Putting syllabi, schedules, and other documents into blackboard

When putting your documents into blackboard there are a few tricks that I have found that really help you out as an instructor. I have observed most instructors doing 1 of 2 things when putting their files into blackboard and I choose option number 3.

The first and easiest thing is to simply upload your Word or PDF documents directly into blackboard. This is easy for you. And the students can simply download the files. The disadvantage is that students need to download the files and you cannot make changes to the documents once they have the hard copies. This becomes a chore if you post this in 3 different places and then need to make changes.

The second most common thing is pasting your text into blackboard so that there is nothing to download. This does take longer as you need to reformat it once you do the copy/paste but its easier for your students. The advantage is that you can edit the documents throughout the semester as needed because there is one master copy. The disadvantage is that you cannot easily email it to students unless you also have a Word/PDF version.

As I said, I choose option 3, which is have found is more or less a combination of the two. I provide students with a link from a shared server (ie dropbox) in blackboard. That way, whenever students click the link they are taken to the document via the web browser. Plus, if I want to make changes to the documents I can simply make the change to the actual file without having to navigate in blackboard. This is especially useful if you put your syllabus is 2-3 different places (ie on the main page, then in discussion forums, email to students, etc.). This makes it very easy and you can tell students that whenever they want to see the document to please click the link. Any downloaded version is always old. I also put a modified date at the top so they can match up downloaded version to the latest link.

is college worth it?

http://college.usatoday.com/2015/12/10/is-college-worth-it-goldman-sachs-says-not-so-much/

I just read this article. It doesn’t really tell you much. I have written about this topic and time and time again. Is college worth it? Well like the student in the article that spent $200k on an undergraduate education on some random private school, then no its not. But that is a terrible example. Essentially they spent 200k on something that could have cost 30-50k. College can be even cheaper than that by going to community for 2 yrs then a state school. College is only expensive if you make it expensive. Otherwise it doesn’t cost more than an SUV. Is college worth it to Goldman and Sachs? Just ask their recruiters who are out trying to get the best and brightest from the nations top colleges this spring. They are not knocking down the door of any high schools or factories. They are going to the top colleges and getting a new batch of analysts/interns. So is college worth it? Well if you are trying to get your foot in the door to a financial company like goldman and sachs, yes its probably the only way unless you have some other ins.

Structuring a discussion forum in an online course

When creating a discussion board for an online course you do not just create it and hope it gets used. You also do not just put a bunch of boring questions and hope students learn something. You need to plan it out. I am going to highlight several of the things that I use and have found add to my student’s success and course enjoyment.

Help! – A help or questions and answer forum is a great place for students to ask questions. Students can ask questions and other students can respond. This saves me time because if a student answers the question, I may not need to. Additionally, all students in the course get to see all of the responses.

Cool resources – This is a place for my students and I to post articles, websites, blogs, news stories, etc that are relevant to the course. As an instructor I try to post to this forum about 8-10 times throughout the semester. This is a chance for students to also post cool resources they may come across in their research and coursework that may benefit the rest of the class.

Announcements – I post a weekly statement to students in this section. That weekly announcement tells them exactly what is due for the week and includes any course updates. I also send this out as an email. This helps keeps students on track so that they do not feel lost in the course. I find that sending an email and posting to the forum is a must.

Social forum – This is a place where students can post anything – course related or not. This forum usually does not see that much activity however when questions are asked they are usually very important. For instance, students may ask about certifications and such that may not be relevant to my class but are important for all students in my program. Another example might be resume help. Important topics but there may only be 2-3 for a whole semester course.

Introductions – I have all students introduce themselves. I also ask them to post a picture of themselves. This way it puts a face with a name and makes the class more personable. In this introduction I ask them the following: goals, where they live/are from, experience, and ask them to tell us something fun/exciting about themselves. They usually have fun with this.

Discussions – This is where the activities take place. Each week I have students complete activities in my classes and discuss them. I try to stay away from traditional discussion questions as a primary assignment as I find that students feel they are boring. So instead I will ask them to choose a research article and review, create a presentation on a topic, create a table comparing and contrasting, or even create a screencast or video. These activities get at the same type of learning (or deeper) that I would get from discussion questions but are a bit more fun. I try to make a different activity for each week of my course. Students then are usually required to post several times to their classmates.

Flash being replaced with Adobe Animate CC

So the news is out. Flash is being replaced with adobe animate cc. The full adobe announcement can be seen here. What does this mean? It means that Adobe is trying to rebrand Flash. Flash is not going away. Adobe is essentially just renaming it. However, there is more to it than that. Adobe has been working on various HTML5 output tools for the past few years (ie Edge Animate). So when this is released over the next few months, will Edge Animate go away and be merged with Flash? Will Flash actually have good HTML5 output?

Currently instructional designers are using captivate and articulate for most of their development because these tools are easy to use. However, these tools have major limitations. The HTML5 output is OK but even if it was perfect these tools are a little more than animated flash cards. They do an ok job but a serious training developer needs something more powerful with no limits. Currently this involves programming (ie javascript, java, etc), flash (which isnt compatible on mobile devices), or game engine software like unity. If the new version of flash truly can push out HTML5 content that has the power of an object oriented language then it could be a game changer. However, I do not see this happening just yet. All of the tests I have done are far from perfect using what Adobe currently has on the market. I think a big issue is that Adobe Animate really needs to use javascript instead of AS3 for programming but I am not sure this is the direction they are going – instead they push out AS3 content and convert it to javascript. I guess we will find out in the next few months when Animate is released.

iPhone Vs Android: screen utilization

I now have both android and apple phones and I have been comparing the two. Thus far, the biggest difference is how they utilize screen size. You can see how I have highlighted the bottom of the phones in the image below. For some reason apple makes you press a button. This button is a huge pain to press if you are used to just tapping the screen. And its a huge waste of screen space. Android has definitely done a better job of utilizing the screen here and I would imagine apple will follow suit shortly. This might not seem like a big deal but once you get used to tapping the screen you never want to constantly keep pushing that button all day long.

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Professional Presentations

Giving a professional presentation? Look no further than this presentation analysis on the late Steve Jobs. This is a great breakdown and can give anyone a lot of great pointers on make a boring presentation much better.

 

Problem solving and designing

Tonight in my class I will be discussing various ways to design and one of those is called Open Space Technology (Read here for directions on how to conduct OST – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Space_Technology)

OST is a way to empower users/stakeholders to design and solve problems in a fun and safe environment. It generates individual and group creativity. OST is usually done face to face however given that my classes are virtual I have figured out how to do it online. To do it only you need to be able to form groups in a forum or chat room. Otherwise it can run just as would in a live face to face environment. Anyway, this is a great activity for instructional designers, businesses, software developers, etc to engage in.

Do you need a degree in Instructional Design?

I have written about this before but given that we are starting a new school I will reiterate my thoughts: Yes you more than likely need an instructional degree in order to be a good instructional designer.

Can you learn to be an instructional designer without getting a degree? Yes. In fact, you can learn about any subject through libraries, internet, etc. You have been able to do this as long as books have been available to the public. However, would you want a doctor to work on you that didn’t have an MD? and just learned through some internet resources? Sorry but you would not. Instructional design is no different. There is a lot that goes into the design process and being a good designer is not easy. I would never hire someone that was not trained in a very solid ISD program that taught them how to be an instructional designer and provided them experiences to apply it.

So where does the notion that you do not need an ISD degree come from? Most often, bad designers. I am sorry to say that but usually when someone says this they either do not have the degree or came from a bad program. Choosing a good instructional design program taught by qualified instructors is a whole other issue. But usually when I find these people that do not believe in the ISD degree and that you can learn ‘on the job’ I can ask them anywhere from 3-5 questions about design, that are vital to design, and they do not know any of the answers – why? Because they themselves are usually not good designers because they do not know how to really do instructional design. Because if they did, they would realize that you really need someone trained to do it well.

Just as an example. I run into this problem all the time with managers. Managers that were hired because they were good workers. Yet they were not trained in management. So they end up failing, messing up, etc and at the very least making simple management 101 mistakes that they didn’t realize they were doing because they had no training.

Some related blog posts:

How to become an instructional desginer

10 reasons to get a degree in ISD

What to look for in an instructional design program

Should you go to college

Back to school computer

What computer should you buy your soon to be college freshmen?

First, How much money can you spend? Unfortunately when buying computer you usually do get what you pay for. So if you are spending $400 on a computer expect it to deteriorate faster than a $2000 machine (as in it might last a year vs the $2000 machine that will last for 4 easily). Also, expect that the $400 computer components are probably already 3-4 years old and will have trouble running current software. A minimum I usually tell people is to spend $700 and get it on a good sale. Less than that and you are asking for trouble. $1000-$1200 is even better and what the majority of students need. And $1200-2000+ is what you need for a high end machine for gaming, computer programmer, graphic artist, movie editor, sound editor. Once you have decided your price point, then decide…

Do you need a Mac or PC? Well maybe Macs are already out of your price range. So you can skip to the next paragraph. If you are not sure which you should get ask yourself the following: Are you good with computers (tech geek) or going into computer science, engineering, business or a science field? Then I would get a PC. So much software only runs on a PC so you dont want to get into a class where something you are using wont run on your computer. If you are not good with computers and just need something that will last for your 4 years to write papers, browse the web, and be used in courses, then definitely get a Mac. They are great for those that are not tech people and usually will last 4+ years. I had one that lasted 8 years.

Next you need to decide what brand, upgrades, and where to buy…First, shop around. Look online and at stores. Take a sales associates words with a grain of salt. First they are trying to make a sale and they are NOT usually computer experts. If they were computer experts they wouldn’t be a sales associate at Best Buy or Walmart they would be working at a company making 60-90k a year. Secondly, they are NOT in your program and do not know what you really need. So do your own research. There are tons of back to school sales and all of the computer companies offer discounts for students. So look and compare. But what brand? If you are getting a Mac then you know you are getting a Mac. If PC however, there are tons of options out there. I would personally rather look components and price rather than brand per se but I do like Dell and Alienware (a dell brand) but there are many others out there too.

So what components should you be looking at? Disk space. How much do you currently use? I would recommend at least 250-500GB. Also remember there are free options for space such as dropbox so space might not be too much of an issue anymore unless you have tons of pictures, songs, movies (which all college kids have). Remember that if you run out of space you can buy a 1TB (1oooGB) hard drive for under a $100 at any time so don’t worry too much about the space issue. Next you have Ram. Get a minimum of 8GB but I would probably not get under 12GB if I wanted this to last for 4 yrs. My current computer has 32GB (and its 3 yrs old) just to put what you are buying into comparison of what is out there. Ram is one area where you need to upgrade. If you are a gamer or in a major where you need a fast computer get as much ram as you can afford. Then of course you need to consider the video card and processor. I usually try to get the best I can here as well. The least important thing for me is disk space as I can always upgrade that and buy more. As far as screen size, it doesn’t really matter – that is your preference. Get what you are comfortable with.

Should you buy a warranty? Yes. Please get it. I watch computers fail all the time. Please get it for at least 3 yrs if possible. Computers, especially laptops will wear out as they are carried from class to class and stuffed in a backpack. Keep in mind your school will fix computers as well so make sure you check with your school to see what they offer.

Should you buy Office and other software as an add on? NOOOOO. Wait until you get to college. Colleges will offer huge discounts on this stuff. For example you can buy the full office package at my university for $30. They have tons of software too so make sure you check before putting out big bucks on software.

Oh, and if you are wondering the answer is NO, a tablet cannot replace a computer. A tablet is a great compliment to a computer but you need a computer. You cannot get by with just a tablet.