen.)

I will continue to play in the sandbox for a while longer as I start to build out more of a course and will report out again as I make progress on that front. Here are just a few more tidbits to tide you over:

  • Their philosophy is to wait and only build and implement a new feature when there is an identified need for it – rather than the build it and they will come approach.
  • Both students and faculty have the same view and user interface.
  • They have a simple, yet powerful rich text editor that is used whenever there is a tool that allows for editing. Same editor, all the time – even for students.
  • They have embedded a Creative Commons search tool for Flickr photos as one option when adding an image to a course.
  • RSS feeds (I know, what a concept!!) allow most course info to be pushed out of Canvas and to the students.
  • There are many ways of communicating with students. No longer is the only option to “email the class.”

I’ll add many more features in the next post. Don’t get me wrong, though. I haven’t totally fallen in love with Instructure Canvas just yet. I have lots of questions about it and I’ll work on clarifying what those questions are and getting them answered in the near future. So far I’m mainly ignorant about the back end functions and possible scaling issues with the service. More coming, stay tuned.

Also check out Michael Feldstein’s post at e-Literate.

Comments from Student Evals

Just received my stack of reports from the student evaluations of online courses for the summer term. Just thought I’d share a few of the comments. My emphases added below.

The more happy campers:

  • I really enjoyed this course! LSC Online courses are very impressive! They are so well organized and easy to use! I get better feedback than in my University on campus courses!! You are all great and thank you [name deleted] for a wonderful semester!
  • This course was more interesting than I thought.
  • This was probably the best and most addicting online class I have taken.
  • [Name deleted] has been one of the best online instructors I’ve ever had! I have completed a few from another institution, and this has been the best experience with online learning thus far!
  • I really enjoyed this course and it has really stretched my mind and made me realize there is so much more to the universe than anyone can fathom. Thanks!!
  • I have taken most of my science classes online with [name deleted] and without exception they have been good experiences and I’ve felt that I learned A LOT!  The labs and learning objectives that must be completed really a great teaching tools.  I always recommend his classes.  Again even though his class is online, I felt I have learned more than in regular classes!
  • I really enjoyed this class.  I took the same class at Lake Superior College in class and didn’t pass.  I felt like this class was easier for me to learn the material than it was in class.
  • [Name deleted] is one of those very rare teachers who really loves his students and his work.  He’s kind, fair, but isn’t a pushover, either.  Most online instructors (I’ve taken 15 online classes) don’t put forth a fraction of the effort [as he] does into teaching an online course.  I walk away having learned so much.  Thank you.
  • I’ve taken all my post high school education online.  I’m going into my senior year, and this class was great.  I learned a great deal about the subject and was treated with respect.  He was very organized and responded to any concern or question without making me feel like I was bothering him.  I was very pleased with this class, and I do not usually give this high of scores.
  • I dreaded taking this course!  By the end of this course, I fell in love with it and am toying with making it my minor!  It was so practical and real and applicable in comparison with the University’s similar course! LSC Online courses are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!! Thanks for a fabulous semester!!!

The less happy:

  • The only thing that I found frustrating is that when the material had become available for the week, I would print it out and then find out that there were some changes that were made to the material without notifying thestudents about the changes.  Also, I think the material should have been available on Wednesday instead of Thursday.
  • There was no clear rubric for the class.  Feedback on assignments was unheard of.
  • For being a course titled “Fundamentals,” he graded harder than my AP1 instructor, it shouldn’t have been so strict as it was a general course for the majority of the student body, until this semester I had a 4.0 and getting a B in this class is something baffling to me and irritating.  The advance courses to courses taken at a university out of state, I found my experience with this course frustrating in the grading department.
  • This course was nothing more than reading the text book and taking a test, then writing 4 short papers.  There was no point in logging on more than once a week to take the test or turn in the paper.  I learned a boring, repetitive history of [deleted] that I could’ve learned reading the book at home and not paying for credits.
  • I work full time and take other classes.  This class was very time consuming for a three credit lecture course, which, even in an eight week summer term, should only be 6 hours of work each week. That’s 2 hours, three times a week.  Not 3 hours every day.  That said, I enjoyed her teaching style and would definitely take more classes with her.  Though, I won’t be taking any more online or summer classes.
  • I found this class hard to follow along with, it seemed like a jumbled mess, but it was still good.
  • Too much time elapsed between completion of an assignment and receiving grades and feedback, way too much time.

As you might have guessed, sometimes the same instructor has a comment in the happy list as well as the sad list. Don’t you just love these evals?