Archives for October 2008

Teaching Journal: English 160 (After Third Attempt)

Last Thursday, I taught a section of English 160 as part of the teaching requirement for Tech Com 404 (Teaching Technical Communiaction). This was quite different from the previoius teaching sessions I conducted for the course. In the previous teaching attempts, I had the students participate in some group activities that were provided by Dr. Northcut.

In this teaching attempt (yes, I call them teaching attempts because I really have no effective means of gauging if the students have learned the material), I actually delivered content to the students. That day we discussed recommendation reports. Dr. Northcut again provided me with the content for the course. However, I wasn’t very keen on the color scheme she selected for her slides, so I “dressed them up” a little using Missouri S&T English 160 template that I put together. It worked quite well. I also added a moderate level of sophisticated animation so that the point that I was talking about would stand out from the preceding points (it’s not hard to set this up in PowerPoint–it usually takes less than a minute per slide, depending on how complicated you decide to make the slide).

I also wanted to have some “insurance” against any technical difficulties that might occur with the campus network, so I brought my own laptop and projector to class. As it happened, this turned out quite well because I used the laptop/projector for presenting the content for the course and I used the in-class computer/Smartboard to access Blackboard and show students where the presentation was as well as to bring up the quotes Dr. Northcut recommended I use from her first day of class. This way I could have multiple displays going doing different things and presenting different content. I thought it worked out well (especially since the network behaved itself).

As I went through the presentation, I made continual reference to the textbook for the class, emphasizing that all of the material about recommendation reports is contained therein. I also hammered on the point that they need to work on effective design (chapter 11) as well as the revision process (chapter 8).

All in all, the entire class went pretty well. Unfortunately, I still can’t get them to talk much. This may be the hardest part of teaching is to bring students out of their self-imposed cocoons and actually have a voice in the class. I can’t say that I would be any different in their place, though.


Teaching Journal: English 160 (Third Attempt)

Today I am scheduled to teach English 160 for the third time this semester. Unlike the previous two times (see here and here), I will actually be presenting lecture material to the class on Recommendation Reports.

Due to the technical difficulties I experienced last week (there were campus-wide issues with network file storage, preventing people from logging into CLC machines), I decided to bring along some “insurance”. My presentation is currently housed on a tablet PC that I can log into locally if necessary. Furthermore, instead of the Smartboard in the classroom, I am using a projector that I brought from our office in conjunction with a Targus presenter device that allows me to walk around the room and still advance the slides remotely (I love this device!). I did have to shove the Smartboard out of the way of the projection screen. EdTech really needs to upgrade this room, but the funds for the room are provided by a department and the room is not centrally scheduled, to EdTech doesn’t have much say about what equipment is housed here (it’s provided through some grant funding, I believe).

I plan on having Blackboard available on the Smartboard if I want to show the students some quotations from a presentation earlier in the semester (their first day, in fact). I also want to show them where they can find the presentation to review the content, if they desire (I doubt they will, but I like to give them that option).

Dr. Northcut, the regular instructor for the class was kind enough to provide me with the basic slides for the class. However, I didn’t much care for her choice of background color (light purple is just not my color), so I “dressed up” the slides a bit with a Missouri S&T template. Dr. Northcut is more than welcome to use that template for future presentations, of course.

I also added some complexity to the slide transitions to highlight certain aspects of the content.

We shall see how it goes today.  More later (after class).

Teaching Journal: After Teaching English 160 (2nd attempt)

Today, I taught a section of English 160 on behalf of Dr. Northcut, the regular instructor. The topic of the day was progress reports, which all of the students have to create for their semester-long project. Dr. Northcut supplied some sample progress reports and a grading rubric.

My original goal was to have the students access the sample progress reports through Blackboard, then, in groups, write a memo analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of one of the reports. I had hoped that I could somehow get them to articulate their thoughts more effectively by forcing them to write collaborative. A noble goal, to be sure. I created a folder in Blackboard to house the sample progress reports and included an extra bonus of an online conversation I recently had with a computer science professor. It was another example of an informal progress report.

This all sounds like a good plan, right? Well, like any good plan, it fell apart as soon as I had to actually rely on the technology. We have had an extensive outage of the network file storage system on campus. The end result is that students can’t properly login to campus machines (mostly CLC systems–which is what CSF 114 is equipped with). I called in the EdTech technical support guru for assistance. He logged me into the instructor station as an Admin. From there, I could access Blackboard and access the files I needed for class.

I printed out enough copies of each of the files so every student had 1 copy of each file. They also had a copy of Dr. Northcut’s grading rubric. Since the students were having extreme difficulty accessing the machines, I decided to simply have them collaborate together to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the different progress reports. They could then present to the class their findings, using the copy I had on Blackboard as a visual aid, if necessary.

Overall, that seemed to work. The students had a good understanding of what the “best” progress report looked like (it’s pretty easy to tell, really). I just wish the network had been available so they could actually write a memo summarizing their findings and sending it as an attachment via email. This would more accurately reflect the transactional writing they will encounter in the work place. I added the email exchange between myself and a faculty member specifically to demonstrate a real-world example of an informal progress report.

All in all, it didn’t go too badly, but not as well as I might have hoped.

Moral of the story: Technology will ALWAYS be unavailable when you need it most.

Teaching Journal: Documentum Training (After)

logo-documentum-full.gifYesterday I conducted Documentum Web Publisher training for a group of students. Four of the students were part of a project within the Information Systems & Technology department, tasked with creating an EcoCAR Challenge web site. This is an effort involving Missouri S&T and several other higher-education institutions to create the best, most ecologically friendly car (similar to the biannual solar car challenge, I suppose). The remaining student is working for the Civil, Architectural, & Environmental Engineering department.

It’s been awhile since I’ve taught Documentum. In the past, I’ve mostly had to deal with administrative support staff and a few faculty. This was the first time that I’ve had to teach a group of students. To make things just a little more interesting, I was the only native-speaker of English in the room. Everyone else was from India (I think–one of them might have been from Sri Lanka or a related nation in the same general geographic location).

At first, everything seemed to go pretty well. Some of the students arrived late, so I had to backtrack a little bit to get them caught up to the two students who were on time. I explained how the interface worked and what we would be doing during the class. Since time was limited, I really just focussed on the following:

  1. Upload an image.
  2. Upload a document.
  3. Create a web page.
  4. Web page should have the following features: external link, relative link to another page within the site, bookmark link to location on the same web page, at least one image, and at least one link to a document.

Unfortunately, when we finally got to the point of creating a web page, we ran into some technical difficulties. For whatever reason, Documentum was giving us some strange error messages when we tried to do anything. I didn’t have any difficulties on the instructor stations, but the students certainly did. I managed to get a hold of the web development support team. They all came over to investigate what was happening to the machines. Apparently, the Java Runtime Environment required to use the Documentum web page editor was experiencing some sort of conflict with another component that had mistakenly been installed on those machines.

We did manage to get a web page created for everyone in the room. All of the students were able to access their web pages through a web browser to see what they had done.

Even on the best of days, Documentum can cause issues and frustration.  It is even worse when you are trying to teach it to someone else who has never seen it before, especially when the technology refuses to cooperate.

A Study in the Use of Clickers in the Classroom by Dr. Woelk

Dr. Klaus Woelk, Associate Professor of Chemistry, recently had an article published in the Journal of Chemical Education titled “Optimizing the Use of Personal Response Devices (Clickers) in Large-Enrollment Introductory Courses”. Among other things, Dr. Woelk is very active in teaching students introductory chemistry at Missouri S&T. He has soundly embraced the technology of clickers to help improve the learning outcomes of students.

While Dr. Woelk maintains his focus on using clickers for teaching chemistry, he also readily acknowledges and even promotes the fact that clickers can be a very powerful tool in  introductory courses for other disciplines such as mathematics and engineering. Basically, clicker activities can be broken down into two categories: “I am” and “I do”. Dr. Woelk expands each of these two categories into subcategories that involve different types of learning for different activities. For instance, “I am” clicker activities revolve around the student’s active participation in the lecture. Thanks to clickers, the instructor can get near-instantaneous attendance results. Instructors can also use clickers to identify how many of the students have been keeping up with assigned reading (and track which students are not keeping up using the clicker system’s reporting tools).

“I do” clicker activities are tied to the student’s understanding of the concepts, specifically learning, understanding and applying the material. Instructors can pose questions that rely on students understanding the fundamental principles of their discipline in order to succeed. Students can also be forced to defend and articulate their responses to clicker questions.

Dr. Woelk admits that getting students interested and involved in the learning process can be very challenging for instructors. Clickers is one way in which instructors can motivate students to learn.

Here is the bibliographic information for Dr. Woelk’s article, for reference (ACS/Journal of Chemical Education style):

Woelk, K. Journal of Chemical Education. 2008, 85, 1400-1405.

Teaching Journal: Documentum Training

logo-documentum-full.gifOn Wednesday, October 15, 2008, I am scheduled to conduct Documentum Web Publisher (DWP) training for a very small group of students. Presumably, they are working for academic/administrative departments on campus and need to use Documentum to update web pages.

I have conducted this type of training in the past and so I am pretty familiar with the environment I will be working in. I used to do training in Engineering Management Room 235, but the IT Training group has moved their trainings to Library 103, which is a room designated specifically for training purposes. One of the major advantages to using that room is that the software installed on those machines does not change as rapidly as it may for a typical CLC room (like Eman 235). Also, it can be much easier to get into the Library 103 room simply because there are very few groups competing for that resource.

Since I will be training students instead of staff, I do not anticipate too many problems. Students seem to have a much better grasp of the technology than staff members in a lot of ways. I don’t mean that staff members are computer illiterate, only that many of them have had relatively little exposure to some of the technolgy that DWP incorporates. Within a limited time span, it can be a challenge to make sure everyone is keeping up with me. DWP doesn’t help itself by being somewhat finicky. I’ve seen it work on one system, and not on another, even when both systems presumably have identical software builds (we use ghost-casting to clone system builds, among other things–this allows for all machines in a room to have the exact same build in a relatively small time frame).

DWP can be very frustrating to work with. My goal for the training session is to help the students understand some of the “why’s” of the software. I also hope to give them a better understanding of the technical communication principles behind effective web design. DWP doesn’t support everything that students or departments would like to do on the web (we’ve encountered significant difficulties in embedding flash video), so I would like to help steer the students clear of the potential pitfalls inherent in DWP.

MITC 2008 — Challenges of Creating Online Content

MITC-2008-logo.jpgChallenges of Creating Online Content (PPT 2007)

On October 6-7, 2008, I attended the Morenet Instructional Technology Conference 2008 (MITC). It was an interesting conference focusing on the ways technology is used to enhance learning outcomes in the classrooms. The primary focus seemed to be on K-12 instruction, but there were a number of higher ed folks there as well.

How did we find out about this conference? Well, back in the spring, EdTech attended the Morenet HELIX/CONNECTIONS Conference, which is basically the spring version of what we attended earlier this week. However, HELIX has a broader focus on other areas related to Information Technology such as security, servers, networking, and so forth. MITC was only focused on instructional/educational technology. Morenet began advertising MITC shortly after we attended HELIX, and Meg, our director of EdTech, suggested that I submit a proposal to present at MITC.

After giving it some thought, I decided that I am reasonably knowledgeable about web content (it’s my job to create it, after all), so I figured that I could provide other folks who are curious–or intimidated–by the challenges inherent in creating web-based content. My goal was to guide newer web-developers to think about creating web content in a different way than they may have been exposed to already. I sent my submission into Morenet for review, and–to my surprise, terror, and Meg’s delight–they actually accepted. Furthermore, they decided that my chosen topic, “Challenges of Creating Online Content”, was expansive enough to devote over 2 full hours to. That’s right, they gave me a 2-hour block of time to discuss these challenges. As it turned out, that was just enough time to get through the presentation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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