Thursday, April 10, 2008

Albright Talk on Educational Technology

Transcript of Albright Talk on Educational Technology.

Jean Claude-Bradley: All right. Thanks very much for having me. What I'd like to do today is to give you sort of my journey with trying to use technology to better my teaching. I teach Organic Chemistry at Drexel and so a lot of the things that I'll be talking about are Chemistry-specific. I'll be showing molecules and reactions and things like that. But you know want to think in terms of your own fields, how that can map especially when I talk about things in Second Life. So those are just specific examples but this will be completely general.

So again, I'm going to focus on Chemistry here. It's not really about the technology, it's really about the teaching and what we're trying to do as teachers. We're not trying to do anything else except produce people who are going to be competent in their field. I think people lose that a little bit when they start to think it's about the technology, but it really isn't. If you make it above the technology, then it's not going to work because people are not going to be using it for actually doing what they were hired to do.

So if we focus on that and keep remembering that, we can keep adopting as new technologies come on board. You have to think about--again, from the Chemistry perspective, if I'm trying to make chemists, what does it actually mean? I think that it really boils down to having somebody who's chemically literate at the end of the undergraduate level and someone who's competent to create new useful chemical knowledge at the graduate level. I'll be showing you tools that can operate at both those levels and they might not necessarily be exactly the same tools so I'll show you that by example.

As teachers, how do we actually do this? How do we make chemists in the case of Chemistry? We have to do three things pretty well. We have to select and do our contents. That's our choice. We have to assess and validate the skills and knowledge of the students. So we can give content all we want but if we don't evaluate the students, we don't know if they've learned it or not. The third thing is we can actually operate by catalyzing the learning process, which is something that most teachers don't have time to do because they're very busy trying to deliver the content and trying to assess their students. That for me is probably one of the most important advantages of this new technology is that if you use it in the right way, you can generate this time that you can use in a way that you couldn't previously.

So I'll be talking about specifically Organic Chemistry courses, sort of a journey, like I said. I'm going to be starting with--this is what I started with in '96 when I came to Drexel. Traditional lecture-based course, of course, done face-to-face, all the grading is completely manual. There was really--sure, I had office hours, we have all office hours and we use email but that's just really not enough time for doing a lot of the in-depth work that I am now able to do with my students but this is our starting point.

So I'll be going through each one of those three. The first one is assessment. What actually happen over the course of time? As I just mentioned, initially we had manual grading and then I started to use WebCT, so I think you guys here use Blackboard which is they're not merged so it's basically the same concept. Any of you here uses the Quizzes feature? A few people.

Basically, my classes start to get larger and larger and it seemed to be something that was worth investigating, it isn't investment in time. Some of the things I'll be talking to you about are quick fixes or quick to implement. This is not necessarily one of them because you do have to set up your question base and you have to learn how to use the system but I was very happy with the kind of things that I was getting out of the system. First time that I implemented them, it was not grading the students, I was just experimenting with the system. When I saw that yes, this could be used for grading that I moved on to do all my tests and exams with automated grading. I use the video surveillance system that's already at Drexel, it's already built under the public safety. So that's an option depending on what level of security you want, that's something that you might consider.

I started to get in to using blogs and wikis for different reasons, but I saw the potential for teaching. So I will give you some screenshots and some examples of the types of things that you can do with that. By then, I got involved with gaming and so I used Unreal Tournament which is a First Person Shooter game, kind of like Halo, that kind of style. You'll see the evolution of that whether or not weapons make a difference and all that kind of thing and at the end, I actually settled on Second Life. So I actually don't use the First Person Shooter game anymore because I think Second Life is a lot richer and it has more potential, actually.

OK. The other component - the content delivery, again, evolution over about 10 years. So first, of course, face-to-face with paper handouts and then face-to-face with online PDF. A lot of people use the Blackboard, the WebCT systems initially to upload their syllabi and that's a no brainer. It's very, very simple to do, it's something that all the students can find very easily, it's very little work, so that's sort of a no brainer.

Next here, I started to record my lectures. I'm using Camtasia, but I hear some of you guys are using CamStudio. Anybody here using the CamStudio? So George was telling me of his use of that. It will record whatever is on the screen, so I'm actually recording the stock now. Then if you wanted to review it, you can give a link to somebody and it will be a pretty similar experience. But these were optional in the sense that I'm still giving both the lecture in class but I'm recording it and then making it available to the students and there's no penalty for them not following it.

A little bit later, actually, this whole podcasting phenomenon started to get going and, actually, a student asked me, he had a slow connection at home and he said you have just the audio of the class. I hadn't considered it before and I started to look into it. I learned the tools for how to podcast and, basically, it was helpful. But again, I didn't replace the screencast recording, because it was just another channel, and also providing PDFs over iTunes and things like that.

Then I started to get more heavily involved using blogs to deliver content. All right, and I'll definitely show a lot of examples of that. Video podcasting through iTunes, and I did start near the end to use a wiki and you'll see that it's a completely different function than a blog. The wiki is really to organize things as to make it easy to find and it's a very, very quick for anyone to learn how to do it. So that's one of those quick and dirty things that actually does a work.

I will then talk about my use of YouTube and Google Video, these also turned out to be very, very handy for certain types of problems. YouTube, for example, you can't really upload anything more than 10 minutes so you wouldn't necessarily put a whole lecture on there but you could put quick solutions to problems and I find that to be very useful. And because it's so public, you get contacts from people around the world to other Organic Chemistry students who either like what you did or point out a problem. I think that's extremely useful as a teacher.

I won't talk too much about Google Co-op, but I'll show you that there's a search bar. Google is, of course, a wonderful company, and there's a lot of things that they enable you to do for free. One of these things is called Google Co-op, where you can actually specify a whole list of authorized links for your class. If there's an online textbook you like, if you want to use Wikipedia you can include it; if you don't want to use Wikipedia you can exclude it.

So when a student types their search term, it won't search the whole Internet. It will just search the resources that you've approved. That's a really nice little trick. Again, nice quick and dirty thing you can do. I'll show you right now, I'm not using podcasting in the way that I did initially, because now I have archives. It turns out that if you already have a full archive, it's a lot easier to just give it in a whol.ZIP file for the student than showing them how to use iTunes. Showing that.

You notice here that I went from recorded lectures, making it optional, and then eventually I completely replaced the live lecture. For one of the terms I actually studied the attendance of the students. Again, this is video, so it's not just audio podcasts. This is the whole experience, everything goes on the screen, all of my recordings. The attendance drops until the end of the term and goes to 10-20% in both classes. This gave me a great opportunity to evaluate the performance of students who were actually still coming to class versus those that weren't.

The performance was identical. I realized that I was wasting my time repeating myself term after term, and from that point on I assign the recorded lectures in the same way that I would assign a book chapter, and I would do workshops with my students. They'll come in and we'll work on specific problems. I have time to work with them one-on-one, we can do all kinds of things, we can get into Second Life. Basically, that frees up the class time for me to be more involved with my students.

This is what we're talking about here. This whole Learning Catalysis concept, which I think is absolutely critical as a teacher. You have to have time to do this kind of stuff. It's not enough just to put the content out there and to test the students. You don't, honestly, need a teacher to do that. The University could fire all the teachers if that's all it came down to. Teaching is about interacting with students and its about taking your knowledge base; evaluating the knowledge of the student and trying to customize your interaction with them.

Of course it requires the participation of the student, and that's their prerogative. If they don't want to attend those sessions, that's OK, but they're not going to get as much out of the class as the students that do come. It's just a teaching philosophy that I have that I think works. We're almost up to the screenshots, I want to show you how this is all laid out. I do still use a course management system, we use WebCT. It's not the center of the class.

The center of the class is actually the wiki, and this is public. I try to make as much as possible, all of my class material public. The assessment of course is not. Well actually a part of it is, there's a demo account where you can take my quizzes. But in terms of the tests that my students take you have to be registered in the class so there's a whole security thing.

But otherwise, the wiki is a central thing. We've got the content as available as possible. I have the interaction of my students. I'll show you some of that. I already talked about the workshops. I have students doing blog assignments sometimes, wiki assignments, and I can show you examples of that; but everything starts at the wiki. This is a little slide; don't take it too seriously when I say the unhappy old person here. All of the tools have their uses, but it is kind of nice when you discover these new tools.

Instead of pushing on your students, emailing them or contacting them in some direct way like with a phone, most of these new technologies rely on a pool system. You put yourself out there, and the receiver is actually the one that goes and subscribes to your stuff. You can't force anybody to read your material. Yeah, it's great in many ways in that you can get more subscribers. It's not as forceful. Some of that is a disadvantage. You do have to assume that the students are going to be subscribed to your stuff.

It's not necessarily happy and bad, but I think once you've experience both you can then allocate which tool you want to use for which purpose. All right, so these are the screen shots. Again, this is for Chemistry, but they can apply to any field. This is the website that the students get when they're first introduced to my course. Here is the Google co-op search. It's the first thing on the wiki page. If they want to search for a concept in the class, they can put their search term in there. That will search all of the online textbooks that I mentioned, but it will also search all of the transcripts of my lectures. It'll search any content that I have that is in text form. This is actually a really convenient tool.

I record the first lecture. I put it in Flash, I put it in MP3, whatever; and if a student misses the first lecture, which is the only live lecture of the class, then I can point them here. That's actually pretty handy. Really, it's just a little explanation of the class.

On the bottom of this front page are links to all of the resources of the class. I'm not going to go through all of these today, I just took screenshots because I don't rely on the Web. You never know when it's not actually going to work when you need it. Of course, all of these are what they say.

The idea of the wiki is that anyone that has permission can go in on it, can hit an edit button, and can add a link or can add content. So this didn't develop by anyone writing HTML or anything like that. It didn't develop by any plan, actually. It's just, "Oh, I have to give my syllabus, I'll put it here." As you keep getting the same questions I should probably have a FAQ page, so you add it there. The wiki develops.

Again if you remember this "push-pull" system, anyone in the world can subscribe to this wiki for changes. You can either get it through a blog reader or through email with wiki spaces. That's also nice, which you don't get with a regular web page. That's just part of the benefits.

These things are new here. I've just found if you already have an archive of lectures, there's no point in messing around with podcasting. Just give the whole thing; it's about a gig and a half; and then they're done for the term. They can access everything.
Student: That's with the audio? That can't be video, can it? It can?
Jean-Claude: Yeah, m4v files. So the m4v files will play on their video iPods as well. Yeah it's not that big actually if you put the settings right.
Student: You're just capturing the screen.
Jean-Claude: Yeah I'm just capturing the screen. I think they're like 50 megs per hour, it's really quite reasonable. And at the bottom here is a site meter. And what this does basically is it's a free service that sees how people are finding your site. So if they're using Google with certain search terms you can look at that. And it's a thing that I like to put on all my websites, whether they be blogs or wikis. First of all it's free, secondly it's pretty interesting, actually, you can make that stuff public. So people should know what kind website it is. And you can get a really good idea by looking at recent hits.

OK, so the blog. So the first time that I taught this class and recorded it I used the blog, which made a lot of sense because, with the blog it's chronological. So you have a class and then you go and blog about it. So you write some things, you upload your files, you can link to the PDF, you can link to the flash recording, you can link to the audio.

And there's a way of doing this with blogger that enables you to do podcasting really easy. So if some of you want to talk to me about that afterwards I'd be happy to discuss it. So what happens if this isn't a live class, it makes a lot of sense because you get new posts after every class. But once the class is all recorded, and I'm not going to be redoing that class live anymore, the blog, it's not necessarily the best way to contain the information because it's not live anymore. So this one, it hasn't changed since 2005, but it still already has all of the text for all of my classes so I still use it. But if I were to redo this I would probably put this in a wiki because it's a static document basically at this point.

Do any of you have blogs, maintain blogs? OK. So with a blog again it's just, it's a web page that has chronological postings. So if you want to follow it you can use different feed readers. I used to use Bloglines I now use the Google reader. I think it's pretty good. It comes with your Gmail account. And whenever there is a new post, it will show you that you have so many posts. So if you're following a lot of blogs at the same time, it's better to have a reader because there's just one place to go. If you're only following one blog then it makes no sense to have a reader you might as well just go to the website. Right, so a reader would be to manage multiple sites. So again I used to teach my students how to do this, but the reality is now that since I don't have any new posts, there's no point. I just give them the zip archive.

Of course, one advantage of having it in a podcast format is you can put your stuff on iTunes. So that people can find you like that, they just click on subscribe. And then you know this will sync up with your video iPod. iTunes can also handle PDFs. So if you want to distribute material like that. It won't play on the video iPod I don't think. But it will certainly play on their computer. And this is just to show what the interface looks like for the student.

So you've got the PDFs show up with a little book next to it and then you have these other recordings. There's none like this here. If it were video then it would have a little television set and if it doesn't have anything then it's just audio by default. Again the video iPod, you would convert your file to an m4v4 format, and that's not very difficult to do. And that will also play using QuickTime, so they don't need a video iPod to look at the m4v4 format, or the mp4, same thing.

So I've used the blog in a number of other ways. And again this is an evolution, so before I learned about wikis I used a blog to record these FAQs. This is the big limitation. If you have a change here, you can certainly change a blog post. But blog posts are not really meant to be constantly changing. They're meant to publish once, then you archive them. And you can access them at any time. But there's always changes right in a class.

So the FAQ now I actually run on the wiki but initially I would just run it like this on a blog. So basically what's nice when you make these things available to the rest of the world you find actually that there's a lot of interest. I know that there's a lot of premed students that contact me about my classes. And when I was first doing this I don't think that there any other organic chemistry video recordings. But now there's a lot -- Berkeley has them -- there's a lot of different places you can get them now. But especially in the beginning, a lot of students are really appreciative to be able to access that, because they may be in a course where they'd like another interpretation of the material. So having the lecture recordings is really useful if you want to have open coursework.

OK, now going to the assessment part, so student blogging. Well it is not mandatory in my class. I have like between 150 to 200 students usually and you don't want a blog with 200 students. Because this is one of these things, it will require more time. You cannot assume that first of all students are familiar at all with the technology, most are not. And so you have to really start at the beginning. So I do this as an extra credit work. I'll offer up like up to 2% of their final grade will be on a Second Life assignment, a blog assignment, or a wiki assignment. And that's worked pretty well for me, where I might get maybe five students out of the class who will really take me up on this and the actual work for it. But this nice for them as well because they have a record of their class that's open to the public and they can use as a link, sort of their e-portfolio.

Now I didn't talk about this at all but in my laboratory I actually have a wiki that's used as the lab notebook. So my undergrad students and my grad students working in my lab will actually post new pages for all the experiments they're doing. And what's nice about that is it's public and I can use that as an example of real active research to show my undergrads what research is actually like.

And so I've been doing that for the past couple years, where these students -- remember this is the introductory organic chemistry -- so they're just learning about this stuff. But as they see concepts they have to try to relate it to something in the lab notebook. And, of course, that's messy because students are posting to it all the time, they're updating. So it is kind of nice to give them that other view, where you know how everything works perfectly in your textbook? Of course real life isn't like that. So you can show them a little bit of that flavor.

An example is this. We use NMRs, which are basically just plots which we use to analyze chemical data. I don't want to talk about chemistry very much, but this is something we did not cover in class, the fact that this line here is split into three. It was something that the student came across, and she talked to me and said "Why doesn't this match what we learned in class?" We had a chance to discuss this, and she was able to put this up as a wiki post.

She was able to show the data and then link back to the actual experiment from the lab. So this I really like a lot. The way that we teach things is always too simplistic and it's nice to show them the exceptions; it's nice to show them how it actually works.

So why a wiki? Well a wiki is very different from a blog in that a blog; you're going to be posting chronologically. So if you make a blog post today, it will be March 17th. For the rest of time you'll be able to link back to this entry. You can change a blog post, but you should really, really try not to. People don't expect them to be changed so they're not really looking for that.

A wiki is exactly the opposite. People expect the wiki to change constantly. So you can have a wiki page that could go through 30 different versions. That's OK because you can always go back in time and see what all the previous versions were. Here, for example, is a page of one of these wiki assignments that my students did. You can see every version here. This is my undergrad, this is me, this is my grad student, and you can see everybody's contribution to that page. Unless you're the organizer, you can't really delete the page. If somebody were to come and just put blanks everywhere, you could just revert to a prior version. A wiki is pretty safe in that regard, and it's extremely nice to be able to see all the different versions in a project.

The way these show up -- I use Wiki Spaces, which is a free and hosted service. If any of you are interested in starting a wiki, you can do that 100% for free with this service. This is a nice feature here; when you compare two versions, it will show you in red the stuff that got deleted, and it will show you in green the stuff that got added. You don't have to look very much for the different versions of the pages. If you ask a question of a student, and then there's a change, all you do is look at the two versions. You'll see, in green it will be their new stuff. Sometimes students will go and delete your comments without making any changes, so you can catch that really easily with this feature.

This is the site meter that I told you earlier about today. Not only does it tell you how many visitors you get and what their search terms are, it will also show you where they are coming from. I'm just showing this as an example of the kind of world that we're in today. This is a course that's only taken for credit by students at Drexel. But, yet, there's people from around the world that are somehow finding it and making use of it. I would encourage any of you; if you are interested in sharing more of what you do, if you can; this is definitely a good time in the Internet era to do so.

I want to talk about a few other different things you can do with technology. This is a little game that I did with my students -- more upper level organic, maybe Organic III -- that I call "Wheel of Orgo". The idea is I will use a Tablet PC; you can also use a Smartboard but I prefer the Tablet PC because you can write on it.

I will put the starting material, and I will put the product we're trying to make. We'll go in turn, where the students will put one step. A student might try this, and then they'll write something. If they're correct they get a point, if it's not correct then I can correct them and then they can go get their turn around again.

The idea is to complete. The idea is to either put an arrow going forward here, or put an arrow going to the product. At some point the two will connect and, by definition, you have a chemical synthesis. This is something where, "What's the investment in time here?" It's really nothing. If you already have time to spend with your students, that catalysis time I was telling you about, this is a perfect way to implement the boring stuff that you teach through your content delivery mechanisms.

All right, a little bit more about games. I told you about the first-person shooter game Unreal Tournament. There's actually two different versions of that game. There's the popular version with the weapons, but there's actually a free version that doesn't have any weapons. You can build mazes, castles, whatever you want, and people can walk through them. I basically set up a system where you've got these doors. Say a room has four doors. On it is going to be an image that's either correct or incorrect. So three of these images will somehow be incorrect and one of the images will be correct. The idea is they walk through the door that's correct. If they do walk through the correct one, they go to the next level in the maze. If walk through an incorrect one, they have to start over.

I was able to have a system where I could do races with my students. They would all start at the same time and the first one to make it to the 20th level would win a prize. I would give them a molecular model kit or a book or something like that. [laughter]

This is something else that works with some students. Not everybody wants to do it so I never make this mandatory. I think you run into problems with these things when you start to make them mandatory.

I'm not teaching new material here. This is the same material that's in my lectures, the same material that's in my quizzes. It's just another way for students to do it differently. Now I did actually use the weapons version. The disadvantage with that is that it's a commercial game, so you actually have to figure out how to buy it. We had a couple copies installed in the libraries and things like that. I think if Second Life had not come along I would probably still be doing this.

But Second Life did come along. It's just so much richer in terms of the things that you can do. Second Life is not a game; Second Life is just an environment. Just to orient you here, these are the avatars. This is actually me in this particular role and this is how I view the world. I'll try to go on after; I think I can connect to the Internet and I'll walk you around.

So what I used here are obelisks instead of the mazes in Unreal Tournament. So when you click on the obelisk these four images come up. These are either JPEGs or bitmaps. I didn't need to create any new content. I was able to take all of my content from Unreal Tournament and just port it into Second Life. It's the same deal and I can have many obelisks in an area. Students can all come and they can compete against each other, or they can come any time and practice for the tests. So the only difference here is when you click on an incorrect one, you've got to start over. When you click on a correct one it gives you a new set of questions.

Now there's a lot you can do with Second Life; and again, this is going to be pretty chemistry-specific. Of course molecules are important. Working with Andrew Lang, one of my collaborators, have this thing we call a rezzer. It's an object in Second Life that enables you to do something. This particular rezzer allows you to create molecules. So, you feed it information about the molecule and it will create it in 3D. You can see, this is the size of our avatars, you can make a huge molecule. It's a way of looking at chemistry in a way that's completely impractical in real life. You could buy a model kit that would be gigantic but that's not very convenient or practical. You can do these kinds of things in Second Life.

You can do things like fly around on your molecule. Once you've made it, you can wear it and run around. This is actually on Nature Island. There's a lot of educational areas on Second Life and I'd be happy to give you links to that if you're interested.

This is a Buckyball, if you've heard of these. There is some chemistry there. The really nice thing about Second Life is not so much what you can do there, it's the people you can meet. If you're in an area that all it has is science and molecules, you're likely to meet some interesting people from around the world -- whether they be teachers, or students, you're going to meet people that have some interest in that area. If you go to other areas in Second Life that you may have heard a lot more about, then you'll find other kinds of people. So Second Life is much like the Internet. You need to find the locations where the type of content is of interest. If you hang around there, you will definitely have a good experience and meet people.

3D periodic table. Again, we did this for the American Chemicals Society. You can walk around this periodic table, you can click on these atoms and it will give you information about each element. So many things you can do; again, you've got 3D here. You can use your imagination in ways that you simply can't in a traditional website.

Another thing that works extremely well in Second Life are posters. So if you have a PowerPoint, there are tools that we have. Actually, Drexel has an island called Drexel Island, and there's a store there. There's these boards that you can get for free, if any of you are interested. You basically just export your PowerPoint in the JPEG format, and then just dump it into the board. It will show your PowerPoint. If you click on this it will actually change the slides.

The really nice thing about this is you can see; so this is me and I'm talking to two people. This is Loly's poster actually. You can, either with a voice; talk to them; or you can type so you can chat with them. There's a little bell here that you can summon the presenter. If the presenter's online, the text will be in green, you can IM them and you can invite them over. If they're not online it will actually go to their email account, and if they happen to be online somewhere they can quickly log into Second Life and come talk to you.

So I really like posters for Second Life. I think it's a no-brainer basically because it's easy to do, everybody gets it. There's not very much training with it. You don't need to learn to do all kinds of tricky things.

In fact, I've organized conferences in Second Life. There's the Scifoo conference that Nature and Google and O'Reilly organized last summer. I extended some of the sessions on Nature Island by having a lot of posters and people presenting. We'd have maybe 3-6 speakers. Most of these people have never been on Second Life, yet they were able to present in very quick time. And of course this is the social aspect of it. You meet a lot of people in conferences in Second Life, they're going to be attracted to the content. A lot of this content was about Open Science, so if you had any interest in that you could certainly meet people.

And you can have faculty offices. This is really completely up to you. Here I have a little area with a real picture of me, some molecules. This is actually the chemistry department. It's a little pod area. Again, a lot of these things are very simple. Any images, that's very simple to do in Second Life. I think the big problem is people getting too ambitious with it. You have an idea, and you want to do that particular thing for your class, but it's not a realistic idea.

Now there are people in Second Life who are developers who can definitely help you if you pay them. There's a lot of people who will do it for free. What you need to do is talk to somebody who is already doing it and ask them how realistic your idea is. Most of the time, all people really want to do is they want to put up a presentation or a couple of posters. In Chemistry, of course, I want to put molecules up. If you're in Bio, maybe you have other needs and so that would be something you would discuss with people. I could certainly talk with you guys about that if you had any ideas.

So, in summary, you can use blogs for creating podcasts or for storing static, sequential content. Transcripts also are a very quick and dirty thing. If you buy transcripts, you can quickly create a blog. Just dump them in there, and they will get indexed by Google pretty quickly, and you can link them back to your recordings. That's one of the things that I've done.

You can use wikis to organize contact and interact with students on assignments. Again; very, very useful. There's a versioning system in the wiki were you can actually see all the past actions. You can use Second Life to stretch student/teacher imagination. Again, one of the things that people tend to discount is this networking aspect. I think that's very, very important. If your students can meet a couple of people from around the world, you never know who you're going to meet that can help your student down the road.

Use multiple channels to deliver content. This is not about using one of these tools versus another. What it is, it's about giving multiple channels to your students so that they will find the path that makes the most sense to them. Some of the students will like Second Life. Some of them won't. Some of them will like the WebCT quizzes, others won't. As much as you possibly can, try to give it in different versions. Most of these technologies are simple, free and hosted. So you really don't need anything for most of these.

Second Life you do need a place to build, but I can talk to you about that if you want to experiment. We can probably find a little place for you. Ultimately, if you want to buy an island, then that would be done at the Institution level. I've gone through that proccess, I can also advise. But certainly you don't need to buy an island to get involved with Second Life. So that's it for my talk. Let me try to log on and we'll see-- we have a few more minutes?

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