April 29, 2010

Online Teaching Evaluations

This morning I read, with some relief, a post over at Teaching Professor that echos some of my frustration with online teaching evaluations.

Since my current courses are taught mostly online, it makes sense to have students give me feedback online as well. Unfortunately, response rate is under 50% ... and it seems to be the 50% who have "suggestions for improvement" who respond. The other half of the class presumably found the course acceptable to the point where they did not need to voice an opinion. But without data, one does not know what parts of the course should be retained as is, since they may have met the needs of the majority ... or not.

I like the suggestion in the post that there should be some sort of incentive to complete these evaluations. They would, of course, need to be given by the system confidentially. But if it brings response rate up to something reasonable ... such as the 80% cited in the study, I would think it worth the work. Otherwise, we may be basing promotion and retention decisions on inadequate data as well as asking teachers to "fix" course materials that really are not truly broken.

Posted by bjohnson at 1:43 PM

April 21, 2010

Camtasia Relay - Recorded Mini Lectures for Online Learning

When I started teaching Research Methods in the Master of Education cohort, senior colleagues convinced me that constructivist teaching was the ONLY way to conduct online classes for adults. In fact, attempts to conduct direct instruction online were seen to be nearly the work of the devils - U of Phoenix and Capella. It wasn't respectful of adults as self directed learners who had expertise of their own.

And I bought that argument for a while, but it made me uneasy. After all, there are many technical aspects of research theory and practice that are not easy to discover on your own ... just look at seasoned researchers who make mistakes and end up in the news! "Guidance" via more words and redirection to students' own experiences and the textbook (none of which really meet our needs for this class fully anyway) did not work very well for two semesters.

Then, I discovered Camtasia Relay.

This little program allows me to record mini-lectures over PowerPoint presentations. In 15 to 30 minutes, I can give direct information and guidance to my online students ... every week. This keeps them on track, reassures them that I'm still really "there" as their instructor, and has significantly raised the comfort and satisfaction my students have for the course.

It also allows me to use my computer display, with voice over, to show students many of the tools and techniques that I use in research and analysis. Using dummy information (gathered from the class on non-personal questions), I can demonstrate how to calculate statistics or used thematic content analysis to answer a research question. In theory, you could use this capture technology to show and talk about any subject matter you could show on your computer - with or without Power Point.

One of the best things about the software is that it works for both Mac and PC ... a rarity in the ed tech world. And with Camtasia Relay 2 coming out, many of my concerns may be addressed.

Up to this release, I'd been concerned about what I would do when I had a hearing impaired student in my class (which has happened in prior terms). But Relay 2 promises voice to text - something I need to verify.

I'd also been bothered by the fact that I have to unplug my second monitor whenever I did a recording. The new version manages multiple monitors and multiple microphones!

It also promises better integration into Moodle, which is currently my CMS of choice. Heaven!!

So, if you teach online and feel that your voice and expertise is missing from your classes, check out Camtasia Relay!

Posted by bjohnson at 8:43 AM

April 20, 2010


I hate to start out blogs with this .... but this blog is about a concept that is NOT ready for education ..... yet. Before I could require students to use a social networking application for class, I would HAVE to ensure their privacy and allow students to control who sees different types of information. And, I'd also have to include some sort of statement on my syllabus about the fact that harassing another student using the tool would be grounds for disciplinary action. *Sigh* You can teach students content, but you'd think their parents or kindergarten teacher would have taught them to be human beings ... but onto the tool ....

The tool, as it says in the title is Foursquare. This social networking app for the iPhone, Droid, and the Blackberry makes use of the ability of smart phones to know where they (and presumably you, the owner) are located (called "location awareness"). By combining your location with information (created by others) about where other things (businesses and other people) are located, you can record where you are over time and broadcast that information to others nearby. In the social world, that lets you find your friends on a night out. It also lets you see where your friends have been, giving you some indication of places that you might find fun and interesting too. That's assuming that you enjoy the same things that your friends do ... or are extremely open to new experiences.

As an educator, I get excited by this because of the "tip" and "to do" feature built into some apps, like Foursquare. This could allow me to map out an experiential tour of a city or a building or ecosystem for my students, using the "to do" feature. For each location, I could have them look for something specific or do something ... like take a water sample or a picture of a building. And they could also make notes of their own at each location, uploading the results of a water sample, for instance.

Once done with the tour, I and the class could access the notes each student put up. By combining observations over time, we could show how research teams actually DO analyze samples, show the variations in data and how we use statistics to assess them, map results, etc. This is not a new idea - researchers such as John Martin and Kurt Squire have been working on augmented reality games for science inquiry for several years. The stunningly wonderful thing is that these simple apps made for social networking could be re-purposed for education. And given the number of students who already have these "phones", we rapidly loose the need for specialized, expensive single-purpose devices ... needing only to address how to provide access for students without the means to own a smart phone.

And while I cannot argue that smart phones are inexpensive, they are still often much cheaper than the laptops we have been requiring them to purchase through various laptop initiatives. Plus, the phones are significantly more resilient as well as able to access data much more effectively in the field.

Something to think about ... and for some bright developer to create for Foursquare. If you want to see an educational use of this program, check out and follow the History Channel's excellent list of tips in Foursquare. They even have a tip to see the Minnehaha Falls!

Posted by bjohnson at 9:05 AM