Engage Students in the Classroom with TodaysMeet

TodaysMeetI am always looking for ways to engage students to be active participants in the classroom, and TodaysMeet offers some great opportunities. It’s a free web application that describes itself as a way to embrace the “backchannel”—everything that’s going on in the room between members of the audience during speaker’s presentation. During a class, the backchannel is the conversation your students are whispering to each other or texting or note-passing. It’s when you’re trying to communicate a concept, and students are asking each other questions like “What did he say?” or “Did you get that?” or maybe they’re commenting on what you said. The same thing happens in faculty meetings, in conference presentations, even in church.

The idea is that background chatter is happening during your lecture anyway, so leverage that chatter by inviting your students to use this site to talk about your lecture while it’s happening. Of course, you must provide them some guidelines, like no off-topic comments. It’s a way to make your lecture or presentation much more interactive and engaging of every student in the room.

And what I love about TodaysMeet is that it couldn’t be simpler to use. There’s no registration, no log-in, no advertisements, no fee structure. Just go to the TodaysMeet home page, type a name for your “room,” and choose how long you want that room to remain available, from two hours up to one year. Click “Create your Room” and give your students the room name, which simply appends to the home page URL, like this: http://todaysmeet.com/kmcblog (that room is available until September 10, 2014—feel free to try it out). Students just type a name (which could be pseudonym) and join in the conversation, and their words appear immediately in the live stream.

You have a “projector” option to use if you’d like to display just the live stream and a “transcript” option to collect all of the posts to print or save to a PDF, which could be archived in your course’s LMS.

Your students or participants would need to have a computer or a mobile device with web access; they’ll need to use a browser with JavaScript enabled, so this is perfect if your class is in a computer lab or if all of your students have smart phones or tablets or laptops. Here are some ideas for classroom use:

  • During your lecture, ask students to type questions about what’s unclear. You could either display their questions on the projection screen or just look at it yourself on your own screen and discuss those questions.
  • Break the class into groups and ask them to discuss a question and post a collaborative answer; this is a great choice if you have a limited number of mobile devices. You could display those answers on the projection screen to help prompt further discussion.
  • Ask everyone to post an answer to a specific question; just like using a discussion forum in an online class, every student would be able to speak and participate.
  • Invite your students to brainstorm ideas on a topic.

Finally, if you require your students to watch a particular event on their own time, you could have them engaged in synchronous discussion about it using TodaysMeet; for example, you might want students to watch a political debate for a history course or the Oscars for a film course.

Two considerations with any free web service like this one:

  1. At some point the developers may decide to start charging a fee for all or some services.
  2. Since it’s a web application, the developers can choose to make changes to it at any time, so the next time you visit, you may see additional options or a slightly different interface, or the site could completely disappear.

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Internet Killed the Classroom Star

Internet Killed the Classroom StarThumbnail

The title of this article made me laugh, because in recent months as I have facilitated training for new online instructors, they have commented on their discomfort in online versus classroom teaching strategies. The online instructor no longer experiences the adrenaline rush of stepping on stage before a watching audience in the classroom. Although the online instructor is still the content expert in an online course, many of these instructors are realizing a new role as facilitator/mentor/coach in a student-centered rather than teacher-centered learning environment, and stepping out of the spotlight is requiring a period of adjustment.

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Cloud Apps for (Nearly) Synchronous Collaboration

CloudDo you need to collaborate with others to prepare documents or presentations, or would you like your students to work together to develop team papers, projects, or presentations? Free cloud apps can allow group members to collaborate online by building a wiki, chatting synchronously, sharing files, drawing on a shared whiteboard, and more! These are my favorite cloud apps for online collaboration:

  1. Box: Store 25GB free; maximum file size is 250MB; no option for earning more free space. Syncs with other devices; apps for iPad and Android. Share files to allow viewing, editing, and commenting; real-time updates let you know when someone has edited a file. Conduct discussions about files and assign tasks.

    • Similar app: Google Drive: Takes collaboration a step further than Box; collaborate with others on the same document at the same time and see changes as they happen. Store 5GB free and give others permission to view, edit, and/or comment on your files. Syncs with other devices; apps for iPad and Android.
  2. Padlet: Share ideas and files on a “wall,” sort of like a digital bulletin board. Can be embedded in a Web page, like a course in your LMS. Great for brainstorming and sharing ideas.
  3. Wikispaces: Build a collaborative site where everyone can edit and add pages, photos, files, and videos.

  4. Flickr: Upload and share photos from mobile devices, browser, or email. Get 300MB of space every month, up to 30MB per photo; view only the most recent 200 photos. Photos can be annotated, and others can post comments on them.

  5. Prezi: Create a zoomable presentation. Collaborate to co-edit a presentation live with up to 10 others. 500MB of free space with an educational license, but all presentations are public. iPad app.
  6. Scribblar: Draw on a shared whiteboard in any web browser. Use live audio and text chat. Free version is restricted to only one room with two concurrent users, so it would be great for one-on-one tutoring sessions.

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Fun with Wordle

SuttreeThanks to Tom McMurtry for introducing me to Wordle! Since I’m an English professor at heart, I love playing with words, and Wordle generates a graphic representation of any group of words you type in. For example, this word cloud is the first paragraph of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree. No account sign-up is needed, but it does require Java. Formatting options include orientation, color, and shape. Specific words can be emphasized, deemphasized, or removed. Print your creation to a PDF or save it to the public gallery and then embed the code into your own page. For an upcoming conference presentation, I plan to use Wordle to generate a graphic of my key ideas and then use that as a starting image for a Prezi.

Wordle has great application for engaging students. You could have students determine the key conflict or theme in a short story or novel and then use Wordle to create a graphic to share with the class. Or have students create a Wordle based on their favorite quote or poem. Or they could use it as an introductory icebreaker; ask students to make a list of 10 words that describe you, then create a Wordle using those words and post it in the LMS to share with the class.

CatTagxedo works similarly and provides more options like image shape, but the interface is a little clunky; this is an example using the same text. Text is Beautiful is also similar, but it’s based on concept rather than word frequency, and you’ve got to provide a minimum of 5,000 characters of text.


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Happy Anniversary to the Cell Phone!

CellForty years ago Wednesday, the first public call was made using a cell phone. (Read about that phone call here.)

A 2010 Pew Research Center study found that 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones (view the study here). The students in your classroom probably have a cell phone with at least texting capability. How could you leverage cell phones in the classroom? Here are a few strategies that cost nothing (aside from cell service):

  1. Poll Everywhere: http://www.polleverywhere.com
    Using a web page, the instructor can conduct a poll via text message; results are immediately displayed on a web page, which could be shared with the students. This is an excellent free alternative to clickers. Possible class activities include anonymous polls, comprehension checks, assessing prior knowledge, and brainstorming. Poll Everywhere is free for audiences of 40 or less.
  2. Google
    Did you know that Google word definitions are accessible by text message? Just text “Define [word]” to 466453, and you’ll get a response text with definitions of that word. In class or lab, have students search and report the definitions of literary terms, scientific names, etc.
  3. Yodio: http://yodio.com
    Yodio allows the user to record up to one minute of audio using a cell phone and then combine that audio with an image for free. The student would first need to create an account, providing the cell number from which they’ll be calling, then just call an 877 number and record. Class applications (both face-to-face and online) include interviewing, introducing themselves, and recording short reports. The Yodio clip can be shared via URL or embedded in a web page, such as in an LMS.
  4. Remind101: http://remind101.com
    You may notice with your students that email is not the best way to communicate with them; many students check their email infrequently but are much more likely to check their phone for text messages. Remind 101 is a free text messaging service for the instructor to message students as a group without anyone knowing anyone else’s cell phone number. The instructor creates an account and sets up a class or group of students (such as advisees, drama troupe, etc.), then provides instructions for the students to sign up. Students can choose to receive messages via text or email. The instructor then types messages on the web page, which are archived there. In addition, the archive of a class’s messages can be embedded in a web page, such as in the LMS. It’s great for sending announcements and reminders.

The obvious caveat is that any of these activities can’t be done if all of your students don’t have cell phones with text messaging, and some of them are dependent on adequate cell reception in your classroom.

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Top 10 Free iPad Apps for Education and Productivity

ImageFollowing are my favorite apps for education and productivity, and in some cases, the line of distinction is blurred:

Education Apps

  1.  EduCreations
    Interactive whiteboard that captures audio. Recordable to the Web. Draw, type, or handwrite. Import photos from Dropbox (see below).
  2. Skitch
    Mark up images or Web pages, and then share them (email, create a public link, put on camera roll). Syncs with Evernote (see below).
  3. Penultimate
    Handwrite notes. Import photos to mark up. Searchable. Select a section of a page and paste it elsewhere. Email it or save it as a PNG. Syncs with Evernote.
  4. StudyBlue
    Students can create digital flash cards for self-quizzing, which could be based on terms, photos taken with the iPad, or sounds recorded with the iPad.
  5. SlideShark
    Import PowerPoint presentations from Dropbox, etc. (up to 100 MB) to play on your iPad.
  6. Air Sketch Free
    Basic whiteboard allows projection via a Web browser that supports HTML5. Requires a local WiFi connection; iPad and computer must be on the same network.

Productivity Apps

  1. Evernote
    Organize resources (text, audio, video, etc.) and store in the cloud (must be online to access files). Syncs with your other devices. Upload up to 60MB each month; total storage 100,000 notes, each a maximum of 25MB.
  2. Dropbox
    File storage in the cloud (up to 2GB) (must be online to access files). Sharable. Syncs with your other devices.
  3. CamScanner HD
    Scan by taking a photo with the camera. Enhance and annotate documents. Save as a PDF or JPG.
  4. Dragon Dictation
    Dictate. Email or copy the text. Caveat: must be online to use it.


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Gadgets Don’t Improve Learning without Improved Curriculum and Teaching

GatesA Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education

In this interview with Bill Gates published in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, Gates affirms that education in America must change, especially to compete with the high completion rates of universities in other countries, but that adding technology for technology’s sake won’t do it. He advocates hybrid learning in which students access lectures and lessons online out of class, but classroom time is used for collaborative learning. A key mistake that schools and universities seem to make repeatedly is adding gadgets, expecting automatic improvement in learning, such as giving all students an iPod, a laptop, an iPad. Some key quotes:

“Just giving people devices [like tablets] has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher.”

“Having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing. On the other hand, having a bunch of kids come into a small study group where peers help each other, where you can explain why you’re learning these various topics, that will be even more important.”

“…for the highly-motivated student, the ability to go online and find lectures of various length—to see class materials—there’s a lot of people who are learning far better because of those materials. But it’s much harder to then take it for the broad set of students in the institutional framework and decide, OK, where is technology the best and where is the face-to-face the best.”

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