Using Voicethread in Education with an Eye on Accessiblity

In a previous post, Mea Culpa – Accessibility Concerns of Using External Tools in the LMS, I mentioned the This web-based tool has passed the accessibility testaccessibility concerns that come from using many of the popular external tools (Web 2.0 tools, if you will) inside the LMS. I previously posted about the accessibility issues with Slideshare and also the poor accessibility record of Prezi. This post is a bit more positive, because I’m highlighting a tool that has made major steps forward on the road to a11y.

Voicethread is increasingly being used in education at all levels. Some of their features (from  their website) include:

Creating: Upload, share and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files and videos. Over 50 different types of media can be used in a VoiceThread.

Commenting: Comment on VoiceThread slides using one of five powerful commenting options: microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload.

Sharing: Keep a VoiceThread private, share it with specific people, or open it up to the entire world. Learn more about sharing VoiceThreads.

Below is a link to an example Voicethread created by an educator and her students. It was easy to embed the Voicethread into Brightspace, but WordPress (this site) doesn’t play nicely with embed code. Click on the image below to view the Voicethread.

Voicethread example for education

Voicethread provides for both audio and text comments. It is one of the most accessible Web 2.0 platforms that you will find. 

More resources:

Voicethread also offers a series of higher ed webinars “to improve your pedagogical use of VoiceThread or plan a group viewing of an archive with your colleagues to stimulate an engaging professional development event on campus about teaching with VoiceThread.” The webinars are presented by Michelle Pacansky-Brock, a Voicethread evangelist and an eLearning professional educator.


Scott Walker has been Great for Education – in Minnesota!

This is a follow-up to my post from October 2012, Replacement Teachers Coming Soon to Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, I received lots of pushback on that article from those who “Stand with Walker,” including many who don’t live in Wisconsin and have no idea what is happening here, except for what they are told by bloggers and faux news people.We stand by while Scott Walker ruins Wisconsin

Every time I see another “We Stand with Scott Walker” yard sign, I assume that the home owner hates education and educators. I’m not sure what else to think here in Superior where Scott Walker has started the ball rolling down a hill where the result will be a severe lowering of the quality of public education.

So, what’s happening here in Superior, Wisconsin? Superior is a border town. It takes me 3-4 minutes to be on top of the “high bridge” and into Minnesota. After leaving my house, I could be pulling into the parking lot of a half dozen Minnesota schools within 15 minutes. But I’m not the one doing that. That commute belongs to the excellent teachers and other education employees who have recently taken better jobs on the Minnesota side of the border.

The migration of our best educators from Superior to schools in Minnesota has begun. From one elementary school alone, four excellent educators recently quit their jobs in Superior to take similar, but better, jobs in Minnesota. Why did these educators jump to the other side of the bridge? Because they couldn’t afford not to. They needed to have affordable health insurance for their family, and they no longer had that in the Superior School District.

Good teaching jobs in Minnesota, lousy teaching jobs in WisconsinNote to all school administrators in Duluth, Proctor, Hermantown, Esko, Cloquet, Two Harbors and others; the best Superior teachers are ripe for the plucking since you offer them much better benefits than they now receive in Wisconsin.

The stripping of decent health insurance was a two-step process. Scott Walker didn’t accomplish it completely on his own, but he took care of part one, which was stripping away the collective bargaining rights. I case you missed it, the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 was proposed by Walker, passed by the Wisconsin Legislature, and became law, effective June 29, 2011. At that point, the School District of Superior no longer had to negotiate with their employees over anything except pay raises.

The second step in the process has to be owned by the Superior School Board. They are the ones who took the opportunity provided by Walker to decimate the affordability of the health insurance coverage offered to employees of the school district. One example of the devastating change in employee health insurance is the quadrupling of the annual deductible for family coverage from $1,500 to $6,000.

If ever there was a case study for the importance of public employee unions, Scott Walker’s actions and the resulting fallout would be it. His supporters believe, apparently, that public employees don’t need unions because their employer (the gubment) is always above board and would never screw them over. Those same people like to point to FDR’s statements about how public employees don’t need the protection of unions and collective bargaining. That was in the 30’s and 40’s, and if we still had government leaders like FDR, maybe the public employee unions wouldn’t be necessary. Instead we have politicians like Scott Walker, and there is no doubt that the public employees need protection from the actions of their government employer.

To my friends on the police force and those in the fire halls, he’ll be coming for your collective bargaining rights next. Obviously he hasn’t wanted to do this until after the election, because he’s counting on your votes to get re-elected. As soon as the Wisconsin Governor election is over, Walker will be positioning himself for a run at the White House; and that means finishing the job he started by wiping out all public employee unions in Wisconsin. Do you like your employee benefits? If so, then you’d better protect them, because Scott Walker won’t.

I Stand Against Scott Walker!

I Stand WITH Education and Educators!

Don’t Forget the Attribution – Sorry CogDog

I am the yearbook committee each year for the elementary school where my youngest attends (and he’s got two more years to go, oy!). Every year it is a mad dash to get all the class photos laid out – and then to stuff as many candids into the various pages as possible. Almost everyone likes to see their face show up multiple times in the yearbook, although there are some exceptions to that very general rule.

Doing something fresh and interesting for the front and back cover is always a challenge, especially since I am neither the most creative person nor the best designer you’ll ever meet. These two cover pages are the only color pages in the book; everything else is black-n-white. This year I decided to use a photo of the Aurora since the school is named Northern Lights Elementary.

Luckily, I was able to find some very nice CC-Attribution photos on Flickr. I didn’t have to look any further than my friend and fellow educator, Alan Levine (cogdogblog on Flickr). Since it was licensed for remix – I cropped it to fit the vertical page layout and then added the text as seen below.

Then I made the fatal error (well not really fatal, at least I hope not (although that would get me out of the yearbook business)) and forgot to add my intended blurb on the inside of the cover giving Alan a photo credit for his fine shot.

Please consider this to be a make-up attribution for Alan as well as my apology for being a bit scatterbrained. Now there will be about 600 grade schoolers who won’t see his name in their yearbook. His career may never recover, but I certainly hope so.

Alan, please accept my apologies for my oversight. Hope this makes us square.

Navy SEALS are Lying Conspirators

Or so it must be according to those who want more proof that bin Laden is dead. The word of a Navy SEAL is not good enough. Apparently.

Every American who believes that the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 didn’t kill bin Laden apparently thinks that the entire group of specially trained, best-of-the-best American soldiers are all involved in a lie and the cover-up of that lie. Sure, people have their political reasons for not wanting to believe Obama, and Hillary, and anyone else seen biting their lips in that “staged” photo in the “Situation Room” at the White House. After all, how could anyone ever believe a U.S. politician? The cable “news” channels see to it that we can never believe anything that comes from a politician.

And isn’t it convenient that there is no group officially called SEAL Team 6? Also convenient that they need to stay completely out of the public eye – such a shroud of secrecy. So yes, if you believe that the bin Laden killing is a scam and a hoax – then you also believe that U.S. Navy SEALs are a major part of the effort in pulling the wool over our eyes. It’s not as if Obama went over the wall of that compound himself and shot bin Laden in the head.

No, it was a U.S. Navy SEAL. Do you seriously not believe that?

(Okay. That should take care of my political ranting in this space for at least several months. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.)  (Flickr-CC photo by The U.S. Army)

On Becoming Self-Employed

I’m trying to figure out where I fit in the employed — self-employed — unemployed landscape. Technically I’m still employed in that I will continue to have a paycheck for approximately three more months and I am still working on some “special projects” for my employer. However, it really feels as though I am unemployed, since I received the news (see previous post) that my position is being eliminated at the college.

As I write this I am working on plans to see if I can make a living being self-employed. I’ve been self-employed previously and I really believe that it feels more like being unemployed than employed. Not because you don’t work when you’re self-employed (usually, quite to the contrary), but because you do not have the security of the trappings that come along with those remaining good jobs that are out there – particularly those significant employer contributions to insurance and retirement costs as well as managing all that income tax crapola that requires special attention.

Although some of the advice is questionable, I am re-reading “Before You Quit Your Job” by R. Kiyosaki (you know, the Rich Dad guy) to get my mind around reviving my entrepreneurial spirit. More relevant to me have been several posts by Harold Jarche, including Freelancers Unite, Freelance Lessons, To be, or not to be a consultant, and So You Want to Be an E-learning Consultant.

I’m also faced with a bit of a dilemma. Although I would love to go down the entrepreneurial path, I do have concerns about my ability to put 3 kids through college in addition to all that other stuff like keeping a roof over their heads and food on their table. So I’m also sprucing up my job application materials with the thought of applying for several of the jobs that are recently posted or about to be posted around the region. Right now it feels like figuring out my next ten years is a bit of a full-time job itself.

On Becoming Unemployed

As many of my friends already know, I recently received notice that my job was being eliminated at Lake Superior College. I was fully expecting that I would hear the news that my job was being re-designed into a lower level title with less pay, but I had no inkling that my position and my employment would be cut completely. This picture of me in my office was taken just a couple of months before I received this news. Ahh, good times.

Along with three of my vice presidential colleagues, I received the kind of news that no one wants to hear – something to the effect of – “you’re no longer needed here.” Although that is not a direct quote, that pretty much sums up the situation. As part of a major reorganization at the college, the remaining administrators will take on new responsibilities and there are also quite a few things that probably just won’t get done any more. I’ve spent 15 years at Lake Superior College and about 27 years altogether working in higher education. A brief rundown of my time at LSC includes:

  • November, 1995: I accepted a temporary faculty position at LSC teaching accounting, starting the winter quarter of ’95-96 school year.
  • August, 1996: I started a probationary period on a tenure-track accounting position with the LSC faculty.
  • During the 2000-01 academic year I received some release time to serve as the Online Faculty Coordinator.
  • June, 2001: I resigned my faculty tenure (oops!) to become the Dean of Technology and Distance Learning at LSC.
  • June, 2004: Received a promotion to Vice President of Technology and e-Campus at LSC, and joined the President’s Cabinet.
  • November, 2010: I received notice of my impending lay-off due to reorganization and reduction in force.

I am now working from home on special projects during the three-month period when the college is obligated to pay me but doesn’t want me around (note: I don’t want to be there either as it is extremely difficult to deal with the near constant pity party related to my departure). I’m not exactly sure what is next. More info will be posted here in the near future.

My biggest regret/disappointment/concern has to do with my abrupt exit from the college community. After 15 years of service, and after creating (I believe, and so I’m told) a pretty decent record related to online learning and the uses of technology at the campus; it doesn’t feel good at all to basically just disappear from the campus and from my friends and colleagues. It feels as if I’ve done something wrong, which I haven’t. In fact, the whole thing is downright painful.

Neil Postman and the iPad

I finished reading Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman on the same day that the iPads hit the stores in early April. I didn’t plan it that way; it just happened. As I’ve been pondering about the terrific book and also pondering about the hype surrounding the iPad, I keep bringing those two worlds together in some sort of weird mashup in my mind. (CC Flickr photo by cogdogblog)

Postman’s book was published in 1985 and is a treatise on how the world was being shaped (poorly) by the way that television had taken over the entertainment scene as well as the more serious forms of discourse such as news, politics, presidential debates, etc. He thought that Aldous Huxley got it right in the book Brave New World, where the people were oppressed by their addiction to all forms of amusement, rather than by George Orwell’s depiction of society in the book 1984, where they were oppressed by the government.

Here’s a terrific cartoon by Stuart McMillen that helps illustrate the push/pull going on throughout Postman’s book between the Orwellian view (1984) and the Huxleyan view (Brave New World). To steal a few lines from the cartoon (which are stolen from the book):

  • What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
  • What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who would want to read one.
  • Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us.
  • Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Postman feared that Huxley was right and that it was an even worse outcome than Orwell’s version. Postman also spoke about the importance of education to get us through this changing landscape where television was turning us into passive consumers of televised content (actually it’s all about the form/style, not about the content). Postman (from Wikipedia – a decent article, really!) “also argues that television is not an effective way of providing education, as it provides only top-down information transfer, rather than the interaction that he believes is necessary to maximize learning. He refers to the relationship between information and human response as the Information-action ratio.”

Postman’s concerns about television (and computers which were just starting to proliferate in 1985) are not centered on the lousy, stupid stuff that was on TV during the time period that the book was written. It’s not the junk TV that dumbs down the culture, it’s the more serious stuff (news, politics, education, religion, etc.) that’s being packaged as entertainment rather than serious discourse. At least the low-level junk TV doesn’t pretend to be something more than it is.

He specifically mentions computers and education sporadically throughout the book. One particularly salient passage is reproduced below (pg. 161):

“For no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are. It is not important that those who ask the questions arrive at my answers or Marshall McLuhan’s (quite different answers, by the way). This is an instance in which the asking of questions is sufficient. To ask is to break the spell. To which I might add that questions about the psychic, political and social effects of information are as applicable to the computer as to television. Although I believe the computer to be a vastly overrated technology, I mention it here because clearly, Americans have accorded it their customary mindless inattention; which means they will use it as they are told, without a whimper. Thus, a central thesis of computer technology – that the principle difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data – will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like he had a pretty accurate view (from the mid-1980s) about the future of the computing world and the massive collection of data (hint, rhymes with Doogle).

So, what would Postman think of the iPad? I don’t even begin to pretend that I would know what Postman might think about anything; this is just a first attempt at putting together some of his ideas. So here it goes.

  • I think that Postman would have lamented the entire movement toward edutainment over time. Making learning less serious and more fun would not be viewed positively and the results attained would be questioned fervently. (of course I could be wrong)
  • I think that Postman would have found the use of the Internet as not particularly compelling as an aid to education – especially the “Web 1.0” version of websites and services, since it was (1) very similar to the television as a one-way form of communication, (2) a great mixture of serious and trivial content (think of a page of serious and informative text on a page with a flashing ad of “Lose Belly Fat Now!” on the page), and  (3) that a great amount of web content was clearly designed to be amusing and not serious (not that he was against amusement all the time, just not mixed in with the serious matters of life).  (of course I could be wrong)
  • I think that Postman might have thought that the Read/Write web (Web 2.0) was a major step forward in providing easy opportunities for people to interact, collaborate, and learn in a more robust manner.  (of course I could be wrong)
  • I also think that Postman would have generally been positive about the whole era of user-generated content. Creating and publishing videos, podcasts, blog posts (etc, etc,) might have been favorably viewed as breaking away from the one-way communication of the boob tube and making minds active and engaged in learning and sharing. (of course I could be wrong)

My sense is that in a Postman-point-of-view you would see the iPad as a major step backward, at least in the short-run with version 1. Much of the content creation possibilities are not possible on the iPad; it feels much more like a “media consumption tool” than a creation tool. Truth be told – it’s just a big iPod Touch and that feels to me much more like a device for amusement than a device for serious learning and other purposes. I know that people are developing interesting educational uses for the Touch, but seriously, are those things better on the Touch than on a different device? I doubt it.

My sense is that the iPad is one more (big) straw on the back of the amusement camel.

Or, to put it another way, the iPad reduces the information-action ratio.

Of course I could be wrong.

If you’ve read all the way to the bottom, you might enjoy this photo. Let the hazing begin.