Tag Archives: design

More Free Photos

robot toy

MorgueFile.com is a morbid name for a useful resource.  Despite what you might expect, this website does not contain pictures from a morgue.  A morgue file is a term from the newspaper industry to describe paper files that are inactive and only kept for reference.  Illustrators later adopted this term to refer to files of images that could serve as inspiration or reference.  MorgueFile.com is a large collection of images that are contributed to be used for reference by artists and teachers.

Once you get past the name, this is a very useful resource.  I was struck by a link on the homepage to a collection of photos of robot toys, including the one above.  There are a total of 116 toy robots in this collection, which is really interesting to skim through.

Of course, toy robots may not apply to all of your teaching needs.  Other searches revealed 66 photos labeled classroom, 234 photos labeled student, 734 photos labeled books, and 1190 photos labeled computers.   Many of the photos are high resolution and have a very professional stock-photography appearance, by which I mean objects are on white backgrounds and scenes are generic enough to be useful in many situations.  Next time you need an image for your PowerPoint presentation, consider an interesting and relevant photograph instead of canned clip art.

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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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Video Game Class

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Scratch games, andimations and simulations.

When I first heard about MIT’s Scratch programming language, I thought it was interesting because it seemed like a simple but powerful way for kids to create games.  Scratch is an object-oriented, event-driven, visual programming environment.  All of these terms are explained in detail in an article in the current issue of Make Magazine, but the gist is Scratch uses draggable blocks to create programs, rather than lines of code, which simplifies the process of creating a game (or presentation, animation, etc.).  In fact, it was reading the Make article that got me thinking about another video game class.

A year ago, I taught a course in Second Life with mixed results.  This virtual environment is rich with detail and almost infinitely customizable, but the learning curve was steep and students found it difficult to collaborate within Second Life.  Scratch, by contrast, is very simple — there are collections of games created by kids posted online.  Once games are posted, they can be downloaded, edited, and mashed up as part of the learning process.

So, would Scratch make a good foundation for an elective class in an intensive ESL program?  In a four-week class, the first week could be exploring scratch projects and learning some of the basics, the second week could be devoted to a small animation project, and the final two weeks could be devoted to a final game project.  I would be inclined to get students working in pairs so there would be more interaction (it would be an ESL class, after all).  I don’t have any experience with this programming language or project management in game development, but if the students were enthusiastic enough, and I learned some of the basics before the class, I think we could all learn as we go along and wind up with some interesting projects that students would be proud to share online.

Will I offer this class?  Not sure.  I’m going to try to track down some students who would like to give it a test-drive to see if it could work.  If things go smoothly, maybe it’s something I would try in the summer.  Stay tuned.

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Visualizing Words with Wordle

Word cloud of my blog feed.

Word cloud of my blog feed.

Word clouds and tag clouds are a popular way to visualize words.  The larger the word, the more frequently they appear in a given text.  Wordle makes creating a word cloud simple: Just paste some text into the Wordle interface (or link an RSS feed) and the cloud is generated.  You can even tweak the color palette, font, and orientation of the words.

How can this be used by an ESL / EFL teacher?  I’m still working that out, but it seems like a word cloud must appeal to visual learners.  After pasting in a student’s writing passage, what can we learn?  If some words are very big, maybe she needs to expand the range of vocabulary used.  If very simple words are big, maybe her writing is too simple.  Did any words from the academic word list make it into the cloud?

Of course, other texts can also be analyzed this way.  Take a look at @iVenus‘s wordle based on program for the 2009 CALICO conference.  Gives you a pretty good snapshot of the conference, doesn’t it?

By stepping back and viewing this information visually, we can get an interesting snapshot of the overall text.  Why not turn your students loose and see how they use Wordle?

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Simplification now includes Photoshop

We bought a Wii this weekend.  Yes, I purchased 5 Wiimotes months before actually buying the machine they were designed for.  The Wii is a brilliantly simple device.  So much easier (and more fun) to use than the button-riddled controllers of its chief rivals, which explains why Wiis are still sold out at many retailers.

As the Wii has proven, a simple, usable design is the best design.  Most users of most technologies don’t need every possible feature.  And, increasingly, they are choosing to not pay a premium for them.  Other examples of this trend include netbooks (simple laptops that rely on cloud computing power — see Clive Thompson’s excellent article in Wired 17.03), the XO Laptop (the netbook for the One Laptop Per Child project), Apple’s iPhone (just a touch screen), the Siftables I posted about previously, and now desktop applications themselves.

What gradient map would you choose for your new adjustment layer?

What gradient map would you choose for your new adjustment layer?

Photoshop used to be a big, expensive application that put a professional photography studio on your desktop.  Come to think of it, it still is.  But as features multiplied, it became harder and harder to use for simple operations.  (Should I adjust the CMYK or RBG levels in this mask layer to reduce red eye?)  Enter online photo editors.

cnet recently reviewed 15 of them and I was impressed.  All of the basic features I have turned to Photoshop for (waiting 3-4 minutes each time as it boots up) are available, even including layers, masking, and plenty of effects.  Most are free and work as simply as attaching a photo to your email message.  So, if I need a quick picture for a blog post or my Facebook page, I can turn to one of these sites in a pinch and get some editing done quickly and efficiently.  Simpler is better, and now simpler doesn’t have to be bad.

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TED Talks

Lorrie and Matt over in the Knowlton School of Architecture introduced TED Talks to me and they’re a great way to spend a few minutes at lunchtime. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. Basically, a bunch of cutting edge people get together periodically to share what they’ve come up with. Great stuff. Highly recommended. You never know what you’ll find, or where the ideas will take you.

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