Monday, December 16, 2013

Dropbox - Why You Shouldn't Need Your USB Again

If you are still toting around and trying to keep track of your USB thumb-drives and moving files from your home and work computers that way, read this article about the cloud storage solution that is free for the everyday user. Best of all...Dropbox syncs with Moodle as a file repository!

Dropbox is a cloud storage solution that is free for the everyday user. Dropbox will start you out with 2GB of storage space when you first sign up. You can increase your free space by sending referrals for Dropbox to your friends and colleagues. You can also purchase additional storage with prices starting at $9.99 per month.

Getting Started with Dropbox:
  1. Go to and create a user account. (Don't forget the user name and password you used as you will need these when you log into Dropbox from other computers and/or devices.)
  2. Install the Dropbox desktop client onto all computers that your regularly work on. This will add Dropbox as a file storage location within your computer.
  3. Download the Dropbox app onto any mobile devices you use such as your Smartphone or iPad.
Basic Features of Dropbox:
  • When saving a file - choose Dropbox as the location. Your file will automatically be synced with all of your other devices. Drag an existing file into your Dropbox to save it in the Cloud.
  • Create folders within Dropbox to keep your files organized. 
  • Share folders or single files with others for collaboration. Changes that are made to the file will automatically sync for all the users. 
    • Eliminates the need to send large attachments over email.
    • Reduces confusion on which file version is the latest.
    • Shares family photo albums - as you add new photos to the album everyone you have shared the album with automatically has access to the photos.
    • No limit to the number of people who can share a folder.
  • If you are using a computer that you normally don't use such as in a campus computer lab, log into and download your file from there. You have access to your files from ANY computer or device with Internet access.
  • Camera Uploads: This is an optional automatic feature that will upload all the photos you take with your Apple devices and/or Smartphone to your Dropbox account.
  • Drag and drop files from your Dropbox folder into your Moodle course.
  • Store any type of file in Dropbox.
More information:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Using Pinterest for Education

You have probably heard of this social media tool… but can it help you find educational resources? Can it be used for educational purposes?

What is Pinterest? Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. It allows users to organize and share all the great resources that can be found on the web. Educators can browse boards created by other educators to discover resources, lessons, websites, tools, and ideas.  Pinterest is made up of Pins and Boards. A Pin is an image added to Pinterest. A pin can be added from any website using the Pin It Button, or images can be uploaded from a computer. Each pin added using the Pin It Button links back to the site it came from. This creates an archive of materials on a specific subject or topic.  A board is basically a set of pins. A board can be created on any topic, such as a subject area, topic of study, curricular area,  or educational technology tools. Users can add as many pins to a board as they want. These boards can then be shared with others.

 How Can Pinterest Be Used in Education?
  • Curration of Content - resource boards can be used as a visually engaging way to gather and access information
  • Collaboration - collaborative boards can be set up so that multiple users can pin together ideas and resources in order to create one combined visual storage place of information
  • Engaging students with technology - boards can be used as portfolios, for finding and sharing cultural and historical information, for creating a digital newspaper, for creating a photo journal with captions in a foreign language or documenting a trip they took, and for creating a virtual field trip.
  • Sharing conference summaries and notes - presenters share their websites and links to useful information during their lectures. Pinterest provides a platform for accumulating this information and sharing it with colleagues who were unable to attend the conference
  • Finding tutorials on topics that you need to represent on an online course
  • Teaching copyright and digital citizenship - use this as an opportunity to teach students that many images and photos are creative works that need to be appropriately cited when "pinned". Encourage your students to be aware that written permission may be needed in order to "pin" a professional photo.
  • Encouraging creativity - allow students to use their imaginations to create their boards and organize them in a way that is visually stimulating and useful
Note: Keep in mind that Pinterest also includes people outside of education and educators must use discretion if including students. Please check the Pinterest Terms of Use.

Want to learn more about Pinterest in Education? Check out these links:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Promoting Digital Citizenship in Online Discussions

The last post emphasized the use of asynchronous online discussion to promote critical thinking. This post emphasizes the use of online discussions to promote digital citizenship in order to facilitate robust and meaningful academic discussion among students and instructors.

What is Digital Citizenship?

Students are constantly communicating digitally through social media, instant messaging, and phone texts but this form of communication often does not incorporate the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use. Digital citizenship is a concept that emphasizes appropriate use of technology - in this case, as a form of interacting in online class discussions. For more information about digital citizenship visit

 Ideas for Promoting Digital Citizenship Through Online Discussions:

  1. Keep discussions to Bloom's higher level topics including creating, evaluating, and synthesizing.
  2. Use discussions as formative assessments for checking both individual and group understanding of the topics in the course.
  3. Grade the discussion on specific participation requirements. In the discussion instructions tell the students exactly what is required of them, such as a reply to the teacher with a requirement of a certain number of sentences, and comments to a stated number of other student posts. Give firm deadlines for postings so that the discussion will continue in a timely manner. If firm posting deadlines are not used, students tend to wait until the last minute to make their post which inhibits the development of robust conversations throughout the week.
  4. Emphasize that this is an academic discussion and not an emulation of social media. State this in the discussion instructions until it becomes acceptable classroom practice and culture. Some instructors call this "netiquette". You may want to post the "netiquette" guidelines in the course syllabus. Netiquette might include:
    1. The use of proper English grammar
    2. Complete sentences
    3. No text lingo such as "LOL"
    4. Proper spelling - encourage students to use the spell check feature within the LMS or to type their post into a word processing document with spell checker first
    5. Avoid the use of personally identifying information
  5. Require and encourage students to list resources or references for any copied and pasted information - no plagiarizing.
  6. Promote the practice of empathy and caring for others. For example, instead of being critical, students could use "I statements". No bullying or put downs should be allowed.
  7. As the instructor, model citizenship by practicing what is required, while also commenting on the students' posts.
  8. Give students the opportunity to create their own discussions so they begin to own the process.


Gorman, M. (2013, October 6). 10 Ideas for rich academic student discussions in education social media...promote digital citizenship. 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning blog.

More Information about Online Discussions:

Promoting Critical Thinking Skills Through Online Discussions

Improving Online Discussions

Monday, November 11, 2013

Promoting Critical Thinking Skills in Online Discussions

One of the learning outcomes of higher education is for students to develop critical thinking skills. This skill can often be difficult to develop and assess in the online learning environment. However, according to Morrison (2013), asynchronous discussions can have value in developing higher order thinking.

What is Critical Thinking?

Morrison defines critical thinking as "thinkers who know what they don't know, and know how to learn what they don't know" (2013). Morrison emphasized that effective discussion forums in small online classes are focused, structured and purposeful places for learning (2013).

Scriven and Paul (1987) defined critical thinking as "the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. It is a standard of intellectual excellence required for full participation in social, economic, and political life of a given society" (A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987).

Specific Learning Conditions

  • teaching presence (students sense the instructor is 'there'),
  • structured learning through purposeful course design (the discussions are structured around the course learning outcomes),
  • planned and guided student interaction that generates thoughtful and meaningful discourse,
  • guidelines for students that include concise instructions for participation, expectations and assessment criteria,
  • consistent feedback from instructor in the form of a grade, or individual or collective comments on discussion outcomes (Morrison, 2013).

Why Do Online Discussions Promote Critical Thinking?

"Compared with spontaneous and transitory face-to-face class discussions, online discussions are text-based and more structured, providing students time to formulate thinking and compose postings, thus helping to promote student higher order learning…The text-based feature of online discussions makes student thinking visible and leaves a permanent written record for student's later review. Text-based communication may actually be preferable to oral communication when the objective is higher-order cognitive learning.” Wang, Y. & Chen V. (2008). Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence – A Practical Experience.

Part of having a community of inquiry is the development of a cognitive presence in the course to the extent that learners are able to construct meaning through sustained communication and discourse in the community. In order for this level of critical thinking and knowledge construction to be reached, the interaction and discussion must be structured and cohesive.

Instructor Behavior that Supports Asynchronous Online Discussions:

  • Responding to student postings to encourage elaboration, clarify information, and prompt further discussion,
  • Encouraging students to add value to the discussion by prompting them to share resources, ask questions, and incorporate content from the course in their posts,
  • Avoiding domination of the discussion - let it flow naturally and intervene to keep the discussion focused and/or to enhance the conversation,
  • Providing a summary of the discussion responses at the end of the allotted time period to share the highlights of student posts and emphasize prominent perspectives and ideas (Morrison, 2013).
For more information, view Morrison's  slideshare presentation, "How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom". The presentation includes examples of effective discussion prompts and feedback.


Morrison, D. (2013, October 1). How to promote critical thinking with online discussion forums. Online Learning Insights Blog.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Word Clouds: Way to Use Wordle In the Classroom

Word Clouds like the one below make interesting visuals, but they can also be used in the classroom as a learning tool!

Word Cloud created by M. Gorman

The 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning blog by Michael Gorman recently listed 125+ ways to use Wordle Word Clouds in the classroom. Gorman shares a collection of ideas that can be applied to almost every subject. Below are just a few of his suggestions. Click on the link above for his complete listing.

  1. For science: when classifying objects - make a word cloud for each classification. Make the classification heading bigger than the rest of the words.
  2. Put both words and short definitions into a word cloud. Have students find a way to connect the words and definitions - be redoing the word cloud and color coding the items that go together, or drawing lines between the matches.
  3. Have students use the word cloud to analyze their frequency of word usage in writing.
  4. For a writing class: Have students create a story, poem, haiku, free verse, etc. from words they see in the word cloud. Or have students create a word cloud from a piece they have already written as a way to visualize word usage.
  5. To teach the use of a search engine: Have students put a search term into a search engine. Have them copy and paste the results and make a word cloud. Have students analyze the results to determine why certain words are larger in the word cloud. Were there any unexpected outcomes in the word cloud?
  6. Social studies: Create a word cloud to illustrate how countries of the world (or states in a country) rank with related themes such as oil production, GDP, industries, languages, etc.  The heading would be the resource and countries would be in the word cloud showing their rank by size.  There could be other variations. Use advanced number feature.
  7. Diet and nutrition:  Have students keep a food journal of what they eat for a week. If they eat French fires three times they record that. They then enter their entire journal entry being sure to give a number value in the advanced more or pasting the word the correct number of times. They should end up with a word cloud of their diet.
  8. Presentations: Students create a word cloud to illustrate their favorite artist, athlete, musician, or historical person and do not include the name. They then present a word cloud to class and students try to guess who the person is. Finish by including their word cloud as part of a poster with a picture of person, name of person, and a paragraph about him/her.
  9. Foreign language:  Put both the English and foreign word into a word cloud. Have students find a way to connect the words. This could be redoing the Wordle with a tilde between words so they go together. It could be color coding the words using the advanced edit feature. Perhaps they just draw lines between them.
  10. Foreign language: Have students word cloud a foreign newspaper article. What are the common words that are used? You may wish to even use show word count. Do it by showing common words. What are the most common? Also, try it with- out common words. Can students tell what the news article may be about before reading?
To get started with Word Clouds, visit Gorman's article, "12 Valuable Wordle Tips You Must Read...Word Clouds in Education" for tips in using Wordle and other ideas for integrating Word Clouds into education.

Gorman, M. (2013, March 7). Word clouds: 125 ways...and use Wordle in the classroom. 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning. Retrieved from:

6 Great Apps to Create Word Clouds on Your iPad

Monday, September 30, 2013

Improving Teacher to Student Interaction in Online Courses

Feedback and interaction with students in the online classroom is just as important as it is in the face-to-face classroom but more difficult to facilitate. Teacher to student interaction in online courses requires instructors to be strategic and purposeful in their communication with students. Below are some suggestions to improve the teacher to student communication and interaction in online courses:

  • Announcements: Just as the instructor would make announcements about due dates and upcoming events in the face-to-face class, this type of communication is also important for the online environment. The announcement tool provides a podium for the instructor to dispense information to the entire class. Moodle provides the "News Forum" tool in each online course which enables the instructor to easily post an announcement to all students. The instructor's message is emailed to each student's ISU address and is also posted in the "Latest News" block of the course. You may want to change the name of the "News Forum" to something like "Announcements" and check the settings for the forum to ensure that it is set to "Forced subscription". Suggestions for announcements:
    • Messages at the start of each new week to give students a summary of what will be covered, what the expectations are for participation, and perhaps point them to an item of special interest posted within that week. This will remind students to log in after the weekend and will get them motivated to start working on the assignments.
    • Reminders or clarification on frequently asked questions or areas that the class as a whole seems to be struggling with. For example, if APA style is expected across all assignments, but several students are not using it, you could post something like: "Remember to use APA style in all written assignments. For more information about APA style refer to the following website." Using an announcement for this purpose ensures that all students are given the same important information.
  • Question and Answer Area: This area has been given many different names: Conference Area; Muddiest Point; Water Cooler; or simply Q&A. The Q&A provides a place for students to raise their questions or concerns about the course as a whole or about a specific topic such a where to find a certain resource or for clarification on an assignment. Encourage students to ask questions here instead of emailing them directly to the instructor because the answers may be beneficial to not only themselves but their classmates as well. Having a Q&A area also prevents the same questions from being asked many times and promotes consistent and fair feedback because it ensures that the instructor gives exactly the same answer to all students. To set up the Q&A area, add a simple forum to the main block of the course (the block that contains the course syllabus and News Forum) and in the description explain to the students what this forum will be used for. The instructor may also want to choose "forced subscription" to this forum.
  • Feedback/Comments on Assignments: Students need personal interaction and input from their instructor. A marked grade often does not give enough direction to students to improve their work. Feedback may come in the form of a returned document that the instructor has opened and made annotations on, or it could simply be a typed comment in the feedback box of the graded assignment. To provide an area for feedback and/or comments, when setting up the assignment in Moodle choose the type of instructor feedback under the "Feedback Type" section.
  • Rubrics: To ease student anxiety about how they will be graded on their discussion posts and assignments, use a rubric to list the expectations for a specific grade or point allotment. The implementation of a rubric will assist the instructor with providing fair, consistent, specific, and effective feedback within the course. When grading a long assignment, the instructor can include references to a specific area of the rubric to explain the mark that the student received. The Assignment Activity in Moodle allows the instructor to create and use a rubric as an advanced grading method. The students can have access to the rubric so that they know what the grading criteria will be. For more information access the Handout on using a Rubric Grading Method in Moodle.

More information on improving teacher to student interaction:

A three-minute clip, Interact with Students featuring the program chair from Penn State World Campus, that summarizes how and why faculty involvement with students online differs from, and is just as crucial as in face-to-face classrooms.

How to Provide Fair and Effective Feedback in Asynchronous Courses, provides three solid strategies for communicating with online students, as a class and individually.

Speaking’ to Students with Audio Feedback in Online Courses is about providing feedback to online students using audio feedback for student assignments in place of written feedback.

More Essential and Helpful Resources for Online Instructors - online learning insights blog.

Slideshare presentation, Rubrics for College – The Easy Steps Way,  provides a good overview of rubrics that instructors can create for students—tools that provide clarity and guidelines for student assignments and assessments. The presentation covers the why, and the how of rubric implementation applicable to face-to-face and online environments.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Improving Online Class Discussions

Anyone who has taught an online class knows that one of the biggest challenges is providing tools for student-to-student interaction. Asynchronous class discussions can be a great tool for promoting class participation. However, it can be difficult to get students to participate in the discussions if they don't see a value in it or perceive it as "busy work" instead of a learning tool. Rizopoulos and McCarthy said that "threaded discussions provide virtual learning connections which transcend class hours and provide a dynamic, dialogic learning environment where students reflect, collaborate and discuss real world issues" (2009, p. 373).

Tips for Effective Class Discussions

  • Topic: The instructor needs to incorporate thought provoking discussion topics from the curriculum into the course that will promote interaction and the sharing of thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
  • Rules: To ensure that students stay involved with the discussion throughout the week, set specific guidelines for participation. For example, if the week starts on Sunday, require that the students make their initial post by Wednesday and respond to at least two other people's posts by Saturday. The instructor may also have the ability to prevent students from reading other posts until they have made their initial post (such as the Q&A forum in Moodle).
  • Facilitation: Students can get off topic, so it is the job of the instructor to act as a facilitator within the discussion. This is a delicate balance for the instructor - too much intervention and the students may become intimidated and the discussion will shut down. The instructor should set an example for the students with a few thoughtful posts to redirect the conversation to the topic at hand.
  • Grading: There will be better participation if students receive a grade for their contributions (think of it as a substitution for an in-class participation grade). Generally, discussions are not graded for grammar or other technical parts but instead the grader is looking for the quality of the thought behind the posts. A grading rubric is useful for communicating to students how their posts will be graded. Below is an example from Rizopoulos and McCarthy (2009):
    • 5 Points - Excellent. Insightful and reflective discussion contributions; made an initial post and expanded upon at least two other ideas presented in discussion.
    • 3 Points - Acceptable. Elaboration and contribution to one or two ideas within the discussion.
    • 1 Point - Marginal. Simple insight or contribution to the topic.
  • Group Size: If the class is larger than 20 students it might be beneficial to divide the class into smaller sub-groups for the purposes of discussion. The smaller group sizes (5-7 students per group) will facilitate more robust discussions because it takes less time to read and respond to posts and students can get to know each other better in the small group setting.

More resources on improving your online class discussions:

Lee, C. (2013). 5 tips for hosting online class discussions.

Online Learning Insights - a Blog about Open and Online Education. More essential and helpful resources for online instructors.

Rizopoulos, L.A., & McCarthy, P. (2009). Using online threaded discussions: best practices for the digital learner. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 37(4), 373-383.

Wang, Y., & Chen, V. (2008). Essential elements in designing online discussions to promote cognitive presence - A practical experience. The Sloan Consortium, 12(3-4).

Six-minute video, Conducting effective online discussions from the COFA series Learning to Teaching Online, provides educators with skill development and strategies for managing and facilitating effective online discussions and how to engage students in the process.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Handy Google Search Tools

Google isn't the only search engine available, but over the years Google has developed a search engine designed to make our lives easier when it comes to finding the information we are looking for. Google uses a combination of the OneBox module which directly answers many queries without the user ever needing to click away to an external website, and the Knowledge Graph results that add extra layers of information to each search.

Below is a list of just a few of the Google Search tricks that may save you time in the future:

  • Clock: This Google Search shortcut allows you to see what time it is in any major city around the world without ever having to leave the comfort of the Google homepage.
    • Type: "time [location]". Example: time France
  • Sunset and Sunrise: These Google Search shortcuts allow you to find out what time the sun is due to rise and set on any given day in any given location.
    • Type: "sunrise [location]". Example: sunrise France
    • Type: "sunset [location]". Example: sunset France
  • Demographics: If you need to quickly know how many people live in a particular city, country, or even continent the first search shortcut will be useful for you. You can also look up the unemployment rate in any given location.
    • Type: "population [location]". Example: population France
    • Type: "unemployment rate [location]". Example: unemployment rate France
  • Translation: There is a whole section of Google dedicated to translating one language to another - the Google Translate tool. But you can also use a Search shortcut for single words or short phrases.
    • Type: "translate [words] [language]". Example: translate read carefully french
  •  Timer: You can use Google as a timer if you don't have a stopwatch handy. You can set the timer either for a set amount of time or for a set time in the future.
    • Type: "set timer to [time]". Example: set timer to 5 minutes
    • Type: "set timer for [time]". Example: set timer for 19:00
  • Weather:  To obtain the basic weather forecast for a location without having to leave Google for another website, this shortcut should provide all of the necessary information.
    • Type: "weather [location]". Example: weather Paris
  •  Define: For a quick dictionary look-up of a word, its pronunciation, etc. You can even click the speaker to hear an audio clip on the pronunciation.
    • Type: "define [word]". Example: define pedagogy
  •  Conversion: You can translate various units of measurement.
    • Type: "conversion [1] to [2]". Example: conversion yen to pound
For more tricks for Google Search shortcuts, visit the following articles:
Google Search tips cheat sheet
"Are you SURE you know how to use Google?"
8 Google Search Tips to Keep Handy at all Times