Archives for July 2008

Blackboard 8: Grade Center Training

Blackboard_Logo.jpgEducational Technology and Blackboard will be providing training on Blackboard 8 Grade Center. Grade Center is a new and improved version of the previous Blackboard grade book. It supports an interface similar to a spreadsheet, directed email to students, and the ability for instructors to generate progress reports. Other features include Smart Views, Grading Schemas, Grade Histories, and Hide/Freeze Columns. See a short video clip about Blackboard 8 Grade Center below.
   Tuesday, August 19, 2008
   10 a.m. – Noon
   12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
   105 University Center (Technology Classroom)
To sign up for one of the Blackboard 8 Grade Center Training Sessions, follow the steps below:
1. Go to
2. Click Register for Training.
3. Type in your Missouri S&T userid and password and click OK.
4. Click on the training session you want to sign up for.
5. Click Register.

What, exactly, is Web 2.0 all about?

Web 2.0, according to Wikipedia (which is itself a Web 2.0 technology), is "a term describing the trend in the use of World Wide Web technology [i.e. the Internet–mhays] and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and most notably, collaboration among users." Unlike typical product releases (Blackboard 8.0, for example), Web 2.0 does not refer to a new and improved version of the web. Instead, the term reflects a change in how people and industries are using the web together.
There is considerable disagreement about what, exactly, Web 2.0 encompasses. It is a very ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) term, so I suppose individuals can interpret Web 2.0 as they see fit. Let’s see if we can come up with our own definition based on some of the primary characteristics of Web 2.0 technology.
First of all, there is one common thread that seems to connect most definitions — using Web 2.0 to enhance the ability for people to communicate with each other. In a previous post on this blog about conversations online, a commenter posted the following:

Not only do conversations matter in Web 2.0, conversations are what define Web 2.0.
Gone are the days when messages get blasted out and picked up by unassuming recipients. We have too many competing messages and we’ve adapted by doing some serious communication filtering.

This idea that Web 2.0 is all about conversation is crucial to understanding the transformation of the web from a relatively passive activity to an extraordinarily vibrant activity. In the olden days of "Web 1.0" technology, people navigated from web page to web page, quietly absorbing information from the web site. If you wanted to comment on a web page, you had to email the web site’s author. Now, almost all Web 2.0 web sites that people visit (blogs, wikis, social networking, social bookmarking, discussion forums, and more) have immediate feedback mechanisms. Furthermore, Web 2.0 tends to focus on the production of "microcontent" instead of "macrocontent".
According to Bryan Alexander, who wrote an article for the March/April 2006 issue of Educause Review, microcontent describes snippets of information such as blog posts, or the streams of conversation/revision involved in creating a wiki page. Content should be reusable and should not be limited to only one form of technology. This idea of reusable content makes it easy to post content in multiple places on the web in different forms in different locations. For instance, we in Educational Technology take pains to make sure that our help files on Blackboard and Respondus are available in both a web-based version and a printer-friendly PDF version. This way, folks can download the PDF files for easy retrieval later or they can access our web site on demand if they need a refresher on parts of the technology in question. We also go the extra step to break down the content into the easily digestible chunks of relevant information (a task-based approach instead of a features-based approach).
So far we have established that Web 2.0 involves conversation and the creation of microcontent.
Conversation, by necessity, requires the participation of two or more people engaged in meaningful (hopefully) dialog. In other words, all parties involved in the conversation participate. It is possible to be an observer simply by browsing and reading, but in order to participate, you have to engage the other parties by responding to what they say or by allowing them to respond to what you have to say. Web 2.0 technologies encourage this participation in the conversation to a remarkable degree.
Another key quality of Web 2.0 technology is that it is always available through a web browser. There are a wide variety of web browsers, each with different capabilities (on campus we support Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Apple’s Safari). In other words, the web becomes a platform (much like Windows and Macintosh are both platforms for running applications as well as operating systems) for running web-based applications. We are all familiar with web applications in one form or another (if you have done any online shopping, participated in an online survey, or used Joe’SS/PeopleSoft here on campus you have used a web-based application). A web-based application is a way of offering a particular service through a near-universal mechanism available to all users of the web. There are some instances where a specific browser might be required (I’m looking at you, Microsoft!) and other instances where a specific technology might be required (e.g. Flash plugin), but these technologies are readily available for download from the web if you know where to go. If you don’t know where to go, use a Web 2.0 technology such as Google to find it.
At this point, we have established:

Web 2.0 allows users to engage in conversation, post microcontent, very much encourages active participation of all users, and provides a host of services to users and communities through near-universal web-based applications available to all interested participants.

I think this definition is as good as any. If we get too much more involved in our definition, then we run the risk of turning a simple blog post (Web 2.0) into a book (Web circa 1439 A.D.).
If you want a much more detailed look at the evolution and definition of Web 2.0, Tim O’Reilly (yes, thatTim O’Reilly) has an online article about Web 2.0 (more in terms of business and software engineering than academics).

Video: How NOT to use PowerPoint

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Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

It is common today for people, students, to make and share videos to tell stories, complete projects or start debates. The internet and websites like YouTube have helped to make it so much easier to share these video creations. This digital platform allows "old" culture to be transformed into new and for a generation to express themselves on a medium they are very comfortable with. To deny the right of these individuals to be creative, would stifle the emerging culture. The number one question that gets asked is "Can I use this video content in my class?". Up until recently, that questions was met with discussion of copyright and fair use. But what does "fair use" mean? Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances. This definition still left lots of room for interpretation.
A distinguished panel of experts, from cultural scholarship, legal scholarship and legal practice, came together to develop a Code of Best Practices. This code was based on research, current personal and nonprofessional video practices and on fair use. This code of best practices was not designed to be restrictive but to give some guidance and framework as individuals are creating their stories, mashups and debates.
Code of Best Practices
1. COMMENTING ON OR CRITIQUING OF COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL – Individuals have the right to evaluate, scrutinize and comment on copyrighted material. This is a safeguard for freedom of expression.
2. USING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL FOR ILLUSTRATION OR EXAMPLE – When using copyrighted material for example, individuals simply need to give proper credit just as someone does who is writing a paper.
3. CAPTURING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL INCIDENTALLY OR ACCIDENTALLY – If it was captured by accident and not staged, it is OK for limited use.
4. REPRODUCING, REPOSTING, OR QUOTING IN ORDER TO MEMORIALIZE, PRESERVE, OR RESCUE AN EXPERIENCE, AN EVENT, OR A CULTURAL PHENOMENON – If an individual takes video of themselves at a concert to remember the experience and they capture some of a song, that is fair use.
6. QUOTING IN ORDER TO RECOMBINE ELEMENTS TO MAKE A NEW WORK THAT DEPENDS FOR ITS MEANING ON (OFTEN UNLIKELY) RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN ELEMENTS – It is the same as creating a collage of pictures. Individuals will put together completely unrelated video segments to create something brand new.
These are simply guiding principles that can be used in a variety of hybrid situations. As video making, mashups continue to evolve so with the fair use practices.
To read the full paper go to Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
Update (Malcolm Hays): To help underscore the point the authors of this paper are making about Fair Use, they have added a still image of the "Dramatic Chipmunk" video that made its way around the Internet some time ago. The video linked here is simply a short snippet of a longer video wherein a prairie dog turns to face the camera suddenly. Someone put this short snippet to dramatic music and an Internet sensation was born! This could loosely be construed to fit within guideline number 5 above, as it certainly sparked some notoriety and discussion on the Internet (along with spawning a dozen different variations on this theme).

"Hello? Is anybody out there?"

computer_02.jpgI was steered towards a web site hosted by Illinois Online Network that offers a number of general and specific strategies for promoting online communication among students.
The General Strategies page discusses some common-sense approaches to engaging students in online communication. Ironically, students often have much more experience at online communication than many of their instructors, simply because the students immerse themselves in social networking sites like Facebook. However, they do not necessarily have any experience with directed online communication, which is where the instructor enters into the conversation. The real challenge is to inspire students to provide meaningful commentary about a discussion topic instead of, "Hey! What’s up?"
One key general strategy is to make the tone of the online lecture more conversational than academic. Academics (I am speaking generally here, so please don’t be offended) can often be somewhat long-winded when they are discoursing on their favored topic, particularly when writing for peer-reviewed academic journals that have rigorous academic standards that must be adhered to. Students don’t really have much patience for this type of rhetoric, especially if they are really trying to understand a concept. It is often much more helpful for students to receive an explanation in terms that they can understand. They need to gradually be introduced to the discourse conventions of their discipline over time instead of having it hit them in the face at 70 mph. I definitely favor a more conversational tone in my writings, whether online or even in my research papers.
The Specific Strategies page lists several activities you can use to help get your students "in the mood" for online conversations. For instance, the author of the page suggests breaking the ice by providing students with a brief biographical sketch of yourself. Students should be encouraged to do the same. There should probably be a few guidelines provided to keep students from revealing too much about themselves, but everyone has something interesting to say about themselves. Discussion questions can be assigned to specific students (they may even be drawn from students whose biographies may tie into the course somehow — for instance, I know a chemical engineer who had considerable experience working with measuring properties of oil long before he became a chemical engineer). One of my professors had all of us students do a "scavenger hunt" in the Library to find resources that concerned our discipline. We then had to post our finding on a Blackboard discussion board and comment on each other’s findings. A similar project might be to have students find online resources for their discipline and then have the students evaluate the "worthiness" of that resource. For example, Wikipedia is often derided as an unreliable resource–which is often true for controversial topics. However, Wikipedia can lead a researcher to other resources which are peer-reviewed and reliable.
I’ve never had the opportunity to take a distance course, though I have friends and colleagues who have taken online courses. They seem to appreciate the asynchronous learning because they can devote time to the course on their schedule instead of on the professors (as long as they meet the instructor’s expectations, of course–I imagine it is just as bad to get behind in an online course as in a face-to-face course). I have had at least one instructor use Blackboard to try and keep us engaged with the course material outside of class time, in addition to our usual reading assignments. Not entirely sure how successful the attempt was. Although everyone in the class did participate, we didn’t seem to offer much more than the instructor required and didn’t try to spark our own conversations about the material. This may be because we were able to interact with each other face-to-face.