It’s Time to Disarm Powerpoint Presentations

September 14, 2015

Powerpoint-Mac-LogoIn my  purple state of Colorado it would probably be difficult to ban bullets, but can we all agree to take bullets away from Powerpoint presentations?  It’s the 21st century and way past time to disarm Powerpoint.

Where did I get this idea?  Several years ago I had the pleasure of attending a session at Educause by Heidi Trotta entitled “Lose the Bullets”  You can download her presentation here.  About the same time someone recommended the book “Presentation Zen” which was an inspiration to Heidi I’m sure.  Ever since that day I’ve been modelling their ideas in my own presentations and advocating for everyone to take up the cause to improve presentations.  But as many times as I tell folks about improving the designs of Powerpoint presentations it still amazes me how many people have never heard of Presentation Zen, and how many bad presentations I still encounter.  Recently I attended a session where the opening slide was filled with 175 words!  That’s not a misprint- one hundred seventy-five words!  I think folks get confused sometimes between creating a document and creating a presentation.  Rather than show you their first slide and embarrass anyone, I have attempted to recreate that slide with new text of my own.  Here it is, click on it to enlarge:

badpowerpoint

Please folks, spread the word about what good presentations should sound and look like-see the above resources by Heidi Trotta and Garr Reynolds.  Let’s hope that there are better days ahead, with less bullets.

Flavors of Online Learning

September 3, 2015

Wow, another week, another screencast.  I think I”m on a roll with these as another way for me to share resources. Watch for more in upcoming weeks.  This one is short (7 minutes). It is my attempt to explain the categories of online learning which come in many varieties…or flavors.  Here is the video:

Two of the links referred to in the screencast are already here in my blog.  The other is: The Tangled Web of Online Learning.

Since there are few printed words in my screencast video I thought it might be helpful for some to see my outline and show you how I organized the categories.  Here is the outline for my presentation:

Online Learning Flavors
Formal
Online Courses-  LMSs with Modules, MOOCS, Digital Badging (aka micro-credentialing)
Courses can be 100% online, blended/hybrid mix, or web-enhanced
Elements-tracking, assessments, certificates/grades/credit

Informal
Google Forms, Google Slides, websites, blogs
Google Docs don’t need staples 🙂  Collaborations!
Online Learning Communities
PLNs
Social Media-FB, Twitter, Scoop It, Google +

Somewhere in between formal and informal
Personalized Learning
Lynda
Customized-letting learners choose material but have a common assessment

Synchronous
Webinars
Chats
Conference Calls
Live Streaming

Asynchronous
Discussion Boards
Screencasts
Self-paced courses/modules
Podcasts
Online Resources-wikis, collaborative docs

As always, I welcome your comments and sharing.

Creating Effective Discussion Boards

August 27, 2015

This week I’m going to try something a bit different.  Most of my post is in the form of a video screencast (10 minutes).  It’s a subject I talked about years ago but felt it needed some updating as I’ve learned more on the subject.  Recently I gave this presentation at the University of Colorado.  The ppt follows the principles of Presentation Zen with images carrying my message along.  Here is the video:

 

 

Here are the resources mentioned in the video:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2MQ4wiJeWmCZkcydUtZRFBZRk0/view

Creating Discussion Boards in Canvas

Discussion Board Advice from Faculty Focus

Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence

Mastering Online Discussion Boards from Edutopia

Tips for Creating Prompts

Sample Rubrics for Grading Discussion Boards

Glossary for E-Learning, Distance Learning and Computer-Related Terms

August 20, 2015

books image for blogpostI’ve been in this field for so many years, and the world has turned largely digital, that I sometimes forget that not everyone speaks my instructional tech language.  To help others understand many of the terms that I and others in the field use I went searching for a comprehensive glossary that I could link for use.  Alas, my search was mostly fruitless as I couldn’t find one glossary that was both comprehensive and up-to-date.  So…as those of you who know my creative and determined persona, I decided to create one of my own.  To be comprehensive, I included many tertiary terms that are computer-related and even some instructional design terms for foundational knowledge.  To be accurate, I referred to multiple sources for cross-referencing and validity.  Finally I used my personal experience to make selections and massage the language where possible so that even people outside the field could comprehend the meanings.

The resulting glossary is here.  As a google doc you can search it and jump to alphabetical sections via the lettered table of contents.  Please share this resource freely.  If you are in the field of instructional technology, e-learning, distance education, then I welcome your comments and additions.  You can respond to this post or email me directly.

Comparing LMSs

July 31, 2015

teacher at computer

(DPS) Denver Public Schools is looking at choosing a new LMS for teacher-student interactions.  Since I have expertise and they wanted to consider using the same LMS for delivering teacher professional development, they asked me to look at the selected LMSs and give my opinion.  I thought that this analysis might be helpful to others who are choosing an LMS and wanted to share my results here.

First, a little background.  As some of you may know I have in-depth experience with Blackboard and Moodle and experiential knowledge of eCollege, D2L, Canvas, and Certpoint.  Currently, the main LMS I am using is Moodle.  DPS asked me to look at Canvas, Schoology and It’s Learning.

Most LMSs are very similar and they meet the basic needs of dissemination, discourse and assessment. The chart I link below shows just how similar Canvas, It’s Learning and Shoology are in functionality.  Here is my unvarnished opinion:  I’m still a big fan of Moodle and not sure why the district isn’t considering it as an option.  I know that many people are swayed by their personal experiences with an LMS and it may have nothing to do with the LMS but much to do with course design, facilitation and user support.  Any LMS can underwhelm or even frustrate users if there are inferior courses or lack of orientation.

Of the three LMSs that I looked at, Canvas came out on top.  Why? I think Canvas had the best interface for users. It has searchable discussion boards and an easy html editor (with video and audio recording options) throughout.  But the most important reason I chose Canvas over the others is that it is the only one that has full-featured digital badges (aka micro-credentials).  Micro-credentials are an innovation that must be enabled in LMSs.    Kudos to Canvas and Moodle for incorporating these digital badges and linking them to Mozilla Backpacks.  Look for a future post on digital badges as I continue to explore, advocate and implement them.

Here is a link to my comparison chart.  NOTE:  These elements were requested by my team which delivers professional development in face-to-face events, as well as online courses.

Producing Great Webinars

May 29, 2015

computer cables small square imageI’ve been producing webinars for many years now.  I started out in the traditional videoconference world that used microwaves, ISDN lines and eventually the internet.  Today, I produce webinars on an almost weekly basis for various clients.  I want to share some of my lessons learned with you.  For the most part, my focus is on larger scale webinars, not one-on-one or small groups which may be served by Google hangouts or even Skype.

My favorite webinar tool today is Adobe Connect.  It’s user-friendly, full-featured, high quality, and doesn’t require users to download any software to view the live webinar or the recording.  I’ve developed a document that I give to people who want to deliver a webinar.  Some of the content is specific to Adobe Connect and my current work at Denver Public Schools, but I believe it can be helpful to you if you’re planning to hold a webinar.  Take a look here.

There are some tips that I have for producing a great webinar that are relevant regardless of platform:
• Plan ahead with good graphic design, targeting your audience and providing as much interaction as possible.
• Load content and activities into the virtual room in advance and have a practice session.
• Use a high bandwidth connection with an ethernet cable.
• Try to use a high quality microphone if you are using VOIP.
• Consider using a photo of the presenter instead of a webcam to save bandwidth and avoid disctractions.
• Always have someone monitoring the broadcast to quickly identify any issues.

Most of the expertise I’ve gained over the years has come from experience, but I also have learned a great deal from Cynthia Clay who works for NetSpeed Solutions.  I can’t recommend her enough. If you have a chance to attend a session she is leading at a conference or one of her webinars, don’t miss it.  She has published a book that has many helpful ideas for planning and producing webinars.  It’s simply called “Great Webinars”.  I also recommend this book as a guide.

Great Webinars Book Cover

Finally, her company, NetSpeed Solutions can also give you a checklist for producing webinars.  Here is the link.

My First Photobooth

May 11, 2015

Anatol_JosephoThis past week I was asked to setup a photobooth for our Teacher Leader Academy Awards.  I want to share my lessons learned and give you some ideas if you ever want to setup a photobooth for yourself.  First, I want to preface with some limitations I had:  Members of my team had already purchased a vinyl backdrop which, though affordable, was very shiny and produced some unwanted reflection.  Also, I did not have a photo strobe/flash kit so I instead used our video lighting kit.

The basic setup
Hanging the backdrop-in my test situation I used 2 lighting stands and attached the backdrop to it with masking tape.  At the event they supplied what is called “pipe and drape” so I taped the backdrop to those poles and was happy about the drape covering the bottom area since the backdrop was only 4 feet high.  I assembled our three-point lighting kit.  This meant a backlight, a spotlight and a fill light (with reflective umbrella as a diffuser).  The lights served 3 purposes: providing even coverage, adequate lighting (in a darker ballroom) and defining the photobooth space.  And speaking of the space, after power cords were taped down and improvised sandbags added to the bottom of the light stands, I marked a target area on the floor to show where people should stand to be in the frame.

photoboothsignand tape

photoboothlights

Add-ons
My team members also bought some props to go along with the superhero theme of the event.
We encouraged attendees to get a free photo and strike a pose with a prop and co-workers.
Some people brought their children and so I improvised extra height with them standing on the lighting case. After the photos were taken, we collected the props and gave out slips with link to google drive folder with photos, using a tiny url.

photoboothprops

basketwithlinkslips
The camera and settings
For this job, I used my Nikon D5200 SLR camera with tripod.  I set it for shutter preference (1/250) and an ISO of 400-figuring that the lights would give me plenty of illumination.  Even so, I wasn’t worried about underexposure, since I could always lighten them later and I did indeed lighten them before sharing in case folks wanted to print them.  (something to watch out for-the exposures were problematic due to the light reflections off the props).  Initially I tried to have participants trigger the camera shutter with a remote control, but since it required holding the button for a while and having to explain this to everyone, I abandoned the remote control for this shoot and just stood behind the camera.  Folks could see themselves as they struck poses because I activated “live view” on the camera and flipped the monitor screen toward the booth.  I tried to snap at least two shots of each group.  Of course I loaded my largest and fasted SD card into the camera and brought along an extra camera battery and the charger since I knew the monitor screen was going to consume a lot of power.

Best practices
In conclusion, I want to share the best practices for you to consider in setting up your own photobooth:
Get or make a non-reflective backdrop.
Use a good camera with a tiltable monitor screen.
Try to get or make some props.
Give out a link to where the photos will be posted.
Keep it fun, encourage posing and group interaction shots.
Add some lighting if you can.
Mark an area on the floor for people to stand.
Have a big, fast memory card and extra batteries.
Have two people staff the booth if you can-one to run the camera and one to hand out props, collect props and give out photo link.
Wishing you many smiles along the way!

photoboothsample

Pixlr, Free Photo Editor

April 24, 2015

pixlr logoI was driven to Pixlr by two nudges.  The first was when a teacher asked if I knew of a free alternative to Photoshop that she could use in her classroom with her students.  Almost at the same time I had to replace the hard drive on my personal laptop and during the process I lost access to my Photoshop installation and Adobe was asking me for $10 a month to use Photoshop.  A colleague had told me about some free alternatives and after a quick review Pixlr looked the most promising for features and ease of use.

What I found was that Pixlr has a similar layout to Photoshop and the tools in the free version do most of the things I adjust photos/images in a hurry.  These commonly used features include cropping, basic light adjustments, adding text, and applying filters.  The free version doesn’t include many advanced Photoshop features such as layers, masks, etc, but you can purchase the Pro version of Pixlr to add these and other features if you wish.  The other limitations to the free version that you should be aware of are that 1. You can only open one image at a time and  2. The only export (save as) options are bmp, jpg, png and tiff.  I can live with these limitations for the free price.

If you choose to use Pixlr, know that you have several options.  First, you can use the solely online version, or you can download the app to your mobile device or desktop computer.  You can also choose to use the free version or subscribe to their Pro version for just $15 a year (much more affordable than Photoshop).

Here’s a screenshot of some of the tools with one of my photos open.  For more info and to download, visit their site Pixlr.

pixlr screenshot

Converting pdf Files in Google Drive

April 10, 2015

logo-adobe-pdfGoogle-Drive_logoSometimes folks want to edit a pdf file or at least pull some text from a pdf file.  If there isn’t a lot of formatting and images that you desire, and your focus is on the text itself then Google Drive can convert the document for you.  There are two paths to take for this conversion to take place.  1.  If you’re using the old Google Drive interface, then in your upload settings you can choose to convert the pdf document to a Google doc.  2.  If you’re on the new Google Drive or have already uploaded some pdfs then follow these directions:

RIght click on the document name and select “Open with Google Docs”

open with screenshot

You’ll have to wait while the document is being converted.  This shouldn’t take too long.

When the document opens you’ll see the original scanned pdf page and then below that the extracted text.

converted pdf view

You can then edit, copy, paste. modify this text.

Pretty cool trick!

Quick and Easy Virtual Breakout Rooms

April 3, 2015

2 new teachers at nei eventMy main webinar tool is Adobe Connect and I love all the options it gives us for running interactive virtual meetings.  One of its features is Breakout Rooms.  These rooms have all the tools for collaboration and can be setup in advance.  The only problems are: 1. They are sequestered so that people outside the rooms can’t see what’s going on in the other rooms, and 2.  As a host I have to toggle between all the rooms, jumping in and out to see them, one at a time.  Recently I saw Cynthia Clay from Netspeed Learning Solutions come up with a simple fix to this problem.  She created two chat boxes, one for “Group A” and the other for “Group B”.  She even provided instructions on which group attendees were assigned. Beauty in simplicity.   2 chat pods screenshot from netspeed recordingNow I know that this solution doesn’t give attendees all the collaborative tools that breakout rooms have, but they are so simple to set up and implement in a fast way with few clicks, simple instructions and little confusion.    To take this approach further, she also shows an example where there are three chat boxes-each with a separate question to answer/discuss.  Attendees can either be assigned to a question or self-select which question they’d like to respond.  These are great options to increase engagement in webinars, and could be considered breakout rooms without sequestering. I will have more tips to share in the future and I encourage you to share yours.