Monthly Archives: January 2009

Netvibes.com: An Innovation in Online Learning

I am certain that most professors are always looking for as many avenues to get information out as possible. The Classes V'2 site, powered by Yale University, is one place where professors can upload material to supplement books and lectures. In many cases, however, there are helpful resources outside the Yale network that could drastically enhance the quality of a course. One place where this is possible is through the Netvibes.com website. Netvibes is a website that allow you to create a p[personal webpage. This website can serve as a great portal for learning because professors can upload as many outside resources as they want. The process is simple.

1. Create and login and password- that is the hardest part

2. The rest of the processes for uploading media and linking websites are clearly given by the website itself. Most functions on this site only require the website desired for use.

Netvibes could prove to be a viable tool for teaching because of the wide range of media that can be brought to the webpage; from blogs to flash media, to image galleries and of course web pages. Netvibes has potential to make learning exciting and fresh because of the access that this site grants professors to incorporate teaching material online.

SECAM

We have been doing a faculty project down at FSC, one which began as a relatively run-of-the-mill request, but soon turned into a mystery that took some time and effort to solve. The project involved capturing two sets of clips, and burning them on DVDs. The first set was from a PAL standard DVD, and was a routine capture, using the muli-region player and converter. When we cam to the second however, which was on a VHS tape, we ran into rather serious problems. The tape was color and was only playing in B & W, then, the color issue was solved, but to the other extreme, color was bleeding all over the screen! We tried the tape in a multiplicity of players, all to no effect. The tape was either B & W, bled color, or had static artifacts constantly on the screen. We looked into the tape further and found that it was recorded with the SECAM standard. The problems we were having still made little sense, as most of the multi-region players state that they indeed play SECAM standard. However, with a bit more digging we made the discovery that the tape is recorded within the SECAM-L standard. This is a standard used almost solely in france (understandable considering the movie is a French one). Our issue here is that Deck #3 is equipped to play MESECAM only, which is the standard used on home videos in the Middle East. There are also five other SECAM subfields (SECAM B, D, G, K, and L) which are used in both the middle east and northern europe. The reason the tape won't play is because SECAM-L is rather uncommon, so the decks we have (both at ITG and FSC) will not support it. And as a further note, recording standards are a completely different field from the artificial coding added with regions, broadcast standards are written to the tape itself, as opposed to being added later to the material. A further compounding issue is that even with a deck which would play SECAM-L, the converter would likely balk, as SECAM standards, due to their odd pattern of interlacing and color management usually end up black and white and/or having static artifacts, which is no problem if you have a black & white film, but alas, this film is in color. So, in the end, our solution is to just find another copy of the film in a more wokable standard.

Compression Cookbook

The library is hosting a "how-to" session on video clips, and asked me for some advice on compression settings. Compression is surely the most finicky part of the video process - and the often obtuse terminology and frighteningly long lists of codecs usually scare most users into choosing a simple default. Now, a simple default is usually designed with said user in mind, and will result is a reliable, viewable video clip that most users would be happy with. The catch here is that with a little tweaking, a reliable, viewable video clip can be transformed into a reliable, beautiful, and even praiseworthy one. Here is where ITG comes in. Having done exhaustive research and testing of all the mystical elements of video compression, we have concocted our own "cookbook" that we use with all of our internal work. The issue with this cookbook is that until now it has largely been stored in the minds of student interns and the specially-crafted presets of ITG computers. So, I give you, for the first time, in the first draft, the ITG video compression cookbook...enjoy!

Cookbook 1

Cookbook 2

P.S. See the secret recipe for great YouTube videos.

Portals as Catalysts for learning

The Map is the Territory: Course "Engagement Streams" as Catalysts for Deep Learning
W. Gardner Campbell, Baylor Univ.
Robert German, Millersville Univ. of Pennsylvania

Portals have become like telephone books, providing information but no engagement which is boring. They provide information aggregation, pushing information to the end user (student) rather then sparking learning. How can these online tools amplify information literacy?

The question asked: What if we could create visualizations of students engagement with their learning while it
was happening so that it would inspire and augment their in-class experience?

The use of blogs gives the students an arena where they discuss and formulate the progress of the learner. Blog posts essentially write the course into being. The cognitive process of learning is viewable - a sort of catalyst feedback loop. It is here that students' engagement becomes visible.

The Mythical Man Month says that software creation is pure "thought stuff", perfectly malleable because it is so intensely cognitive and imaginative. It can not be done without the human brain.
So too is computer aided education - technology tools give us a way to communicate and represent experiences in ways that are hard to represent elsewhere.

How do we harness the catalytic process? How can we produce an organic system of catalytic agents - not randomly but particularly designed. Instructional technology should no longer in the business of automating tasks. Technology can now be used to address the larger goals of helping a student to understand how they learn and how to make meaningful connections. Our success should be measured by the creation of catalytic agents to better enable learning. There should be a transparency to the learning experience.

Such basic technology issues such as authentication are necessary but should not be the focus - the focus should be on the acquisition of tool skills beyond these points. We need to intentionally design the tools used to create the knowledge project.

Take Away Quote: "Users own the technology space. Privacy, confidentiality and security needs to focused on relative risk. There is honor in defeating them rather than surrendering to them."

Exercise:

Imagine what kinds of student engagement you would like to display to the class to show it's work believing that it would catalyze learning. How would you arrange that in a portal space?

*put in link to the images on flickr....when I find them...

Questions/Ideas:

Have i3 students create an i3 portal, pulling in all the items that they think would be a "catalyst" to doing their jobs better. Something more dynamic then the sakai site, perhaps pulling in the sakai stuff as well?

Target a class that has students using popular culture references and create a sandbox where they can post video/audio/images that spark discussion.

Have students "take turns" creating a catalytic portal site for their peers in the class each week.

The message once again - the whole is greater then the individual.

Curricular Uses of Visual Materials

A Mixed-Method Institutional Study - http://go.carleton.edu/CUVM
Paula Lackie and Andrea Nixon, Carleton College

Based on the research study that asked the question "Are Carleton Colleges sources of support well suited to the work demanded of the students and faculty as they make curricular use of visual materials?"

The study was conducted with the help of student researchers that were trained by a cultural anthropologist in the library. Emphasis was placed on student class status (freshman to senior) and how students became "aculturated" to scholarship over the years.

Results of the study showed that the majority of work done by students was happening in the residence halls between the hours of 4pm and 4am. The the library and other areas where students study were used less.

Sources of support was sought (in order):

  1. from other students in the class or from professors - freshman were more likely to use peer support, juniors and seniors were more likely to ask the "experts" - professors or staff - then first year students.
  2. there were a number of students who didn't seek support at all
  3. support from TA's and CA's
  4. a very small number of students actually turned to IT staff for assistance.

The study hoped to identify the points at which the curriculum met the support model of the institution. The integrated support model's mission is to provide faculty and students with expert reference so that students and faculty need not know the organizational support structure of the institution.

They began to look at consultation with faculty - where goals regarding course pedagogy were discussed, assignments considered and materials needed - not as project managment outlines (though there is a time and place for this structure) but rather as production meetings. Unlike project management where there is a "product" or outcome and tasks required to obtain those ends, faculty were encourage to voice ideas, discuss assignments and outline teaching and learning objectives of a particular course. The project management part was secondary to those initial meetings.

The use of the visual is well established in curriculum. Students and faculty are asked to find, access, create, interpret and present visual materials for course and research work. Working with visual materials requires support from many different departments across the university. Digitizing materials - whether they be library objects or personal collections - can require a long list of support providers some of which include:

  • content specialists
  • media creation specialists
  • catalogers
  • software/hardware specialists
  • course management specialists
  • system administrators

In order to support students in their visual literacy mastery, these items need to be considered:

  • the times and places where students work
  • recognition of others sources of support (student techs, teaching assistants, peers).
  • providing a model of exceptional work (rubrics or examples of high level scholarship in a discipline)
  • providing support beyond the struggling student to counteract any negative perceptions of support
  • course specific instruction (providing clear concise online documentation)
  • supplemental training for high end tools
  • identification and advertisement of sources of support.

Items that need to be considered in order to support faculty in their use of visual materials:

  • the times and places where faculty work (including their availability for training)
  • production meetings to discuss the academic goals of the course
  • project management outlines for deliverables with clear deadlines with "fail safe" or "exit strategies" if technology fails to meet the needs of the goal
  • providing a team-based support system with an expert reference as point of contact

Take away quote:

"I am amazed by how much my need to help clouded my ability to see what kind of help was needed"

This quote resonated with me, just the day before I had mentioned that at one point in my career as support specialist I felt that my value in the job rested on the amount of tasks I completed for others. I now see my job less as "the person who accomplishes the task" but now "the person who facilitates, enabling others to achieve their goals."

Ideas/Questions generated:

How, when and from whom did you seek support? - this question should be added to the course assessment surveys.

Possibly using i3 funds - identify a student or TA associated with the course or senior in a the discipline who is paid to provide student support for technology used in the course.

Use the i3 graduate student in History and English as first point of contact for student support for technologies used in courses in these disciplines

Partner with residence halls to see what is available for student use in the areas where they live - if indeed this is the place where the majority of the work is taking place.

Mine the i3 program for feedback regarding support models, course technologies used etc - have them work closely with the TLC staff to help support specialists understand their needs. Though our mission is the support of faculty, ultimately this support affects the student body. It is possible that interns could conduct exit interviews with students?

Student interns are para-professionals. In order to keep the work quality/output high, those interns must be excited about and engaged in the process.