Online Blogucation

Do Web 2.0 tools really work?

In my work, I help higher education instructors to hone their online teaching capabilities. I've not had a class go by without someone posing the question: do Web 2.0 tools really work? Their hesitation is warranted: they are bombarded daily with proclamations of the Web 2.0 as the education magic bullet. Is it? Or is it just another education fashion that will fade away as fast as it came? There is actually a dearth of rigorous research that supports such emphatic rhetoric. But I thought that there might be some and I set out to find it.

Before I tell you about the results of my literature search journey, let me tell how I embarked on it. The variety of Web 2.0 tools and the amount of educational variables are humongous and hence to expect to cover it all in just one blog post was preposterous. I had to be selective. I wanted true comparisons; that is, studies in which there is control of variables and in which at least two groups received comparable instruction. In other words, I excluded studies where one group used Web 2.0 tools while the other did not receive supplementary instruction as well as studies in which there was no pre-treatment measurement. Further, I selected quantitative studies because I was interested in measures of student achievement. Studies that focused on students' engagement and perception and qualitative studies were also deselected. Moreover, studies in which the timing of the treatment (but not the treatment itself) varied were also excluded. Finally, I focused on higher education and typical academic core coursework published during the last three years. Let me tell you though that these constrains almost put me at the verge of ending this blog right here due to lack of studies, so I refrain from any further limitation.

The first study I found was Malhiwsky's (2010) Ph.D. dissertation. The study compared the achievement of community college students in the US who were taking ten-week long online Spanish classes. All students had to complete assignments related to authentic practices in language learning but one group did so by producing podcasts and videos while the other group did not use Web 2.0 tools. The two groups did not show any significant difference in pre-test scores but post-test scores for the Web 2.0 group resulted significantly higher than those of the non-Web 2.0 group. The author also implemented the Classroom Community Survey, which revealed a higher level of classroom community in the Web 2.0 courses. Interestingly though, both groups expressed the same level of self-reported learning, i.e. both groups had a similar perception of the extent of their learning.

Another study conducted by O'Bannon et al. (2011 and personal communication: email 11/28/2012) compared pre-service teachers' achievement when visually enhanced podcasts were used instead of lectures in a semester-long mandatory technology course at a US university. All students used a learning management system to submit assignments, participate in discussions, take quizzes, and access course resources. They also read textbook chapters, watched instructor's demonstrations, participated in hands-on practices and develop a project. Half of the students attended lectures taking notes on the slideshow handouts but the other half received the podcast treatment. Again, pre-test scores were not significantly different but post-test scores were significantly higher for the podcast group than for the lecture group. Students tended to like the podcasts and felt that they were reasonably effective but they disagreed that podcast should replace lectures.

Su et al (2010) conducted a quasi-experiment during an introductory computer class in Taiwan. The control class used a Web-based discussion board that did not include the article under discussion. The experimental class used a Web 2.0 collaborative annotation system that included the article and students could add mark ups on it. The collaborative tool also had annotation searching capabilities and could host discussion forums. Pre-test scores (yes, you guessed it) showed no statistically significant differences between the classes. During the fifteen-week long course, students received three low stakes tests plus a mid term and a final. The first test showed no statistical significant differences between the classes, which the authors attributed to lack of experience of the experimental group with the Web 2.0 tool but in the other two low stakes tests the experimental group showed scores that were statistically higher than those of the control group. For the mid-term and final exams the two groups did not show statistically significant differences, which the authors argued was due to more "catching up" done by the students in the control group.

In my quest, I did find a few other studies (with emphasis on "a few"). On the way, I read very many studies and concluded that while I still do not believe in magic bullets, Web 2.0 tools do a great deal when properly implemented. And this is not said lightly because they do present its challenges. Yet, I am still to find an article that describes a negative effect and in the overwhelming majority of cases the effect was positive. Sometimes, it required more training than initially thought, both for students to become familiar with the tool and for instructors to learn how to teach with it. I also encountered that as effective as Web 2.0 tools might be, students do not see them as replacements but rather as additions. Thus, they do not necessarily feel that they learn more when they use Web 2.0 tools and they may just express a preference for them, although test scores may vouch for an actual learning effect. This last point may talk to a smooth integration of Web 2.0 tools and instruction. Students using Web 2.0 tools may be learning more easily, without much catching up to do for high stakes exams. From my readings, I also formed the impression that the most salient value of Web 2.0 tools in learning is its collaborative nature: the fact that students feel the responsibility of being a member in a learning community that is to produce an authentic product for authentic audiences and do so in a 21st century kind of way.

Yes, there is one caveat here: all the studies I reviewed were limited in duration and may have suffered from the novelty effect, i.e. the tendency for individuals to initially increase their performance when new technology is involved because of increased interest in the new technology itself and not necessarily in the content it delivers. But until we have longitudinal studies and until a new contestant comes up to this arena, we have to go with what we have and by now this juror is out: Web 2.0 tools do work.

Laura Moin, Ph.D.

Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group


Malhiwsky, D. R. (2010). Student Achievement Using Web 2.0 Technologies: A Mixed Methods Study. Open Access Theses and Dissertations from the College of Education and Human Services. Paper 58.

O'Bannon, B. W., Lubke, J. K., Beard, J. L. & Britt, V. G. (2011). Using podcasts to replace lecture: Effects on student achievement. Computers & Education, 57, 1885-1892.

Su, A. Y. S., Yang, S. J. H., Hwang, W.Y, & Zhang. J. (2010). A Web 2.0-based collaborative annotation system for enhancing knowledge sharing in collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education, 55, 752-766.


Work in Groups? I’d rather drink poison!

When the subject of group work is broached in any classroom regardless of modality (face-to-face, hybrid/blended or fully online), the response from instructors and students alike is: “No way! I hate group work!” It is easy to understand why instructors, as a general rule, do not like group work. Most of us were stuck with poorly designed group work projects in all level of our education. The complaints (from students and instructors alike) include one person doing all the work, others not doing their part, difficulty in scheduling time to work together, confusion around earning a grade and confusion around tracking participation and effort. If we opened up the comments, I bet we could add many more.

If there is so much dissension from participants and assignment makers alike, why assign group projects? For me, the answer is easy. While I abhorred group work as a student, I realize, as an educator but more specifically as a functioning employed person, that I am assigned projects to be completed in partners or groups quite often in my adult life. So just like eating green beans (a vegetable I do not enjoy eating but realize as an adult that there is nutrition to be derived from a bite or two), group work has value and in small doses, it is worthwhile.

When I first started teaching, I tried to be a better instructor by assigning group work with very specific tasks and criteria. I included rubrics for rating collaborative work skills. I tried to create projects that, when each member did their part, came together in a complete mulch-faceted way but if someone dropped the ball, the rest could stand independently without penalty. All of these criteria contributed to more effective projects, more participation by all and less stress for the students because they would not pass or fail based on someone's busy schedule or lack of participation. So for starters, I recommend considering the above suggestions if you are someone who sees the value in group projects but has been frustrated with the process or product in the past.

So where do we go from there? At this point, in 2012, very few instructors do not have access to an online option for the courses he/she is teaching. Buy clomid and hybrid instructors already take advantage of these tool but most face-to-face instructors also have an eCompanion or some form of online environment available as well. Investigating the group functionality in the LMS you are using may make the process of implementing a successful group project a little bit easier. Since my expertise lies in LearningStudio, I can speak to those tools but most online environments include some group functionality.

So after I’ve designed my perfect group project, I make it even more exceptional by staging this project using the group functionality available online. Students can use the chat feature to not only meet and talk about the project and the roles but the chat can be assigned only to the groups. A log created from the chat can be used for accountability or review of details. The Doc Sharing tool has group folders created so students can work through the steps of the project (idea formation, draft, revisions, final project) in a collaborative space that only then can see (and the instructor). Again, documentation of process and participation can be gleaned from this opportunity. Outside of the LMS, final project format can be created in one of many free Web 2.0 tools so all can participate in the creation process. When the project includes editing a video on my personal software, the opportunity to share the work load is diminished but when a free online tool is used, all can participate in building the final product.

I certainly do not have all the answers but I think I’ve found a way to make it work. Constant revision to include feedback from the students helps as well. I don’t think it will ever be a perfect process but I know I have improved my efforts from the time a student called me on a Saturday afternoon to say that their project, due Monday, was going to be late because Connor just got arrested. I haven’t had any other students arrested for group work so far so I must be doing something right.

Pamela Kachka
Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group


Flipping The Mooc?

140,000 students in a single course?  C'mon...there's no way!  Or is there?  A LOT of people have taken notice of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in the past few months.  And when I say people, I mean highly positioned, well respected, very powerful people in the education sector.  People like Presidents, CEOs, Provosts, etc., of places like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and many more have at least publicly inquired about MOOCs if not actually starting programs to invest in their own.

A respected colleague of mine who talks almost exclusively to C-level educators put it simply but effectively, "...the genie is out of the bottle."

Of course, this is exciting.  Anything to further the discussion around eLearning is wonderful from my perspective.  The ridiculous, antiquated, fallacious arguments about leaving teaching and learning alone are growing tiresome.  So anything that promotes the use of technology to enhance and augment learning is a powerful thing.  But with that in mind, and as an "early-adopter" much of the time, my next statement might surprise you.

We need to blow up the MOOC.

No, not blow up as in destroy.  Blow up as in, let's get to v2 as fast as humanly possible because v1 is NOT a good poster child for online education.  Why?  Simple.  Today's MOOC takes many of the worst elements of teaching, instruction, assessment, etc., and simply presents them over the Internet.  For instance:

Lectures - A big name in both the MOOC world as well as his discipline (aka, the smartest guy in ANY room) was describing the process he used to create his MOOC.  He said, "I was shocked when I started researching ways to disseminate information to find that lecturing is actually a really bad way to present information.  I have been lecturing for over 40 years and didn't know that..."  And yet, this great scholar and innovator did exactly that in his MOOC.  He simply recorded himself lecturing, put it on YouTube, and tied it to his MOOC.  Eric Mazur talks about a fantastic study he did at Harvard where students had their brains continually monitored for a week.  EVERY single student had similar brain patterns with regard to class (lecture) time.  Their brain waves were almost completely flat.  That's right - no activity.  The only other time in the week their brains were that inactive?  When watching tv.  Even when sleeping, the human brain is more active than during a lecture.  And yet the lecture is still the predominant means of "teaching" students today.  So, if MOOCs are to "change the world" for the better...we have to figure out how to incorporate much better ways of teaching and learning through them.

Learning - What is learning, really?  Isn't it the acquisition of information and then the assimilation of that information?  If we agree that it is, at its core, those two things, then I would bet we could also agree which of the two things is harder.  Dissemination of information is easy.  It can be done through a book, a lecture, etc.  The HARD part is actually making sense of it in a contextual, meaningful, connected way.  Yet for decades (if not centuries) educators have performed the easy part, while leaving the hard part to students.  (Actually to students who are alone, at home, with only a book...)  The flipped classroom, which is a remixed way of talking about what educational psychologists have known for decades, is finally starting to shine a light on the notion that the hard conversations should take place in class, while the dissemination activities happen at home.  MOOCs, as they exist today, do not even approach this.

Assessment - We can create objective tests that are manually graded and start to identify what a student does or does not understand.  In fact, a few MOOCs in the past month have finally started to do just that.  (This is why the very first MOOCs were not taken seriously - they really had little to no meaningful assessment.)  However, even with such heavy reliance on standardized assessments in our Universities today, most professors still agree that much of the way we know if our students do "get it" is through interaction, conversation, dialogue, and transference of ideas.  This can happen in discussions (before, during, and after class), as well as through ideas presented in papers, etc.  However, the only real way to even approach this in a MOOC is through peer review and peer assessment.  And that is a tough one for a lot of people.  For example, I recently took a Udacity MOOC on statistics.  I had opportunity to join a discussion group that I found purely by happenstance, with others from the class.  It was a study group of sorts.  However, after asynchronous discussions with about 10 peers, I soon realized that I was likely the most knowledgeable person in our group when it came to statistics.  (My mother and father are giggling right now...)  In other words, nobody had anything of value to bring to the table.  Social learning is indeed a powerful thing, but without what Vygotsky would call the "More Knowledgeable Other" in the group, it starts to break down quickly.  MOOCs could rely solely on high stakes, standardized, auto-graded tests, but again, that would simply perpetuate a bad practice from face to face teaching in the online realm.

There are others here, but I think you get my point.  The MOOC as it exists today, with millions of dollars being poured into figuring out how, when, and where to use it, needs a quick overhaul.  I am hopeful that it will happen sooner rather than later as (hopefully) it hasn't become an "institution" to anyone yet.  Hopefully nobody is so tied to the notion of something that didn't really even exist until less than a year ago that they can retool, reconfigure, and rethink the MOOC.  Because a MOOC has tremendous possibility.  Delivering global education at scale with ties to real-world competencies...that could be a game changer.  So let's make sure we get it right.  Let's flip the MOOC.

Good luck and good teaching.


Are they listening? Or better yet; are we communicating in a language they understand?

As educators we understand that communicating with students is paramount; this is even more so in the online environment where physical communication is not a possibility (Haigh, 2007). As educators we have the tendency to believe (or hope) that students are reading our every email and course announcements. But alas, when reality does finally sink in, and we realize they aren’t, and may never read what we post, we are then faced with some choices.  As a former higher ed administrator and current psychology instructor, I know students are particular about what e-mail accounts they check, what social media threads they follow etc. And if you are lucky enough to make the cut, then you will be able to communicate with them. But wait; shouldn’t the students be the ones who are trying to communicate with us? Yes in a perfect world that is the case, but in our imperfect world; faculty, staff, and administrators must be agile enough to meet their students where they are. This can be accomplished by using the appropriate technology and communication routes favored by their students (Ratliff, 2011).

The first hurdle to cover is the digital divide between the digital natives and the digital immigrants (Prensky, 2010).  And if you’re anything like me, delusional and unaware of your lack of technological prowess, i.e. I think everyone communicates like I do.  Then you are in for a rude awakening, students do not communicate like we do. Odds are you are a digital immigrant and this colors your lens on how you communicate and interact with the digital natives (Costello, 2011). What is a digital immigrant, you ask. According to Ratliff, “Digital immigrants did not grow up in an Internet household, and may look to the Internet as a secondary source of information as opposed to the first and primary source” (2011). Digital natives are classified as, individuals who grew up with computers, cell phones, and a constant connection to technology (Ratliff, 2011). Prensky (2001) noted that even though digital immigrants accept new technology and implement it, they will continue to revert back to and use previous methods and strategies they felt worked. As any tourist knows, it is better to try to communicate with the locals in their native tongue than to just yell your way through their country. The same goes for communicating with students, you can hold out or you can meet them where they are (Ratliff, 2011).

There was an interesting article last week in The Chronicle titled, “As Students Scatter Online, Colleges Try to Keep Up”.  In this article they discuss Kenneth Elmore’s (he is the dean of students at Boston University) attempts to meet his students where they “live”. He has implemented a site call Kenn 2.0 ( where he shares his social media pages such as: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog pages with students (Mangan, 2012). The impetus behind this was his need to meet students where they are comfortable and where they actually interact with others (Mangan, 2012).  Kenn uses these sites to inform students about important events, to rant and rave, and to encourage students to become involved on campus and in the community (Mangan, 2012).  According to Amy Ratliff;

Communication with students on campuses of higher education continues to drastically change. The social media phenomenon sweeping across the world creates a picturesque environment for the technologically savvy student, but often an intimidating outlook for administrators and faculty. While some higher education professionals embrace this opportunity to engage students through a new outlet, others struggle to adapt to new demands of the constantly connected, digital college student. Understanding social media and preferences of today’s college student are inherent to identifying the best practices to encourage student engagement and foster student development on college campuses (2011).

With this reality, colleges and universities need to supplement their communication attempts via in-course communication & through school sponsored emails with additional resources.  I am not saying that we cannot use the course content page or the schools email system, but we need to add some variety to our courses and meet students where they are (Ratliff, 2011).  I have a question for you, how many of you would, in good conscience refuse to compromise. By not reaching out to students we are in fact doing this. Based upon the literature here are some best practices of ways to supplement our courses or our institutions communication systems are listed below:

  • Course/ Professor/ Institutional Departmental  blogs
  • Course/ Professor Twitter accounts
  • Course/ Professor Facebook pages
  • Course/ Professor YouTube channel
  • Encourage students to use school sponsored email, but be a realist and teach them how to forward to accounts they actually use so they get your emails
  • Don’t “SPAM” students with too much information or you will become white noise and negate all of your outreach attempts.

Through the utilization of mediums that students actually use, we can as educators communicate with our students in their native language (Ratliff, 2011).  As indicated by Amy Ratliff, “Current research shows students are online, engaged, and desire to be connected to their campus. They are listening, but choosing the appropriate message and outlet depends on the commitment to success” (2011). We just need to reach out and meet them where they are and at least try to speak the same digital language.


Costello, R. (2011). Uses and Perceptions of E-mail for Course-Related Communication

Between Business Faculty and Undergraduates. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ERIC.

Haigh, M. (2007). Divided by a common degree program? Profiling online

and face-to-face information science students. Education for Information, 25, 93-110.

Mangan, K. (2012). As students scatter online, colleges try to keep up. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).

Ratliff, A. (2011). Are they listening? Social media on campuses of higher education. Journal of Technology in Student Affairs, Summer 2011. Retrieved from

Anthony Rivas | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege

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Building a Community of Success

It is probably safe to say that all of us have taken a brick and mortar class that stood out above all others and exemplified a positive learning environment. The class likely stands out to us because we felt that we belonged to a learning community, shared similar goals and interests with our peers, and felt supported in our learning goals. Research suggests that this carries over to the online environment as well, with greater student satisfaction when students have a sense of community (Outz, 2006; Philips & Peters, 1999; Rovai, 2002a; Swan, 2002; & Woods, 2002). This feeling keeps students motivated to go to class and to share their interests with their peers.

Do you remember the student who went to class and only engaged in discussions if required? This assessment allows an instructor to gauge comprehension and guide the student through their learning experience. Whereas traditional classroom discussions can easily be dominated by vocal students, allowing the quieter students to stay disconnected, the online environment can easily require all students to engage through required threaded discussions. Technology enables easy measurement of involvement that would not be practical in the traditional classroom, meaning all students are engaged with an equal opportunity to share their voice and can be assessed for understanding earlier in the learning process. This is extremely important because learning and development is a social and collaborative experience that all students should benefit from.

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do."
-Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

So, while the benefits of interactivity and fostering learning communities are clear, getting there can be a challenge in an online environment. The first week of class is extremely critical for establishing a sense of connection within the course. During this week, students should be encouraged to engage with their peers and professors via threaded discussions and other social tools, sharing their work and life experiences to make connections. Some of the first assignments for the course should promote interaction when possible. This engagement should be encouraged throughout the duration of the course so students have a desire to succeed each and every week, and share in their successes with their learning community. Leverage reporting to identify those students not engaging and reach out to them, and to identify strong classes to model your programs from. The data helps identify the anomalies sooner and to react to them appropriately.

If students gain a sense of community early and see it is going to play a major role within the course then they will most likely embrace it and become part of a learning community who takes greater ownership of their collective learning experience. Leverage the tools to identify those courses not meeting standards and bring them up to par. If students begin to feel this theme from course to course then you will have a much stronger, more persistent student community.


Drouin, M. (2008, Fall). The relationship between students’ perceived sense of community and satisfaction, achievement, and retention in an online course. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 267-284.

Bandura A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

Ouzts, K. (2006). Sense of community in online courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7(3), 285-296.

Phillips, M. R., & Peters, M. J. (1999). Targeting rural students with distance learning courses: A comparative study of determinant attributes and satisfaction levels. Journal of Education for Business, 74(6), 351-356.

Woods, R. H. (2002). How much communication is enough in online courses? Exploring the relationship between frequency of instructor-initiated personal email and learners’ perceptions of and participation in online learning. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(4),377-394.

Deb Corso-Larson | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege


HELP – I have to make a speech and I want my audience to stay awake!

I have been invited to speak at a local conference next month and I’ve been thinking about how to make sure my presentation isn’t boring. We’ve all been there – an interesting topic, a speaker with impressive credentials – so we arrive with expectations for a memorable event. And then reality sets in as we sit passively while the speaker proceeds to read PowerPoint slides for 45 minutes and then says, “I want to be sure this is an interactive experience so I’ve left plenty of time for discussion and questions.” Since the speaker lost me after the second slide, I have no way to ask an intelligent question or add to the “discussion.” I feel appropriate amounts of guilt over my failings as an attentive audience member and promise myself that I will do better next time. And I do try as I prepare for the next presentation by taking out a notebook with pen poised at the ready to document nuggets of wisdom as they fall from the speaker’s lips….after about two minutes of rapt attention I’ve resorted to drawing sunflowers across the margin of the page while thinking about what I’ll eat for dinner.

I’m going to be speaking about an interesting topic but I won’t flatter myself by suggesting I possess impressive credentials so the bar is low since most of the participants won’t have heard of me and therefore, should not have any pre-conceived ideas about how great this next hour is sure to be. I’d like to at least keep them awake, so I’m definitely looking for new ideas about how to engage them.

I typically conduct workshops so I was a bit taken aback when the conference organizer informed me that I will be speaking to a fairly large group of faculty and administrators in a theater-style room making interaction difficult. YIKES !!! What am I going to do? How am I going to engage these people and create if not an actual dialogue, at least an internal one where they think about what I’m saying and find ways to use some of the tips I’ll be suggesting throughout my presentation? (Notice I’ve still not moved all the way to thinking of this as a speech?)

I’ve decided to follow some advice I found while reading through some recent blog posts made by a few of my colleagues (thanks Jennifer and Jeff) and I thought I’d share my plan in the hope that readers will add to this discussion and offer additional suggestions and stories (and please, do it fast because my presentation – I mean speech – is at the end of September.)

I’m not going to prepare a PowerPoint. Yes, you read this correctly – NO PowerPoint! I’m going to move away from trusted bullet-points and try to incorporate purely visual cues using a few simple pictures or images with Prezi as suggested in Jennifer Golightly’s recent blog.

I’m going to follow Jeff Borden’s reminder to “Tell, Show, Do, Review, and Ask in a multi-modal way.” I’ll begin with a high-level overview describing the three key points I plan to speak about. I’ll follow this up by speaking about each point in more detail using several rich descriptions and a few well-timed visuals (Prezi slides) as my showing/doing elements. Ask is the easy part - I plan to encourage interactivity by asking questions that can be responded to by a show of hands. Review will be a summary of the key points along with a few sentences linking the salient points together. I will revisit the ‘Ask’ portion of the presentation by allowing time for participants to pose questions. I will also be prepared with a few questions of my own designed to encourage further discussions during the rest of the conference.

Well, wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it went in a future blog post. And please accept the invitation to share your own ideas and suggestions for making presentations more interesting and engaging for our audiences whether they be our students or our peers.

Kimberly Thompson
Assessment Consultant
Academic Training & Consulting
Pearson eCollege

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The Course Overhaul, Part Deux

In my last blog post a few months ago (The Course Overhaul: Redesign and Refresh), I talked about the course overhaul and how to manage it within the often severe time restrictions online instructors face. I wrote that post as I was preparing mentally for an overhaul of my own online courses, many of which were still relying on text more than I wanted. I’d reasoned to myself for years that they were, after all, humanities courses—text is the nature of that particular beast—but as time progressed, the courses began to look and just feel stale to me. They needed a chemical peel, if not an entire facelift.

I’d experimented with Prezi in my on-ground courses (see this post, Teaching with an iPad), and I loved it. I found it fresher than PowerPoint, and, even better, less reliant upon text. The entire format of a PowerPoint, if you think about it, is structured around text: each blank slide gives you a place for a title and then bullet points for text items. Yes, you can add graphics and images, and if you’re really tricky, you can use some PowerPoint plug-ins to incorporate things like YouTube videos and so on. But I think Prezi is much more open and flexible, and I like the creativity that it allows me.

In any event, the students in that on-ground course loved the Prezis and asked me if I would upload them to the online course shell, which I duly did. When it came time for me to think about overhauling my online courses, then, I had 8 or 9 Prezis already uploaded into the spring course shell that would be duped over for one of my summer online courses. I decided to add Prezis to my other online writing course, making the Prezis my primary method of delivering content. The Prezis would replace my text-based “lectures” in previous iterations of my courses. I had previously attempted to use videos of myself talking in place of my text lectures, and I’d never liked them (and thus never ended up using them). Watching myself talk for 5-8 minutes on video was icky. I couldn’t imagine that my students would want to see me yak away, either, so the Prezi was a perfect solution—I could present content without students having to see me talk.

Once I’d made that decision, though, I realized that Prezis are excellent when you are standing in front of people speaking and clicking through the presentation at the same time. Without any kind of audio, they’re sort of…disconcerting. Odd. One of my students described them as a series of “keywords” without any real connection. Perhaps this is just because of the way I’d built my Prezis—I’d built them to be visual cues for a presentation I’d be making in person. But still, for the online classroom, I didn’t think that I could make enough connections with a Prezi alone. I wanted my students to know exactly how I was connecting all of the items on the Prezi. To that end, I decided to combine my use of Prezi with another tool: Camtasia. Camtasia is a tool that allows you to record what is on your desktop, so you can have a paper, for example, in Microsoft Word, and record narration as you click through the document. Or you can record yourself talking as you click around a website—virtually anything that’s on your computer can be recorded while you talk. I went to the Prezi website, pulled up one of my Prezis, clicked on my Camtasia icon, selected the area of my desktop I wanted to record, and started the recording. (After some experimenting, I realized that the best way to record a Prezi was NOT in full-screen mode, but just in the regular “View” mode.) When I was finished with the narration, I used Camtasia’s editing features to remove any stumbling over words or sneezes, and then uploaded the video to, where I have a paid account (more storage that way, and it was well worth the money). After it was uploaded, I got an embed code, which allowed me to open my text/multimedia item in LearningStudio in Author mode, click on the HTML editor, and paste in the code. Voila! Instant video lecture complete with visually appealing Prezi.

I realize that this process is not rocket science, nor am I the first revolutionary instructor to find that combining two tools like Prezi and Camtasia makes for a really fun and useful strategy for content presentation. What did surprise me, though, were the comments I received from students on the Prezis. To me, this kind of “lecture video” was something I should have done a long time ago. Using audio in online classes is not exactly cutting-edge. But the relatively simple addition of these Prezi videos to my online courses, combined with another purely audio feature—I added Grammar Girl podcasts to each unit of my courses, using some simple code that I found through my good friend, Google, to create an audio player—was cutting-edge to my students. The feedback I got was without exception positive. The students loved the Prezi videos and the podcasts. Loved them. They couldn’t say enough good things about these aspects of the course. Even more astonishing to me was that several students in my online courses writing courses (both of which are usually taken at the end of their course sequence in the university) told me that mine was the first online course they’d taken that used audio at all. I realize that the time it takes to overhaul online courses can discourage instructors from making the attempt at all, but my experience has shown me two things: one, the time it took me to build the Prezi videos, while not negligible, was not overwhelming, either (building the Prezi itself takes the longest; the narration and uploading of the video takes maybe 30 minutes total); and two, the response from my students more than made up for the effort.

Jennifer Golightly, Ph.D.

Academic Trainer & Consultant

Filed under: eLearning No Comments

New Year, Big Challenges

As we embrace this back to school season, I find myself thinking about the classroom, our students and the many expectations we place on their education and what they will be able to know and do as a result of it. Along these lines, I came across a recent series published by NPR featuring several renowned guest speakers giving profound Ted Talks on education and specifically on building a better classroom.

In a recent interview with NPR, Sir Ken Robinson, world renowned expert on education and innovation, argues that building a better classroom requires that we first look at education and its fundamental design. He argues, for instance, that education suffocates creativity. I’ll highlight three critical points he makes in his talk and then invite you to share your comments.

Education has a tall order

Sir Ken Robinson establishes the critical importance and vested interest we have in education by noting that it is charged with being the mechanism by which we are to prepare students for a future “we can’t yet grasp.” He provides the jarring thought that a student beginning school in this year will retire in 2065, a time we have no clue how to imagine or predict.

This point is echoed by what we see across research and news sources. The reality is that while education is tasked with the tall order of preparing our students for the unforeseen near and distant future, college / university majors and degree offerings are facing monumental and unprecedented changes in demand and applicability in the job market. For instance, what was recently considered a clear path to a predictably successful career, a degree in architecture, is now statistically reported as being in the Top 5 of the 13 most “useless majors,” having the highest degree of unemployment, nearly 14% among recent graduates (Carnevale, Cheah, and Strohl, 2012).


From this idea of education preparing students for a future we do not yet know, Sir Ken Robinson goes on to correlate this reality with the profound importance of supporting and not stifling creativity in the education process.

Education must prioritize Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson exhorts: “Creativity is as important in education as literacy. And it should be treated with the same status.” He goes on to explain that creativity and literacy are not opposites, as he alludes they are often treated in education. He contends that not only are they both critical parts of what education must teach, but that they are actually complementary capacities, with literacy (as the ability to communicate, interpret language and make meaning) encompassed in the many capacities that flow from our creativity.

This theme resonates with the response to the question on the value of a Liberal Arts education in this economy, espoused by Christina Hull Paxson, President of Brown University; in her statement that such education is “Essential”, and that “Liberal arts educations produce innovative, creative and adaptable leaders. (Bloomberg, 2012).”

"The Value of Liberal Arts Education"

Education must safely permit mistakes

Sir Ken Robinson describes this as an issue of mistruth in the education process, whereby students making mistakes is seen as the worst thing they can make in the process of learning and creativity. He clarifies that he certainly does not equate making mistakes with being creative, but he establishes the reality that an attitudinal sentiment that is never prepared to be wrong will also never come up with anything original. Rather than allowing for mistakes in the learning and creative process, he argues, both schools and even our workplaces actually stigmatize mistakes. The end result is that we educate people out of their creative capacity.

Perhaps saying that education has a tall order is an understatement. The challenges that face us in education are both complex and deep-seated, rooted in a system originally designed to respond to an Industrial era, a time from which we have since greatly evolved. If you can find 30 minutes in your schedule or even in your commute, listen to the full story here:

How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity?
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"How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity?"

Comments? Thoughts? Please share them below.

Rachel Cubas
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment Specialist


Bloomberg. (2012). Big Questions, Brief Replies. New York City: Bloomberg Business Week.

Carnevale, C. B. Cheah, and J. Strohl. (2012). Hard times: College majors, unemployment and earnings. Washington, DC.: Georgetown Univeristy Center for Education and the Workforce.

Robinson, S. K. (2012, June 22). How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity? (A. Stewart, Interviewer)


What the Olympics can teach us about online learning…

In just a few days, the 2012 Olympic Games in London will come to a close. It makes me sad. I look forward to the winter or summer games every two years. There's something about athletes not competing for money but simply for the pride of their nations and the world that gets me right here. (You can't see me, but I'm pointing to my heart.) I also find it heartwarming to watch the closing ceremonies, when the athletes put national differences aside and all march into the stadium in one large group.

But, never fear, online learning is here! Maybe not as exciting as the Olympics, but still, it can be a lot of fun. And, really, there is a lot we can learn from the Olympics. Here are a few analogies to consider:

Something for everyone: I’ve met a few folks over the years who say they just don’t like the Olympics, or sports in general. And that’s okay; just like online learning, they’re not for everyone. But, I think an overwhelming majority can find something about the Olympic Games (summer or winter) that they like. Whether it’s the raw athleticism of the track and field events, the grace of the gymnastics, or the death-defying speeds of downhill skiing, there are plenty of “big” events. A lot of people love the odd anticipation and strategy that goes into curling. And, hey, who could forget those rousing tug-of-war matches from the 1900 to 1920 games? Or a great, competitive round of roque?

  • Online learning provides learners with opportunities to learn from a vast array of knowledge and experiences. Consider whether you, as an instructor, tie most learning to a textbook. That’s okay, but what else could you do to reach students, to make sure that there’s something for everyone? Remember that there myriad tools available online that can be easily incorporated into an online course to enhance learning experiences. Spend a few minutes checking out the resources from MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Teaching Online), to give just one example.

There is still a role for the experts: There are lots of reasons why we, the human race, enjoy the Olympics. I’ve named a few above. But probably one of the most fascinating reasons we tune in to various events is because we want to see who is the best of the best. Who is the “fastest woman in the world”? The dead-on accuracy in the archery and shooting events is captivating. The patience, strategy, and then the excitement of every soccer shot on goal brings thousands to their feet. (Maybe millions, if you include us nuts who jump up and start shouting at our televisions.)

  • There is a lot of automation in online learning. Scheduling assignments to be available only at certain times, embedding lectures or videos as teaching tools, and of course, autograding quizzes and tests. It is enough that some instructors have wanted to do their own 200-meter dash in the opposite direction of every online learning opportunity. “I don’t want some computer teaching my students for me!” they say. But worry not, my friends! If people only wanted to see how silicon chips could perform, we’d have nothing but robots in the Olympics. As I said, people want to see who is the best, and they do this largely because they want to know what is the pinnacle of the human spirit. I don’t think it’s really any different in teaching. While few of us may ever make some international equivalent of 10-meter platform diving gold medal, we still want to learn from those around us who are doing great things in our fields. We read (and contribute to!) academic journals. We attend conferences to listen to great presenters. We watch the TED Talks videos just to see what neat ideas and strategies are coming to all us educators.

Everyone still needs to do their own work: There have been a number of accusations of cheating at the Olympics over the years. If you follow the games regularly, you probably remember the 2002 hullaballoo in pairs figure skating when a French judge allegedly admitted to the chair of the International Skating Union (ISU) that she had been pressured by the head of the French skating program to show favoritism to Russian skaters Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze over Canadian pair Salé and Pelletier in the finals. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze took the gold despite a flawed final performance, while Salé and Pelletier originally took the silver. Due to the scandal, Salé and Pelletier were later awarded the gold and Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze kept their gold. And over the years, there have been many accusations of doping, the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and even hopping up on ephedrine (the main ingredient in many decongestants), which gives people an adrenaline-like boost.

  • The fact of the matter is that winning-at-any-cost has become, for many people, the goal of their entire engagement in anything. Whether in sports or in online learning, we should be focused on what we can do and what we can learn, to the best of our abilities. There is so much societal pressure to win, that many students have lost sight of the point of the exercise: to become better. There is a sad truth as well: there will always be people who will (try to) cheat. The challenge for us, as instructors, is both to find ways to identify and stop the cheating and to be creative in how we assess “success” so that traditional cheating methods (paper mills, having another student take your own exam, etc.) just don’t matter anymore. Many Olympic sports have had marred reputations over the years due to one scandal or another; but the outcome is not to just throw in the proverbial towel. Instead, they carry on, finding new ways to identify cheating and new methods in those subjectively judged sports to standardize measures of success. Again, it’ll never be perfect; but at least we can keep striving for perfection rather than simply giving up on the whole thing. In online learning, it’s the same.

These are just a few comparisons I’ve noticed. Do you have other observations or ideas along these lines? Feel free to post them in the comments section.

Oh, and one more analogy: Costas is still king. Well, that’s not really an analogy of anything. He is just king.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Academic Training & Consulting Manager
Pearson eCollege


Personalization versus The Filter Bubble

I can tell you right now that this will be one of those blogs that throws out many ideas, creates questions but doesn’t quite make it to the answers. Having had the opportunity to attend two very interesting conferences the last two weeks, I’ve come back with my (figurative) bags full of ideas (the bags they previously handed out that we used to collect many documents and flyers that inspired us, we brought the bags home ready to change the face of education and then the bag ends up on the shelf next to last year’s bag and we never really get a chance to dive back into the ideas and put them in action). Since I am making a concerted effort to go back into that bag and spend more time on what inspired me, I’m finding that my exploration is taking me in so many directions that I had to just stop and try to digest the details in small bites.

So, what is the amazing, inspiring, idea with all the tangents? Well it starts with Eli Paraiser and his keynote address he gave at the Building Learning Communities conference a couple of week ago. He presented on the topic of his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. It was fascinating based solely on the concept but it leads to so many other questions and specifically questions that do not have clear answers.

I think many of us are aware of the concept of Internet personalization. I would also assert that most of us think it refers mostly to the ads on the right side of my Yahoo email and a few other things but it isn’t that big a deal. I can confirm that 15 minutes into the keynote, I was convinced it is a big deal and we need to pay attention. I purchased the digital version of his book before the keynote ended.

Just so that we have a working definition of what a filter bubble is, we can loosely define it as the result of the algorithm that many sites companies employ to determine personal preferences and display content, ads, search results, Facebook friends, and on and on based on your preferences. A slightly more detailed definition of the filter bubble concept is on Wikipedia and of course you can go to to find out more as well.

Being an educator, I next started contemplating the current focus in education on the concept of personalization in learning versus passive personalization on the Internet where we have no choice but to view personalized content based on who we have clicked on and what we have clicked on in the past. I think it is probably safe to say that personalizing student learning is a good thing and the results of the filter bubble might not be a good thing.

When talking about personalizing learning, a Google search yields 1.7 million hits and the first page results are mostly white papers and articles about the benefits of personalized learning. My colleague, Dr. Jeff Borden has recently taken up the topic of personalization and yields 7160 results when you Google Jeff Borden and personalization in online learning. However, if you Google the same thing, your results will likely differ because of the filter bubble. So do we simply conclude that we must use our powers for good (personalized learning) and not evil (passively accepting the results of the filter bubble)?

This blog article would be complete if it were that easy. Unfortunately, the alarm has been raised and I cannot just stop there. So this is my plan, I will list a few interesting links I found when exploring the topic. The plan will be to start here; get more familiar with the concept and then weigh the value of that information. Think about the implications on a personal level, professional level and of course the implications in education from pre-K to adult education. Perhaps we will have more to talk about next blog post or perhaps this will be my focus for the next Educator’s Voice article I research and write. Let us see where the conversation goes.

In the meantime, check out some of these other Websites:—Blog and site for all information Filter Bubble related.

10 Things You Can Do—on the Filter Bubble Website but worth standing out on its own.—Social media site to help people find important content. Content is important as well as entertaining and funny in most cases.

Who does Facebook think you are?—Direct link for an article found on It includes a bookmarklet that you can open when on Facebook to see how Facebook is ranking the friends you interact with the most (according to their algorithm).

Pamela Kachka
Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group