Testing cardswipr for Sign-Ins

In the second meeting of the Center for Teaching and Learning’s internal Technology SIG, someone mentioned a desire for having easier event sign-ins. Honestly, I don’t recall whether there were intervening comments, but something in the discussion reminded me of the Yale Student Technology Collaborative‘s homegrown software, cardswipr, that interfaces with a magstripe reader or prox reader for just this kind of purpose.

After checking out a prox reader from the Bass Media Equipment service, I hooked it up and tested it out with the web app. It worked exactly as advertised, and as easily. Authenticate, create event with event admins, open event, swipe ID, and record some of the swiper’s directory information, including some available only to authenticated Yale accounts.

The second phase of the test came this morning, when I poked at it / demonstrated it for a handful of CTL colleagues. Since I didn’t know how this would go and knew it wouldn’t take long, I only spoke to people who participated in the Technology SIG conversation, with encouragement for them to bring along others they thought were interested. The end attendees represented the Writing Center, Graduate and Postdoctoral Teaching Development, Assessment, Quantitative Reasoning Center, and Collaboration & Communication.

Fortunately, I seem to have been successful in setting a low bar for expectations, as everyone saw some use for the app, even if it isn’t perfect for all. In part, this is a case of the app having been built by the STC for their use case(s), so it does what they wanted it to do rather than what infinite potential future use cases might require. I’m totally on board with that; premature optimization and all that.

Also, of course, given that we try to have people around who find the limits, boundaries, and interstices and given that people come to software with pre-existing hopes, people who saw the demo had varying desires for additional data or functionality. Tutoring providers want to have tutees prox in and then have the tutor fill in a couple additional things that can’t be retrieved automatically from a university database. At teaching workshops, it would be nice to get a person’s status in the university: undergraduate, graduate student, faculty, postdoc, staff, others. Everyone wished we could get the swipe-in time in the exported data, and though only one person mentioned it, I believe that everyone could benefit from the event name included in the exported data as well.

Given the favorable response, I’ve put in a query to Yale ITS to see if they would contemplate additional development. If so, I’ll need to demo the app for all CTL staff interested in the possibilities and to guide us through a couple short requirements meetings.

Annotation and Screencasting to extend the reach of your classroom

In March, the Center for Language Study hosted a Brown Bag and workshop (see blog post here) where we (Dave Malinowski, Adam Hummel, and Vincent Cangiano) discussed possibilities for creating online materials — annotated documents, instructional videos, and more — for language instructors to extend the reach of the classroom and open up class time for activities that there might not be time for otherwise. In this post, we give you a taste of how you can do this with just a few of our favorites from among the hundreds of tools out there.

  1. Annotating materials. At the workshop, we presented PDF Markup by Kdan, one of many annotation tools available for the iPad and iPhone (Kdan also offers PDF Reader for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS; more on these apps can be found here). PDF Markup allows you to read, annotate, and edit PDF documents on iPhone and iPad, using highlights, text, and freehand notes, sticky notes, arrows, shapes, etc. You can also use your device’s camera to scan a document or take a photograph, then save it as PDF to annotate. Or you can save a webpage to PDF to annotate. You can share your annotated PDF files via email or store them on the Kdan Cloud website and share links to your files (with 500MB of free storage), or move them to Box, Dropbox, GoogleDrive, iCloud, OneDrive, Evernote, etc. (Note: to get a sense of some of the other annotation tools out there, see this list, for instance)
  2. Creating screencasts. During the workshop, Zoom was demonstrated as a tool which can be used not only for web conferencing but also for recording screencasts with audio and video (or just recording audio and video). Zoom is free and cross-platform, meaning it can be installed on Mac, PC, Android and iOS, making it easy to produce screencasts using any device. Screencasts can be effective tools to create short lessons for students which they can watch outside of class allowing for in-class time to be more focused on practice rather than explanation.They can also be used to provide demonstrations and instructions on how to complete an assignment or a project. The image below gives an example of how a recording might look if you were to give a short tour via Google Maps Street View, for example.

    To start getting acquainted with Zoom, you can check out this tutorial video series on YouTube. And, for a glowing review of features and some basic applications to language teaching, see this FLTMag article from last year. (Note: there are numerous applications available for screencasting as well; contact us if you’d like to talk about them).

  3. Weaving these resources together. One possible motivation for using both of these tools together is to record yourself discussing (with Zoom) an assignment that you’ve annotated with PDF Markup; another might be to give oral feedback on the ideas of a student essay that you had already marked up with written grammar feedback. To illustrate, here is an example of a screencast made with Zoom, using a PDF of the 2016 CLS Instructional Innovation Workshop call for proposals:

To learn more about using these or other tools, or to discuss other ideas for creating materials or activities for use within or outside of your classroom teaching, feel free to contact us. We’re available to meet individually to discuss your pedagogical goals, the materials or activities you might wish to develop, and the possible tools that could be put to use in service of those goals and plans.

Cross-posted from the Center for Language Study blog, Multilingual Commons

CoursePress Upgrades, January 2016

On January 13 14, 2016, we expect to have a short amount of downtime (should be less than 15 minutes) for CoursePress as we implement some upgrades. Most importantly, we’ll upgrade the core of our WordPress installation from 4.2.2 to 4.4.1. This post outlines some of the more important pieces of information about the new versions of WordPress core as well as some upgraded themes and plugins.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a staff of testers nor are we tasked only with supporting CoursePress, so our testing cuts corners. We focus on the standard site we create for courses, which relies on the Twenty Twelve theme and a handful of plugins. After the upgrade, please check your site to make sure that everything’s still as you expect it to be. Let us know immediately if something’s not right.

In the past few years, WordPress has begun reliably rolling out 2 or 3 new versions each calendar year. We’ve gotten better at keeping relatively current, but less good about advance notice and writing up the differences. I hope this post is the start of better communication, insufficient though it is.

Changes in 4.4.1 Core

  • Most importantly, this version fixes a cross-site scripting vulnerability
  • Removed Rdio embed support
  • Unicode 8.0 emoji, which includes non-yellow emoji (sometimes called “the diverse emoji”)

WordPress’s official blog post on the release of 4.4.1.
Expanded list of changes included in 4.4.1.

Major New Core Features in 4.4 Include

  • Improved look and lay out for images on mobile devices in mobile-friendly themes
  • More possibilities for embedding:
    • WordPress posts
    • Cloudup
    • Reddit comments
    • ReverbNation
    • Speaker Deck
    • VideoPress
  • Accessibility improvements
    • Translation string improvements
    • Improved headings (some non-visible by default for adaptive devices only) in administrative interface screens
    • Greater semantic HTML element usage elsewhere in administrative markup structure
    • (The whole list)

WordPress’s official blog post on the release of 4.4.
Expanded list of changes included in 4.4.
Full set of WordPress blog posts discussing 4.4.

Other Notable Core Changes in 4.3 and Intermediate Releases Since 4.2.2

  • Incorporation of limited Markdown-like syntax in the visual editor
  • Ability to add a favicon for individual site
  • Customize site theme without having to enter the administrative interface
  • Elimination of some cross-site scripting vulnerabilities and SQL injections
  • Squashed bug that allowed unauthorized user role to create post

Selected Updated Plugins

New Plugin

  • Cloner: Facilitates copying course sites. We get regular requests to copy an existing class site for a subsequent term, and this plugin should make fulfilling those requests easier. (We’ve always done it, but it took more time than we liked.)

Selected Updated Themes

New Theme

WordPress has announced a planned release of core version 4.5 in mid-April 2016. We hope that we will be able to adopt this version for CoursePress after the end of Spring term and in time for Yale Summer Session.

Pixelmator v Acorn v Photoshop v GIMP :: Two Aspects

In an effort to find a Photoshop alternative with a significantly lower cost, we’ve purchased both Pixelmator and Acorn. Last fall I worked mostly with Acorn and GIMP, and I’m hoping to use Pixelmator more this fall with the DOCC node I work with.

Creating a defined selection box of X pixels by Y pixels
Acorn: Yes
Photoshop: Yes (link is to one description of doing this in an older version, but I expect it’s been substantially carried forward.)
Pixelmator: No
Animated GIFs
Acorn: No (sin of omission)
Photoshop: Yes
Pixelmator: No

Nature Walk 2015

Today’s Nature Walk Tour was, by far, the most engaging and exciting learning moment in which I’ve participated since coming to Yale a year ago. What an outstanding demonstration of the seamless and responsible integration of technology with learning, and of teaching that is focused on student-driven, transcompetent, and holistic pedagogy.

The tour is part of an ongoing project for Marta Wells’s course Evolution, Functional Traits, and the Tree of Life.  The project “engage[s] students and the community while promoting awareness of Yale’s natural resources. We intend to create a public Nature Walk with the data students have contributed. We will welcome creative submissions from the community, such as artwork, poetry, photography, videos, or other types of media.”

The tour started with a warm welcome from the professor, Alina, and Matt; we were invited to taste Chirps, a cricket-based crisp (http://www.sixfoods.com/#products). As we moved outside, the sensory stimulation continued: we sang and listened to spoken word poetry, smelled bark, touched acorns, and visually absorbed the details of our surroundings. The technology was present but not overwhelming; in fact, a few of us commented that being filmed in a group for a learning resource felt more comfortable and inviting than being filmed in a formal studio for a flipped lesson. These are the types of video resources I would learn from and want to watch if forced to sit in front of a monitor for hours. The sensory stimulation created strong residual messages as bits of knowledge were absorbed almost psychosomatically.

Alina Nevin’s GIS app worked brilliantly, only emphasizing how well she and Matt have blended the technology to subtly enhance the course.

I can’t say enough positive about this learning experience and the marvelous things being accomplished in the course –it is a major inspiration, and a world of thanks for being invited to view and participate. What a perfect way to spend Earth Day 2015!  –Dana Milstein


When Graduate Students Become Online Teachers

We created this site with the goal of supporting graduate students with a basic toolkit of knowledge tools for first-time online teaching. [P.S. We do not focus on institutional support that teachers must have to be effective online teachers.]

This resource is a work-in-progress. We have opened up this site as a shared learning resource so that we may learn from others how to better improve this resource. We welcome your feedback!

Faculty Bulldog Days Review

It’s all over but the reflection for the professors and for the CTL organizing staff, and I have finished sitting in on three classes during Faculty Bulldog Days* for spring 2015. Here are some thoughts about that.

Before I talk about the teaching, I can’t thank enough the professors who volunteered to have someone come observe their class. We don’t have a strong and pervasive culture of openness at Yale, so I thank the professors for standing up and making their teaching work more visible. In the same breath, I want to thank the students in the classes for having a stranger (two, in one of the classes I attended) in their midst. The largest of the class sessions I attended maxed out at 20 students, making interlopers noticeable. Naturally, the five-student class had discussed opening up beforehand, but even the others accommodated visitors seamlessly.

So what about that teaching? Because the sign-up form didn’t have a box on it to check for “Yes, I would like any minor mistake or idiosyncrasy made in my class to be splashed across a low-traffic instructional technology blog”, I’ll only mention things I noticed and liked. (Try not to chafe too much at the vagaries, because even revealing the discipline of a class would pull back the curtain a little too much.)

  • A particularly nice technique I saw was using an un-articulated motif in the class but then at some point in the session raising the motif to a conscious level. If activating prior knowledge contributes to learning, working with this idea at varying scales of “prior” — even within one class — makes sense.
  • Another teacher, in an effort that seemed effective, very noticeably phased in participation over the course of the class. Students engaged in heavier lifting at the beginning, with the professor only nudging along; as the discussion got denser and more challenge-laden (in a good academic way, I thought), the professor increasingly helped portage.
  • In a final example, and at the risk of being banal, one teacher engaged very personally with the work under discussion. Fortunately, the work was comedic, so laughter demonstrated their** engagement, but that personal commitment can make the difference for some students.

Taking on affective filters is a fine line, of course: Are you giving students a glimpse into personal meaning or risking scaring them off something they don’t connect with in the same way? My bias is for not hiding how you feel about what you’re teaching, for not pretending that scholars hold absolutely everything at arm’s-length. By the same token, of course, you have to model critical engagement with the topic and critical engagement with how you feel about it.

I pepper my thoughts with conditionals and hedging, because this was drive-by observation. Some classes gave me prep work, some didn’t. Even so, all the people involved in these classes had worked with and through scores of ideas, hundreds of pages of reading, and hours of lecture and/or discussion before I got there and without which I can’t form any strong conclusions. This highlights one of the difficulties in mounting this sort of event. While there’s no explicit pressure to participate, the implicit social expectations don’t go away. If you’re an untenured faculty member teaching in front of a high-ranking admin, who may be from a radically different field’s teaching traditions, how do you keep it together? There’s enough potential benefit (and actual benefit for me) in this event that I hope we do it again, but I hope we never stop trying to make sure it’s a scaffolding exercise for the participating faculty rather than an unrewarding chore.

* Honestly, I wish we’d called it something like Classroom Open House or Sharing Our Teaching, or similar, as I don’t make the same associations with a prospective student event that I do with this. I do hope, though, that prospective faculty hires are indeed able to sit in on a class or three, and not just in their department of recruitment, during their visits here.

** Gender-obscuring pronouns. Live it, love it.

In an item in yesterday’s Yale Daily News about Yik Yak, one professor is quoted as seeing potential there:

[Aleh] Tsyvinski said that as a professor, he rarely gets feedback during the term. He added that he wishes there were an anonymous board, similar to Yik Yak, dedicated to continuous feedback.

Alina Nevins wins Spot Award

spot-alina-nevinsOur very own Alina Nevins won a CIO Spot Award from ITS. From the website:

A Support Technician wrote on behalf of several members of the ITS Help Desk to express thanks to Academic Technologist Alina Nevins, who wrote high-quality knowledgebase articles supporting Classes*v2.  “The articles are very well written and clearly spell out what we need to know,” he wrote. “I received a number of emails about Classes*v2 this morning. The articles made it very easy for me to provide information to the clients.”

From ITG

Alina not only wrote high-quality knowledgebase articles supporting Classes*v2. She has taken over the very large support shoes of our dear retired colleague, Gloria Hardman (and is doing an extraordinary job of it). Alina offered hands-on training to HelpDesk staff regarding the use of V2. It’s our first service which has tier one support at the help desk. She’s managing the V2 queue and our great staffer Jennifer Colafrancesco’s work on the service, mastering Drupal for course and educational technology services support, has just gotten a new “Senior Academic Technologist” title and is an all-around great team member.

Thanks Alina and congrats from the crew!