Archive for the ‘Communication Tools’ Category


Whether you’re interested in using Twitter as a teaching tool or not, I think you’ll enjoy this very unique presentation, all built out of an illustration.

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Wolfram|Alpha: Recalculating Teaching & Learning

My talk today at the 2009 International Mathematica User Conference:

For at least a decade, we have had the ability to let CAS software perform computational mathematics, yet computational skills are still a large portion of the mathematics curriculum. Enter Wolfram|Alpha. Unlike traditional CAS systems, Wolfram|Alpha has trialability: Anyone with Internet access can try it and there is no cost. It has high observability: Share anything you find with your peers using a hyperlink.  It has low complexity: You can use natural language input and, in general, the less you ask for in the search, the more information Wolfram|Alpha tends to give you. Diffusion of innovation theories predict that these features of Wolfram|Alpha make it likely that there will be wide-spread adoption by students. What does this mean for math instructors?

This could be the time for us to reach out and embrace a tool that might allow us to jettison some of the computational knowledge from the curriculum, and give math instructors greater flexibility in supplemental topics in the classroom. Wolfram|Alpha could help our students to make connections between a variety of mathematical concepts. The curated data sets can be easily incorporated into classroom examples to bring in real-world data. On the other hand, instructors have valid concerns about appropriate use of Wolfram|Alpha. Higher-level mathematics is laid on a foundation of symbology, logic, and algebraic manipulation. How much of this “foundation” is necessary to retain quantitative savvy at the higher levels? Answering this question will require us to recalculate how we teach and learn mathematics.

There are two videos embedded in the slideshow. You should be able to click on the slide to open the videos in a anew web browser. However, if you’d just like to watch the video demos, here are direct links:

Note that I’ve turned ON commenting for these two video demonstrations and I will try to load them into YouTube later this weekend.

There are several other posts about Wolfram|Alpha that you may want to check out:

If you were at the live version of this talk, and you would like to rate the presentation, you can do so here at SpeakerRate.

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Join us at the Math & Technology Workshop Today!

We’re meeting in three different WizIQ rooms at 2pm EDT. (we wanted everyone to have a chance to play without being completely overwhelmed)

If you live on the east side of the country, join us in Group 1: Click here at 2pm EDT

If you live on the west side of the country, join us in Group 2: Click here at 2pm EDT

If you live in Hawaii, Alaska, or another country, join us in Group 3: Click here at 2pm EDT

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Technology Review: Voki

by guest blogger Robert Foth, from Pima Community College
What is it?
A free animated avatar (the parent company is oddcast – maker of SitePal). Check mine out at my college homepage. Voki avatars can be hosted on any html page (blog, wiki, webpage, etc.). The website will give you the code necessary to embed this little avatar. You can choose the type of avatar and the background used (some backgrounds are animated and may appear faster or slower than expected). There is options to add effects to the audio, but I have not had much success with that feature.

Cost? Free!

Technical Requirements?

You need to set up an account on the Voki website and be able to copy and paste html code. You can use a microphone to record your voice (text to voice never sounds great, but you can use it). Audio can also be imported from a file or called in with a cell phone. The audio limitation is about 1 minute on the audio.

How could we use this technology in the hybrid, online, or traditional classroom?

I can put up a greeting for my students for when they access my website/online classroom. I currently have mine on the course homepage in WebCT. I can see using these to make an online assignment more interactive by having some instructions given by the voki (you can do a talking moose if you wish Maria). The MathPlayground uses vokis in problems: students listen to two different arguments in a problem and then are polled to see who is correct.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives?

Impress your colleagues by having an avatar give announcements on the departmental web page. Put one on your website to stand out among the crowd (for those of us interviewing this year).

Wish list for this technology?

The ability to use an audio file of greater size (one minute is not always enough time). There are some bugs in the system (occasional errors in background image / audio updates) – hey it’s free though. The ability to add a polling feature at the end of the animation would be nice too.
Feel free to comment-in a link to your avatar if you’ve got one!
For more on avatars and other avatar software, click on the label “Avatar” in the right-hand column under “Labels” or click here.

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WizIQ Practice Sessions

There was a lot of interest at ICTCM in this little program called WizIQ and I offered to do a demo this week to let instructors try it out.

If you’d like to participate, you will need to do four things:
1) Create a username and password in WizIQ (go to
2) Make sure you can hear the sound on your computer! This might mean finding a set of headphones or speakers if it is a school computer.
3) Optional: Set up a microphone on your computer. Technically you don’t have to, but it is more fun this way!
4) Follow the appropriate URL at the time of the session you’d like to attend (see URL’s below) and then follow the prompts to enter the session.

Friday, March 14 (PI DAY!) 3:30pm EDT (that’s 12:30 PDT)
Follow this link at the appropriate day and time.

Sunday, March 16 7:00pm EDT (that’s 4:00pm PDT)
Follow this link at the appropriate day and time.

Bonus for Friday attendees – prepare a simple pi-day celebration file to upload (pdf is best, but Word and PP also are supposed to work). I will upload my pi-day songs if anyone would like to celebrate.

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NKU Day Three

I spent the morning building the presentation for online calculus that I gave this afternoon. The presentation is not built in PowerPoint, it’s in Mindomo. I don’t think I’ve blogged about Mindomo yet – but since January I’ve been using it for all my presentions.

You can visit the presentations by following the links below. At the mind map, you can view all my notes, follow all my hyperlinks, etc. The thing that makes it a significantly different presentation is that it is a) interactive, b) the audience can explore while you give the presentation, each on their own browser, c) it does not have to be linear.

Online Calculus (today’s presentation)

Using the Internet to Spice Up your Math Class (yesterday’s presentation)

Following all of those links and watching all of those videos should keep you busy all weekend.

So… on to my non-presentation progress. I spent some time developing a concept map for my “perfect” faculty development platform (including the ability to integrate mathematics in all text options). They are trying to build one for someone else, but having trouble with the design, so I got to choose everything I would ideally want. Hopefully that will be built in Flex by mid-April so that I can use it for the MCC Math & Technology workshop too.

And … drumroll please … here’s the iClone avatar for my Calculus Orientation (this is really just a demo – intending to see if it was possible to get the avatar to do what we wanted it to do – namely POINT to something). The software is a bit difficult to learn (but the good software usually is). Anyways, enjoy!

Avatar on Blackboard Class

I have made Matt promise to post a tutorial on how we did it (although we’re not really sure we understand how we did it)… so I hope to have a more advanced orientation done soon.

I know that this is really ridiculous and that I could do it much easier with a mouse pointer and a voice over, but it’s fun … so I want to learn.

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NKU Day Two

Another busy day at NKU.

I spent my first two hours this morning playing with Google Sketchup looking for backgrounds to use for the platform for the MCC Math & Technology Workshop, which will be built mostly with Adobe Flex. For those of you who are interested in coding, you may want to check Flex out. We discovered today that WizIQ (mentioned in several previous posts) runs off a Flex platform.

If you just want to look into Google Sketchup, download the free version and import files from the 3D Warehouse. I was playing with gardens, castles, scenes from Lord of the Rings, buildings from College and University campuses, and all sorts of other creations. It was fun even just to look.

Mike and I spent some time discussing Multiverse vs. Second Life. In particular, Multiverse is, as Mike put it, more “objective-oriented” (think – game-style objectives). The multiverse worlds are themed and they are obviously more designed for gaming than just a “3-D chat platform.” So here’s my thought (as we were thinking about what’s best for education). What if we put up learning modules in Multiverse (similar to the learning modules of Connexions), where the “objective” is to learn enough to earn some kind of prize at the end of the module – perhaps a “badge” that shows you have mastered some kind of content. Then you can wear your badges (or perhaps they show in your profile) so that you can easily see what kind of learning everyone has mastered. Rather than thinking in 15-week chunks, perhaps we think in concepts instead – a badge for differentiation, a badge for limits, a badge for Volumes of rotation where MASTERY is required to earn your prize.

Also this morning, I spent some time with Matt (one of the students who works in the instructional design office) working our way through iClone. In particular, we wanted to take a full-body avatar and put her on my online calculus screen and have her point to buttons and explain what they do (this is for my online orientation for a future semester). So we are working up a little demo of that – stay tuned for more tomorrow (we’re still refining!). It took a while to figure out how to create our own motions and to learn what the software was doing when it altered our added motions… so maybe Matt will post a tutorial to help me when I get home and realize I’ve unlearned this week’s worth of stuff.

At some point in the day Amanda (another ID student) showed me the platform for their Faculty Learning Community – which I may poach a lot of the code for my Math Workshop from.

After lunch I showed one of the NKU instructors (together with Mike, Amanda, and Matt) how to use WizIQ to facilitate online students participating in live classes, and then we went on from there to talking about more pedagogical issues, recording with camtasia, editing videos to make them a richer media, etc.

That’s when Mike realized he should’ve had me speak to the whole Faculty Learning Community in addition to the math department. So I was sent over to my seminar today trailing two students armed with a video camera and tripod (and I hear they are coming back tomorrow too). Thus begins my own version of “MARIA talks” – I am about to crash here, so maybe someone can think of a clever “TED”-like acronym for MARIA.

Lessons learned from the talk:

  • When you can’t get your laptop to project properly, you should consider it an opportunity to free up your mind from the nervousness about the presentation, and apply it to nervousness about the technology instead.
  • Make sure you enable the SOUND on the laptop if you plan to play sound.
  • Make sure to plug your portable speakers into the HEADPHONE jack (not the mic jack)
  • Keep a clock or timer in sight so that you don’t run out of time!
  • I thought I would be nervous about the video recording – didn’t bother me in the least bit. Totally forgot about it – except that I occasionally wondered why the girl in the back of the room was standing up (Amanda was recording). Probably I am more nervous about SEEING the recording.

I saw a former student, Meg, who goes by “Mighty Meg” in the blogging world and is often commenting on this blog. Meg’s now a math PhD student in Lexington (she says she was tricked). It was fun to see her and Steve, and their two dogs Gator and Katie.

My most useful bit of the knowledge for the day comes in this useful little tip that Andy, my host here at NKU, passed along – this is one of those tips that seems obvious (now that I know it)…

I like to use Windows Journal during live class recordings because the interface is simple to use and it doesn’t get flickery when it is being projected and recorded simultaneously. I had been snagging images from my other files (like parts of Word or pdf files) and pasting them into Windows Journal.

Andy pointed out that in the “Print Options” in Word, Adobe, etc. there is a Print option for Journal Note Writer. Using this option dumps the file into Windows Journal and then you can write on it with all the functionality of the Windows Journal palette. Wow! I was totally doing that one the hard way!

As for Robert (who asked about ICTCM presentations on Casting Out Nines)… I’m giving three and I am planning to bravely hope the Internet works. I have ONE backup plan. For the hour-long talk, I have asked a friend with a wireless Internet card in his PC to attend the session. If worst comes to worst, I will use his laptop to run the presentation. If a conference on technology can’t get their technology to work then … well … it’s probably not worth coming back to next year!

And for Jason (who is probably watching for the post on the elaboration technique)… I have not forgotten about it – I’m probably looking at next week at the earliest to get that posted.

I’m looking forward to all my plane flights as a time of rest and relaxation …. um … maybe to get some papers graded too.

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Technology Review: Yugma

Thanks to Dan for trying out this software with me! : )

What is it? Yugma is a synchronous screen-sharing tool for the Internet. All the participants can dial in to a long distance phone number and look at the same computer screen. The presenter computer screen can be passed from presenter to presenter. As a second option, you can use Skype for the audio, but then you are limited to two participants.

What is the cost? Free for a basic account.

What are the technical requirements? I don’t see how you could possibly stand this without high-speed internet. I had to disable my 2nd monitor to get the software to run properly if I was the projecting computer. A user would also have to be able to call the long-distance phone number for the audio portion of the call.

How could we use this technology in the traditional or online classroom? I could see this used for both traditional or online classes. In a traditional classroom, it might be a way to bring a knowledgable speaker to your classroom if they need to have live access to a computer as part of their talk. For an online classroom, you could use it to walk a student through orientation or help them with something they are having trouble with in the technical requirements of the course. Because you could see their screen, you’d be able to talk them through what they are doing wrong.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives? Likewise, it might be a good option for graduate seminars to bring in a guest speaker (of course, if you want to be able to use a whiteboard and you don’t want the computer screen option, you’d want to try something like WizIQ instead – which does include audio).

Where do I hope the technology will go from here? (a wish list)

    • Yugma ran a bit slow – but not any worse than any of the other “webinar” software I’ve seen in action.


  • Obviously, integrating audio with the program would be a plus.



  • Sharing only part of the screen would make Yugma run faster I think. I don’t really need to share my entire screen – could we maybe click and drag to create a viewing rectangle? This might also solve the 2nd monitor problem.



  • To start broadcasting a screen took a few minutes – it wasn’t clear that we should wait and that the program was really doing something – we went back and forth trying to share our screens several times before we realized that we needed some more patience.



  • The software for this platform is less intuitive than the software that runs WizIQ – a well-run usability study could do wonders…


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What to do with an Avatar?

An avatar can certainly be an attention-grabber for an online class where you don’t get much face-to-face interaction. (NOTE TO RSS READERS: You may have to click through to see/hear the avatar on this one.)

Click on the avatar to activate the speech.
(I hate those blogs with auto-loading sound.)

I use mine to remind (warn) students when there’s going to be an exam. Recently I’ve acquired a new model – ME! This is as close as you’re going to get to meeting me in person (at least online). For a mere $75 ($37.50 if it’s on sale), you can have your face mapped into a 3-D avatar model. So, that’s what I did. I call her the Marivatar.

At first it seemed creepy – but now I’ve gotten used to it and sometimes when I look in the mirror I am a little disturbed to see that I don’t look as good as my “idealized” self. I think I need some blue colored contacts. Then I may feel better.

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Technology Review: WizIQ

Three of us (on both Macs and PCs) went out to cyberspace tonight to try out WizIQ to see if it might be suitable for online office hours. There is more information about why I am testing WizIQ on the previous blog post here.

What is it?An online software tool for interacting with others on the web that includes a whiteboard with drawing tools, graphing grids, the ability to upload images, speak with audio and webcam video (although we didn’t try that one).

What is the cost? As far as we can tell, it’s free for educational uses.

What are the technical requirements? You would want a decent internet connection. As the instructor, you would want a microphone but it’s not necessary as there is a text chat feature too. If a student had audio, they could talk too. Also, users have to sign up for a username and password to get into the session.

How could we use this technology in the traditional or online classroom? You could use it to hold online office hours, as long as you are only answering one question at a time. All users see the same whiteboard at once. Everyone can draw on it (if the “teacher” gives that permission). If you wanted to bring a guest speaker to class from off-site, you could do it in this platform.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives? I think this would be a great tool for collaborating with other faculty across distances at any level of mathematics. Working on a book or other project? You could collaborate here and see the same things on the screen in addition to talking (so maybe better than a phone call).

Where do I hope the technology will go from here? (a wish list)

  • An eraser (to remove parts of what you have drawn) would be nice. There is a delete feature, but it took us a little while to find out how to do it.
  • Be able to assign each participant a whiteboard that they can use independently while you work with one student. We tried this, but as soon as one person jumps to a new whiteboard, everyone else sees it too.
  • We had some trouble uploading content in the “Content Upload” screen. None of us could get that to work. But we did get images to upload okay.
  • A selection tool for picking up multiple objects would be useful.
  • Be able to retroactively change the color of drawn objects.
  • We didn’t find the math symbols to be particularly useful. It was easier to just draw the symbol we wanted on the screen with the pencil tool. I’d rather have a greater variety of drawing tools (dashed lines, polygon shapes, open and closed points, transparent shading, etc).
  • There was a strange echo whenever three of us were on audio at the same time (but not with only two). It sounded like a sci-fi movie sound effect.

Thanks Shiela and Laura for stepping up and being online guinea pigs! : ) M

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