Thursday, January 26, 2012

Instructors STILL Talking About Technology

We are still conducting a study looking at how instructors talk about technology and its use in their classroom syllabus. If you are currently teaching a class that talks about technology in your syllabus (i.e., you have a laptop and/or cell phone policy, discuss how blogs or wikis will be utilized in the classroom), and would be willing to share your syllabus with us, and fill out a quick survey (under 10 minutes) about your teaching experiences, your participation would be greatly appreciated. The results of this study may help researchers and instructors better understand technology policies. We will accept syllabus submissions through February 29, 2011.

If you choose to participate, you will first submit a copy of your syllabus to . You will next be provided with a response email including access to a survey website that will have the consent information provided. If you agree to participate in the study, you will move forward and respond to demographic questions about your past teaching (i.e., number of years). You will also respond to questions about your views of technology and technology use. Any demographic data collected from this study will only be used to describe the participants as a whole in the study write up, but individual information will be destroyed after the summary is constructed.All personal identifying information will be removed from all aspects of the data before analysis.

There is minimal risk involved with the study, as you might feel uncomfortable thinking about your classroom technology policies. However, you may skip any questions that you are uncomfortable with. There is no more risk than you would experience in your daily interactions.

Your identity will not be revealed in either written documents, or verbal presentations of the data. The following steps will be taken to protect your identity and confidentiality.

1. Consent forms will be separated from the data.
2. Personal identifying information will be eliminated from the data and any reporting of the data.
3. You can refuse to answer any question asked.
4. Files will be kept on a password protected computer and/or a locked cabinet.

If you have questions about the study or research related injuries, feel free to contact the primary investigator, Katherine Denker, (765) 285-1965 or Lora Helvie-Mason can be contacted at (504)286-5013 or or If you have questions about your rights as a research subject, please contact: Research Compliance, Sponsored Programs Office, Ball State University,Muncie, IN 47306, (765) 285-5070,

Your participation is voluntary. You may quit at any time and you may refuse to answer any question. Finally, by submitting a syllabus and completing the survey you are giving consent to participating in the study.

Thank you for your participation!
Dr. Katherine Denker
Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason

Monday, January 23, 2012

iPad and Higher Ed: Making the transition

After six months of using the iPad as part of our iPad initiative, I have found benefits for not only class, but also for general productivity. While there are some bumps in the road to tablet use in the classroom, overall the students and I have had a solid educational journey. Here are a few processes that have helped me as I've converted to a tablet:

1. Investigate.  Let's face it, there are a lot of things about teaching we had to figure out as we went. What styles or approaches worked for us? Why did they work for us? What fits with our teaching styles? Our philosophies? The iPad (or other electronic device) use isn't much different. You may have to explore and read and then make adjustments.

  • Check Twitter. There are great updates and feeds about the #iPad, #apps, and #highered or #edtech. Stay on trend and find new tips/tools.
  • Check the Chronicle. Today's Chronicle article by Jason Jones: "Getting Unstuck with Your iPad" article explores the Unstuck App. The iPad is creeping up more and more often in the Chronicle especially in the ProfHacker and WiredCampus areas. See also "5 iPad Applications I Can't Live Without (and Why)" by Ethan Watrall and "iPads: Bane or Boon to College Teaching" by Josh Fischman.
  • Check the wikis. Teach With Your iPad on wikispaces has apps and links that can be helpful, particularly for those who are first timers with tablets, for example. There are great resources that other educators have already put together. Why not use them? 
2. Use with intent. Don't just try an app to try it. Consider what it might do for you in the classroom. Why are you including it. Will it save you time on record keeping (such as the Attendance App featured in an entry last week)? Will it make learning easier? There are great science apps that demonstrate a variety of topics such as frog dissection and photosynthesis, for example.
  • Try the app (or activity) with a smaller class or with a class where you have a TA. Explain that you are trying something new. 
  • Get their feedback (students, TA, colleagues). Did it work as you hoped? Did it help explain, demonstrate a concept? 
  • Did it cause any problems? Would another device or a class activity (without device) work better?
  • Modify the use and try again or simply move on if it wasn't what you needed for that lesson. 
3.  Learn from the students. I admit it, if the students are using it I feel like I want to at least know what it is. I will ask and seek demonstrations where necessary. Students first told me about mobile Blackboard, Evernote, and ooVoo -- I consider them an excellent starting place to explore new features or apps.

4. Invest (money). Be prepared to put your money (or your institution's money) on the line to explore new opportunities with your tablet.
  • Ask what the policy is for institutional equipment, accounts, and personally purchasing items.
  • Explore what equipment you might need (adapters, chargers, cases) to be successful in the classroom.
  • Apps aren't always free. There are some that are quite costly, others at $1.99 or $2.99 will soon add up. Be prepared and consider setting a personal budget for apps if your institution does not cover this cost.
5. Invest (time). I'm not a part of the touch-screen generation. Yes, I love technology. Yes, I know general techniques to be successful. But I kept my trusty Blackberry out of love of the keyboard. I did not feel any interest to move toward a touch screen. I had to learn. I had to actually force myself, in the case of my calendar, to shift from paper to tablet.
  • Take the time to become familiar with your device. 
  • If it has become a glorified paper weight (I just heard a professor say this last semester!), then consider switching to exclusively using it (to give it a fair chance...if you don't like it, of course, don't use it.) I had to do an exclusive switch to help get used to all of the tablet features. I found myself putting an actual sticky note on my iPad case about a week after getting it. I laughed out loud and realized sometimes the brain takes a bit longer to acclimate than we might like to admit to. I then instituted an "all iPad" philosophy where I *had* to use it to take notes, to type, to answer emails. Soon, I realized the potential of the device and avoided an expensive paperweight.

Take some time to explore your needs, the abilities of your device, your personal abilities, and see where you end up. Truly, there isn't much these new devices CAN'T do. It is a matter of exploring your needs and working with pedagogical intent to make the most of the device in the classroom (and as you manage your research, grants, and service).

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Easier attendance...there's an app for that

I have a great way for students to take ownership of the course. It requires the iPad and an app, but it is certainly working well in my course.

I began using the Attendance App (See last semester (at midterm) in two courses to see how it would work out. I was skeptical and used a paper sign in as a backup system just in case the app failed in some way. It didn't and it really saved me some time. But more importantly, it was received so well by the students that I decided to go completely paperless and begin using it (without the safety net of paper sign ins) this semester.

The app has a lot of user-friendly features about it. Basically, you add the students (either import a CSV file or type in manually) and any relevant information you want to incorporate. Then, students (or you) just tap the screen to check them in. Tapping the "Absent" button once changes their status to "Present" (and you can set other options, stock options include "Late" or "Excused" or "Unknown").

Use of "buttons" to sign in, showing this week's attendance so far.
I put the iPad right in front of me and welcome students to class. I oversee their "clicking" in their attendance (to make certain they aren't clicking for others), but my classes are small enough I know when students aren't there and could modify this if it ever happened (it hasn't). The students LOVE this. I let them click in to help them mentally check into the course for that day. They can also immediately see how many absences they have. It is a great way to keep them in the loop regarding their attendance. 

Where does the "student ownership" come in? Well, in my courses (20-30 students), the students take a few moments in class and enter their email and take a picture of themselves to use for the attendance app. They love doing this. The best part is that they input the email they use most often (not just our institutional email, which like most institutions is not as heavily used as the students' non-institutionally provided email address). I can email one (or all students) for course announcements or just to send them a report of their attendance (as a warning) without doing anything extra on my part. It is literally two finger taps of the screen. So far, I have found that the app helps me remember their names and it helps them remember each others names. It saves me the time of transferring a hard copy signature page to my excel or Blackboard grade books.

At the end of the semester (or anytime really), I can save a copy of the records in CSV if I would like to. I also back it up in my DropBox easily. I used the app to generate a report and submit it to our retention coordinator last semester to show which students were missing too many classes.

The app is currently $4.99 and has saved me time while making my work easier!

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Focusing for a fresh, energetic semester

You're editing a syllabus, reviewing a new text book, and wondering about your previous commitment to teach two new course preps this term. You're quickly losing your energy for the new term. It is easy to understand, as professors we multi-task through each day, work until we fall asleep, and rarely find any instant gratification for our efforts. If you're feeling the pre-semester or new semester blahs, here are some of my tips to starting the term with new, fresh energy: FOCUS.
Image created with
  • Focus on your classes. Do something NEW in each class. Delete an assignment that hasn't been working, modify the delivery mode, give some democratic power to the students, add an assignment you've been wanting to try out. Try a new approach to a topic that has long been your favorite or least favorite to teach. Give yourself something to help you click out of "auto-pilot" and back into your excited self. 
  • Focus on ONE research goal at a time.  If you are like me and EVERYTHING is interesting you may struggle to focus and finish one project. (I can see my doctoral chair nodding vigorously at this point). I love learning, I love studying, I love researching. But, it can be draining to look at a to-do list that never shrinks because nothing is ever fully finished. Focus on one item until it is done. Move on to the next one. Keep moving. Keep your focus. This can help amp up your energy as you see the reward of moving through your projects.
  • Focus on a non-academia activity. Teaching multiple classes each day can be draining, especially when you're working with large numbers or new preps. Plan one day a week (I like to plan this on my busiest teaching day of the week) where you take an evening (or morning if you teach evenings) away from academia. If you taught multiple courses all day on a Tuesday, then Tuesdays are now your NON-WORK evening. We can't do this each day, but if you know you have one evening to look forward to, it can help you keep your energy up throughout the week. Make sure you are not sneaking in grading or research. Truly do something non-academic. My treat: roller derby! No way can I try to edit papers or answer emails if I'm on my wheels.
  • Focus on fitness. It may sound silly, but as I continue throughout my career, I have learned the importance of those vitamins, the necessity of physical activities, and healthy eating. Scale back on the caffeine (gasp!) by slipping half-caf into your coffee maker and slowly cut back on the cups you have each morning. You'll soon find your energy lifting and lasting!
There are many times when a new semester seems to have materialized without a break, without the renewal of energy we so desperately need. Combat the dreary, beleaguered return to another semester. Shake things up, find your zest, and face this new semester with a fresh outlook full of energy by focusing on a few simple areas for small changes. 

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Anticipatory socialization: the bursting bubbles of academia

In my final years of my doctorate program, I remember looking ahead to faculty life with the expected trepidation about tenure. I also remember thinking how enjoyable it would be to finally slow down once I graduated. How having a faculty job would mean I could stop the crazy graduate school schedule, the insane number of classes, the periodic adjunct posts, the graduate assistant duties, the (seemingly) endless hours in the library and the even longer hours logged in to the laptop and pounding away at the keyboard while in bed, working until I literally fell asleep.

Allow me to introduce you to my evening. I am currently pounding away at my net book, wondering how I will possibly meet all of the deadlines, while harboring the illusion of sleep by working in bed, fantasizing that once I have tenure things will slow down.

Does the academic life slow down? Is the time management easier on the "other side" of promotion/tenure?

After the bubble was burst that faculty life was NOT easier than graduate student life (insert giant "Duh" and eye rolling here), I have the feeling that I may now be leading myself into yet another bubble-bursting journey throughout the stages of academia.
If I am fortunate enough to earn tenure, I am hoping that I don't allow my illusions (delusions) about the next phase of faculty life to offer a false hope about workload. Somehow, each year gets busier, each semester (though appropriately managed and structured) seems to contain so much MORE than the semester before it.

Or perhaps my energy is starting to fade. Year five of the tenure track. Now dubbed the "this is no joke" year. The year to buckle down even more than the previous four years and make every activity, every minute count.

So, as I sit in my cozy bed, rewarding myself with 20 minutes of blogging "break" time from Project XYZ to mentally refresh, I find myself laughing at the anticipatory socialization of academia. Though I knew better than to think the faculty life would be more manageable, slower, better constructed (after all, I did read the research before embarking on this career choice), somehow I was still deluded into a promise, a wish, a hope, that my world would slow down after graduate school. When it in fact DOUBLED in work, I began to see the next hurdle (getting tenure) as the sure way to finally slow down..."Once I get tenure, things will get easier" can't help but run in my head as a mantra to keep pushing hard and tackling the to-do list. "Once I get tenure, things will get easier" is a kind of carrot dangling in front of this tired horse.

So even if my horsey brain realizes that the stupid carrot doesn't really get any closer as I trudge along, the carrot (the hope of a slow down in work load) is still SO APPEALING that I allow myself to be deluded by its promise, by its presence, and continue laboring on. Because, after all, once I get tenure things WILL get easier.

Hey, don't burst my bubble about that...yet.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From paper to app: Productivity plans for a new semester

One of my biggest joys in this world is organization. It sounds odd, but I love when a calendar is color-coded. I love when the to-do list is prioritized. I love planning projects and managing time lines. Then, I love completing tasks early and making that oh-so-satisfying check mark!

In fact, this time of year usually finds me hunting for a new day planner (see "The Black Sharpie" entry from one year ago today). I can't help it. I love all things organizational.

But with my institution's new iPad initiative beginning this past summer, I found it problematic to carry around a high tech, expensive iPad AND my day planner. After a week of using the iPad, I realized it wouldn't work. In fact, people commented on the strange combination. Why carry around a dated paper day planner when the high tech tool could do EVERYTHING? I made a promise. I would go completely iPad. I would force myself to take all notes in all meetings on the iPad, to input all my contacts, to incorporate it into my classes. What good is an initiative if the professors aren't using the devices?

But I struggled with the transition when it came to my calendar/daily tasks. I've spent the past few months bouncing from task list to task list and feeling frustrated and mildly out of control when it comes to my daily work load. I love the basic task lists for gentle reminders and easy one-time tasks, but how on earth do you work in a large project?

Though I had no trouble going digital with my calendar, I struggled with a digital format for my tasks, goals, and "to do" items. I've synced lists with my email and worked my way through a surprising number of productivity and task apps. Though many work well, they just don't give me the same feeling as writing a task and then (eventually) marking it off the list. I can't color-code, structure, or add sub-tasks to these tools and find myself jotting notes on paper and dry erase boards to stay on task. But, I've made a pact with myself that I will not be left behind technologically and MUST use the iPad to the fullest possible productivity level. So, to that end, I have ignored my annual trip to the office supply store to shop for day planners. I've given in and followed the advice of many Twitter folks who recommended Toodledo when I asked about productivity apps and tools.

I have used this app for a few days and already I can tell it will NOT be relegated to a background list of tasks without prioritized structure or options to further manage the items. It let's me categorize (folder), prioritize (high, medium, low), sort (by date added, due date, priority, folder, etc.), take notes, and sync through multiple devices. It FEELS like a day planner. It is cheap (the iPad app was $1.99, the online option is free), though I sprang for a "pro" account and paid $14.99 for one year (saving roughly $30 from my annual day planner purchase).

Easy folder creation allows you to "code" your tasks.
What a great way to dive into a new semester and re-energize! I've already made my folders and input all of my goals for the semester along with all of my "must do" items prior to my (GULP) tenure review this coming fall. I feel calmer. I feel focused. I have that same shiny, excited feeling that comes with the purchase of a fresh, new calendar. In this image, you can see my folders- which were easy to create and SIMPLE to work with your tasks.

I love to look at a snapshot of my week's tasks and to review the sub-tasks on my projects. This is where most apps and tools stopped working for me. In Toodledo, I can easily structure my "view" to be by priority, due date, folder, etc. It is wonderful. I can mix high and low priority items and type in notes and even import files related to those tasks (the files can be attached to a specific task). Today, I opened Toodledo to find a beautiful list of both large and small tasks. I sat right down and started working through my highest priority tasks first (imagine my sigh of nerdy pleasure here).

Tasks by due date (see variety of options to organize by due date, folder, priority, etc. in upper left corner)
Since it has become a tradition to start the new year off with a conversation of organizing the new semester, I simply had to mention my satisfaction with my electronic options to hyper-organize my last few months before the tenure review.

What tools, apps, or strategies do you find most effective to prepare for a new semester?

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