Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why professors should be engaged in social media

If you landed here, you probably don't need a primer on what social media is.  But you might want to learn why it's important for professors to be fully engaged in social media.

I often have my students do a preview lecture on their own before they hear what I have to say.  So let's try that now.  First, check out this slide show called What the F**K is Social Media: One Year Later (pardon my French, but it IS the title of this presentation).

So OK, now we see that this is the way that most people are now communicating . . . yikes, even more than email! And more importantly, this is the way people are networking and forming communities.

As educators, I think we must be fully engaged if we are to be effective in facilitating teaching and learning . . . if we are to be effective agents of growth and change in our culture. And if that means being part of the "social network" of Facebook and the blogosphere, then maybe we should seriously consider that . . . lest we fall into the age-old trap for academics: shutting ourselves up in an ivory tower.

I recently had a colleague of mine tell me that she would never have a Facebook account because she was told that students would access it  . . . and that is bad.  I'm not exactly clear on why this would be bad.  I suspect the issue was that private matters (such as political or religious views. . . or that photo with a lampshade on your head that "friend" tagged you on their Facebook page) could be detrimental to the faculty-student relationship.   Or that the familiarity often bred on such sites could "cross the line" of effective faculty-student relationships.  Both of which are valid concerns.

However, although such concerns should be seriously considered and such risks managed, one can still safely and effectively use social media to further one's educational outreach and strengthen existing teaching-learning relationships.  For example:

  1. Keep your personal Facebook (or Twitter, or . . . ) page private.  Set your privacy settings so that only your friends have access to your information and posts.  Then set up a separate page for your "professor persona."  My Facebook page for The Electronic Professor persona is managed through my personal Facebook account, but public access to it is complete separate from my private Facebook identity.  Likewise, The Electronic Professor Twitter identity is separate from my personal Twitter identity. 

  2. Write a blog.  I'll be addressing the "how to" part of this in a later post.  But by publishing a blog, you don't have to link to any private accounts or private information.

  3. Establish a wiki.  As with blogging, this is completely separate from your personal social networking identities.
So the next question is what do I do when using social networking tools? Of course, the list is endless . . . limited only by your imagination.  Or the imagination of others with brilliant ideas that you can rip off, er, borrow from.  Here are some ideas to get the juices flowing . . .
  1. Create a wiki for a course you teach.  This allows your students (perhaps from different course sections) to network with each other by sharing tips, resources, class projects (term papers, essays, lab  reports, videos) and even assignments with the wiki community.  Students can then learn from each other and perhaps even offer constructive suggestions to each other to improve their work.  And possibly see that others (besides the professor) find certain elements of their work to be less than satisfactory.  By doing this on a wiki rather than within a classroom management system (CMS; such as Blackboard, Angel, etc) students from past courses can remain in the community of they choose and continue to contribute and learn. (FYI, wikis can be "private" and allow only those you permit to access them.)

  2. Create a blog for a courseThe Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success
    you teach.
    Chris Sullivan has a great blog that he uses to keep his human anatomy & physiology students engaged in the course by updated them on current news items that relate to what they are studying. My blog The A&P Student includes study tips for a rather intense subject.  One could have a blog that simply contains course news and updates, including assignments. Because blogs are easier to navigate than your CMS, it's a good option.  Besides, your students can then easily receive updates via Facebook, Twitter, SMS messages on their phones, etc., which are not likely in your CMS.  Imagine being able to get a reminder to students an hour before a class starts!

  3. Create a Facebook page for your "professor" persona.  Tell students about why you are passionate about your subject.  Why you've chosen the instructional methods you use in your courses. Keep them updated on class events and assignments.  Give them tips for succeeding in your course.  This may keep them engaged in ways you never thought possible.
These are just a few ideas that may get you thinking about expanding your educational presence out of the classroom and out of your office and into the wide world of social networking.

You may want to revisit my previous articles on social networking.

If you want to know more about the world of social networking, even if you know nothing about it now, I highly recommend The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success.  OK, I know the title is about "business" but it's a great resource for educators, too!

What social networking have YOU used in your role as a teacher?  What worked well for you?  What problems did you encounter?  (Hit the comment link to respond)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Portable applications

When you move around to different computers on your campus or the public library or while traveling, you may want to carry your software applications with you.

Privacy concerns . . . and the fact that what you need may not be installed in every computer that you use . . . makes "portable applications" very attractive.  Not only that, but with portable applications you take all your personal settings and tweaks, such as bookmarks and favorite formats,  with you as you move around.

There are two easy ways to do this. And you can mix and match these strategies to fit your needs.

Strategy One: Web Applications

Web applications are internet-based based programs that are installed on a website and not on your computer. All you need is a browser to get to them.  Many of them also store your documents in a password-protected account so that you don't even have to carry your data with you.

Probably the best known suite of  FREE web applications are Google Apps, which includes Google Docs with word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more.  There's even Google Sites  for creating web pages. Note: Google Apps has some special programs for education.

For more FREE web applications, go to this link:

Strategy Two: Applications on your Flash Drive

A number of popular software applications are available in versions that are installed on a flash drive and can be taken wherever you want without having to install them on a computer.

For example, the popular FREE office suite Open Office also comes in a portable version: Portable Open Office.

Portable Apps maintains a great collection of this type of application.  Check out their FREE suite of portable applications that will get you started with much of what you need.

Please share with us your favorite portable apps!  What interesting educational uses have you made of them?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Retaining and satisfying online students

Although I'm a bit new at teaching entirely online courses, I've been teaching web-enhanced courses for years.  Yet, I still feel like I have a lot to learn.  For example, how do I keep my students engaged when I'm not face to face with them?

Our friends at Faculty Focus have new FREE report available that will interest you . . . Strategies for Increasing Online Student Retention and Satisfaction.

Despite the tremendous growth of distance education, retention remains a troubling problem. As an increasing number of colleges and universities identify online education as a critical component to their long-term strategy, the issue of retention can no longer be ignored. It is mandatory for everyone who touches the web-based learner to understand why these students leave their online courses, and what it takes to keep them there.

Free to Faculty Focus subscribers (a FREE registration), this timely report provides practical strategies for improving online student retention, engagement, and satisfaction. Articles include:
  • 11 Tips for Improving Retention of Distance Learning Students
  • Taking a Holistic View of Student Retention
  • Eight Suggestions to Help You Get Your Retention Act Together Now
  • Online Mentoring Builds Retention
  • Finding Helpful Patterns in Student Engagement
Download this FREE report now:

Intererested in other FREE reports from Faculty Focus? 

Try this link: FREE REPORTS

{some of the above material comes directly from Faculty Focus}

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why you need more than one monitor

I know what you're thinking!  Why in the world would I need more than one computer monitor?

Years ago, before I set up my first dual-dual monitor system, I thought the same thing.  Multiple monitors are for day traders and IT managers, right?  Wrong!  Nearly everyone can benefit from multiple monitors . . . especially professors.

Just think what you could do with extra monitor area:
  • Have PowerPoint editor screen open and visible AND your folder of images AND your lecture outline at the same time
  • Display PowerPoint editor AND the actual slideshow at the same time
  • Display your classroom management system (CMS) AND your Excel spreadsheet at the same time
  • See your email inbox AND your current work at the same time
  • Drag images from a folder or editor right into PowerPoint
  • Drag text from your word processor and images from the web right into your test-creation software (or CMS) . . . or at least see them all at one time
  • Make few mistakes, thus increasing accuracy in everything you do
There are just a few of the options that you'll have if you expand your monitor real estate. The primary value in this approach is that you can see everything at once, without having to switch back and forth between windows that are open but not visible. Not only will this make your life easier, research shows  that it will increase your productivity!

In my campus office, I have two wide-screen monitors.  My computer, as with most "off the shelf" faculty systems already had a graphics card with two monitor jacks built in.  All it took was one extra monitor . . . which are comparatively cheap.  Just plug it in and change one setting in the "display" settings of the computer . . . and off I went faster than ever.

One warning, though . . . if your IT folks are like mine, you'll get that "WHAT are you asking for?!" response that these folks learned from their mothers when they asked for a super-turbo gaming PC at age two.  As if we are asking for a new campus building powered by cold fusion.  This sort of set up is becoming increasingly common in business because it increases productivity at a really cheap price.  But in education, it's still rather unheard of.  But somebody has to be the first in their department to do it!  So persist.

At my home office, I now have moved up to three monitors Just like Bill Gates.  That is really sweet because I can have even more windows open at once and have to do even less window-switching than with a 2-monitor setup.  All it took was buying a rather inexpensive second graphics card for my PC.  Because both my cards have 2 monitor jacks, I could easily go to four monitors.  But I'm not sure my field of vision could handle that!

For my home office, I also got one of those multi-monitor pedestals.  That's probably the most expensive part of my setup . . . especially considering that I bought refurbished monitors online for next to nothing.

You can even do this with a notebook or laptop!

Want to know more? . . . here are some resources:
Dual monitors: the only way to go

Step-by-step: A three-screen workstation for $230

Articles from 
In this month's PC World magazine, Michael Scalisi suggests some tools that may help you:
  • HP USB Graphics Adapter helps you add extra monitors (beyond 2) without installing a card

  • UltraMon software helps manage your desktop displayed on multiple monitors

  • WinSplit Revolution freeware offers shortcuts to quickly send apps from one monitor to another without dragging it
Have I mentioned that using more than one monitor increases productivity?

Please share with us your multiple-monitor setup . . . or your stories about using multiple monitors!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Twitter in Higher Education . . . a report

This just in from Faculty Focus . . . they have just released the results of their survey of about 2,000 higher education professionals regarding their use of Twitter. Twitter, as you know, is the suddenly ubiquitous "mini-blogging" tool used by millions to keep their "followers" updated on their latest news.

The 20-page report reveals some interesting statistics, such as
  • Nearly one-third (30.7 percent) of the respondents say they use Twitter in some capacity.

  • More than half, (56.4 percent) say they’ve never used Twitter.

  • 71.8 percent of current Twitterers expect their usage to increase this school year.

  • 20.6 percent of current non-Twitter users say there is a “50/50 chance” they will use Twitter as a learning tool in the classroom in the next two years.

  • 12.9 percent of respondents say they tried Twitter, but stopped using it because it took too much time, they did not find it valuable, or a combination of reasons.
If you are curious about using Twitter as one of the tools in your toolbox, or perhaps confirm your suspicion that you don't want it in your toolboxyou'll want to take a look at this report.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's time for a Kindle

What?! You don't have one yet?

OK, I've only had mine less than a year . . . but wow, do I love my Kindle!

In fact, it's now hard for me to read a novel in paper any more. Why? Let me tell you . . .

First, you ought to know that I was one of those "I need to feel the pages as I turn the page" kind of guys. I NEVER thought it would be enchanting to read on an electronic reader. But as an educator and author and earnest practitioner of electronic-based teaching and learning strategies, I thought I should at least try it. Besides (I told myself) I should do it "for the blog."

OK, I kinda like electronic toys, so that was part of it, too.

But, wow, I didn't think I'd fall in love!

This darn Kindle 2 is lightweight (far lighter than most books I read . . . even the small paperbacks). It can pack more volumes than I've attempted . . . so it's great for traveling. And for those of us that switch back and forth between novels, non-fiction books, newspapers and magazines, and other reading material, the Kindle is a great solution.

Speaking of "other reading material" I can even load student papers, my own reports or chapter drafts, and other document files into my Kindle. I can then read them "on the fly" wherever I am . . . and I can bookmark them, annotate them, etc., right there on the Kindle.

I subscribe to the Associated Press science feed and to the daily New York Times. In either, I can clip and save articles, including highlights and bookmarks.

For a minuscule fee, you can also download this blog into your Kindle . . . see The Electronic Professor for more information.

And that's not all (oh no, I'm starting to sound like a TV infomercial) . . . you can also surf the web! It's connected via a cellular network (Amazon calls it WhisperNet) and for NO CHARGE will allow you to surf to this blog, or anywhere else you'd like. As with any mobile device, some websites won't look that great because of the size of the screen and the fact that it's monochrome. But when you're away from your home or office . . . wow.

Amazon (makers of the Kindle) probably prefers that you use the connectivity mainly to download their Kindle books. Which isn't a bad feature. I was at a conference recently with some extra time to catch up on my reading. I finished a fun novel and wanted to read the next one in the series . . . NOW. So I downloaded the next title and within minutes was into the first chapter of the next book in the series. Talk about efficient reading!

And before you know it, textbooks and/or supplements will regularly read on e-readers like the Kindle (it has already begun on a small scale) and if you are a reader of this blog, then I know you like to be ahead of the game on things like that.

All right, I'm gushing too much, I know. Check it out for yourself and see if you agree.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I've enjoyed working with a software tool called Inspiration for years. My website for students includes a suggestion for using the award-winning Inspiration tool to build concept maps. Now, those brilliant folks at Inspiration Software have put the functionality of this remarkable chart-builder online . . . for FREE!

Yep, you read that right. They are "beta testing" the new web-based version, and are offering it to early "guinea pig" users like you and me for nothing . . . nada . . . zilch.

The web-based version is called Webspiration. Well, ok, the name is less than inspirational but the idea of the product is a good one. I guess if you use it repeatedly, it's Respiration, eh? If you use it year after year (perennially) then its Perspiration.

All right, enough of that.

Either Inspiration or Webspiration can used by you and your students to:
  • demonstrate concept maps (mind maps)
  • construct an image for teaching (in a slide or in a handout or on your course website)
  • plan or organize your course, study time, a project
  • organize any information
  • learn a new concept
  • learn how new and old concepts relate to one another
  • develop new ideas
  • diagram processes
  • illustrate lab reports and term papers
  • creating study guides
  • ok, the list is limited only by your imagination, right?
They even have some really well done tips for college students on how to use the software to create study guides, construct an outline for writing a paper, etc.

Want to know more?
Webspiration - sign up for the FREE beta version

Inspiration - the original off-line version

Concept Maps
- my web article for students
Let us know how YOU are using either tool in your courses! (simply comment on this post)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back to school

After taking some time off from the blog this summer, I'm getting back into the swing of things as the new academic year begins to unfold.

So starting next week, you can expect more blog articles about electronic tools and strategies that may interest you.

And as always, if there's anything you want to share . . . please send me what you have (either information or a complete article) and we'll try to get it out there!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why faculty need their own websites

Over ten years ago, I decided to get my own independent website to use for teaching and other faculty purposes. I am SO glad I did! Let me tell you why I did it, why I'm glad I did it, and why you should get your own website, too!

The main reason I created my first independent website for students back in olden times is that our college then had a policy that if I posted a syllabus or any other material on the web it had to be sent to my dean for approval, then to the VP for marketing, then to the webmaster, THEN I could go ahead and post it. Not only when I was posting new material, but even when I wanted to change a typo or add an assignment! Clearly, the benefits of immediate publication were lost in this process. And talk about a disincentive to keep your pages current! So I completely avoided cumbersome policies and procedures at my college.

Another reason that I went in this direction was because I was teaching another course at another school. Some of the same resources could be used by students at both schools. Using two different websites, I'd duplicate much of my efforts. Using resources at one school for students at another school had its problems, too. So may own website allowed me to consolidate my efforts.

Also, being an author of educational material, I know how important it is for faculty to maintain ownership of their work. I don't want my school to own my work, because if they do then I can't use it at another school and I can have a textbook or software company publish it for me. There is a lot of legal precedent on my side, but web pages independent of any school can help avoid any claims on my work.

Of course, the down side to moving in this direction is that I'd have to be my own web page programmer and be my own webmaster.

But it turned out that this was not such a big deal. One can easily build a website with approximately the same skills as using a word processing program. Also, there is the up side to being your own webmaster . . . you are in control. You can do pretty much anything you want to do with your web pages. The only really hard part is getting over that huge hump of deciding to just go for it.

OK, this worked for Kevin . . . but why should I have my own website?

Here are some thoughts:
1. You are in control. No college policies or procedures. No standard design or limited web space or bandwidth to adhere to.

2. You can use it for more than one school or organization.

3. Helps you maintain ownership of your intellectual property.

4. You can password-protect your site (or certain pages) if you need to.

5. It's cheap. Often FREE.

6. It's flexible. You can change your design, your content, your format, any time you please.
Next time, I'll summarize some of the options you have in starting your own website.

Want to get started now? Or just reserve a domain name while you think it over? I recommend the world's leading website hosting provider 1&1 Web hosting. They happen to be having a sale right now, so it's even cheaper than usual to get started.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jing screen-capture service

Ever need a simple FREE way of walking someone through a simple procedure on the computer? Or wanted to provide a quick orientation to your website or your online course? Or wanted to share a quick review of a couple of slides from yesterday's lecture?

I can't tell you how many times I've walked somebody through a procedure on my course management system by getting on the phone and saying, "see that little button to the left? Yes, that's the one. Click it. Now what do you see? . . ." Or how many times I've emailed a student a message something like, "remember that slide from yesterday's lecture with the big purple circle in the middle? That was the nucleus. Do you remember the darker purple area inside it? That was the nucleolus. And yellow area represented . . . "

Wouldn't it be SO MUCH better to quickly run through it myself on my desktop while recording a short screencast . . . and send it right to the student? Then post a link to the same screencast on my course website so that other students can find it?

Wouldn't it even better if it such a thing were SIMPLE and FREE?

Have I got a deal for you . . . some of my friends at HAPS Institute have been using this FREE software and screencast sharing service called Jing. When I started getting jinged with these nice little screencasts showing me how to get up to speed on a new course management platform, I got hooked.

The FREE version of Jing does pretty much everything you need it to do. For a mere $15 per year (about $1.25/mo.) you get a few more nice little bells and whistles, like an option to post directly to Flikr or YouTube.

Here's a little sample of a quick Jing presentation I put together within just a few minutes:

[NOTES: Be sure to select "Large size" at the top of the player for the best quality. Also move your mouse off the player, which removes the navbar along the bottom so that you can see the material on the bottom of the screen. My Jing also includes a small webcam shot of me in the lower corner. That's certainly not required, but shows you another way to use the software. All I did was open my webcam capture software and position it alongside browser window I wanted to demonstrate.]

Here's a video that gives you a short intro to Jing:

[The video player embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The Electronic Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to my The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]

Also check out these resources:
A few important notes:
  • There is a five-minute limit to each video clip. So these are useful for those "short and sweet" demos. Camtasia, made by the same folks that produce Jing, would be an option for longer presentation.

  • You can also do still image video captures with Jing. You can add labels and arrows and such to these screen captures.

  • Where you send the final capture, how it is stored, and so on is completely customizable
Why not *comment* on the blog to share your proposed uses for Jing? Or perhaps you have some Jings you can share with us?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Create your own social network!

If you aren't aware of the power of Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social neworking sites in the process of teaching and learning, you ought to get up to speed, my friend!

To get a taste of the variety of uses of social networks in education, visit Social Networks in Education.

Such networks can be used to link groups of educators, or groups of students, or both. The network could be as small as one classroom and as large as the world!

A few years ago, The National School Boards Association (NSBA) published a report on the use of social networks by students. It is called Creating and Connecting. Geetha Krishnan wrote a nice blog post highlighting some of the findings of the report at Social Networking in Education. When you look at the content, you see that nearly all of it applies to college teaching and learning as well as the pre-college situations studied in the report.

The long and short of it is that students are already using existing social networks to tutor each other, collaborate on projects, share study tips, and more. We as educators should be able to see opportunities to become involved in facilitating such interactions.

If you want to establish a presence in an existing social network, perhaps even creating a specific "group" within such a network, then try the most popular ones used by college students:

If you want to start your own social network for your teaching discipline, your faculty, your college, or your own students, check out these tools:



[If you engage in any social networking yourself, be aware that any posting or information that can be viewed by the "public" will also be visible to your students and peers. Postings limited to your "friends" will also possibly be visible to any students that you accepts as "friends" in the network. Any "private" messages should be done using the "private" message tools in each network, to avoid possible embarassment to you or the recipient.]

Image by LuMaxArt at

Friday, February 27, 2009

Teaching as Testing

Folks are always surprised that I let my students take most of their tests online.

Colleagues ask me . . .

  • Aren't you afraid that your students will simply look up the answers without studying?

    • Afraid? NO! I'm hopeful that they will look up the answers they don't know. By doing so, they are studying!

    • Students quickly find out that it is far more efficient for them to study first, then take their online test. Before long, they are only "looking up" the really tough ones that are helping them discover what they forgot to study . . . or didn't really learn well when they studied.

    • Students also find that many of the items on the test are not simple regurgitation of facts that can simply be "looked up." Perhaps they do need to look up some facts, but also have to process the information before the items can be answered successfully.

  • Aren't you afraid that students will get help from other students? Or even other experts in the field?

    • Afraid? There's that word again. Hmmm, are my colleagues really that fearful themselves?

    • No! If they are really stuck, I want them to collaborate to find the answer. We all know that collaborative learning is highly efficient, right?

    • Experts? Do they really know that many experts who are willing to help them answer every item on every test? Even if they do, isn't that also collaborative learning? Isn't this how I want them to solve problems in the "real world" in their careers? Aren't professionals expected to consult with experts to solve a problem? What a great skill they are learning!

  • Aren't you afraid that your students will print and save their tests and pass them along to other students?

    • Oh, I'm so so afraid. Not. I want them to print out their tests! My tests come up one question at a time and when all the questions are finished, each test is automatically graded (correct or incorrect; the correct answer is not given to them), and may be printed out. They are then advised to find the correct answer to the questions they missed.

    • The reason they want to find the correct answers, besides their love of learning, is that they get three attempts at each test (the highest score of the three "counts").

    • In correcting their answers, they again have the opportunity to collaborate with their peers in the course, outside experts, or . . . heaven forbid . . . me!

    • I use huge test banks of items, of which only a few are randomly selected to appear on each attempt of a test. It would be a major effort to reconstruct the whole test bank . . . so much time and effort that it's far easier to simply learn the concepts. Besides that for most items, the elements (choices, matches, examples) also appear randomly within each item, so memorizing items wouldn't help them as much as you'd think. If they did find and memorize all the items? I think that in the process, they'd be actively studying the concepts . . . right? Why would I be afraid of that?

    • I do delete, alter, and add to the test banks on a regular basis so even passing an accumulated set on from year to year wouldn't help them much, either. (This sounds harder to do than it is.)

  • Three attempts? Won't they just "wing it" the first time, then use the first attempt print-out to ace the second attempt?

    • Yes and no.

    • Some of my students do strategically wing it for the first attempt in order to assess the type and quality of test items I'm shooting at them. Then they use that knowledge to help them figure out how I'm approaching the course objectives and what kind and depth of understanding they need to be successful. Good for them!

    • As I stated earlier, each attempt is very different from any other attempt that they or their peers will be taking. I'll explain more about how randomization of test items and choices works (and how to do it yourself) in a later post to this blog. But with relatively few alternate forms of items in the test banks, I can produce literally millions of different tests. So they cannot really simply memorize answers. All they can do, alas, is learn the concepts if they want to prepare for their next attempt.

    • Remember, I want them to use previous attempts of a test to prepare themselves for the next try. That's called studying.

    • By providing three attempts and accepting their highest score, I can see what their best effort really is.

  • So the students cannot possibly cheat?

    • Not easily! What many folks would call cheating, I call collaborating and learning from your past mistakes. Like in the real world, eh?

    • There is one type of cheating I do recognize: they cannot have another person take their test for them.

      • If I have 9 online tests, each with up to 50 (really tough) items, and each with up to three attempts possible (a total of up to 1350 difficult test items) . . . who in the world are they going to get to do that for them and do it successfully?!

      • My course management system does have some information (time-stamping, etc.) that can give me hints about possible cheating.

      • Their peers (and my colleagues who supervise the on-campus computers) are watchful for this behavior.

    • We talk together about academic integrity and about how we all need to prevent academic dishonesty in our course (this helps more that you might think). We even run through case studies regarding academic integrity as a small-group discussion exercise.

    • According to my new favorite book about teaching (and I have few favorites in that genre), What the Best College Teachers Do
      , the best teachers don't worry so much about cheating. Instead, they work hard to foster a trusting relationship with students . . . one that students will be unlikely to violate trust by cheating. And recognize that one cannot completely erase dishonesty from any group of humans, no matter how well you foster trust.

They do get some in-class exams, as well. So there are points at which I do a summative evaluation of their learning in a more traditional manner. They do much better at those now than they ever did before I started using online testing. The proof is in the pudding, as they say!

OK, this is just to the the discussion going! Comments, anyone?

(Remember, I'll have more details on how I do some of this in later blog postings.)

Want to know more about online assessment of learning? Check this out:

Assessing the Online Learner:
Resources and Strategies for Faculty
(Online Teaching and Learning Series (OTL))

More money for technology?

Will the new federal stimulus package boost education technology?

According to a recent article in Edutopia . . . the answer is yes!

The article Stimulus Package to Quickly Impact Education Technology states that "Education technology gets a $650 million boost under the economic-stimulus plan, more than doubling the current federal budget for it and proving that President Barack Obama's commitment to technology is more than just words."

For the full article and related links, check out:

Edutopia also has a great listing of online resources for finding grants to fund educational technology. Check it out at:

Friday, February 20, 2009

My clicker case

I used to think that clickers were stupid.

Wow, was that stupid.

I had some early bad experiences in worshops that used old-style clickers that didn't work very well . . . they were infrared (IR) systems that needed to be pointed directly at the receiver (which seldom works) and couldn't really handle all those responses coming in at one time.

And well, I just didn't get how it would help me or my students.


Extensive research has shown that clickers (student response systems) work. OK, really? Yes! Just introducing the use of clickers in your course can improve student performance by 20 % or more. Wow. That's not something I should just ignore, right?

Then I realized that the best college teachers continually get feedback from their students on whether they "get it." And a fun and easy way to do that is with clickers.

[I learned what the best college teachers do by reading the book What the Best College Teachers Do.]

And I learned that the new generation of clickers . . . the RF (radio-frequency) type . . . don't have any of the technical problems of the early types of clickers.

So I did it! And, wow, am I glad I did.

I mentioned in a recent article in this blog that I'd tell you more about my experiences with clickers in my classroom. It turns out that my friends at i>clicker . . . the type of clicker that I found works best for me and my students . . . just recently posted my experiences in a case study at their website.

So go visit my case study on their website in Faculty Case Studies (be sure to click on Biology to see my case listed). Then you'll learn more about why I'm now such a big fan of clickers!

Can you meet me . . .

Here's an issue every academic--students, faculty, and administrators--wrestle with all the time: arranging meeting times.

Students want to arrange times for study groups or lab partners to get together for a review session. Or perhaps arrange a time to meet a professor when the usual office hours don't work (or are booked).

Faculty need to arrange meetings with students, colleagues, book reps, or within professional organizations. Same thing for administrators.

Then there's arranging when a good time to hold a campus event might be.

Here are a few FREE online tools that can help do this easily and efficiently . . . and therefore painlessly!

Here's another one that I've used as a virtual "sign up sheet" to staff a booth representing a professional organization at a conference:

Check out each one. It'll only take a few minutes . . . they're simple and straightforward. Then decide which one will work best for you.

Do you have any of these . . . or another site (or another method) . . . that works well for you! PLEASE share your reviews and recommendations!

Friday, February 13, 2009

New clicker book!

My friend Derek Bruff's new book Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments has just been released.

I first met Derek at the inaugural Clicker Conference last fall at the University of Louisville (KY) during the cocktail reception . . . where all the significant learning at any conference occurs, right?

He told me about his book and how its creation evolved . . . how he interviewed some of the best teachers using the best approaches . . . and I couldn't wait to read it! Now that I have it in my hands I can't put it down. I'm still not finished yet, but I've already learned a lot more than I knew before about the "best practices" in using classroom response systems.

Derek sees the goal of clicker use as an increase in student engagement and participation in the course . . . that is, a more active style of learning.

Here's a sample of topics from the book:

  • Engaging Students with Clickers

  • Assessing Students with Clickers

  • A Taxonomy of Clicker Questions

  • Teaching Choices

  • Technical and Logistical Choices

  • Why Use Clickers?

Be sure to check out Derek's blog Teaching with Classroom Response Systems.

I'll have more on my own experience with clickers . . . and what I learned at the Clicker Conference . . . in subsequent posts.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Anki Learning System

This is a great tool for learning the terminology of any discipline . . .

My friend Jane Zeiser told me about this tool. Jane is a foreign language professor and her students use it to learn their vocabulary words.

It's called Anki and it's a FREE program that creates a database that is something like a virtual deck of flash cards. Students can load in (and share) their terms and learn them by practicing with them.

The program is SMART because it uses a proven algorithm to repeat items that are missed in a pattern that promotes efficient learning. As the student learns, the program alters the pattern to focus on the terms that need more practice . . . without forgetting to review the terms already learned.

Anki can be downloaded and used on a PC or Mac, it can be used on a mobile device (such as an iPod, iPhone, or SmartPhone), or on the web.

Of course, memorizing the meaning of terms is just the first step in thoroughly learning a new discipline . . . but a very important first step. Success with the first step leads to success during the rest of the journey, eh?

Please "comment" on this article if you've already had experience with Anki . . . we'd all love to hear some first-person reports!

Find Anki at

Free Edutopia magazine

Get a FREE subscription to the Edutopia Magazine.

This FREE OFFER comes from and covers "technology in education, project learning, and real world situations."

It's a trial offer, of course, meant to get you interested in the organization and its goals. And you probably will, considering coverage like this (from their website) . . .

  • "Turn on technology. Watch our short video about a school in Malden, Massachusetts, that used project learning and today’s latest technology to create an interdisciplinary lesson about the tools of yesterday. Watch the video.

  • Weigh in and join the discussion. Should we structure our schools based on the assumption that everyone should go to college? Not everyone thinks so. Join the discussion in our blog section, Spiral Notebook, and let us know what you think! Share your opinion.

  • Inspire learning and creativity. Read about the rare occasion that drew 500 students and their teachers across school district lines to attend one giant educational workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hint: It has to do with project learning, do-it-yourself technology, and innovation -- and Blinkybugs. Read the article.

  • Learn about becoming a member of Edutopia. Join thousands of educators across the country who are pushing for innovation and outside-the-box thinking. As a member of Edutopia, you’ll receive valuable member benefits, including a subscription to our award-winning Edutopia magazine. Become a member."
Let us know what you think by leaving a comment at The Electronic Professor blog.

Friday, January 30, 2009

FREE Office suite

Do you need a comprehensive Office suite for your school, department, home office, or laptop computer? But you don't want to (or cannot) pay a large sum of money to get it?

Then you may want try Open Office, a FREE MS Office-compatible office suite from

Components include:
  • Writer (word processing)
  • Impress (slide show creator/presenter)
  • Draw (drawing/graphic editing tool)
  • Calc (spreadsheet)
  • Base (database)
This open-source software isn't exactly the same as MS Office (of course) but the general functionality and productivity is equivalent. And the files you produce in one Office suite are able to be used in the other Office suite.

[NOTE: The newer XML default file formats used in MS Office 2007 (such as .docx, .pptx, and so on) can be opened in Open Office 3.0 but cannot be saved in those formats.] has just released their latest version Open Office 3.0 . . . so's now is the perfect time to get on board. (or update your previous version of Open Office). has a nice little summary and introduction for teachers and academics at their website that I suggest you explore.

If you try it, or are already using Open Office, then please hit the Comment button below this blog article and let us know about your experience.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Recover lost files

Have you ever deleted photos from a memory card and then realized you hadn't copied them to your hard disk or CD?

Or cleaned out the Recycle Bin, then discovered that you needed an important file that you thought you didn't need but now you do?

Yep, me too!

There's a new FREE program that can help with those problems and more . . .

It's called RECUVA (pronounced sort of like "recover") and is available as a FREE download at

A thought just occurred to me . . . perhaps I could send this link to students who email me saying that they completed their assignment but accidentally deleted the file! If their claim is true, this software will allow them to recover it. If it's merely an excuse for not really completing the assignment, a valuable lesson is learned, eh?