Tag Archives: CMS

History For All

roman colliseum

How Earth Made Us is a documentary series produced by the BBC.  Like many BBC programs, the cinematography is spectacular.  But, perhaps more interesting, is the approach the program takes to history.  Instead of only examining human interactions, the program focuses on how natural forces such as geology, geography, and climate have shaped history.  And, the whole series is available on YouTube.

In the first episode, Water, host Iain Stewart explores the effects that extreme conditions have had on human development.  He visits the Sahara Desert, which receives less than a centimeter of rainfall each year, and Tonlé Sap, which swells to become the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia during monsoon season.  The contrast is striking.  One interesting factoid is that the world’s reservoirs now hold 10,000 cubic kilometers of water (2400 cubic miles).  Because most of these reservoirs are in the northern hemisphere, they have actually affected the earth’s rotation very slightly.

The second episode, Deep Earth, begins in a stunning crystal cave in Mexico, in which crystals have grown to several meters long.  The cave, which is five kilometers below the earth’s surface, was discovered by accident when miners broke into it.  I can’t imagine what they thought when they first set foot inside.

The third episode, Wind, explores the tradewinds which spread trade and colonization, which lead to the beginning of globalization.  This brought fortune to some who exploited resources and tragedy to others who were enslaved.  The view from the doorway through which thousands of Africans passed on their way to the Americas is a chilling reminder of this period of history.

Fire, the fourth episode, moves from cultures that held the flame as sacred, to the role of carbon in everything from plants to diamonds to flames.  And carbon is also the basis of petroleum, which has powered the growth of humankind.  Several methods of extracting crude oil around the world are explored.

The final episode, Human Planet, turns the equation around tying the first four episodes together by looking at how humans have had an impact on the earth. One of the most compelling examples is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the result of ocean currents bringing plastic and other debris from countries around the Pacific rim.  This garbage collects, is broken down by the sun, and eventually settles to the bottom to become part of the earth’s crust.  This is juxtaposed to rock strata in the Grand Canyon, pointing out that eventually, one layer of rock under the garbage patch in the Pacific will be made up of this debris.

In all, there is almost 5 hours of documentary video here.  It is a compelling production with spectacular imagery.  There are any number of ways to use these videos with an ESL class.  And because they are available on YouTube, there are even more options available to an ESL instructor.  Instead of everyone watching together in the classroom, the videos can be posted in an online content management system and students can watch them anywhere, anytime on their laptops and smartphones, if they have access to that kind of technology.  And if the videos are being watched outside of the classroom, there are more options for assigning different groups of students to watch different videos and then have conversations with students who watched different episodes.  The ubiquity of online video can bring learning to students outside of the classroom.

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Online Bulletin Boards

bulletin board

Most schools and classrooms have bulletin boards, but what is the online digital equivalent?  If you are using a course management system, there are lots of tools built-in that approximate this experience.  But if not, there are various options that offer lots of options for interaction between users.

They can be used asynchronously so that people can leave messages anytime and the conversation happens over a long period of time.  They could also be used in real time so that users can interact in a very visual environment.  Messages can be various sizes, color-coded, and dragged around so they can be grouped together in various ways.

Wallwisher

One online bulletin board is Wallwisher.com, which allows a user to create a wall to which other users can add “sticky notes.”  It’s quick and easy to use, but unfortunately it appears to be a victim of it’s own success — in my recent experience the site is not loading quickly, possibly due to being overwhelmed by a large volume of users.  If these issues can be worked out, Wallwisher will be a very useful tool.

Stixy

A very similar tool is Stixy, which allows sticky notes and other items (photos, documents, and dated to-do list items) to be posted on the wall.  Clicking on an item opens a menu with lots of options for color, font, as well as placement (in the front or in the back, relative to the other notes).  You can also lock certain notes so that instructions or introductions, for example, can’t be moved around like the rest of the notes.  And the site doesn’t seem to have any problems loading due to demand.  Yet.

Squareleaf

This site also allows the creation of sticky notes, including very small word-sized stickies, which could work very well on an interactive whiteboard as a way to make fridge-magnet-poetry dragable words.

Google Docs

In addition to the sticky-specific applications above, it’s worth noting that documents created in Google Docs can be configured to be edited by a group of people.  Create a new document and use different colored boxes in place of stickies and the same effect can be achieved.

More

For information on these tools and others, visit The Pursuit of Technology Integration Happiness which includes several examples that you can test drive.

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Feeding the Extracurricular

facebook cupcakes

I’m a big proponent of extracurricular activities, particularly in an intensive ESL program.  Of course, the curriculum must be good — that’s a given — but the extra curricular activities play an extremely important role in students’ learning by immersing students in English through trips, activities, and connections to other speakers of English.

Like many intensive ESL programs, we offer a wide range of activities to students: field trips, conversation partners, movies, lectures, and more.  We have also started a Facebook page as a way to publicize our activities and to build community around these activities.  We have also embraced an online course management system (CMS) which we use to interact with and disseminate curricular information to students.  But, is there a way to integrate the two?

There is.  I have recently created a widget for our CMS that instructors can add to their course pages in order to put extracurricular info in front of students on a regular basis.  To do this, I took the feed from our Facebook page (originally I planned to use the RSS feed, but the atom feed displayed better on our pages) and fed it into feed2js.org to get javascript that I could configure to display the most recent items posted to our Facebook page.  (Feed2js also allows various combinations of colors, fonts and sizes via cascading style sheets, but unfortunately CSS are not compatible with our particular CMS.)

The result is a list of 5  extracurricular (or other) announcements and reminders that students can click on to see more information on our Facebook page.  As a bonus, the Facebook RSS feed only includes items posted by our page administrators.  So, even if students post messages on our wall, which we encourage, they will not be able to send messages out to all of our course pages.  And because our Facebook page is public, students don’t need to be logged in to Facebook to read these messages.

Does it work?  We’re still rolling it out, so it’s too early to call it a success.  But I think integrating our Facebook page into our course management system makes a lot of sense because it multiplies the usefulness and reach of our online presence.

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Quality Matters in Online Learning

a computer screen is reflected in a child's eye

The first course I taught online was in a TEFL Certificate program in 2003 or 2004.  The learning curve for me was steep.  But, the more I taught online, the more I learned: discussions have to be required or they just won’t happen, scheduling needs to be clear because interaction might occur asynchronously and literally 24 hours per day, students might (incorrectly) expect their instructor to be available around the clock, and technical problems have the potential to be extremely disruptive.

Now, years later, as online and distance education classes have become so much more common and as management systems (CMSs) and personal learning environments (PLEs) have become integrated into most college classes that meet face-to-face, I have been searching for a collection of best practices for online and hybrid classes.

I started by asking folks at the Digital Union at Ohio State for some guidance.  Rob and Joni suggested I look into Quality Matters (QM), an organization dedicated to promoting and improving the quality of online education.  (In fact, Joni discusses QM in much more detail in a post on the Digital Union blog.)

One of the most beneficial things that Quality Matters has done is to develop a rubric for evaluating online courses.  Our ESL program does not have any classes that are completely online, however as we offer more and more content online, the rubric can serve as a good guide for implementing our CMS components effectively.

I should also add that, in addition to the publishing the rubric and references to the research it is based on, Quality Matters also uses the rubric as the basis for a peer-review process for online courses as well as professional development and training in effective online course design.  To pass a QM review, an online course must include all of the essential 3-point standards and achieve an overall score of 72 points or more.  In fact, the rubric contains several points that I would argue are important in traditional classroom based courses as well (i.e. 1.5 – Students are asked to introduce themselves to the class.)

I’m not sure what other guidelines are out there (if you do, please leave a comment) but Quality Matters seems to be a good foundation for evaluating online courses and course components.

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