Edcamp Denver

March 14, 2014

edcamp coloradoLast month I attended my first “unconference” which was called Edcamp Denver.  Initially I was a little skeptical since I was giving up a good part of my Saturday to attend a conference where I had little to no idea of what the sessions would cover.  The fact that it was held at a “Creative Academy” and the likelihood that some of my fellow DPS staff would be there gave me some level of comfort and hopefulness though.

For those of you who have never attended an Edcamp or an unconference I will describe some of my experience. When I arrived on this snowy morning we gathered in the cafeteria and enjoyed free coffee and pastries.  Have I mentioned yet that this Edcamp was totally free?  Yes, a free conference with breakfast and lunch provided thanks to sponsors.  Soon the mapping of the unconference began.  On a large sheet of paper participants wrote topics in which they were willing to lead discussions and perhaps make a brief presentation. There was no keynote presentation, just some brief introductions.

edcamp signup sheet

Since I had just been part of a digital storytelling workshop I volunteered to lead a session on that topic.  Why not dive into the pool, right? After starting my session though I learned quickly that the aim is to encourage discussion and collaboration over traditional conference presentations.  So rather than take up all the time with me sharing information I asked other attendees to share their experiences and resources.  Fortunately at DPS we have our core values highlighted at many meetings and one of them is collaboration.

One of the nice things about this unconference was how technology was applied all along the way.  All the session listings were transcribed into a google doc so we could all refer to it for choosing topics and room locations.  In addition to the online schedule each session was given a google doc to document everything that was shared in the session.  You can see these docs here. (Be sure to scroll down the list and realized that some folks took notes diligently while others were left blank.)  After lunch we reconvened as a full group in the auditorium for a demo slam.  Participants shared (in 5 minutes or less) an app that they found useful for education.  For more info on what an Edcamp is, check out this link.

Of course, given my featuring this event on my blog you can be sure that I’ll be attending more Edcamps and other unconferences in the future.  But I also have the idea to incorporate unconferencing into part of a future conference I’m planning so that half the day will be traditional and the other half on free-ranging topics ala the unconference.  What’s really amazing is that some DPS schools have now adopted the unconference model for their professional development meetings so that teachers can tailor the workshop(s) to meet their specific needs.

Digital Storytelling: DPS meets CDS

February 5, 2014
Maggie Gordon and Daniel Weinshenker

Maggie Gordon and Daniel Weinshenker

This past week I was able to accomplish something I’ve been wanting to realize for some time now-introduce more people to digital storytelling.  Daniel Weinshenker from the  Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) led a 2 day workshop for a diverse group of staff at Denver Public Schools (DPS).  Since I’ve worked with CDS in the past I knew that we would have a rewarding workshop.

CDS has moved away from the 7 elements of digital storytelling and now embrace 7 steps.  Some of them are similar, but the focus is now on the process and development of the story.  My own digital story took a dramatic turn after reading it in the story circle.  Only a few lines remained from the original draft.  This was also my first experiment with creating a digital story with a single image, letting the narration drive the story and deliberately choosing not to include music or sound effects.  This included my first foray into using the online video editor WeVideo.  Although the editor does have its limitations (especially obvious to someone who is used to Final Cut Pro) I was impressed with the range of tools it did provide and the fact that it is cross-platform with nothing to download or install.  This means that everyone in my district can use this tool. So, it does show much promise for future use.  TIP for WeVideo users, when it comes time to download your video, make sure you use Chrome for your browser.

But enough about me and the software.  What about my co-workers who took their first leap into digital storytelling? We’re still collecting formal feedback and discussing publishing the stories online.  I will certainly post a link here when some of them are published.  I know that everyone increased their skills in video editing and storytelling.  I know that everyone had a positive experience that bonded us together as a group of educators, co-workers, and human beings.  The power of story is woven into who we are as human beings.

New Horizons

January 27, 2014

new horizonsIt’s time for a personal note to explain my absence from this blog and tell you about seeing new horizons.  Over the last 6 months I moved to Denver Colorado to take a new job at Denver Public Schools.  I’m now the Manager of Online Professional Development.  Even though my position is with a K-12 school district, my focus remains on adult learners.  I help teachers with their online professional development and work with central administration in the design and delivery of online professional development.  I’m still working with Moodle and Google Apps and always learning new designs and applications.  I will continue to share my discoveries, best practices, and experiences here on this blog.  Thanks for staying tuned in!

Report on Pilot of Course Evaluations Delivered Online

June 7, 2013

ImageWell, the results of our latest pilot of delivering course evaluations via online delivery are in.  This semester we tweaked the delivery process and encouraged all the participating faculty to make time during their last class meeting for students to complete their course evaluations-using the online tool instead of paper.  Faculty also asked their students to bring their laptops, tablets or smartphones to class on the last day.  The results were impressive.  Many of our classes had response rates of 80 to 100%.  What led to this success?  We listened to students who told us that the last weeks of the semester were an overwhelmingly busy time for them and they were likely to postpone or forget about the course evaluations unless faculty gave them time to complete them during class.  This mix of traditional delivery(in class) with modern collection methods(online forms) seems to be working.

Automatic Closed Captioning Tool on Youtube

April 19, 2013


I learned about the automatic closed captioning tool that has been added to Youtube and I wanted to try it out for myself.  If you have uploaded any videos to Youtube and they have narration then this may work for you.  The folks at Google/Youtube have a pretty good audio to text algorithm working.  It is not perfect and it will depend on the quality of your audio, your narrator, and the language in your script.  More technical, esoteric, or compound words may not convert as well with the automatic tool.  But, it should come pretty close and then you have the ability to quickly edit the text.  I can see this working well for short videos but it might be to laborious for longer ones.  If it was a longer video I might go another route and upload the script to youtube.  But for today, I want to address the automatic captioning for a short video.  At this point I am definitely recommending it for short videos that you have uploaded to Youtube.  To help you try it out, I’ve written some instructions with screenshots.  You can view my directions here.  If you have any suggestions or comments, please let me know.

Innovate Conference at OSU

March 29, 2013

ImageThis post is my overview of the Innovate Conference held this past week at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus Ohio.  The first keynote of the day was Jim Grooms from the University of Mary Washington.  I’ve been familiar with Jim’s work in the open digital storytelling course called DS106 (that you can sign up for here).   The DS106 concept is “everything you do online is a story”.  Jim fervently believes in totally open educational experiences and open platforms.  My favorite quote from him is “At its best, openness is an ethos not a license.  It’s an approach to teaching and learning that builds community online and offline.

One of the interesting presentations of the day was on iPads in the Classroom, although perhaps a more appropriate title would have been iPads In and Outside the Classroom.  This biology class divided the students into groups of 4 and gave each group an iPad to work on the day of class.  Using tools such as Apple Configurator, iTunesU, Notability and Box, the students are given an assignment to work through.  Some of the activities take place outdoors and involve documenting plants, the iPad is perfectly suited for this and by limiting the software that is installed on the iPad the students stay focused on the assignment.

One panel of the day that was surprising in its appearance and candor was one featuring three undergraduate students relating their “user experience” with technology in the classroom and online activities.   They stressed a desire to follow their grades online and for faculty to post course materials online.  They were undecided the use of discussion boards but did like the idea of posting short lecture materials online and leaving more time in the classroom for interaction with the teacher and course activities.

I could go on and on about the ideas shared at the conference and its incredible value.  Did you know this annual conference is free to attend?  I invite you to look at this year’s recordings here and mark your calendars for next year when the conference will be on March 25 and 26, 2014.  Kudos to all the folks at OSU who I know must put a lot of work into this magnificent event for everyone interested in technology and teaching.

Jumping In To The MOOC Pool

March 21, 2013

ImageWell, I’ve finally taken the plunge and signed up for a MOOC.  This one is offered by Coursera.  The course is on songwriting and is being taught by Pat Pattison from the Berklee School of Music.  Currently we’re in week 3 of 6 so I feel I can offer some accurate observations on the design of the course, the delivery system and my personal experience.

Here’s what you find inside the course:

Short video lectures that are no longer than 20 minutes long.  Some are as short as 1 and a half minutes in length.  The short length is a good design choice and the videos have embedded quizzes that are interspersed within-another element of good instructional design.  The videos are well produced (probably shot with at least 3 SLR cameras), edited, and have graphics added to illustrate important points. Pat, the teacher delivers the lectures in a personable way with humor, drama, stories and great examples.

Each week has graded quizzes that can be taken repeatedly as the highest mark becomes your final grade for the assessment.

Every week also has an assignment that is turned in online.  Although not called a rubric, detailed expectations for the assignment are given.  These guidelines then become the grading criteria when the assignment moves into its second phase: peer assessment.  You must grade at least 5 peers before you receive feedback on your own submission.

There is also an open social dimension to the course.  Discussion forums are setup for formative feedback on the videos, quizzes, assignments and design of the course. Students can also start their own forums and threads for interest groups, meetups and spinoff discussions.  These areas are quite active on the course page and searchable.

Bottom line, thus far: I’m finding this experience to be rewarding personally for my creative development and professionally as I see the inner workings of a MOOC and how it can be successful.  My advice to you is don’t be afraid to jump in to the MOOC pool.  The water’s fine!

Getting my COAT on

March 15, 2013

ImageThis week I completed the online course to earn a Certificate for Online Adjunct Teaching (COAT).  Although it was originally designed for adjunct instructors, I believe that anyone who teaches a fully online or blended course can definitely benefit from taking this course.  Part of the value of this course is experiential.  By taking an online course you experience exactly what it is like to be an online, distance, learner.  I might go as far to say that anyone who intends to teach an online course must first take a course online to gain this invaluable perspective.

Though the COAT course for the most part focuses on facilitation there was time spent looking at pedagogy, andragogy and assessments.  The interaction with fellow students/teachers was engaging and informative.  I found that the timed pace of the course, along with grading of activities kept me focused and motivated.  The instructor/facilitator, Dr. Muse, gave us excellent modeling to follow.

It’s personally invigorating to be taking courses again(after a break of a few years).  My eyes are wide open to seeing examples of good online instructional design and effective tools.  As always, it’s good to fill in any gaps in my knowledge and keep current in the field.  Courses like these also inspire me to improve my own teaching.

If you’d like to check out the course for yourself(it is offered multiple times a year), then follow this link.  The tuition, which I think is affordable, is $300 for Maryland residents.

Free Images from Flickr Creative Commons

March 1, 2013
IMG_0289 by Paul Iwancio, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Paul Iwancio 

For quite a while I’ve been recommending to colleagues the vast collection of free images at Flickr Creative Commons to use in presentations and web pages.  There have been two developments.  First, over the last year I’ve decided to give back.  It’s well past time for me to contribute to the Creative Commons, and so you will see more and more of my images on Flickr with Creative Commons licensing.  The second development just happened today when a trusted resource person showed me the wonders of imagecodr.org.  If you’ve ever used Flickr Creative Commons images, then you know that the act of attribution is a little clunky, and can be inconsistent.  Now there is a free service at imagecodr to provide simple and clear attribution when you use an image.  The process goes like this:

1.Go to Flickr Creative Commons and find an image you want to use, copy the URL

2. Open up a new tab or window and go to imagecodr.org

3. Paste the URL there and it will give you html code

4. Paste this code into your webpage, post, document, etc. and you’ll get something like the image shown here on my post today.

This is a phenomenal tool that will make life easier for users and a great link back for creators.  Go forth and attribute!

Adobe Connect to the Rescue!

February 22, 2013

Thanks to suadmissionsadobeconnectthumbnailperstorm Sandy last fall our admissions department had to cancel quite a few presentations on the East Coast.  They approached me to discuss the possibility of using Adobe Connect to reach out to the potential students.  What really impressed me about the folks in the admissions office was how they took my advice and did everything to assure a successful webinar, and it was a huge success.  What did they do?  They came in and learned about the software and tried it out for themselves in some test situations first.  They took their spectacular presentation that was in Mac Keynote format and changed it to pdf, with adjustments where necessary to make it look perfect in Adobe Connect.  They used a good USB microphone (AT 2020) and we monitored the sound from another room, with headphones.  Also, as you can see in this photo, one person presented while another facilitated, answering questions.  We  had a few more people on hand who were also monitoring and answering questions from prospective students by using the chat window.  Because it was such a success, I know they’re planning to use it more in the future and will probably add some interactive survey questions too.  Preparation, testing and employing best practices=success.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.