Category Archives: Technology

Video Investigations as Assessment

Photo by Cheryl Colan

Sian (left) and Merry (right) at SCC Tech Talks 2017

On January 27, I attended TechTalks at SCC and watched Geology faculty Sian Proctor and Merry Wilson present their talk Video Investigations: Students Presenting Their Understanding of Our World. From their abstract (scroll down the linked page a bit to read it in full):
Video investigations are a unique way of having students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of complex topics and establish accountability in an online learning environment.
I love this idea for assessment in an online class. Merry assigns 4 video investigations per semester, while Sian assigns them weekly. Their students:
  • receive specific guidelines for each assigned video investigation
  • see an example video made by the instructor
  • get a link to the free
  • do not need to be given instructions on how to make a screencast – they figure it out on their own
  • create 1- to 5-minute videos to show knowledge, demonstrate mastery or reflect on course topics
  • embed their videos into Canvas Discussions to share with the rest of their class

Photo of presentation slide on the Design of Video Investigations

Sian and Merry had some goals in mind when they designed the video investigation assignment. One goal was having a way to be sure the students were actually the ones submitting the work in an online environment. A video submission goes beyond plagiarism detection via Turnitin, because you are hearing the student’s own voice, and possibly even seeing the student via webcam. Another goal was to cut down on grading time. You can grade a 5-minute video in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how much feedback you write per student. Other goals included increasing student engagement and learning retention. Being top-notch scientists, Sian and Merry gathered data about their students before and after introducing video investigations into the courses they teach. If my memory is accurate, they found students tend to report they enjoyed the topics where video investigations were assigned more than the topics that did not involve a video investigation. Students also felt more of a sense of community, because they saw and heard each others’ faces and voices as they shared their videos. The process of creating video also built up the students’ information literacy skills over the course of the semester.

Photo of presentation slide on Engagement and Literacy

I’ve used video in the classroom as a student and as an adjunct, and I can confirm that having students produce short videos is an excellent learning and engagement tool. If you would like to learn more, reach out to Sian and Merry, or contact me in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement for more information.

Need a Grammar Checker? I Want to Find Out

Writing today is almost a completely online or computer aided experience. Students are composing in word processor programs as well as online in programs like Google Drive or directly in Canvas. While most of these text editors will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar check, a more robust dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor, and there are many of these tools available on the web for free and for pay. I decided that maybe our students and even faculty and staff might benefit from some of these tools, so I wrote a summer project proposal to research it this summer.

My goal for a summer project is to spend some time using some of these editing tools to discover which make the best use for our students and for us. I also want to study how these programs work to discover if in fact they are accurate and how accurate they are. In addition, I’d like to research whether these tools actually benefit students by teaching them to become better writers or if they are simply a crutch. With this knowledge, I’d like to develop a plan for how best to use these programs with students so that the tools can be more of a teaching aide than a tool that makes corrections only for students. So my proposal includes academic research, activities that can enhance my professional knowledge and expertise, as well as field research to learn innovations. 

I think this will be great way to spend my time this summer, so I plan to complete this project over a 4 week period during the month of June. Did any of you submit a proposal? I’m curious how you plan to spend your summer if you did. 

Flipping the Classroom, One Video at a Time

The “flipped classroom” is all the buzz lately. I really like the idea of it, and I have tried to get students to prepare ahead of time so we can do interactive activities during class. In addition to this, I assign projects that require students to apply the knowledge from their study.

Last summer, my ACE students were struggling with an activity and asked for more time in class to do the project. I obliged, with an agreement that they would have to watch the lectures outside of class. I spent the better of two afternoons recording the lectures using Screencast-O-Matic and Power Point slides. They were not perfect, but they worked, and the extra in class time to help students apply the material was awesome!

Last week, as we were working on an in-class activity about the atmosphere, one of my students remarked, “I wonder what it would be like to be a storm chaser!” Many others responded, and a great discussion ensued (I love when that happens!). I do know a storm chaser, in fact, she is a former student – and I even have had her come as a guest speaker before. So I contacted her, but unfortunately, she is now working a “real” job, and cannot get away during my class time. The next best thing is to make a video of her presentation.

…Here I go, trying out something I’ve never done before. Oh, wait, isn’t that professional development?

This time, instead of talking over Power Point slides, I thought it would be more engaging if my speaker could do her talking in front of a green screen and then display her photographs or video behind her. Lucky for me, the CTLE can help with that. I met today with Cheryl Colan to learn more about how it’s done, just to see if it is a doable project. We had so much fun! I even made a video of myself with instructions for my speaker about what she should prepare when we are ready to film. It took about an hour to film and publish the very short video. I even put one of my own storm pictures behind me. Here I am, finishing up the recording (Cheryl suggested I put this picture in my post):


The CTLE has a recording room, complete with green screen, computer loaded with the right software, camera and microphone, special lights, and even a teleprompter. Cheryl also told me that when you reserve the recording room, you are also reserving her services – that way she is available to help you through the process.

I definitely learned something new today! I know this video will probably be the only project of this kind for this semester, but little by little, I might just end up with a collection of them.


Creating a Soundtrack for Your Class

If you were unlucky enough to take one of my sessions during the time period immediately after Guardians of the Galaxy, you probably heard some references to the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” tape from the movie.  I loved the songs on there.  To this day, when my phone rings, I am “Hooked on a Feeling” and when I wake up, there “Aint no Mountain  High Enough” for my alarm.  If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know what I am talking about, feel free to check out the mix tape below…but be warned…I am not responsible if this is stuck in your head!

Did you know that the director played this soundtrack over and over during filming so that the crew could get the right emotional “groove” that he wanted for the film?  To show this in a different way, 2001 a Space Odyssey almost had a late ’60’s rock soundtrack instead of the classical one that is so iconic.  How would that have changed our view of the film?

Why do I mention this and what does it have to do with education?  When I was working with students and wanted them to be inspired and yet to write in a certain emotional view, I would play music that would fit that mood and help them without even telling them my intention.  It was amazing how music could be used to calm nerves or to create excitement, depending on the needs of the project and my intentions.

One method that I used regularly was one that I saw while watching “Gone in 60 Seconds.”  In the clip you are about to see, the always fun to watch Nicholas Cage uses a particular song to charge up before a very busy night.

Lowrider is obviously a song that his old crew are used to and it is a way to tell them that it is time to get your thoughts together and rally yourself for the task at hand.  In other words, just playing the song is a way to get them ready for what is to come and acts as an audio trigger to get ready and start.

This technique worked great for me when I used it for the students, especially in the first and last classes of the day.  When I played a certain piece of music, usually the same that Mr. Cage did, it became a signal for the students to empty their minds of all else and to get started.  Sound is a highly powerful thing.  What is your “Charging Up” music?  Would it work in your class?


Canvas and Face-to-Face Classes

When I returned to college-level teaching (after almost 20 years break), I felt intimidated by the prospect of using a Learning Management System. Talk about change … we were just barely using email over dial-up on a UNIX prompt (no web browsers yet) last time I was in academia. It wasn’t the technology that intimidated me – it was the fear of using technology as part of my teaching method. I felt outdated, and out-of-touch with new teaching technology.

I couldn’t have been more wrong! Using Canvas as a part of my class has freed me from creating and maintain spreadsheets, updating grade reports, grading tests, and much more. It has also enhanced the learning experience for my students by allowing them to discuss things online, providing a running tally of the assignments due, and providing grades and feedback as soon as something is reviewed or graded by me. It also allows me to communicate with students on a more real-time framework, and it keeps all the paperwork associated with the class in an easy-to-access, organized fashion.

Here are some of the ways I use Canvas for face-to-face classes:

Gradebook – I love this feature. I can set up weights on grades and offer extra credit without having to do much math at all. After I do a set of grading, I usually look at the overall total for each student to see how they are doing in the class as a whole.

Front Page – I have found a way to set up a table for the course home page that I can update each week. I put some kind of picture that represents the area of study and a quote by someone regarding that area of study. I also have spots for Important Links, What is due in the coming week, and a section for honors. I can also put a big, red announcement across the top of the page to emphasize something important (like test dates, etc.).

Assignments and Rubrics – I set up all assignments in Canvas for several reasons. First of all, I must to that to use the gradebook feature. However, by setting up the instructions for the assignment online, I don’t have to worry about students losing the printed assignment instruction sheet. I also set up rubrics, so when I’m grading, I can remain objective and accountable.  I also ask students to turn in assignments via Canvas whenever possible – I know exactly when an assignment was turned in (late or on time), and I never have the fear of losing someone’s paper. Also, students can’t claim they turned something in when they really didn’t.

Tests – I hate tests. I like to use projects to assess how students are understanding and applying the material, but I also know that tests are a necessary evil. I also like to use interaction, small group activities, and active learning in class, and I feel that class time is better spent in discussion and activity than in taking tests. I set up quizzes in Canvas, and students must take them within a certain amount of time. The time limit prevents them from looking up every answer, so they must know a bit about what we’ve been discussing in class. However, as we all do in real life – if there is something they are blanking on, they can use notes and text to find the answer.  By using this strategy, I have gained three additional class periods that would otherwise be used in testing. … And no more scantrons! Canvas grades them for me, so all I do is look at the statistics in case I have to revisit any of the questions or material later.

Small Group Work – this semester I have assigned small group projects that require a bit of work outside of class. By using the groups feature, students can interact with each other online, which makes it easier given their busy schedules.

Discussions – I use these to make students accountable for preparing for class. I ask them to post one or two things about the reading material, and then comment on someone else’s posts. Then when we use and apply the material in class, they aren’t totally left in the dark, and I don’t have to revert to lecturing.

It’s not a hybrid class, but using the features of Canvas to support my activity in class has opened up all kinds of possibilities to reduce paperwork, but more importantly, enhance student learning. Change, in this case, was good!


Using Rubrics to Get the Desired Result

Today, I am known as a guy who loves all things technology, am married to Canvas and wishes Bill Gates would finally come over for dinner.

The driving force behind this technological leaning does not lie in my love for the electronical arts, quite the contrary, it lies in my beginnings as a History teacher.  During this stage of my career (my  first year) I wanted students to constantly grow to improve.  I did this through a variety of projects, but one in particular was done every single week: the weekly 15 page essay.

Essays are incredible tools that can help students and can really get involvement and buy in.  I used a variety of methods to allow for an interest in writing.  What I did not expect was how grading 248 essays every single weekend for a  year would affect me.  I began looking for ways to quicken the grading process and limiting questions on what they had to do and then more questions about why they got what they got.  I did what any self respecting 20 something year old would do…I ran home to mama.

My mother is a former English teacher and she said one word to me: rubric.  Using a rubric saved me tons of time in grading since the majority of comments tend to be similar and I could just use the one I gave in the rubric as a guide.  They also helped the students to better understand what was required for a certain grade.  Rubrics saved my weekends and I will forever be grateful to both my mother and rubrics.

Today we have online tools such as the Canvas Rubric that allows us to automatically give scores by choosing the comment from a grid.

This grid speeds up grading, gives comments to the student and speeds up the process incredibly.  Creating the rubric itself is simplified by using your current rubrics, borrowing from other teachers or using websites such as Rubistar to give you the wording you need and then copy and paste that wording into Canvas.

All in all, I did learn a whole lot from my first year teaching, enough to fill a book.  When it comes to a lesson that I use constantly and see as a way to help instructors, rubrics come right up to the top of the list.  If you have never used one, please try it.  Adding Canvas to the mix will make it even more useful.  If you wish to try, please contact or try this useful site!