Archive for Mobile Learning Tools

Increased Engagement and Communication Through the Use of ConnectYard

I attended the Creating Futures Through Technology at the beginning of March in Biloxi, Mississippi.  This a local conference that is geared towards the use of technology in higher education in Mississippi.  This year, I presented along with my colleague Dr. Cindy Handley on our use of ConnectYard at USM.

Increased Communication and Engagement Through the Use of ConnectYard from ahornton
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Engagement, Persistence, and Retention: How USM use ConnectYard to Successfully Enhance these Key Factors

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the 2012 Blackboard World Conference in New Orleans, LA.  Blackboard World is always a huge conference with a lot of information.  Like years past, there were a lot of useful sessions and time well spent collaborating and meeting new folks from other schools learning about their experiences and key take aways.  There were several things I thought they could have done better, but the big negatives were the food and location.   Considering we were in a city known for their great food, what they provided at the conference was a disappointment.  And, although I love New Orleans, having to shuttle back and forth to the convention center from my hotel was a pain and the few times I had to walk the 2 miles to get to the other end of the convention center wasn’t pleasant, although admittedly the exercise was good for me 🙂 Overall, though I’m glad I was able to attend.

On the first day of the conference, along with my colleagues Sheri Rawls and Cindy Handley, we presented with ConnectYard.  We have been using ConnectYard for about a year to enhance the communication within our online courses.  ConnectYard provides the ability to set up alternate communication channels within Blackboard so students and faculty can self-select how they would like to receive discussion postings and announcements from their courses. They can select channels such as Facebook, Twitter, cell phone text messaging, or e-mail.  Feedback from our students and faculty has been overwhelmingly positive.  They like the customization of the service and that it allows them to access their messages from anywhere on their mobile devices.  We are currently pursuing other use cases for ConnectYard, such as for marketing and recruitment for our online programs and university wide communications among departments and online students.  To view our presentation, see below.

How USM Uses ConnectYard to Successfully Enhance Engagement, Persistence, and Retention Efforts from ahornton

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Podcasting

We are getting ready to roll-out podcasting here at our university. It has been over a year in the making. We began with a pilot last summer, but it has taken this long to work out all of the kinks of technical and policy. We had intended on using iTunes U but that has been put on hold for reasons I won’t go in to. We ended up developing our own internal solution. We got the idea from Mississippi State University but ended up developing are own from scratch. We use LDAP authentication so that only our faculty, staff, and students will have access to the application. Only faculty and staff have access to create podcasts and students have access to view podcasts.

We hope to be able to implement iTunes U at a later date, but we have run into road blocks with that so we are not sure when that will come about.

Many discussions of policy about use, accessibility, and best practices went into this before we are arriving at this point. We are set to release our solution university wide July 1st and so now I am feeling the pressure to finish all of the documentation as we will be offering our first training in just a few weeks.

In training, I plan to not only talk about the technical side of podcasting, but also include information about the pedagogy as well. I think it is is important to emphasize certain best practices and using the technology appropriately for their courses.

As we get materials up on our Web site, I will post links to those.

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Do our students know more than we do about technology?

A faculty member came to me last week who wanted to incorporate podcasting into his course and one of the questions he asked me was, should I assume that my students will already know how to use this technology (or something to that effect)? I told him that I try never to assume anything. Although we like to believe that our students are more technology savvy than the faculty, it is not always true. When speaking of traditional students, yes, they probably know how to use Facebook and download music, but do they even know what a podcast is? There are probably a lot who don’t. First of all, they don’t use the same terminology as we do, so that is something that needs to be addressed first. It is important to make sure everyone is on the same page at the beginning of the course, so that all of the students have the opportunity to be successful.

What if your student population is made up of “non-traditional” students, maybe students who are working full-time already in their field, or who just waited a little longer to go to college, choosing to have a family first…this population of students have a whole different list of concerns than your “traditional” students. Many of these students are already scared to come back to school because they feel out of place and in addition to that are intimidated by the new technology they feel they know nothing about.

Well, what did I tell this faculty member? I told him to get to know his student population, ask questions, create an environment where the students feel they can ask questions (that there are no stupid questions), and tell them up front what to expect in the class. I told him to include on his syllabus the technology requirements so they know up front what is expected to be successful. For example, he is going to require that they use iTunes to view his podcasts because he is creating enhanced podcasts with a Mac. I created an iTunes Cheat Sheet for him to put in his course and told him he should provide the link to download iTunes (which is free) in his syllabus the same as he would his required textbook.

I don’t think we can assume that our students know more about technology than we do. I think they know different things about technology, like how to use youTube and text message on their cell phone, but the types of technologies we use for education could be completely new to them.

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Let the Podcasting begin

Well, I did my first podcasting training last week. With all of the information about podcasting and different avenues that you could go down…image trying to fit all of that into a 2 hour session. Its impossible! I made it clear at the beginning to the participants that they would not be learning how to use any specific types of software in this workshop. I could have spent 2 hours alone on how to use each software. As a department we have decided to support Audacity, Camtasia, and GarageBand. So, we will do separate workshops for each of those.

Instead, I started off the workshop with a little discussion, asking them about their experience so far with podcasting and if they even knew what it was or had subscribed to a podcast. I always like to have a “get-to-know” the participants and what their prior knowledge is (this goes for any workshop I conduct).

I began with a discussion about terminology…what exactly is a podcast, podcasting, RSS feed, etc? I found that many of the participants where new to these terms. Since I work for a university I approached the workshop from and educational stand-point talking about how podcasting can be used in education and showed them some examples from our podcasting pilot faculty, how they are using them in their courses.

The first hands-on activity…I had them go out to a podcast directory (I gave them a list to choose from) and find a podcast they were interested in subscribing to and I showed them how to use iTunes to subscribe to their chosen podcast. I gave them an orientation of iTunes and talked to them about the iTunes store and finding podcasts through there.

Before jumping into the recording and publishing a podcast part, I felt it was necessary to discuss the planning process. Although there are many podcasts out there, I’m sure, that took no planning at all, when using podcasting for educational purposes, I think it is important to do at least a little planning before hand, especially if you want it to be beneficial to your students. You should decide on a consistent format for your podcast and ask yourself questions like:

  • What do I want my students to get out of it?
  • Is this required or optional for my students?
  • Should I use video or audio?
  • What software will I use to record?

Recording, of course, is an important part of the process, but due to the time constraints of this 2-hour workshop, was not able to cover much in regards to this. I covered, location, location, location….

We developed our own internal solution for publishing. We developed a podcasting application that allows our faculty and staff to login with their user id and password and upload their files and the application will create the RSS feed for them. We use a single sign-on using LDAP, so they don’t have to remember another username and password, they use the same one they use for everything else. Faculty and staff have the ability to create and manage podcasts and students only have the ability to view podcasts.

We also discussed issues of accessibility (captioning videos and providing transcripts for audio), copyright and permissions. As with any other technology, I believe it is so important to stress the appropriate use of it.

Overall, I think the first session went well. I was able to get a idea of what their expectations where and now am planning to do an Advanced Podcasting workshop, to hopefully get to the other material I didn’t have time to cover in the first one….there never seems to be enough time to cover it all.

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