Digital Sanctuary: New-Fashioned Hospitality, Slack and More

Starbucks machine on first floor of Hurley Convergence Center, UMW.
Nothing says “welcome!” like a Starbucks machine.

The past couple of days at Digital Pedagogy Lab have me thinking about the confluence of hospitality (a point of southern pride at UA, and perhaps also here in Fredericksburg, Virginia) and the new-to-me-concept of digital sanctuary (introduced by Amy Collier; more below!)

Hospitality clearly means something here at University of Mary Washington.  Beautiful architecture, brick sidewalks and fountains delight the eye; covered walkways provide shelter on rainy days; librarians adorn their outward-facing windows with declarations of “we will help!”  The Hurley Convergence Center offers all kinds of space for gathering and building community (not to mention a Starbucks machine on the first floor).

Large golf cart with a sign that says "Digicart."
The Digicart awaits.

 

We at DigPedLab have been treated to a hot lunch every day in the student center cafeteria (even with school out of session!). A “Digicart” is ready to drive us when we need assistance, ensuring that no-one should struggle to be part of this group.  We have been offered pronoun buttons–they/them/theirs; she/her/hers; he/him/his–that help us not only signal easily about our preferred pronouns, but even more fundamentally hold space for any and all to be welcome and comfortable in their own personhood.

Pronoun buttons

Great care is taken at this event to respect the dignity of every person and I find that it actively models what we could aim to do not only in the face to face classroom, but in digital spaces as well.

Yesterday, we explored what Amy Collier terms “digital sanctuary“.  A central question was this: how do we create safe spaces online for our students?  For instance, to what extent do we honor their digital and/or internet privacy in the classroom, and to what extent does our institution have policies (beyond FERPA) that protect their privacy?

I found myself wondering how much of the information associated with the Google mail platform given to students as their official university email is held private, and how much is tracked by Google.  (The same question holds for my own children, who have each been given an official public school email account also hosted by Google.) Do students have the opportunity (or the knowledge) to opt out of any of Google’s tracking?  Are they aware of Google’s privacy and opt-out policies?  I am only just learning about these, having gone in search of them.

Here’s another line of questioning: how do we create safe online communities for our students? To the extent that an online class includes discussion and community formation, what ground rules or moderation can help establish civil and appropriate discourse?  And even more, is it possible for an online academic community to offer the depth of interconnection that leads to real human sharing of experience, thoughts and feelings around course subject matter?  In other words, can we find ways to offer a rich and meaningful interpersonal experience online that also embodies the values of personal safety, freedom to agency and embracing/acknowledgment of complexity that we would aim to foster in a face to face seminar?

The Innovation Team is beginning to push in this direction although we are admittedly still learning as we go.  Working with Sonya Dunkin (Director of Student Services in our college), we initiated in fall 2016 a Slack group to serve students students entering distance degree programs at UA.  They begin using Slack during their orientation course. We chose Slack for several reasons: first, it is a closed, private forum; second, with its position outside the LMS our students can access it easily regardless of their current state of enrollment (especially important given that distance students do not always enroll in courses every semester, yet retain their matriculation and their identity as distance students); third, the channels feature allows us to sort and direct certain kinds of conversation.

We wanted Slack to be that place where students knew they could just come be with other students like them; to use an architectural image from today’s discussion around a blog post/keynote by Mike Caulfield, Slack might be the hearth or the living room of their online experience!  As we launched, we quickly realized (sometimes dynamic design — recognize, adapt and respond [RAR] — is where it’s at!) that we would have to help them develop comfort in using it, and have them use it enough to recognize it as the locus of their online academic community.

To that end, we created assignments within the orientation course that taught Slack functions incrementally, and that prompted students to use Slack for a couple of strategic peer discussions.  In the first, they simply introduce themselves and say hello to their peers.  In the second, they share and respond to one another’s stated educational goals and priorities after going through a guided self-reflective process to identify these.

I have to admit I was rather amazed at first, and continue to be amazed, at the earnestness and vulnerability I see as our beginning distance students respond to one another along the lines of these prompts. The qualities of openness and humanity in their responses tell me that they very much desire a connection to academic community and to The University of Alabama, and that they wish to share something real and (appropriately) personal with their classmates.  Innovation Team and Student Services watch and moderate the discussion (answering questions that arise) although in a year there has been no need to offer correction or redirection.

Once students complete the orientation, they join a general channel for continuing distance students.  The conversation there, unprompted, often centers around folks making connections with others in the same degree programs, conversation and questions about the start of term, etc.  That is the newest channel added, and we look forward to seeing how it evolves.

I think our use of Slack is a step in the direction of digital sanctuary and I hope we can find more opportunities and means to stretch ourselves further along this trajectory for the benefit of our online students.  I would love to hear your ideas!

 

 

 

Implicit Design Principles: One Does Not Merely Sit

Hello from the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DigPedLab) Institute 2017!  Andrew Richardson and I are here from the Innovation Team, with 7 more faculty* from across The University of Alabama, already immersed in questions and practices surrounding Critical Digital Pedagogy and associated themes such as design, networks, data, and domains.

Inside UMW Hurley Convergence Center
The University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center is full of spaces for small-group collaboration.

We are meeting in a collaboration-friendly, tech-filled space at the University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center.  I especially like the Herman Miller Magis Spun Chairs on the fourth floor, which turn their riders (there really is no other noun for this — one does not merely sit) into human spinning tops — see HM’s spun chair YouTube video for the full effect.

My avatar is a scout with a light saber and fabulous hair — guiding folks down the path, with light, power, tech in hand!

Add to these the Lego™ minifigure avatars we made for one another in an opening icebreaker and you get the picture of DigPedLab as a place where community matters, play and collaboration are encouraged, and we all have the opportunity turn, to spin, to look around (or be twirled!) for new perspectives.

While play might seem to some a non-starter, I find it sets the tone for an open, willing-to-learn attitude that infuses and inspires the whole community. In our lives and jobs we are teachers and designers and administrators; but here, we are learners.  The theme of play also puts me in mind of John Seely Brown‘s keynote at UA’s Online Learning Innovation Summit 2017, in which he showed us how play is essential to curiosity about and engagement with a topic, and thereby critical to learning.

As I moved into my smaller-group track on Critical Instructional Design, I was already in a space of curiosity, eager to play with ideas.  The Design group members come from many backgrounds and experiences, so I was particularly interested to see what people would write on the board for this question: What are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?

Collabothink at DigPedLab: what are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?

 

It was easy for me to think about the explicit principles that form part of my institution’s approach to design:  clarity, modularity, organization, accessibility.  But I have to be quite honest and say I had never really taken a moment to consider what my own implicit design principles might be.  I quickly realized I had a set of personal design principles around relationship and community, but I felt there must also be others to discover.

My sense of wonderment and possibility took over as I considered these, written on the board: empathy, exploration, affective relationship, agency.  What could the online courses we work on become if a set of implicit design principles were agreed on by faculty, instructional designers, media and innovation teams from the beginning?  They could (and probably should) be different for each course, and would increase our ability to bring online students course material that aims not only to deliver subject matter, but to be an experience–an immersion in the principles, ethos, meaning and implications of that subject matter.

This type of approach wouldn’t be entirely new for our group.  I am sure my instructional design colleagues could offer some excellent examples, and here I’ll share one of mine:   This year, one of the Innovation Team’s projects is a collaboration with Innovation Spirit Scholar Dr. Jennifer Becker, of the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences.  Dr. Becker came to us with this conundrum: when faculty new to online teaching are assigned to teach Interpersonal Communication, they have a very large learning curve just in teaching online, not to mention connecting with online students.  How, she asked, can we help them model positive interpersonal communication as they engage with students enrolled across many time zones, cultural backgrounds, age groups and life situations?  In the terms used in today’s discussion, Dr. Becker’s implicit design principles, as she expressed them to us, include community-building, affective relationship, and empathy. Knowing those, we were able to collaborate on the development of guidance and strategies to help new instructors teach interpersonal communication online not only through readings and activities, but also through embodiment of its concepts in their own, intentionally personalized communication with students.

Clarity about implicit design values could also help us rethink how we engage our online student population.  For instance, what would the implicit value of non-isolation look like for online courses?  How would that value prompt us to think in new ways about familiar ideas like community-building and cohort formation within an online course or degree program?  How could that implicit value prompt us to think about possibilities we haven’t even thought about yet?

I admire what Dr. Becker has done for her online course, and I look forward to conversations with future UA Innovation Scholars and Innovation Catalysts (UA Instructional Designers, it’s a new opportunity for you – stay tuned!) around implicit design principles, relative to their own disciplines and teaching perspectives, to see how those could shape a more holistic way of engaging, enfolding, including online students.

* Angela Benson (College of Education), Kim Colburn (New College/New College Life Track), André Denham (College of Education), Traci Ferguson (ACCESS English), Michelle Hale (College of Human Environmental Sciences), Heather Pleasants (Office of Institutional Effectiveness/QEP), John Ratliff (College of Arts and Sciences/UA Early College)

Innovation Team at BbWorld 2017

I attended Blackboard World 2017 in New Orleans last week, along with seven colleagues from The University of Alabama, including others in the College of Continuing Studies. The two keynote speakers, Jill Biden and Mae Jemison, were fantastic, but I was more interested in seeing what was happening in the Learning Management System that our campus uses. Below is a quick list of things to look out for.

Blackboard Ultra

It has been coming for a while, but the Ultra experience of Blackboard Learn seems to be rapidly approaching readiness for larger institutions. While there is still some basic functionality needed (they’ve just added True or False question types to tests, for example), it’s clear that Ultra is the priority for Blackboard.

Blackboard Collaborate

Collaborate seems to be rebuilt from the ground up. I didn’t attend the road map for this product, but it’s clear that there is heavy investment into (the new) Collaborate. It will be more integrated in both the course and the mobile applications.

A look at the Ultra gradebook.

Mobile Apps

Blackboard has split their main app into two apps:

Blackboard presented an ambitious roadmap for both of these apps, and I’m excited to see where they are a year from now.

Integrations/Developers

Blackboard has opened up their developer program to anyone – there will no longer be a fee to become a Blackboard Developer! This is great news for developers building integrations, whether they work on a campus or in a small ed-tech startup. Furthermore, Blackboard has included the LTI 2.0 spec in some Learn environments, and they appear to be doubling down on their REST API. In theory, these two steps should help to reduce the need for Building Blocks, which are much more difficult to maintain and integrate.

I drove from Alabama to California to meet Jesus. VidCon — a religious experience.

Tote bag with slogan: Be Critical of the Media You Love
A tote bag for sale at VidCon in Anaheim sums up the feeling of the conference, although its go-to slogan is DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome).

 

Wednesday-Sunday, June 21–24, Anaheim, California

Mainstream journalists sometimes balk when I espouse why YouTube as an important news gathering and reporting tool. Yet it has come a long way since it’s first video was uploaded April 23, 2005. This year during VidCon (started in 2010 by Hank Green) released some numbers that back up the need for journalists to take note were tossed out from the stage by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. Take this one for example: There are 1.5 billion logged-in users visiting the site every month. Those users spend a over an hour a day watching video on their mobile device, which is staggering in a world of five-second attention spans.

Journalists should remember that YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18–34 and 18–49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

Crazy, epic, insane, ridiculous and thrilling are adjectives I’ve heard used to describe VidCon and that’s on point. But it’s also educational, enlightening and mind-opening.

Giant sculpture of "play" button outside Anaheim Convention Center.
The play button sits outside the Anaheim Convention Center and serves as a selfie magnet.

 

VidCon offer three tracks: Community, Creator and Industry, each a step up in ticket price and professional offerings from the next. While in one track people might be meeting the latest gaming, beauty or comedy gurus, elsewhere a panel on “Navigating algorithm changes in social video” and “Informing people in a post-truth world” are happening. (Sometimes media watchdogs become news at VidCon. This year at one of the panels, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian — known mostly for #gamergate ––took the stage for a panel called “Women online” only to be harassed, videoed and stalked by her online haters.)

Photo of #YouTubeBlack panel members on stage.
One of the panels I attended was called #YouTubeBlack.

While old-school media grapple with how to reach the demographic that attends VidCon, VidCon offers sessions such as “Jumping the chasm from online to traditional.” It’s a media timeline in reverse.

I’ve been to VidCon twice now and both times was bewildered and awestruck. Not just because a man walked around dressed like Jesus, or that I could get more free candy than on Halloween as a child, but because I was able to learn so much. Yes, the bulk of attendees appear to be in the under 25 crowd, but growth in the Industry and Creator tacks balances things out.

A man in sunglasses portraying Jesus at VidCon.
“Jesus, you’re very big in Alabama, where I am from,” I told him.

 

VidCon also challenges assumptions about what journalism can be. I met Reid Nicewonder sitting outside the Convention Center at a table with a sign that said “What do you believe and why? 5-Minute Interviews.”

Man seated at a table prepared to record "What do you believe and why? 5-minute interviews"

 

I’m pretty sure I irked him by turning the tables and asking him tons of questions, although if that’s true, there was no sign of it. He patiently and Zen-like answered them all. “Was he a journalist?” I asked and, if so, what was his end product going to look like?

He told me he is gathering answers for a documentary. Not trained in journalism, he was more interested in philosophy and how people perceive the world around them. His social media handle everywhere is Cordial Curiosity, except on Facebook where he is Civil Discourse Network. When I pointed out that what he is doing could be considered journalism (with the addition of ethics and context) he neither agreed or disagreed.

The man who sat down at the table before me seemed confrontational, but by the time he left the table Nicewonder had killed him with civil discourse and open ears. Disarming nature oozed from his table, the opposite of the comments section on any news story.

Afterward I met up with Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, who taught for a year as a high school teacher in Los Angeles before he found his home in journalism. He was covering VidCon for Univision. He talked about the difference in ethical, credible reporting and media where “anyone with a camera” can contribute.

Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, covered VidCon 2017

 

Next up on #followmylede series is an L.A. radio station. That city is on fire. (Literally.)

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title at medium.com, published on July 3, 2017.

The mission? In Navajo Nation voices need to be heard. “Who else will tell those stories?”

Monday, June 19

12:30 p.m., The Navajo Times, Window Rock, Arizona

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. in his office June 19, 2017

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. radiates old-school journalist, but with a twist. As the person who oversees the day-to-day operations of The Navajo Times his paper, more than many, has to do double duty.

Not only does it have to cover the necessary societal watchdog issues, such as school boards, the environment and any number of other public institutions and issues, it also must cover tribal courts and tribal-specific issues.

Navajo Times Guiding Principles poster
Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times.

Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times. When I visit on a sweltering hot summer day, we stand in the middle of the pressroom, fans humming overhead. It is noisy and loud.

“I am so proud of these guys,” he said, beaming. “The quality of their work is better than anyone else’s around. They can kick everyone else’s butts. And they’re all Navajo.”

I admit my ignorance to him. As a white girl from Alabama with almost no ties to any tribe (I have Cherokee deep in the family somewhere), I stumble on how to approach a couple of questions. (When he uses the word “indian” I cringe because for so long, I have been taught not to use that word, yet I understand in this context how it’s OK.)

There are two stereotypes of Native Americans in popular culture: 1) Rich, casino-owning people and 2) People who struggle with poverty and (because I have Type 1 diabetes I am aware of this one) diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Because of the first stereotype, I expect the newsroom to be large and imposing. I have USA Today in my imagination. Yet when I drive up, the newspaper is in a small, unassuming building. I am right at home here. Arviso welcomes me in with open doors. He is a man filled with kindness who immediately ushers me around the newsroom, a welcome change from some media outlets who — though they talk a good transparency game — seem hell-bent on keeping people out.

I meet Arviso’s staff, including Terry Bowman who covers arts and entertainment, among other topics, for the paper. I interrupt him as he is working on a story, and put him on the spot.

As past president of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, I know Arviso has seen a lot while fighting for equality in newsrooms for people of color. I don’t beat around the bush, and ask him specific questions about diversity and what that means to him and to our countries newsrooms.

I wondered if there was anything specific to the Navajo reservation (about the size of West Virginia) guaranteed to sell more newspapers for his readership. (In my hometown it’s Alabama Football or Nick Saban.) I was surprised at his answer.

Back in the pressroom, the new press foreman Ron Livingston discussed the struggle of printing and distributing papers in the desert, which can reach temperature lows and highs that present problems. (The former press foreman just retired after decades of service, one of several long-time employees Arviso is losing this summer. We talk about the importance of institutional knowledge in newsrooms.) Pressroom know-how is also institutional knowledge that must be handed down from person to person. It’s an art that you can’t go to school to learn.

He shows me the consistency the ink should be, and notes that the temperature — and even water — have to be exact to make it work properly. There is lot of science that goes into making colors on newsprint vibrant and to match what a designer might see on a computer screen before it prints.

Ink and tools at The Navajo Times
Ink and tools at The Navajo Times

Next up in the #followmylede series, VidCon in Anaheim.

Reblogged with permission from a post of the same title published at medium.com on June 25, 2017.

The media is disparaged until the public needs information (and a cute teddy bear to keep things light)

Sunday, June 18

3:40 p.m., The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Large teddy bear in corner of newsroomEvery newsroom has quirky items sitting around, but The New Mexican is winning so far. A large teddy bear sits in the corner, yet no one can really explain why or where he came from, so he forever languishes in a sun-lit corner of the newsroom.

“No one’s quite sure how that bear got here, but it’s been here for a long time,” reporter Robert Nott tells me. “The bear and the sock monkey are left over.”

I don’t see a sock money, but decide to trust him.

A cascading string of origami birds hangs from the ceiling. A camouflage bowling pin with gold butterflies sits on a filing cabinet, a random reminder that ordinary things can be made extraordinary.

Camouflage bowling pin on file cabinet in newsroomDespite these fun visual cues, the day I arrive the staff is somber, still covering a shooting the day before. City Editor Cynthia Miller fills me in on details after Nott gives me a tour of the building:

Tim Baca and his wife were out celebrating her birthday and struck up a conversation with another man, Christopher Owens, and enjoyed the night until, apparently, the two men argued over a song and Owens allegedly shot Baca. The father of four was dead when police arrived on the scene. This came on the heels of a deadly shooting spree just a couple of days earlier.

Many local newsrooms are quiet on Sundays and this is no exception. The only noise is the police scanner in the background as Cynthia talks. Like many journalists, Miller found the profession through her love for creative writing, but that blossomed into a love for journalism, from crime stories to profiles on college graduates.

“I take it personally when I’m looking at my Facebook feed and I see all of these things about ‘the media, the media the lamestream media.’ I consider us to be fairly mainstream media because we’re a local newspaper. We don’t have an agenda — we do have an agenda actually — we are in a state that struggles with poverty, struggles with education, struggles with all sorts of social justice issues, environmental justice issues and we’re interested in letting the community know why these issues are important, how these issues affect our lives and finding solutions.”

Miller talks about how the media is demonized until someone needs to know information, a common thread I’ve heard in newsrooms I’ve visited on my project trip.

Santa Fe New Mexican City Editor Cynthia Miller talks about working in the news industry.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newsroom, Sunday, June 18, 2017
The Santa Fe New Mexican newsroom, Sunday, June 18, 2017

 

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title on medium.com, June 20, 2017.

A real-life Clark Kent, Goldfish crackers, hidden alcohol and a sense of service

Courtesy of Steve Southwell and The Lewisville Texan-Journal, video by Christina Ulsh</font size>

Friday, June 16

3:45 p.m., Lewisville Texan-Journal, Lewisville, Texas

Lewisville, Texas is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth. It has a dog park, skate park, drive-in theater and rodeo arena.

Although Lewisville is filled with characters, none beat the editor of one newspaper, Steve Southwell, an unassuming man who is a clearly a bit bold. In fact, one of the first things I said to him was, “You’re a litle bit nuts.”

I’m not a great conversation starter.

Back in 2015 when many newspapers were gasping for one last breath of air or had been six feet under for years, he started a print edition to accompany the existing Lewisville Texan-Journal website. When everyone else rushed out, he jumped in with a rudimentray printer and stapled first edition.

When the first editon was complete, he celebrated with a shot from his stash of alcohol from the local distillery. (Something I’ve noticed is that all newsrooms have snacks — goldfish are so popular I often wonder if journalist are all just big preschoolers, except for the other constant, hidden alcohol.) Lewisville has a winery, distillery and brewery and all of them carry the Lewisville Texan-Journal.

The only journalism training Southwell had was a semster of journalism in high school.

By day he is a computer programmer. By night he fights injustice in city hall (and school boards, etc.) through journalism. He’s the Clark Kent of Lewisville.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal website started as a “crappy” opinion blog in 2004 and quickly morphed into a news site.

“We were already writing news, so how hard could it possibly be to put it on paper,” he said, shaking his head, followed by a comment about his own naiveté.

Digital to print is not the traditional way to do it. Then again, Steve is a democrat in Texas. But, he points out, a democrat that poeple in the comunity seem to respect. I asked him about checking his bias at the reporting door. “Life and Liberty in the Lonestar State” is Southwell’s paper/website tagline. He knows he is not always going to popular in the community and he understands that, but Southwell fircely defends his reporters.

“All if can tell you is we’ve done our homework, we know it’s true. Our reporting is from practical sources. If they don’t like it, unlike us. Go away. We don’t care.”

Lewisville is bucking the trend as a two-newspaper town. The Lewisville Leader is the older, established newspaper.

“We work harder because they are there and I hope they work harder because we are here,” he said.

Like any good newsman, he gets a glimmer in his eye when he talks about breaking a news story, such as the gas drilling underneath the lake that serves as a water source for Lewisville and Dallas

“We beat all the outher outlets to it and that was because we had relationships embedded in the community,” he said.

His biggest challenge? “Money and time,” he quickly answered. “If we had more money we would have more time. I am not a sales person. I suck at selling ads.”

The staff of the Lewisville Texan-Journal on deadline June 16, 2017
The staff of the Lewisville Texan-Journal on deadline June 16, 2017

 

“The mission is not to make money off of ads,” he said. “It’s kind of a necessity that allows us to do our mission. In the business of news they will say, ‘Your readers are your product, not your audience. You’re selling your readers to the advertisers’ and I just can’t get behind that. That’s why our cover price is free.”

He serves the public, and pointed to the necessity of community news covering what matter to people on a day-to-day basis, where political squabbling among politicians must get put aside.

“At the end of the day, budgets have to get passed. They have to. There’s no democratic or republican way to fix a street,” he says of covering local politics.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal is hidden. It is small. You would never be able to locate the newspaper if you didn’t know it was there and, respecting his wishes, I will keep the location secret. However, it looks nothing like a newspaper buidling and is unmarked, just the way the staff wants it. Anyone who has covered community news knows that the death knell of privacy and work flow is constant interruption. And, while he is a staunch defender of Lewisville and its residents and wants to serve them, he wants to discuss issues by mail, email or offsite somewhere.

As he spoke, I thought about the recent death threats the Sacramento Valley Mirror newspaper received and wondered if more newsrooms should follow this policy.

 

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title published on medium.com, June 18, 2017.

Over 8,000 miles to go: #followmylede continues

As I carried a suitcase heavier than my child down two flights of stairs, through a parking deck to my car in the pre-dawn hours, I cursed myself.

“What. Is. Wrong. With. Me?” I panted, as I tried to lift the comically large suitcase high enough to place it in my trunk.

The answer came back loud and clear: I love journalism.

I get that I’m a little crazy to want to loop the country in an over 8,000-mile long road trip, but we don’t choose our passions. Journalism found me my sophomore year in college in the dingy yet ridiculously fun The Crimson White newsroom on the University of Alabama campus. It’s the same University that — because of it’s Innovation Team — I’m able to take this trip to chronicle American journalism.

Yesterday, I stopped in Liberty City, Texas in the middle of a 10-hour drive. The gas station had four local newspaper choices for towns in and around the city. That’s the dream. The more outlets representing the people, the better.

Newspaper stand in Liberty City, Texas.

Amid the swirling politics and disasters of the weeks before I left for this second leg of my trip, I was reminded that it’s important to chronicle who is bringing us our news. It’s important to document what newsrooms look like in 2017. News outlets don’t usually turn the questions or camera back on themselves, but I will. One of the basic tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is that journalists should watchdog other journalists.

More than that, it’s my goal to take a peek inside the lives of journalists and why — in such a hostile climate for the profession — they do what they do.

Stay tuned. My next post will feature people in Lewisville, Texas who might love journalism more than I do.

 Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title published on medium.com, June 17, 2017.

Spotlight on Tech: Flipgrid

The Innovation Team is always investigating new tools for inclusion into online courses, and we like to share tools that we have discovered or have been introduced to. The tool I want to share today is Flipgrid.

What Is It?

Flipgrid describes itself as a “video discussion community” tool, and that is very accurate. Instructors create a “grid,” (optionally) add an introduction video and topic text, and then copy and paste a link (or code) into their course. Students then click the link, post a video reply, and view each other’s videos.

Why We Like It

Flipgrid is simple to use, both on the instructor and student side. It’s on pretty much every device, and while it does only one thing, it does it very well. Flipgrid’s free version is adequate for many use-cases, and its premium version is affordable.

What We Wish It Did

Flipgrid does not appear to have LTI grade book integration, though you can export activity into a spreadsheet on the paid version. We also wish that full embedding worked on the free version, but we understand why it does not.

Pricing

You can view more specifics about the features available at each price point on Flipgrid’s website, but as of this post, it costs $65 per year for an educator to sign up for unlimited access for a year. You can also buy a 10-pack for your institution.

Try It Out

I’ve created a new Flipgrid and embedded a link on this page (in the paid version you can embed the entire grid with full functionality). Please read the instructions, watch the short intro video, and give it a shot! You can find Flipgrid and other tools on the Innovation Sandbox page.

One Way to Make a Lecture Video On Your Own

Having written about conceptual and creative issues relating to lecture video creation, I’m devoting this entry to the technical process of creating videos. As before, I’ll note that I’ve taken one of many possible approaches to creating lecture videos, and not necessarily one that jibes with your teaching style. Ideally, this entry will inspire you to move from thought to action, from having conversations about what you’d like a video lecture to be to actually making one.

I’ll focus mostly on visual elements and assume that you have already written the lecture script. I haven’t tried to write a lecture script as I create visual elements to go with it, though I’d imagine you could do both at the same time. Having the script in place before you start assembling visuals ensures that some of the big questions about how to teach a lesson – what concepts are to be covered, what the structure of the lecture will be – have already been answered. This lets you focus on deciding what visuals best represent your concepts in an engaging fashion.

I’ll discuss three stages of the video-making process: creating visual, recording visuals, and editing. In the table below, I provide a few examples of software you can use for each of these stages. Software, as you probably already know, varies in terms of the ease with which you can access and use it. It’s wise to spend a little time trying out several software options before settling on a combination that works best for you.

Finding visuals Chrome, Google Images, YouTube
Creating visuals Powerpoint, Prezi, Powtoon
Recording visuals Jing, Camtasia, Snagit, Screen-Cast-O-Matic
Editing visuals Camtasia, iMovie, Adobe Premier

 

My software roster – Google Chrome, Google Images, YouTube, Powerpoint, and Camtasia – is the result of my existing familiarity and comfort with Google software and Powerpoint, and the generosity of my college, which owns a license that allows faculty to use Camtasia.[1]

A screen capture of Camtasia for Windows

When I’m ready to start, I’ll open Camtasia and select “record ”. This allows me to use the web camera attached to my computer to record myself speaking and/or record anything on my computer’s screen. I tend to use the video-recording ability of the web camera sparingly. Many teachers prefer to record videos of themselves lecturing and include a “picture-in-picture” (PIP) video in the corner of the screen throughout the video. While this may make abstract material easier to relate to and provide a “human touch” to the often-impersonal world of online learning, I feel as though the writing style of the lecture and the recorded voice present enough of a personality for the purposes of my course. As with so many things, it depends on what you’re teaching and on your personal teaching style.

This is how “picture in picture” (PIP) looks.

Once the audio track is recorded, I switch over to either YouTube (for lecture passages that would best be accompanied by an existing video clip) or Powerpoint (when I want to create a visual from scratch). If I have an existing YouTube clip in mind, I’ll cue up the clip, start recording my screen using Camtasia, and then play the YouTube clip. I typically use only part of the YouTube videos I find, starting the recording a bit before the section in the video I intend to use and stopping the recording a bit after it ends; you can always clip the ends off of your recording when you edit. Once the clip is recorded, I’ll line it up with a particular spot in the audio lecture, trimming as necessary (see video below).

In cases in which I want to design my own visual, I’ll go to Powerpoint and create a new blank slide to which I’ll add elements – text, shapes, or pictures. When I just want to create a static picture of these elements, I’ll save a slide and import it directly to Camtasia. But when I want to animate the elements so as to engage the viewer and/or to make a point clearer, I use Powerpoint’s animation feature (see video below).

Once I’ve created the Powerpoint animation, I’ll start recording my screen using Camtasia and then play the animation in Powerpoint. This yields a clip that I can then edit and arrange alongside the audio lecture track. These three elements – the audio lecture track, animated Powerpoint slides, and video clips – are the basic material that makes up my video lectures.

This description only scratches the surface of what you can do with this software. As I mentioned before, one often feels overwhelmed by all of the options presented by digital tools. The best way to avoid being overwhelmed is to think back to your original vision for the video lectures, and your original vision as an educator. You may not end up with precisely what you wanted to create when you set out, but having a vision that is anchored in sound pedagogical principles will make the hundreds of little decisions you have to make along the way easier.

There are many ways to convey ideas to students online. You can create a slide-deck, or a podcast, or a text document. But instead you chose to create a video. What can you do with this tool that you can’t do with any other tool? When I watch many of the more popular educational videos, I get the sense that educators aren’t using the medium to its full potential. There are entertaining videos that aren’t pedagogically sound. There are videos that are made by individuals who are clearly experts in their fields that are dreadfully boring. That’s what makes the act of creating a lecture video at this time so exciting – the work you’re doing is helping to answer that as-yet-unanswered question: what does a great lecture video in your area of expertise look like?

[1.] The Innovation Team is also able to make Camtasia available to faculty who are developing material for online courses offered as part of Bama By Distance degree programs.  Contact the Innovation Team at innovate@ua.edu or 205-348-3984 for more information.