The Happy Secret to Better [Student?] Work

Hello Everyone:

If you have interacted with me at any point you might have found out that I am a fan of TED talks. I recently watched this one on Netflix and think it would be a great post for the EdTech blog. Shawn Achor, Harvard professor, CEO of Good Think Inc (TED bio here), and winner of multiple teaching awards talks about our tendency to study the average instead of exceptional. And that positivity encourages productivity…

What are we missing when attempt to study a population instead of an extraordinary member of that population? His argument harkens to the differences in qualitative and quantitative research, or the difference between the average and the anecdote. Both are necessary to see the full picture.

Achor argues that “positivity” encourages engagement. A big part of other arguments for motivation is demonstrating relevance to students. Hybridizing these two motivational approaches, I would argue that the more positivity tied directly to the activities in class will better engage learners. The activities that are closely tied to service or that are understood within a larger context of skill mastery will better engage learners.

Additional Resources

  •’s summary of Motivation Theories.
  • Dan Pink via RSAnimate and Youtube: “The Surprising Truth about what motivates us
  • Book (thanks Matt Phelps!): “Shop Class as Soul Craft” by Matthew Crawford on Amazon or via Inter-library loan. Crawford discusses employment in a trade (e.g., electrician, carpenter, motorcycle repairman) versus employment in “knowledge work” and the lack of motivation that sometimes ensues when people cannot see the direct results of their work.

Happy teaching with technology!


ePortfolios in Theology:Using ePortfolios to Improve Student-Learning and Outcomes Assessment

Bryan Hollon is the director of the graduate program in theological studies at Malone University. He is sharing about his experience so far with ePortfolios in the Theology programs, both undergraduate and graduate, at Malone. Since Bryan wrote this for us in the summer, the Language and Literature department has also begun to utilize the digication system. We look forward to adding their experience with ePortfolios to the campus’ collective knowledge in the future. Take it away Bryan!… 


The department of theology has spent a great deal of time, recently, discussing some of the strengths and weaknesses of our academic programs.  Although we are confident that our students enjoy good instruction by well-qualified professors, we realize that an education in biblical and theological studies can sometimes lack cohesion, at least from a student perspective.  That is, the curriculum in bible, theology, and ministry programs can seem, to the student, like a menagerie of introductions to disparate subjects, which employ different methodology towards different ends.

Although faculty members have a deep appreciation for the internal consistency of the various courses offered, these deep connections are not necessarily apparent to the average student. In light of these concerns, we have begun to explore ways to bring increased cohesion to the student learning experience, and we believe that implementing an assessment-driven ePortfolio program will help us achieve this goal.

What is an ePortfolio?

Learning Portfolios are educational tools that students use to collect, highlight, and reflect on course work and other educational experiences acquired while working towards completion of a degree.  An electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) is a digitized version of the learning portfolio that allows students to publish their work on a computer or online and share it with various interested parties such as:

  • Professors – who will evaluate ePortfolio artifacts (documents, videos, etc.) to assess student learning
  • Departments – who will use ePortfolios to track learning outcomes based upon specific program goals and objectives and who may highlight stand-out portfolios in order to promote the department’s degree programs to potential students and other interested parties
  • Friends and Colleagues of the Students – who will consult the portfolios for insight into building their own
  • Relatives – who often have a natural interest in their loved one’s learning for a variety of reasons
  • Prospective employers – who will benefit from having broad and deep exposure to student learning and growth, which an ePortfolio offers

ePortfolios may include evidence (artifacts) of learning such as essays, research papers, reflection papers, journals, etc., but also pictures, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and other forms of media. In short, the ePortfolio provides a space for students to collect, display, reflect upon, and demonstrate learning. If you have not already discovered Malone’s Digication site, click on the hyperlink to the left and have a look. You can use your regular Malone username and password to log-in. The portfolios that you will see were created during the Spring 2012 semester as a part of a pilot program.  These are “course” portfolios rather than “program” portfolios, but they will help you to understand the simplicity of the technology being used.

Assessment and ePortfolios

In the department of theology, we have chosen to implement ePortfolios with assessment in mind. Namely, students develop an ePortfolio in order to, among other things, demonstrate that they have achieved the academic program’s stated learning objectives. In the past, our department’s mission, goals, and objectives were clearly stated in the catalog but not central to teaching and learning. The goals and objectives were really something like “window-dressing.”

Accordingly, the first thing that we did, as a department, was to produce a substantial revision of our departmental mission, goals, and objectives. We asked, very simply, what do we want all of our students to know when they complete a degree in our department? Then, we wrote our new goals and objectives based upon our answers to this question. Our next step was a curriculum-mapping exercise to determine whether our current curriculum offers adequate instruction to enable students to achieve the stated goals and objectives.

In particular, we have begun to consider key assignments in our our courses in order to determine whether these assignments are relevant to program goals and objectives and capable giving our students an opportunity to provide evidence of learning that can be assessed included in an ePortfolio.

Student-Driven Learning

As we implement ePortfolios at the graduate and undergraduate levels, we will continue to make our departmental goals and objectives more central to the learning process. We want students to become so familiar with our goals and objectives that they will be able to state and explain them clearly when asked. Every student will be introduced to the goals and objectives as they enter the program and then required to reflect upon and demonstrate that they have achieved the goals and objectives as they develop their ePortfolio over the course of the program.

The Benefits of Learning Portfolios

While there are many potential benefits to the use of electronic portfolios for various individuals and groups, we believe that the following are especially noteworthy:

  • ePortfolios encourage students to understand the individual pieces of the learning process from  within the context of overall program goals and objectives
  • ePortfolios promote student-ownership of and a learner-centered approach to the entire learning process
  • ePortfolios promote student self-assessment through ongoing reflective activities
  • ePortfolios enable students to display evidence of their learning and growth to interested parties
  • ePortfolios offer teachers and departments an effective means of connecting program goals and objectives to specific courses and assignments and then assessing student achievement of these goals and objectives
  • ePortfolios offer prospective employers, potential students, and other interested parties valuable insight into the learning process promoted by departmental programs

If you are interested in using ePortfolios and would like more information about the work that we have done and continue to do in the department of theology, please send me a message, and I’ll be happy to meet with you or provide more information.


-Bryan Hollon



Bryan’s Kit

  • Log in to the Digication Portfolio system specific for Malone University at: – COST is FREE
  • Planning and departmental buy-in.
  • The configuration of a eportfolio template for theology students – Once you have a template portfolio ready, contact the help desk and we can publish your ePortfolio as a template

Additional Resources

Thank you, Brian, for sharing about your experience with ePortfolios thus far. If you are interested in additional information about ePortfolios and their effects on student learning, here are some additional resources that might be useful:

  • Challis, D. (2005). Towards the mature ePortfolio: Some implications for higher education.
  • An argument against (the comments on this blog entry are almost as interesting as his critique). I would also say that the digication system subverts a couple of his complaints in that it is available to our students even after they leave the university and allows them to create multiple ePortfolios (e.g., a long form one for reflection and a short form one for a succinct extension of a resume/C.V.)

Improving Presentations

I am cross-posting to the EdTech blog an entry written on the Help Desk one. Enjoy…


How I Learned to Stop Complaining About Being Distracted and Made Forgetful By the Internet and Learned to Love the PIM

Dr. John Estes is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Malone University. He speaks to us today about leveraging PIMs (Personal Information Management databases) to organize the deluge of information which we are exposed to each day. The use of a PIM, I am a big fan of Omnifocus and Endnote, is an excellent method of managing our digital lives. Thank you, John, for closing out the “Faculty Speak Classroom Geek” series with this most excellent entry!


The brain is not a computer. It’s not even like a computer. If nothing else comes from this little essay, I hope that pointing out the debasing effect of that metaphor is of some use; the Malone mission is advanced every time a human being is disabused of referring to herself as a machine. A computer cannot be programmed to generate a random number, and thus has nothing of consequence on us, even if they can beat us at chess and Jeopardy.

Even so, despite the sci-fi warning of Skynet, the Borg, the Matrix and the HAL 9000, we press on. Many of us carry small supercomputers in our pockets and bags all day. If you’re reading this, you are probably trying to figure out how (or whether) these tools augment and facilitate learning, despite the steady flow of research beginning to demonstrate that our cultural and individual immersion in an ever-connected, screen-driven world is morphing, if not compromising, aspects of what we have long considered our core humanity: memory, attention, creativity, community. If you are like me, this research does little but ratify what experience has already suggested, if not proven.

I am really not trying to be cranky. I’ve been using so-called “new media” in my classes for nearly eight years, but I’m as suspicious of them as I am excited about them, as ambivalently wed to them as I am to my personal and writing life. It bears reminding that written text and the printed book are themselves media technologies susceptible to hype and were, like our new gadgets, thought by many to auger the end of civilization. And since they aren’t going away anytime soon–since our digitally native students cannot give their existence a second-thought and are less aware than we are that like any tools, electronic media operate as an extension of the self and will–the best thing we can do is encourage a line of questioning about media new and old. As Marshall McCluhan put it, “[A]ny medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary.” The liberally educated individual should be reflexively wary of and skeptical about all tacit assumptions and biases; our work is to make these manifest and available for reflection. Is makes a difference whether one thinks of the heart as a drum machine, a blood pump, or a lonely hunter.

Managing the Deluge

Even if you have never heard the phrase “attention economy,” you negotiate it every day. How often do you swear you’ll check your email less often, limit your time on Facebook, or take a phone sabbath? I couldn’t be the only one who feels like I was more productive/creative/efficient 10 years ago, before I had so many tools and such easy access to information? Or who thinks maybe I was happier then, despite not being able to remind myself of Fermat’s Last Theorem or the actors who have played God within an instant of wanting it? The fuss and fury used to about time management, and it still is in a way, but it’s actually more helpful to reconceptualize the problem as a scarcity of attention.

This dilemma is obvious: we are awash in information–much of it useless or distracting, and just as much of it interesting, if not vital to our work–and the competition for our attention is fierce. Hard choices must constantly be made, and we must work harder and harder to stay focused. We must even work harder and harder to be bored, if one sees a value in that. The ability to navigate this glut intelligently, especially for those of us reared in a slower, more analog world, can be elusive. Despite our attempts to the contrary, psychological research shows that the human brain simply cannot multitask without exacting a cost on the quality of our work. What we and our students need, to augment sheer will power, are tools and habits that help us manage the overload and find a way toward an intentional focus that helps us channel our attention and creative energies.

Enter the PIM

There is a cottage industry of productivity tools that promise to help us be better stewards of our attention: task managers, full-screen text editors, and the class of application I want to focus on, the Personal Information Manager. A PIM, as they are called, is essentially a database with (one hopes) a slick interface that helps and encourages you to capture, store and process all of your data. We all must be editors and curators now, and I try to impress upon students that this is one of the most important skills they will (or should) tackle. Imagine having all your data–from contacts, credit card numbers and passwords, to hordes of notes, PDFs and ebooks–in one place that is actually many places, having it searchable and sharable. So long as you trust the keepers of this information (a matter not to be taken lightly), it’s a pretty good scenario for a writer, scholar, or citizen of the digital age.

The reference manager is a specialized class of PIM tailored for research, and deserves mention. On the professional end most everyone knows of EndNote, and maybe Bookends (Mac), but for student use there’s nothing quite like Zotero, a free utility developed by a group at George Mason University. While one downside may be its Firefox-only plugin capability, its benefits far outweigh whatever sacrifice that might entail. From within the browser one can collect, organize, and take notes on sources, including archiving webpages for offline viewing, leaving the dirty work of bibliographic formatting–your choice of format–to the program. An increasing number of academic, library, and popular website are coded to allow reference managers to easily gather pertinent data, but since nothing is foolproof, users must stay aware of what is being collected and fill in any missing data, and of course records can be manually created as well. Another nifty feature it has (as all the high-end ref managers do) is the ability to insert citations directly into word processors, creating a Works Cited as one writes. For the price, it has all the features a student needs (and plenty for most professionals), is easily mastered, and since so much of our research is done online, it fits right into existing workflows. The prospect of not having to worry about such minutiae as the difference between comma placement in MLA vs. APA vs. Chicago style ever again is either a revelation or a horror, depending on your frame of reference.

The Elephant in the Room

The ideal PIM would be with you always (if you wanted), like a trusty notebook, ubiquitously present for import or export or browsing, syncing invisibly over the air between devices. This ideal is beginning to be realized, although implementations vary. The best web-based app is surely Backpack by 37signals, which is really a sophisticated wiki with many collaborative features that make it capable of being a hub for class writings. On the Mac, there is DevonThink and Yojimbo, on Windows OneNote. All three of these are robust, and have iPhone and/or iPad apps with some level of sync capability. A few programs like Papers (Mac only) and Mendeley (cross-platform) do all that plus have a built-in reference manager. The watchword in this category is “frictionless”–minimizing the number of steps, keyboard strokes or mouse moves it takes you to get information from its source into your database. The ecosystem that has come so far the closest to this ideal is probably EverNote, which touts itself as “an extension of your brain.”

Its power and usefulness as a classroom tool is a function not just of it features, of which there are many, but its reach. Not only is it available for Mac and Windows, but has apps for all major handheld and tablet devices so students can make us of it whatever with what they have. Also, your data resides on the web so it can be accessed from any computer. It has hooks into every major browser, several RSS readers, email, Twitter, as well as scanners and other apps that can send documents and media files into the database. You can snap a picture, record a voice memo or even a video in the field, tag it, send it to EverNote and later sift through your day’s haul on your laptop without having to download or move files. Taking advantage of its magnetic Smart Cover, EverNote has turned the iPad 2 into an electronic flash card.

One habit such a tool encourages is constant attentiveness. As writers we are always working on something but can’t divert focus to deal with every passing idea, a web page we surreptitiously come across, or even all of the data we find when purposefully searching. What EverNote and other PIMs make possible is fast, frictionless collection for later retrieval, culling, and reflection. To Capture is to Remember might make a good tagline. Students who make good use of a database like this will benefit by the longer development arc for their papers and research projects, giving them more matter in front of them (virtually at least) and more time to make connections between and insight into their data.

EverNote’s organizational schema is the Notebook, in which one can have as many Notes as one wants. And because Notes and Notebooks can be shared (publicly or privately), one way I intend to use EverNote this coming semester is to replace Google Docs as the means by which students can share their work with me and fellow students for workshopping drafts and submission for grading. Students can share files with me and I’ll be able to send an annotated PDF directly back into their EverNote Notebook. Having a repository like this should obviate some of the problems I’ve run into with Google Docs (similar to those explored here), particularly issues of mass file organization and student privacy. Going the other way, I can have a class Notebook shared with them into which I can put course documents and whatever else I wish to distrubute to everyone, and it will automagically arrive on their desktops without having to open an email or download it from a website.

There is something disturbing about a computer program that promises to take over the work of human memory. Are we at risk of becoming stockpilers rather than learners? This is already happening according to a study released this summer. And it’s a turn of events that was foreseen a few thousand year ago. In Phaedrus Plato tells the story of Thamos, a king, and Theuth, the god who invented writing. When Theuth brings writing to Thamos, asking that he help distribute his new invention to the people, promising it will make them wiser and aid their memories, Thamos balks. He claims that it will in fact have the opposite effect: once one can write thoughts down, there will be no need to commit them to memory. Writing will “implant forgetfulness in their souls,” he says. And neither will people be wiser, as they will only seem to know much, possessing the conceit of wisdom. I would like to think that we can judiciously make use of these media so long as we cultivate our critique and careful use of them. I would like to think that assimilation by machines is not inevitable, that resistance is not futile.

Readings, Class Discussion and Google Docs

Dr. Jay Case is professor of history at Malone University who specializes in church and missionary histories as well as the church’s influence upon American and global culture. Jay is respected by students and colleagues and carries a wealth of experience (including six year of missions work in Africa) and perspective. Jay writes to us today about a semester-long experience of allowing students to submit their reading responses through Google Docs. He weighs to pros and cons and explains how he will do it differently next time around. Jay is in the middle of publishing a new book so I appreciate his taking the time to write to us too! Thank you Jay!

The idea: requiring students to use Google Docs to submit responses to readings.

The rationale: Those of us who are well acquainted with human nature and student behavior are not surprised that many (most?  almost all?) students will not do the reading if we just ask them politely.  (Nagging does not seem to work very well either, and can be considered bad form in some quarters).   And yet, some of us teach disciplines in which students really need to read and discuss texts if they are truly going to engage the material on a sophisticated level.   There are many ways to address this problem, but for many years I have assigned a question for each reading.  Students know that in just about every class, they will have to turn in a response to the question, based on the reading.  For many years, I had students turn in hard copy responses.  But last spring, when I team-taught a GEN 460 class with Andrew Rudd, he suggested that we have students submit their responses (and their formal papers, for that matter) using Google Docs.  Instead of submitting a hard copy each day, students would submit their responses electronically.

Pedagogically, this system addresses many of the same goals that I had for submitting hard copies.   If the question were phrased well, students would have to do at least some minimal reading to be able to give a decent response.  By doing the reading ahead of time, they would come to class with something of substance to discuss.  And those of us who are well acquainted with human nature and student behavior know that students will often delay large chunks of reading until right before the test or paper is due.  By spacing out sections of the reading over a number of class sessions, students take in the reading more gradually, as we go along.

The use of Google Docs, however, adds a few new wrinkles to the process.  (I should mention that Andrew set up the system for us last spring, so I can’t speak to all of the technical details of getting the system up and running.  I’ll stick mostly to the pedagogical issues here).


I found several parts of this system to be an improvement over the old system of submitting hard copies:

  1. Most obviously, we didn’t have to spend time collecting responses during each class session and we preserved a small part of our national woodlands by saving paper.
  2. We also eliminated a common excuse (sometimes legitimate, sometimes just a lie – but who can tell?) that students could not bring their paper to class that day because their printer was malfunctioning.
  3. Another nice feature of Google docs is that each submission is not only dated, but has a time of submission stamped with the submission, so we know exactly when a student finished a response.  Even more helpful, for our formal papers, Google Docs has a feature that allows you to see the revision history of a paper.  We can see when and how many times students made revisions to their papers and responses.  This helps clear up strange excuses students might have if they did not submit things on time.  (I wish I had this feature in another class last spring where I did not use Google docs.  I had a plagiarism issue where a student claimed to have put together two papers – one in which he had copied information from the internet and one composed of his original writing that he had completed at the time of the due date.  He said he accidently submitted a plagiarized paper when he intended to submit his original writing.  This excuse still did not save him, but it would have been difficult for him to make this argument if I had access to all of his revision data.)
  4. We also found that students in this class wrote more fully and more thoughtfully when they had to submit a response electronically, as compared to hand-written hard copies that previous classes had submitted.  Perhaps if we had required typed responses in previous classes, the effect would be the same, but it does seem that students took the questions more seriously when they had to type up an electronic response.  It may be that this form felt more like a formal paper to them.
  5. At the end of the semester, we had a complete electronic copy of all student submissions, our comments, and grades given, in case there were any questions or issues that arose with grades.
  6. It is easy to highlight insightful or problematic comments students made in their responses.  For comments, I have found typing to be a tad more cumbersome than the old-fashioned pen and ink method, but Andrew has a nifty iPad that allows him to write in responses by hand that appear in electronic form on the Google doc submission.

Disadvantages or Bugs Yet to be Worked Out

  1. We still need to figure out a way to effectively handle the electronic organization.  Google Docs simply lists all the submissions in one big long list, titled by whatever the student put on the submission.  When you get 25 different submissions each class period, this piles up pretty quickly.   Google Docs does allow you to make folders, but then you have to spend time filing everything.  Andrew had his student workers periodically file these away, but it does seem that there might be a better way to handle this part.
  2. Those of us who are acquainted with human nature and professor behavior know that professors sometimes fail to return submissions in timely fashion.  Because we did not have hard copies cluttering up our office to remind us that the students needed these papers back, Andrew and I sometimes allowed too much time to pass before we graded and responded to the submissions.  Furthermore, since we were responding electronically, it was up to the student to check the papers to see the grade and response.  I’m guessing that many of them did not look at many of our responses.  I’m not exactly sure what to do about this problem.  Suggestions will be welcome.
  3. Some students in the beginning of the semester did not properly submit their responses, so they ended up some place other than our Google Docs account.  I think this problem can be cleared up with better communication up front.

Next Step

I am most excited about a possible procedure with Google Docs that Andrew came up with when we were debriefing after the semester ended.  When we teach GEN 460 next spring, we will require a due date and time that would be about 6 hours before class begins.  Andrew and I will then read, respond and grade the responses before class begins.  The big advantage here is that we can better draw in thoughtful students who tend to be quiet in class discussions. Very often, we found out that certain students had written out a great insight or observation in their responses (which we read several days later), but had said nothing in class.  If, when class began, we have a few great points or quotes in hand from the quieter students, we would be able to ask them to expand or explain these points at appropriate moments in the discussion.  Hopefully, this will help to get these students more involved in the discussion, help direct the discussion in more fruitful directions, and possibly slow down verbose but less thoughtful students who can dominate the discussion.  It will also compel procrastinating professors to grade the responses in a more timely manner.  We will see how that idea works.

Jay (and Andrew’s) Kit

  • Malone Google Docs (all faculty and staff and students have an account and sign in with their Malone username and password)

Additional Resources

Smart Boards in the Classroom

Dr. Jeff Beine is an assistant professor in Malone’s School of Education and is our resident “Smart board guru.” He is a Smart-certified instructor in addition to his academic expertise in early childhood cognitive development (ask him about Piaget sometime).

With the proliferation of Smart boards in Ohio and other state P-12 classrooms, it makes good sense that the School of Education is equipping Malone students to use these boards to their maximum potential. But what about actually using the boards to teach undergrads and graduates (both within the School of Education and without) at Malone? Are these [expensive] classroom tools just a gimmick or do they carry real pedagogical value? This is the question that Jeff explores. Thank you, Jeff, for your post!

Whether you prefer to call them Smart boards (which is actually a specific brand name from Canada’s Smart Tech, Inc.) or their more generic name, Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs), today there’s little doubt that this technology is impacting America and Britain’s classrooms far more than any recent tech wave since, say, the advent of the Internet itself into school buildings.

For this week’s “Faculty Speak Classroom Geek” series discussion, I’d like to raise the issue of Smart boards in our Malone classrooms.   First, let’s consider five demonstrated benefits of teaching with an IWB.


  • Improved student motivation: Probably the most commonly cited (and most easily documented) immediate benefit of IWBs is almost universal elevations in student motivational levels, regardless of age levels and academic subject environments. In particular, my Malone education majors (as well as the students of several local middle school teachers I’ve interviewed) often remark that it’s fun to play with (i.e., touch, interact) Smart boards.  With the newest software that that Smart Tech is now unveiling with its latest-and-greatest 800 Series Smart board, this intuitive playfulness is being maximized like never before with objects that comically bounce back from the board’s edges when casually tossed by the user, instantly expand or flip when two fingers are used, or offer students opportunities to virtually experience unusual experiences but as frog dissections and bridge building.  At almost no expense, educators can now download literally dozens of fun learning/review activities from’s Teacher Exchange site.
  • Improved attention-getting: In terms of improving student learning, both modeling and retention theory rest on the same touchstone: students must be paying attention in order to learn well.  Here, a Smart board’s ability to unleash a host of unexpected sounds, shapes, and colors at a moment’s notice is almost unparalleled.   Certainly for those professors with a knack for comedy, unexpected absurdities such as a giant grinning lab rat that has to be shoved off of one’s lecture notes regarding operant conditioning tend to perk up even sleepy Ed Psych sophomores.   On a more traditional scale, using the virtual highlighter tool or instant spotlight feature (which temporarily darkens much of the screen) can be used to emphasize key points well.  As I was recently telling the professors of Nursing, I’m becoming increasingly interested in the Smart board’s transparency mode which allows a professor to move objects (such as arrows or question boxes) over playing video clips.
  • Visualization: Though I’m not convinced that an IWB can truly meet the learning needs of kinesthetic learners (i.e., Is sliding a virtual red square across a screen an authentic tactile/kinesthetic learning experience?)  a well-designed Smart board presentation can offer a struggling learner a plethora of visual examples to help them construct meaning from abstract lecture points.   Even more interesting, what if we educators started viewing  IWBs as windows (rather than just really expensive dry erase boards) – portholes into the real world beyond our classrooms – where local professionals facing interesting challenges can interact with our Malone students in real-time via Skype videoconferencing technology?
  • Organization: An interesting yet unexpected idea that I gleaned from local middle school teachers was in how many different ways they were using their IWBs during a single lesson: self-checked attendance, homework self-reports, opening bell work activities, behavioral reinforcement, collaborative learning, formative assessment, etc.    Moving beyond the IWB-as-just-a-whiteboard mentality, maybe Smart boards ought be viewed as efficient media hubs into which a wide range of classroom input and output mediums can be conveniently and effectively meshed into a fascinating whole?   To that end, I recently returned from a Smart Tech training session where a new classroom technology management software package called Classroom Sync can allow a teacher to wirelessly monitor and manipulate every linked computer in his classroom.
  • Creative thinking: Though Smart Tech would probably want me to make my final IWB asset the fact that Smart Board presentations can be easily notated upon and then offered online for after-class viewing, I think that the real advantage here is seized by those teachers who dare to leave their tool palettes up during their lessons thus allowing themselves or their students to make changes to presented ideas/information during the lesson itself.  Though maybe not quite as slick as completely prefabricated presentations offered in full-screen mode, I like the IWB’s capability to change and flow with the students’ actually learning.

Are Smart boards worth their cost?

“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” Jan Brady, The Brady Bunch

For all the accolades and piles of cash spiraling around IWB’s these days, an experienced educator might be left to wonder along with middler, Jan Brady, whether or not all this Smart board hype is really so great when you actually have to live with the thing for a while.   To that end, I would like to conclude by presenting five real or imagined weaknesses associated with IWB’s:

  • Too teacher-centered: Probably the main concern coming out of the literature regarding the use of IWBs is the unintended consequence that K-12 classrooms are once again becoming more teacher-centered than collaborative learning environments.   Yes, yes, you can call up a handful of students over the course of a lesson to briefly manipulate some prefabbed elements on a few lecture slides every now and then, but in reality the person most engaged with the board is the teacher herself.   Under the guise of technology are we allowing our students to slip back into traditional passive learner roles?
  • Glitchy: Sure, when they work that boards are great, but what about all those wasted minutes when the software and hardware stops functioning correctly?   Let me be clear, I think that Malone’s tech staff does terrific job responding to our requests (including emergency in-classroom service) but the reality is that with any new technology, there are frequently pesky bugs in the system that you’ll have to learn to overcome or somehow ignore.
  • Short-lived shelf life issues: Though the School of Nursing will soon have the campus’ IWB-using profs drooling over a brand new 800 Series Smart board now being installed in Regula, don’t you kind of feel sorry for all those local K-12 teachers still struggling to use their first generation Smart board systems relying on unstable boards with wheels (What was Smart Tech thinking?) and roller cart-mounted projectors pulsing near blinding streams of light images onto the boards (not to mention into the blood-shot eyes of weary teachers) all day.   But even with the best wall-mounted projectors (as we enjoy here in Mitchell Hall), one has to wonder just how long students will continue to be fascinated with IWB technology.
  • Evidence is motivational; not educational: Though the research literature can readily offer the positive results of student and teacher surveys as to their feelings of satisfaction regarding IWB-based lessons, there’s precious little evidence out there that using a Smart board significantly impacted actual student learning.  Actually, it’s the remote response devices (i.e,. the clickers) now getting the best data.
  • Simplistic, pre-fab’ed lessons/questions lack higher order cognition and constructivist learning experiences: Yes, Smart boards and their related software possess the incredibly efficient ability to conveniently store literally hundreds (or thousands) of multifaceted IWB-based lessons replete with engaging video clips, remote response questions/assessments, graphic organizers, and review games.   But is the speed and efficiency of these boards really helping us to provide wiser, more reflective and creative citizens?


So where do I stand on IWB technology?   Mark me down as a cautious and curious supporter trying to improve his own developing skill set while wondering what it’s going to take to effectively move these new tools beyond their typically cozy homes in math classrooms.   I see tremendous upside if we as educators stop seeing IWBs as dry erase boards on steroids, but rather look to them as information hubs pulling together the different types of learning resources in our classrooms, and better yet as windows through which our thoughtful lectures and theories can be inconveniently interrupted by the complexities and intoxicating urgencies of the real world.

Jeff’s Kit:

  • Smart Board
  • Smart Board tools (preloaded on every computer on campus for the last several years). Also downloadable and licensable by all Malone faculty.


  • IWB’s – Interactive White Boards. As Kleenex are to tissues, so Smart boards are to IWB’s
  • Kinesthetic Learners – “Students” who learn through carrying out a physical activity
  • Constructivism in Learning – Some of the language Jeff used in this post is definitely oriented along the lines of constructivism learning theory (Piaget et al.). You will forgive my [Adam’s] paraphrase but constructivism is the idea that learners build an understanding of a topic over time. Their increased exposure to a subject increases their [constructed] understanding of said topic.

Additional Resources

“Poll the Audience” as used in the Nursing Classroom

Do you ever stare at a room full of students and wonder if there is comprehension behind the sea of faces?  I have found that the use of audience response devices helps!

I teach pathophysiology to the nursing majors. I enjoy teaching this class because it helps to answer the “WHY” question.   Some of the students find the content easy to master but for others it is challenging.  I ask them to not only understand disease but also to apply that knowledge to patient scenarios.  As we have been encouraged to admit larger classes it has become more difficult to do creative class activities which help comprehension.  I have gone from participatory activities to demonstrations and most recently to the use of audience response devices (clickers).  Each student is required to purchase a clicker.  $35.00 is billed to their student account.  They obtain clickers as sophomores so all nursing faculty can use them in class for the next two years.  The questions are inserted very easily into a PowerPoint presentation.  When a question comes up on the screen I give them a few seconds to answer the question.  When I advance to the next slide the graph pops up showing the answers selected by the class.


Using clickers in the classroom is wonderful for several reasons:

  1. You can pose a question to the class to assess understanding of a concept that you have just presented.  When half the class gets it wrong you know that it is a good time to back up and present the information in a slightly different way.
  2. It helps prepare students for tests.  They can get an idea of the type of thinking that may be required on a test.  I post my powerpoints with the questions on eCompanion so the students have access to the questions again. There is a way to show the correct answer in green and the incorrect answers in red so even as a posting the students can tell the correct answer. (I do not put them on document sharing which would give students the ability to download the whole file)
  3. Doing something active helps to keep the students involved and awake!
  4. I believe that they feel a sense of accomplishment when they get the question correct.  Maybe it helps them stay motivated to study and come to class prepared.


There are some hurdles which I have not completely overcome:

  1. When I pose a seriously easy question and someone answers it wrong I never know if they are just being funny or if someone still hasn’t a clue.  It is difficult to decide what percentage of wrong answers is sufficient to trigger a rehash of the concept.
  2. Students forget clickers!  I have tried to use the clickers for in-class quizzes but I always end up having some students use paper.  (I make them come sit up front to do the quiz with paper)
  3. When using clickers for quiz type activities there is still a risk of integrity violations.  Students can see which button their classmate pushes.  Especially since students tend to hold the clicker up and point it toward the screen.  Overall students prefer paper quizzes.

Conclusion and Next Steps

I have found clickers to be useful.  They do take a little more class time but for complex topics it is worth it.  We have discussed the possibility of using an application on a cell phone instead of having the students purchase a clicker.  That is something else to look at.  It would probably require students to have the ability to text and for some students that is a financial burden.  Campus has a sample set of 25 clickers and a receiver if you would like to try them!

Beth’s Kit

  • TurningPoint ResponseCardRF‘s
  • Microsoft Powerpoint with TurningPoint Software Loaded
  • TurningPoint RF receiver.
  • Participant Lists for each class containing student and the clicker which that student always uses.

Additional Resources

  • allows students to text an answer. You can embed response graphs into your PowerPoint presentations. There are paid versions and there is also a free version.
  • There is a 25 pack of TurningPoint clickers which you can sign out from Media Services. Call the Help Desk at 330.471.8428 to make a reservation.

The Joys and Pains of the Traditional Syllabus: Using blogs as an alternative to the traditional syllabus

Dr Andrew Rudd is a Professor of Communication Arts who teaches media and film on campus. He is “speaking” about the use of blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies as an alternative delivery method for syllabi and some course content. Below Andrew’s post you will find a glossary and some additional resources to check out if you are interested in doing a similar project. We appreciate Andrew’s willingness to share what has been working for him!


Many faculty consider the syllabus to be the cornerstone of well constructed pedagogy.  Expectations are explicit, shared and immediately available.  Regardless of how theoretical, organic or dialectical the course may be, students may take some refuge in the clarity of structure and direction that is laid out in a well-crafted syllabus.  Even if they don’t understand the idea of hegemony, but they know that they have a paper due in two weeks, and the test isn’t for two more weeks after that.

Hopefully (!?) all this structure makes the course *more* accessible and navigable for the students, allaying their fears and assisting them in progressing appropriately.

But there are pains that come with the traditional syllabus.  I find that the syllabus can make it difficult to diverge in an area of class interest, or to deepen in an area of need.  When I discover a new, better article that the students *really* should read…or hit upon an alternative assignment that would better facilitate learning and measure mastery…the calendar, the point values, the assignment structure all seem to resist this innovation.

Of course I tell students on the first day of class, that I will be re-issuing course calendars part way through the semester to match the unique path our class will forge through the semester.  But there is something about the paper and stapled version that still lingers with me in all its *finishedness* — a warning against change.

Internet Imperfection as Pedagogical Improvement

David Weinberger in his helpful book Small Pieces Loosely Joined writes about several qualities that the define the internet and the ways that those qualities influence and shape our own lives and thinking.  One of these qualities is *imperfection*.  In a society over-saturated with the sheen of advertising and the competitive corporate drive to maximize potential, achieve standards and demonstrate excellence, he points out all of the ways that *imperfection* works well for humans.

Imperfection invites participation, invites work, invites change, invites improvement.

Web communication is necessarily unfinished and imperfect, and in some ways — I like it that way.  (And finally, I come to the topic of this blog.)  Blogging is one of the many new forms of communication that have emerged on the web; I started blogging as a way to keep in touch with family and friends who lived far away.  It quickly became clear that blogging could be used for multiple other uses.

I started using blogging as a form of web supplement to my classes over five years ago. I now use a class blog (an example of my last class can be found here) for each of the classes that I teach and each of them includes all of the sections of my syllabus, menus that allow students to navigate the sections of the syllabi more fluidly, announcements about class ideas, assignments, due dates and information, links to other web-based materials and an embedded Google Calendar that includes due dates and class times.   On some of the blogs I also include more information about assignments, exemplary work that students have done in other semesters and study guides for exams. In some classes, I’ll even publish the outcomes of a group deliberation *while* the class is watching.

Some of the features I appreciate most about blogs include:

  • the ways that menus offer easy navigation,
  • the ability of students to subscribe to the RSS feed of the blogs,
  • the organization of posts that keeps the most recent post at the top of the blog,
  • and the ease and flexibility of the publishing platforms.

Most of the changes I make in any course have to do with due dates, a change in reading schedule or, occasionally, the addition of supplemental materials stemming from a conversation that emerged during class.

I use blogger, but have also used other platforms with success.  I’ve occasionally published remotely from my iPad which was widened the mobility of my own access.  While I have used class blogs with almost all of the classes I teach, I find that the content and structure of some makes the blogs more central to the life of the class while it simply serves as an ancillary resource for others.  I do not use class blogs for the classes where my effort is more collaborative than individuated (The College Experience or Faith in the World Seminar).

During a few semesters, I have integrated the course blog with an assignment to the students to blog.  In those cases, I found the blog traffic to be significantly higher and the menus I used to link their blogs together were a core resource students used.

As is the case with most technological innovations in pedagogy, the biggest drawback for developing this ancillary resource is the time that it takes to transfer the resources into the blog shell, to add various resources and then to update the blog entries appropriately.  I started by moving just one class into a blog form; I simply cut and pasted the elements of the syllabi into different posts and then built the sidebar menus. Over the course of the years, I’ve added various resources — sometimes to just one blog, sometimes to all the course blogs.   Each summer, after I update and tweak my syllabi, I have a second level of revisions to make, as I need to make sure that my posts are dated correctly, some of them poised to be published when appropriate, and altered based on any courses I’m making in the course.

Ultimately it is the temporality and the ongoing-ness of the blog that works well for my teaching style;  I believe that the centrality and ease accessing information is what makes the blogs work well for many students.



Andrew’s Kit

  • Personal Gmail account with credentials set up for Blogger (you could also use eCompanion or your Malone Google Apps account for similar ends).
  • Multiple and regular access to the Internet using laptop/iPad/SmartPhone.

Glossary of Terms

  • Blog: A web page (like this one) which contains regular entries by a person or group of people which is centered around a particular subject area, theme, or topic. A blog would be analogous to a public journal or diary. Wikipedia’s Explanation is here.
  • Web 2.0: Also called the Semantic Web. Are pages whose values is determined not necessarily by the content of the page but instead by the people and relationships which revolve around the page. Here is wikipedia’s explanation of Web 2.0 Technologies.

Other Resources

Admission or Prohibition of Laptops and Other Technology in the Classroom by Julia Frankland

Welcome to week two of the “Faculty Speak Classroom Geek” series. Dr. Julia Frankland, Chair of the Department of Business and a Professor of Business Administration discusses when she allows and doesn’t allow students to BYOD (bring your own device) into the classroom.

In the web resources I follow about technology and teaching, there is a lot of chatter about whether devices should be allowed or disallowed in the classroom. This is the case not only in higher ed but the whole P-20 education spectrum. I appreciate Julia’s balanced approach to this problem/opportunity. Under Julia’s post you will find additional blogs and scholarly articles which are related to this discussion.

Take it away Julia!

As someone who has embraced the use of audio and video presentations as frequent components of pedagogical methods, I’ve struggled with knowing how much technology the students should have access to during class.

Upperclassmen and Graduate Students

I teach freshmen in the Micro/Macroeconomics sequence, upper division business/econ courses to juniors and seniors and graduate level economics in the MBA.  For graduate courses, I allow students to bring in any technology they wish as long as it is used appropriately.   Classes are 4 hours long, and as long as they are focused on the topic at hand most of the time I find that an occasional glance at a sports score or email helps the commitment to 4 hours in economics to be an easier burden to bear.  Of course if the policy is abused it is changeable mid-term and the students are aware.  Thus far I haven’t had any problems with this group and this policy.


Things get trickier with undergrads. I would love to believe that if undergrads have access to laptops, iPads and smartphones during class – that they would only use them for appointed purposes (researching the Federal Reserve’s policies and the like). The trouble is that experience has shown me otherwise.

Not all technology is created equal.  Laptops are the worst in my opinion, because not only does the person using them see the screen, so does everyone behind them.  It is too easy to be distracted by a moving image and to be sucked in to whatever is on the screen. In my principles level courses (Econ 202/203) I do not allow laptops at all. We do a LOT of graphs, and they are hard to draw quickly on a laptop and students fall behind trying to get that downward sloping line ‘just so’. For exams and quizzes they will need to draw the pictures themselves, not cut and paste an existing image. Here pencil and paper is most valuable.   I want their full attention all the time, and since these are mostly 18 year-olds every bit of concentration assistance helps.

In upper division business/economics I have allowed laptops to be used in class when there is a legitimate need.  In Public Finance I can throw a website up on the screen and students can access it at their seats as well — same for Money and Banking.  It’s a different learning environment, and with consistent guidance about appropriate use this policy seems to work.

Electronic Textbooks and eReaders, specifically the iPad

In the last year I’ve faced some dilemmas that I’m still working through in terms of technology use, and they come about due to the coolest gadget I’ve seen in years – the iPad.   Clever students are figuring out how to download chapters or whole books onto the iPad and carry it with them everywhere. Knowing that I would never prohibit a textbook being brought to class, how can I prohibit an electronic copy of the textbook?   I’m sure you see the problem.

iPads are delightful in that they allow instant access to email, news and an occasional game of Harbor Master.  There is great temptation to squirrel around with the iPad and not do what we’re supposed to do (yours truly is guilty as well).  How do I find a balance here?  So far, I have allowed an occasional iPad in any class when the student can show me that they have downloaded the text onto the iPad instead of purchasing the book.  Luckily, so far only very good students have brought in iPads, so I’m able to put off the inevitable a bit.  What happens next though when this technology becomes commonplace? I’m not sure.


I can’t be everywhere in the classroom and I don’t want to be a room-monitor. I just want to be a professor. So I’m working on finding that balance between encouraging appropriate technology use and limiting access to distraction.   I’d love to hear if you agree with the way I’ve done this or if you have suggestions on better ways.


Additional Resources

Classroom Backchannel Through Texting: One Use of the iPad in the Classroom by Randi Pahlau

For our first guest, I would like to welcome Randi Pahlau from the Language and Literature Department. Randi is speaking to how she uses the iPad as a method of collecting backchannel communication from her students through texting (SMS).

Backchannel communication refers to communication that takes place OTHER than spoken word. Traditionally this meant non-verbal cues which take place in normal face-to-face communication. The definition has been borrowed and repurposed to chat, sms (texting) or other communication that takes place in the classroom (whether the faculty is aware or not).

Embracing the backchannel is a method for connecting to students.  A more complete definition can be found here.

Welcome! I am an Instructor of English here at Malone and have taught a wide range of classes in the Language and Literature Department, including Principles of Composition, Literature in Society, World literature, and Jane Austen on Film.

As a guest blogger, I want to share one of the ways I have used the iPad in the classroom. For freshmen taking general education courses I have capitalized on our students’ love of texting, trying to channel that interest into classroom discussion by downloading a free texting app, complete with my own phone number. (So students do NOT get my private cell phone number.)

Students Finding their Voice

Students text for different purposes, depending on their personality. Shy students ask questions without having to assert themselves. I see their names, along with the texts, so I can answer their questions directly, trying to gently encourage them to find a voice in the classroom. Texting can be a step towards finding that voice. Class clowns text humorous statements about the literature or our discussion. It is easy to glance at these texts during discussions and I am able to smile or nod at the student to acknowledge their comment without disrupting the class.

Engaged in the Classroom Conversation

Their comments show me that the students are engaged in the conversation. I also encourage students to text comments and questions while watching videos. Because they like to text, I find that they pay more attention to the video rather than less because they are looking for reasons to text. Plus, I am able to address any confusion immediately. Without that texting, some students get confused along the way and then get even more confused as the video continues. If we are watching Ibsen’s A Doll House, I will get questions like, “Did Nora just say she was going to commit suicide?” I can answer yes and the student understands the context of Nora’s comments and can participate in the class discussion knowledgeably. And the class was not disrupted.

Even seemingly unimportant comments like one I got as I was walking into a classroom about how a student likes my belt are important. No, my belt does not pertain to writing or literature, but it is one link in a bond between us that makes it easier for that student to approach me later with questions or problems. I enjoy having that backchannel throughout class time as another avenue for reaching my students.

Do you have thoughts on this kind of backchannel that you would like to share? Please feel free to join the conversation and let me know what you think.

Randi’s kit: