Archive for the ‘eLearning’ Category

Hard-learned Tips on Screencasting

My latest column for MAA Focus, Becoming a Screencasting Star, is now available online.  In this post, I include a collection of “Hard-Learned Tips” on screencasting – these are things I wish someone had told me before I recorded my first set of videos.  For example …

Mind Your References. Don’t mention specific texts, sections, or page numbers in your screencasts. If you do, then switching to a different text or a new edition will suddenly make all your videos out of date. If you must reference a section or page number, do it in the text that accompanies the link to the video. It’s easy to change text, but very time-consuming to reproduce all the videos. I learned this one the hard way!

There is also advice for choosing the right type of software and dealing with storage of screencasts.  If you’ve got additional tips you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. :)

You can view all my past Teaching with Tech columns here.

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Delusional Hindsight and Academe

In a previous post this week, I discussed optimism bias and student success in online classes. Optimism bias causes us to paint a rosy picture of the future (even when it’s not likely).  But what about when we whitewash the past?  I’d like to propose that we call this delusional hindsight.  Some of us are able to learn from our past mistakes.  Others not so much.

Let me outline my reasoning.  I’ve been reading Generation Me, by Jean Twenge.   In this book she suggests that “Generation Me” is particularly good at pushing blame to others because it is the only way to deflect it from hitting their self esteem.  If you admit to doing something wrong, then you wouldn’t feel very good about yourself, and Generation Me has been taught that the most important thing in the world is to feel good about themselves (to have high self esteem).

Suppose a student signs up for classes late ever semester.  Every semester he doesn’t get the classes he needs.  Every time the registration date looms, he ignores it, registering late again. It seems to us (the instructors) that this student is unable to remember that his procrastination usually ends badly.  However, I no longer think this is an inability to remember, but an inability to causally link Action A (late registration) with Action B (unable to get desired classes).  How could the student possibly reason away the self-blame for registering late?

  • The reason he didn’t get the desired classes because the college doesn’t offer enough sections or seats.
  • He couldn’t register any earlier because he hadn’t made the important decision to go back to school yet, and that was a decision requiring careful consideration, not to be rushed.
  • He didn’t want to use financial aid, and was trying to save up enough to pay for the classes himself before registering.
  • He didn’t want to trouble a counselor during the “busy season” so he considerately waited to register.

When we were discussing this last weekend, my husband suggested that we call this process of whitewashing the past “delusional hindsight.”  This should not be confused with hindsight bias (the tendency to view events as more predictable than they really are).

delusional hindsight: to impose a misleading belief upon the understanding of a situation after it has happened

Just like with optimism bias, I can think of dozens of examples of delusional hindsight in academe.  Here are a few (hopefully you can tell which ones apply to students and which ones to professors):

  • Signing up for 8am classes, even though you’ve never been able to get up that early.
  • Waiting till the last minute to write a paper, even though past experience should tell you it doesn’t work well for you.
  • Telling yourself you don’t need an alarm clock despite sleeping through class regularly.
  • Telling yourself this will be the semester that you pass fill-in-the-blank-class, even though you haven’t changed anything since the last time.
  • Swearing to yourself you won’t take any paper-grading home this semester, even though you’ve sworn this at least five times before.

I think that delusional hindsight and optimism bias go hand-in-hand.  Without a retelling of the past, it would be impossible for a student taking Beginning Algebra for the 4th time to even give it an attempt.  Can you imagine placing the blame for failure (three times) squarely on your own shoulders and then taking it again?  How depressing.  Much better for the psyche to place the blame on the textbook, instructor, time of day, difficulty of exams, sick relatives, change in work schedule, etc.  With this whitewashing of the past, it is possible to be optimistic about the future.

I think it’s helpful to see these cases of delusional hindsight for what they are.  Once you begin to recognize the faulty thinking, it becomes a little easier to cope with student excuses (and our own delusions) that just don’t seem to make sense.  We are whitewashing the past for a reason, and that reason is us.  The question is, once we know this … what do we do to help us and our students to move past the cycle of delusional hindsight and optimism bias?

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Students and Optimism Bias

In a nutshell, optimism bias is the tendency to make overly positive assumptions.  This serves us well (giving us courage to try new things) but it also leads us astray (viewing the future as rosy despite the bad choices we are about to make).  There’s an excellent article in Time Magazine called The Optimism Bias that I highly recommend reading before you go any further.

Apparently our brains (most of them) are “hardwired for hope.”  When we remember the past, we omit details and our recall contains errors, but when we imagine the future, we tend to construct fiction that is dramatically better than the likely outcome.  This is, for example, why New Year’s resolutions are so intoxicating to us – we construct a “future me” that is thinner, healthier, happier and we can literally see ourselves living that life (even if past experience with resolutions would tell us otherwise).

Consider the optimism bias of our students.  In particular, consider the belief that things will turn out better at the end of the semester.  For example, how many of you have had students who fail exam after exam, but believe that in the end, their grade will come out okay?  There is no indication from the instructor that this will be the case. In fact, the syllabus clearly states the likely outcome by including a grading scale, but the students’ optimistic prognosis keeps them from seeking help when help could still be afforded.  As soon as final grades are published (or sometimes a day or two before the final exam), these students suddenly face reality and are angry that their vision of success is not what actually happened.  Their optimism bias has just met reality and they are usually pissed.

Another classic case of optimism bias is evident in online classes.  Anyone who has taught an online course knows that some students are just not realistic about the commitment to learning.  A recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, called Improving Online Success, by Rob Jenkins tackled the issue from the point-of-view of time-management.  I’ve been teaching online Calculus since 2007, and I don’t think the problem is as easy as time-management.  That’s just what administrators tell themselves so that they can optimistically see themselves fixing the problem.  The real underlying problem is optimism bias.

Students, especially those at 2-year colleges, believe that they are supermen and superwomen, that they will be able to work 40+ hours a week, take care of their families, and go to school full time.  When they sign up for traditional classes, they come face-to-face with the fact that they cannot simultaneously be going to work AND attending a live class.  They cannot be simultaneously taking care of children AND attending a live class (without making childcare arrangements).  With online classes, these students never face this discordance.  They optimistically believe that they will somehow “find the time” to attend the class (even if it is not reasonable).

I used to have students fill out a “study schedule” at the beginning of each semester, where they filled out the blocks of work hours, class hours, family hours, sleeping, eating, etc.  This was to help them see that there was precious little “study time” left.  But this never seemed to have any effect.  The students with the least study time in their schedule still believed that “it all works out in the end.” Lessons in time-management did nothing to bring their imaginings in line with the reality of the need for study time.

For the students who take my online Calculus classes every summer, I meticulously track their participation metrics for the first two weeks.  I call every student, starting with the ones with dismal participation metrics – I walk them through which buttons to press, I ask them if they are sure they have enough time for the class (especially when they’ve logged in only once in 7 days), but they are always optimistic.  ”Well,” they say, “it was just that this week was so busy. Next week will be different.”  Next week is rarely different.

Rather than a course on time management or how to “succeed” in online classes (neither of which would solve the optimism bias issue), I would prefer that we simply offer a 1/2-credit online learning experience as a precursor to the regular semester.  These would be short 2-week “topics” courses, something the professor would like to teach but is not already part of a regular course (e.g. fractals, data visualization, vegetable gardening in cold climates, vampires in literature, etc.).  This course could include advice on time management, but its real purpose would be for the student to prove to themselves that they can (or can’t) learn something (anything) new using an online format.  The topics courses should be rigorous enough to give the students a real taste of online learning (reading assignments, discussion board participation, assignments, and assessments) .  After all, if you can’t cut it in a 2-week online course, you’re not likely to make it in a lengthier and more difficult course.  If a student fails an online topics course, they should not be allowed to take higher-credit online courses.  If, next year, the same student claims they are now ready for online learning, let them take another 2-week topics course to prove it.

I’m sure you can think of dozens more cases of optimism bias in Academe, including cases of professors with optimism bias.  For example, I spend the weeks before classes dreaming of wonderful assignments and projects I can give in my math classes while glossing over the fact that every extra assignment will take time to develop and time to grade.  Only several semesters of past experience grounds me to the reality that I probably can’t change more than one major thing about a course at a time, and at this point, even that one major change is looking kind of optimistically rosy.

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Elephant in the Room: Captioning Math Videos

[Just in case there is any doubt, the opinions on this blog are always my own and not the opinions of my college.]

For the last several years I’ve been watching the conversations about accessibility issues on Listservs, online groups, and blogs and I’ve been receiving emails from instructors living in California about their “video captioning situation.”  The situation is that many instructors in California believe that they are not allowed to post any material (required or supplemental) in a digital environment unless it is made fully accessible for the blind and hearing-impaired.  We could argue whether they are correct or not [personally, I think the California interpretation is a stretch], but the truth is that nobody really knows until the ADA Law [Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act] as it is interpreted in California is challenged in the legal system.  Well, now it appears that North Carolina may be trying to endorse the same sort of “mandate for accessibility” of digital materials too and this has reopened this issue.  It is an issue that has been described by a colleague of mine at another college as the “elephant in the room.”

Many of us want to make our lessons and lectures available to students outside of class.  The question … do you have to caption all the videos when you do this?  Ideally, software would exist to auto-caption these videos quickly and easily.  And for other subjects (not so technical in nature) there are software programs that work.  However, the spoken language in math videos have a highly specialized vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure – the spoken word is halting in nature as steps are described (mostly by us as we read the handwritten work aloud).  Update: [If you've never seen a math screencast, here are two that you can take a look at. The first one is on Volumes of Rotation and was recorded live in a classroom mostly by students.  The second one is on Related Rates, the infamous Searchlight problem, and was recorded by me live in the classroom.]

In April (2011) I tried (as I do every year) to find a way to use the latest and greatest auto-captioning software to auto-caption a video.  I trained the software for about two hours before making my attempt at auto-captioning.  Here’s the transcript from a selection of the video.  You’ll have to trust me that it is a representative selection:

Bel-called I love the nets that would define LCE and multiply by a humble flood to lift the LDC for the factions here for the model involve five and 10 of the one that looks like a cannibal one planned left flood and 10/1 plan to lift the thrill of flying if flexible five in the late flood attack for what you love a little bit of leverage to live my life where the action of them left to get rid of action for a much simpler terms of the lid on  …

Can you even tell what class I was teaching?

Now, before I go any further, let me make it perfectly clear that if I have a student in my class who has a serious visual or hearing disability, I would work with my school to be sure that all required materials for that semester were appropriately accessible.  That may or may not mean captioning of videos.  A deaf student may find it hard to simultaneously process the captioning script and the handwritten work of the instructor at the same time (studies about the brain have shown that most of us have only one language-input channel, see The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory, by Torkel Klingberg for an overview of multitasking research). As for visually-impaired students, they may prefer raised line graphs (see the Thermo-pen for an example of how to do this)  to audio descriptions of diagrams and images.  An instructor could go through a lot of extra work to caption every video and describe every image only to find that the future student with a disability would prefer something else.

Most instructors will gladly work with their college support staff to make sure that all their students have the equivalent opportunity to learn in their courses.  But many math instructors in California (and now NC) do not believe that is what is being asked of them.  They are being told by their ADA compliance officers that they have to make anything that they use in digital form accessible for every type of disability, even if the material is merely supplemental (like the mention of a video that shows math being used in the real world, or a recorded version of a class that meets face-to-face every day).  And this “mandatory compliance” for video captioning is making the rest of us nervous.

Here’s where this gets interesting.  If it’s non-digital material … like handwriting on a whiteboard in a live class, or audio lecture (by your mouth) in a face-to-face classroom, there is no requirement that it be made accessible unless there is student with an impairment in the class.  So if you teach like we taught 100 years ago, there are no extra demands on your time.  If you teach in California and make any attempt to use (gasp) digital material, you’ve just seen all your free time get sucked down a giant hole with the stamp of “mandatory accessibility.”

To illustrate just how ridiculous this “mandatory accessibility is, consider the following scenarios :

Situation A: The instructor teaches a 4-credit math class and uses traditional lectures  in a face-to-face class using a chalkboard.  For out-of-class help, they tell the students to read the textbook.  The instructor provides the student with zero additional resources.  If a blind student takes the class, the college will have to provide the braille copy of the book.  If a hearing-impaired student takes the class, the college will have to provide a sign-language interpreter.  So the instructor is off the hook for any “extra” work other than their exams accessible, and they only have to do this if a visually-impaired student takes the class.

Situation B: The  instructor teaches a 4-credit hour math class and gives the exact same lectures as in Situation A, and does them live in class, but uses a Tablet PC (instead of a chalkboard) and records the lectures so that they will be available outside of class.  The instructor is careful in class to say most of what she writes and to write most of what she says.  The instructor takes 4 extra hours a week to produce and share these videos online because they want their students to be able to have extra help at home.  She does not get paid to do this extra video production, but they feel it is important.  Who benefits?

  • Students with no disabilities are able to watch and listen to the recording from the live classroom.
  • Students with a hearing impairment are able to watch and re-watch the recording (step-by-step) and most of what is said is written down.
  • Students with a visual impairment are able to listen and re-listen to the recording (step-by-step) and most of what is written down is also said aloud.
  • Students with ADHD will have the opportunity to pick up things they may have missed in class.
  • Students who work the night shift and are really tired at their 8am class will have a chance to rewatch the lessons after they wake up in the evening.
  • Students who have learning disabilities will be able to go back to anything they didn’t understand and talk it over with their tutor.
  • ESL Students will be able to listen and re-listen to vocabulary that was hard for them to understand.  Etc, etc.

In Situation B, the college still might need to provide a sign-language interpreter if a student with a hearing impairment took the course, since the course is being recorded in a live classroom.  One key here is that video materials being shared by the instructor are not required, they are supplemental (and duplicate the in-class experience) and in fact, all the students in the class benefit in some way from the digital materials, though some more than others.

Situation C: Same as Situation B except the state imposes a law that says that all video put up digitally by an instructor must be closed-captioned and any images used in the video must be described in great detail for the visually impaired.  This instructor is giving the exact same lectures as Instructors A and B, but here’s what they have to do now:

  • Spend 8 hours rewatching the 4 hours of videos to write a captioning script [see note at bottom before you comment that there is software that can do this for you]* and make sure to note whenever a diagram or picture of any kind is used.  An alternative is for the instructor to pay to have the videos transcribed.
  • For 2 more hours, use editing software to add additional audio narrative of any diagrams or pictures they used in their lecture (and don’t forget the captioning script for those).  In math classes there can be a LOT of diagrams, so don’t wave this away.
  • Spend 4 hours (if you’re really good it will only take 4 hours) syncing the captioning script to the video/audio (it will only take 4 hours if they make no mistakes).
  • Spend 6 hours producing the videos, which now take more time than in Situation B, because the videos are more complex.

Total time? 20 hours per week after teaching the classes.   Here are the additional benefits of this extra work:

  • Students with a hearing impairment will see an exact transcript of what was said instead of the approximate handwritten one.
  • ESL students will be able to see the all the words the instructor is saying written out (although in reality, most new vocabulary words were probably already written out in the lecture).
  • Vision-impaired students will get a more-detailed description of graphs and diagrams.
  • Students who don’t want to turn on the sound on their digital device (maybe they are watching the lecture in one of their other classes?) can use the captions to see exactly what is being said.

The problem is that faced with the reality of teaching today, Situation C is just not feasible while carrying a 4-6 class per-semester teaching load (as most community college instructors do).  In Situation C, a 4-credit course has just become a 24-hour per week load of work (and we never even included prep time or grading time in that tally).  When faced with Situation C, most instructors, including myself, would just say “screw it” and remove ALL extra help in digital formats from their courses.  This hurts all of their students.  ALL of them.  The law intended to create equal learning opportunity actually causes all the students to have less access to learning materials.

If we’re going to require 100% accessibility of digital materials when the material is just supplementary and when there is not necessarily a student in the class who requires it, then I say we also provide 100% accessibility in all face-to-face lecture-only classes too.  Require colleges to provide a sign-language interpreter and a  transcription service for all live lectures whether it’s needed or not.  And really, why stop there … how about office hours, discussion boards where students post images, synchronous communication platforms, or tutoring services? Just think of all the jobs we could create with such laws!  [You realize that whole paragraph was sarcasm, right?]

Personally, If I worked in California, and this “mandatory captioning” was the stance taken by my college’s ADA compliance officer, I would remove all digital materials from my college course management system and begin sharing all non-copyrighted materials (materials of my own creation) on the public web (YouTube or Vimeo) or on a personal web domain.  I would have to hope that students would wander on to my site (or some other math teacher’s sites) to find help outside of class.  The truth is that instructors do not have to share any digital materials.  For most of us, there is nothing in our contracts that says we have to provide anything but a syllabus as part of our job.  Many of us choose to take a good portion of our free time to make these extra digital videos of our classes available to students.  When faced with it taking five times as long, there are very few instructors who would still do it.

Meanwhile, here is a sane response to the question: Do I have to caption my math videos? [aka How do I tame this elephant in the room?]  I asked Kel Smith, who is working on writing a book called Digital Outcasts and is an expert on accessibility issues.  Here is his sane response: ”The ADA laws are written with equivalency in mind.  A student with a disability must be provided the same opportunity for educational advancement as those without a disability.”

Ask yourself, are there a variety of ways provided to learn this material?  I try to provide a variety of ways for a student to learn a topic to suit a variety of learning styles: video, text, in-person lessons, in-person discussion, and interactive online applets.  Ask yourself whether your college can quickly make a reasonable accommodation to ensure that a disabled student does have the same opportunity to learn the material as another student?

Here are some suggestions for what I would think are reasonable accommodations for hearing-impaired students [disclaimer: I am no expert on ADA Compliance]:

  • The college could provide the student with a sign-language interpreter to watch the instructor provided videos with them and sign them as they are watched.
  • The instructor can provide an alternative set of videos for the same material that does have captioning (see Hippocampus or Khan Academy who both provide captioned math videos)
  • The college could harness the power of idle student workers to quickly “crowdsource” the creation of transcripts for videos that are used in a class where there is a hearing-impaired student.

I hope that helps some of you who are facing the math video captioning issue to deal with the elephant in the room.  And if you live in California, well … maybe you need to hope someone sues over this law soon so that a judge can interpret what the law actually means.

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Podcast Interview: Future of eLearning

Illustration in black and white with title "Future of eLearning" in the middle.

Here is Part 2 of my Podcast Interview with Eric and Staci at On Teaching Online.  In this part of the podcast, we discussed the future of online education and possible trends in course management and learning systems.


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Podcast Interview about Teaching Online Calculus

Last week I did a podcast interview with Eric and Staci over at “On Teaching Online.” The interview was supposed to go 20-30 minutes, but we talked for about an hour and they are producing the podcast in 2 parts. The first podcast is about all the components of my online Calculus courses.

Dr. Andersen talks about teaching calculus online, using Twitter to support online community, and the differences and similarities between online students and achievement.
Find the Podcast here.


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Future of eLearning

Here is today’s talk from the World Future Conference. I’ve been thinking about the future of eLearning for almost a year now (in preparation for this talk). It’s always amazing to me how my unorganized thoughts crystalize into visions in the last few days before a talk. In this talk I propose a new direction (vision) for educational eLearning – one in which the learning platform is chosen and customized by the student instead of the instructor and institution.

Links related to today’s presentation:

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Math Technology to Engage, Delight, and Excite

Back in May 2010 I presented a keynote at the MAA-Michigan meeting in Ypsilanti.  Even though it sounds like it’s about math, it’s really more about a philosophy of using technology to engage students.  Yes, the examples are in the context of math, but if you’re involved with educational technology in any way, I think much of the talk is applicable to all subjects.

We’re in a recession and so is your department budget.  Luckily for you, there are lots of great programs and web resources that you can use to teach math, and most of these are free.  Use the resources in this presentation to tackle the technology problems that haunt you and capture the attention of your math classes with interactive demonstrations and relevant web content.

Here is the video, audio, and slides from my keynote talk “Math Technology to Engage, Delight, and Excite” from the MAA-Michigan meeting in May 2010.  There is also an iPad/iPod-friendly version here.

In case you’re wondering, the PIP video was recorded from a Flip Video camera that was affixed to one of the seats in the auditorium with masking tape.  It’s not elegant, but it works.

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Watch my AMATYC 2009 Presentation

In a “pilot” program, we used Camtasia to record several sessions at the 2009 AMATYC Conference in Las Vegas.  Several of these recordings are now available on the AMATYC 2009 Conference Proceedings Website.

In particular, you might want to check out my live presentation “Best of the Educational Technology Freebies” … at least, you can check out the first 24 minutes of it (before my spectacular graphics-overload-induced red-screen-of-death computer crash).  The live presentation starts approximately 1 minute into the video.


There is a Part II (audio with a few PowerPoint slides – all my computer was capable after burning up the graphics capability temporarily), but I guess they haven’t put it up yet.  Update: Part II is now also available here.  Incidentally, this incident sealed the deal on my getting a new tablet PC (I was running with the memory capacity and hard drive maxed on the old one).

Word to the wise: You should not attempt to simultaneously record new audio narrative for a Camtasia video project running in the background, while running that video in a player on the notebook and projecting to a screen.  Sure, it works for 5 minutes, but will it work for 60? [no, unless you have a really powerful computer and graphics card]

The easy way to find all the recorded videos from the 2009 AMATYC Conference is to search the Conference Proceedings website (Ctrl-F for find) for the word “flash” (as in Flash video).

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How to give a (good) webinar


If you’ve been to two webinars, chances are you’ve seen at least one that was not very engaging.  I don’t mean to pick just on webinars – chances are if you’ve been to two conference presentations, you’ve seen one there too.  However, most people won’t walk out of a boring conference presentation.  In a webinar, participants can remain “in the virtual room” without actually being anywhere near the computer or presentation.  As a webinar presenter, how do you ensure you don’t end up speaking to a ghost crowd?

If you’re going to give a good webinar, you first need to make sure that you actually design your presentation for the webinar format (don’t plan to just do the same presentation that you normally run in person).  You need to know what kinds of tools are usually available in the webinar platforms, and how to keep the audience engaged when you’re missing those facial cues you normally get from a live in-person audience.

Presentation design is a whole other topic in itself (I taught a 9-hour course in digital presentation design last fall), but I can help a bit with the details of how to redesign for a webinar format and how to be prepared for all the details.

I wrote an article for eLearn Magazine (just published today) called Tips for Effective Webinars.  In it I go through a “Before, During, and After” set of tips for giving a good, effective, and engaging webinar.


Here’s topics list for the tips that appear in the article:

  • Recording and distribution
  • Presentation design
  • Engage often
  • Animation
  • Hyperlinks
  • Video clips
  • Trial run
  • Arrive early
  • Clear directions
  • Desktop sharing
  • Webcam sharing
  • The echo
  • After the Webinar

Head over to the full-text of the article Tips for Effective Webinars at eLearn Magazine.  When I gave my first webinar, the folks at the UW Extension office were nice enough to give me some training and advice, but not every new webinar presenter gets that.  So please, forward the article to anyone you know that could use a little training on how to give an effective webinar.

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