Feed on

View recording of this session in Adobe Connect

View PowerPoint Slides of from the session

View the slides from this workshop

View a recording of the session

View recording in Adobe Connect

Resources on this week’s topics:
1. watch a recording of this workshop session (in Adobe Connect)
2. Review the slides from the session: This presentation (see slides below) takes you through each of these tools, providing an overview of each.
Making decisions about which collaboration tool to use when: Discussion forums vs. Wikis vs. Google Docs vs. Blogs)

Presentation Slides:

This week’s CEHSP/ITSS workshop was a bit like being a kid in a techno-candy factory, where you we sampled a taste of a wide variety of Web 2.0 tools that are useful in teaching and learning. But one of the side effects of eating so much candy is that it can leave you feeling a little queasy from too much of a good thing! There are so many Web 2.0 tools out there that it can be very overwhelming, not only just in trying to understand what they are, but even more so if you try to incorporate too many into your teaching.

They key to remember, as with any kind of technology, is that technology is not the point — learning is. So the place to start is deciding what it is that you want students to learn and be able to do as a result. Then, and only then, look to see what types of tools are out there that might help improve their learning compared with what you have done before. Begin one tool at a time, making sure you don’t overwhelm both yourself and your students in the process.

The series of slides that is shown below presents a wide range of some key, free, Web 2.0 tools that can be used for teaching and learning. Each slide provides a screen shot to give you some idea of what the each tool can do, a description of features, and a link to the website at which you can sign up to use each tool.

I have not gone into detail here about specific ways in which each tool can be used in teaching and learning activities. Instead, our upcoming workshops in our CEHSP/ITSS series this semester (and the University of Minnesota Duluth) will go into more depth on some of the most commonly used tools. That means that I will also be updating by blog with details of each of these upcoming topics. So stay tuned! Here is what you can look forward to:

  • Online collaboration tools: Making decisions about which to use when (Discussion forum vs. wiki vs. Google doc vs. blog)
  • Google Docs & wikis: specifics on how to use each
  • for student collaboration outside of (and even in) class
  • Blogs & discussion forums: specifics on how to use each
  • for student collaboration outside of class
  • Using multimedia created by others: video and audio feeds (linking to podcasts, video casts)
  • Overview Course/Learning Management Systems: which to use -Moodle or WebVista?

A question, though, for those of you who are reading this blog: What are your favorite Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning? For what purposes are you using them and what stories, questions or comments do you have arising out of your experiences? I’d love to hear from you. Click on the comments link below to post your response.

Some Useful Resources:

Effective the start of this fall semester, UMD’s College of Education and Human Service Professions (CEHSP) requires all undergraduate students, except those graduating in December 2008, to have a laptop. CEHSP has now joined a number of the UMD’s other colleges in instituting this requirement. Details about CEHSP’s laptop requirement are outlined on the CEHSP website, along with information for students about minimum laptop specifications, software, and financial aid for laptop purchases. However, an important factor in of the success of this laptop initiative is faculty understanding of how students can use in the classroom and the issues that arise as a result of this use.

Key questions being raised by faculty about the laptop initiative are:

  • Now that my college has become a laptop college, what should I have students DO with their laptops in my classroom?
  • How can this change – and improve — the ways I teach and the ways in which my students learn?
  • How might student use of laptops interfere with my teaching and their learning?

In May of this year there was Andrea Foster wrote a blog in The Wired Campus (from The Chronicle of Higher Education) on a professor considering banning student use of laptops in his class. This led to a lively debate from readers in the resulting comments section of the blog. Interestingly, the respondents were very evenly divided on the issue, with about half the comments in support of banning laptops while half against banning.

The arguments in favor or banning student use of laptops were:

  • Students multi-tasking, using their laptops to do things unrelated to the class (e.g. email, playing games, watching videos). This multitasking was considered rude and disrespectful of the professor.
  • Distracting to other students and the professor.
  • Multi-tasking interferes with learning
  • Inappropriate use can lead to harassment of other students
  • Students do better taking notes by hand rather than on their laptops
  • Interferes with personal interaction during class

Those against banning (and in favor of students being allowed to use laptops in the classroom) made the following arguments:

  • Part of learning responsible use of laptops and how to make appropriate choices in directing their own learning
  • Type faster than write
  • Use Internet to access relevant information about the class
  • Access materials for activities in class
  • Accommodation for people with disabilities
  • Changes the way we teach (away from lecture, having students use their computers for group and individual activities)

In order to help faculty address these questions we held a workshop this past week (the first in a weekly series on a range of instructional technology topics).  In this session we posed the following questions to participants:

  • What are some ways in which you have had students use (or seen them use) laptops that were successful?
  • What ways have not been successful?
  • Are there any differences when teaching with laptops in large lecture vs. smaller classes?
  • What issues have arisen as a result of using laptops in classrooms?
  • What suggestions do you have for how to address these?

What I have done here is to summarize the discussion that was generated by these questions along with including ideas generated by my co-presenters (Bruce Reeves, Amanda Evans, and Meg Little) and I in preparing for the workshop.

What works – success stories:

  • Taking notes (using word processor or other tools such as concept mapping tools)
  • Group or individual work researching topic/questions online (then reporting back within class)
  • Small group note taker (type up group’s ideas rather than use poster paper or overhead. Notes can then be displayed to class when group presents by having students bring up their notes to the instructor computer on a USB drive or sharing them with the class on within the class course management system forum or wiki)
  • Sharing notes with others
  • Using online interactive resources e.g. simulations, polling students on issues using Moodle choice tool (similar to using “clickers”)
  • Learning & practicing how to use online course system (e.g. Moodle, WebVista)
  • Teaching students how to use online tools (e.g. use Inter Library Loan, RefWorks using discipline specific online sources)
  • Students collaborating with each other and/or consult with others on the web (e.g. possibly experts in that field, other professionals)
  • Students who are not physically in the class can join whole class via UMConnect, but then participate in small group activities using online tools on one of the group member’s computers (e.g. via Skype, DimDim, Jabber)
  • Individuals looking up information on topic being discussed (on own initiative or at request of instructor)
  • Activities begun in class (on the laptop) can be continued outside of class (e.g. begin work on group task using Google Docs, continue outside of class, asynchronously).
  • Now students have wireless access to the Internet anywhere on campus, they can work their laptops outside of class, between classes, doing Internet research, collaborating with peers (e.g. using wikis, Google Docs, concept maps like Bubble.us, participating in discussions within online forums)
  • Administering tests (within the classroom, with all students in the same room, taking the test; or students all take the test at the same time, within set time limits, but from any location; or students can take a test over a broader time period, such as over a few days, from any location).
  • Instructor bringing extra extension cords to class for those students who need to plug in their laptops (especially important when giving a test in class)

What has not worked – problem areas:

  • Can be distracting to other students (visual, noise level) and to the teacher. This can be especially true in large classes (200 students all typing at the same time)
  • Can be distracting to the person who is multi-tasking and not paying full attention to the class
  • Can be threatening/disconcerting to teacher if students are searching online about the topic being addressed as it is being addressed
  • Computers freezing or not being able to access some Internet sites when all students are trying to do this at the same time from the same location. Examples: Online testing, PubMed, Second Life)
  • Battery life and limited access to plug in laptops during or between classes: Even if students charge their laptop battery at the start of the day, after a few classes the battery runs out.
  • When students do plug in their laptops during class, this can be a hazard because of the cords running across the aisles.
  • Desks in large lecture halls and many classrooms are not designed for and are too small to hold laptops.
  • Laptops interfere with interaction among students and between students and professor


  • Setting expectations/ground rules about the use of laptops in your classroom. Part of this is teaching students how to use laptops in ways that are respectful and considerate of others. For example, in large lecture classes, students who choose to use laptops can be asked to sit in the back rows so as not to distract non-laptop users
  • Prior to the advent of laptops students used to multitask and not pay attention; perhaps laptops have made this worse, but it may just mean that students are not hiding their off-task behaviors as well as they used to.
  • Battery life (and shortage of power outlets)
  • Preparing ourselves (instructors) in the use of laptops and keeping up with developments.
  • Overloading the network if all online together
  • Expectations of what applications students have on their laptops (and which version)
  • Expectations in terms of laptop hardware
  • Use of alternative devices in place of (or as well as) laptops e.g. iPhone, iTouch, Blackberry

Evolution of teaching and learning

As I think back over my many years of teaching, and the how my colleagues and I have responded to other new innovations in the classroom, I realize that the current debate about the appropriateness of laptops in the class is not new. I remember the debate between advocates of slide rules over pocket calculators, about whiteboards replacing chalkboards, and now SmartBoards replacing white boards, about using PowerPoint rather than the overhead projector, about using DVDs rather than videos. In my own “techno-journey” I have experienced that feeling of fear over what might happen if I replace the old with the new, questioning why I needed to do anything different since what I was doing was working just fine. I remember when I first started teaching using PowerPoint, and how I went from being a fairly accomplished teacher to being like a beginner all over again. My first semester teaching with PowerPoint and having my own course website, my teaching evaluations dropped to the lowest I had ever received. Thankfully I persevered, learning from my mistakes, and the next semester my evaluations were among the highest I had ever received.

I learned that PowerPoint was not the point, learning was. PowerPoint was merely a tool to help me teach, just as the overhead had been. However, if I used it well, it was a far more powerful tool than the overhead. I didn’t use to say that I was going “give and overhead projector” so why was I saying I was going to “give a PowerPoint”?  My first semester teaching with PowerPoint I went from being a facilitator of a highly engaged learning environment in which I interacted a lot with students and they with each other, to being a talking head, with the direction of the class dictated by the linear predetermined format of my slides. I also spend far too much time in developing the appearance of the slides and not nearly enough on the content of them, and more importantly, on how they would be merely a tool to assist my teaching and student learning within the context of the class. Nowadays I still use PowerPoint in many of my lessons, but usually there are only a few slides; typically these are plain text on a white background; sometimes I will have a slide that I used as a launching point to link to the Internet (through a series of hyperlinks on a slide); some contain photos and video clips to illustrate a point; some are blank, waiting to be filled with input from students as I facilitate a discussion and use the slide to summarize the key points as students share in class. Often I will have slides that I don’t use, because the direction of class takes a different turn than expected and I find that I don’t need the slides. Like a carpenter, just because I have a hammer in my tool belt doesn’t mean that I have to use it on every project.

Similarly, laptops are just tools. Just because students have them doesn’t mean that they have to use them in every class for everything that is going on. Laptops are neither good nor bad in and of themselves, just as is true for any tool. And as with any tool, if used properly, in the right context, with the appropriate background preparation on the part of all users, they can be invaluable. What makes the difference in whether or not they contribute positively to our teaching and student learning is the way in which they are used. My advice to any instructors is to start slowly, beginning with a use that is narrowly and clearly defined, and easy to manage. Context is everything, so don’t feel pressured to use laptops just because students have them and/or because you feel as if it is expected. Keep an open mind, seeking out the ways in which laptops might improve your teaching and student learning in your class, and then start slowly. Learn what works for you as instructor, given your own skills and comfort level with the technology, given the course that you are teaching, and given the level and number of students in the class. Pick one activity to start with – something that you can manage. Develop clear guidelines and expectations, and teach these, just as you would in the case of non-technological classroom practices. Learn from what happened, talking to others to see how they have responded when they experienced similar issues. And don’t give up (remember my teaching evaluations that went from my worst to my best when I first used PowerPoint!). Use this blog to share your experiences (positive and negative) and to pose questions both for me and for others who are reading the blog, so we can learn together.

Laptops are part of the bigger picture of rapidly evolving technology on our campuses and beyond and their use cannot happen without consideration of the broader picture. Wireless and anytime-anywhere Internet access via laptops and hand-held devices enables students to continue learning around the clock. What this means is that they can work together outside of class more easily than in the past, when they had to rely on fixed time and in-person meetings. As instructors we can provide information to our students online within our course management systems (like Moodle or WebVista) and through linking to Internet resources. We can pre-record lectures and podcast them so students can listen/watch before or after coming to class. Students can engage with each other outside of class before or following the class period, though online discussion forums, wikis, blogs, live online chat, enabling them to go into more depth in sharing their own ideas than they could within the limited time in class. What this then does is to enable us to change what we do in the classroom, making the most of face-to-face class time for those learning activities best done in class.

The potential benefits of having students use laptops in the classroom are enormous, but I believe that for these to be fully realized we have to take a step back and reconsider how we teach given the rapidly evolving tools that are available on the laptops or that can be accessed on the Internet using the laptops. Laptops provide a window to the world outside our classroom, not only after class but also during class. We no longer have to be at the center, being the sole provider of knowledge, and having the classroom focused on us. Although there are definitely times when it is appropriate for us to be teacher-centered, there also times when we can step aside and become facilitators of student learning, using the laptops to help students access the vast network of information on the Internet and also to connect with other users. Doing so not only enriches our classes and student learning, but also teaches students how to learn, how to communicate with others, and how to manage information in an increasingly technologically interconnected world.


I invite anyone to join in a discussion here by clicking on the “comment” link below and sharing your experiences, questions and answers. What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked? What questions do you have? What suggestions do you have in response to questions raised by others?

In my new part-time role as Academic Technologist for the College of Education and Human Service Professions at the University of MN Duluth, I am going to be using my EduBlog as a forum to share ideas about and new developments in the uses of educational technology. My particular focus will be on topics of interest to CEHSP faculty at UMD, but this blog is open to all and I welcome anyone who is interested in the issues discussed here.

To post a comment or question, all you need to do is click on the “comment” link at the end of the blog entry. Once you have posted your comment, it comes to me for approval (to avoid spam comments). Once I approve it, it will then show up under the comments section. I invite comments and questions intended for me as well as for you to engage in responding to each other’s comments.

To begin with, I encourage you to respond to this blog entry with your suggestions for topics that you would like me to address in upcoming blogs. I am looking forward to sharing ideas with you and learning from you!

I have been experimenting with different ways of sharing photos online using a variety of different online photo sharing sites, such as Flickr, Ringo, Get Jealous, FaceBook, Picasa, and Plaxo. But another way of sharing photos once they are on a site such as those is to embed the slide show code from one of those sites into your blog. So below (at the end of this entry) I have the code from a slide show that I have on my Picasa site to share some of my pictures from various trips that I have taken. The steps for doing this are:

  1. Create a photo album in Picasa
  2. Within the Picasa album there is a link on the left side of the Picasa album screen that says “Embed Slideshow” –> click on that link
  3. This opens a pop-up window. Click in the box that says “copy and paste this into your website” and copy the box contents.
    Copying code for slideshow from Picasa
  4. Go to your blog, create a new blog entry, click on the code view (so you are creating a blog entry using the html code view, rather than in the visual or wysiwyg view) –> paste the code that copied from Picasa.
  5. Save. Voila! When you view your blog, the slide show should be embedded in the blog entry.

After dabbling with different blogs (EduBlog, Blogger.com, Wet Paint, Get Jealous … to name a few!), over the past couple of years, and using them for a variety of both personal and professional purposes, I am now ready to settle down, become monogamous, and stay faithful just to this one blog (my EduBlog). I also plan to blog at least on a somewhat regular basis. So stay tuned!

The motivation for me reactivating my blogging has been the news that as of next academic year half of my job will be in working as a faculty instructional technology support person for our college (at the University of Minnesota Duluth). The other half will be for me to continue to teach my classes, which is perfect because that ensures that I practice what I preach (experiencing the reality of teaching using technology while at the same time helping my colleagues learn how to do this, too).

I all kinds of new tech findings to share, so will be posting them soon here on my blog.At my “desk” - laptop on lap, cat at side