Viewing by month: November 2011

Nov 24 2011

Limited Support over the Thanksgiving Holiday

The Johns Hopkins University is closed on Thursday, November 24, and Friday, November 25, 2011 for the Thanksgiving holiday. As such, there will be very limited technical support for online courses and CoursePlus available during this time. Although you can certainly request assistance over the holiday weekend, your request for help will most likely not be responded to until Sunday, November 27.

We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause, and appreciate your patience during this time.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:20 AM - Categories: General

Nov 23 2011

Wikipedia: Gaining Respect in the Classroom?

While it may be highly controversial to allow students to use Wikipedia as a source for research, a recent article in the Vancouver Sun notes that in several places (OK, all in Canada) professors are embracing Wikipedia as a tool for students to achieve learning outcomes and leave something behind: a contribution to a publicly available resource.

In other words, rather than just using Wikipedia as a resource, students are contributing to wikipedia articles - either by improving upon already existing articles or creating new ones. "This is a Top 10 site on the Internet. The types of things the students were doing in class had real-world impact, realworld effects."

So while many are against students citing Wikipedia as a reference in research, some are taking an opportunity to help students "become more critical researchers who better identify what is true online."

(Read more:

Martin Walker, a chemistry professor and Wikimedia editor from SUNY Potsdam practices this as well. He has his chemistry students collaboratively work on improving Wikipedia chemistry articles: first in the classroom with his guidance, then on the Wikipedia pages. He has noted in presentations that students can learn a great deal from finding proper citations to how to edit and write in a style suitable for an encyclopedia article. Walker has also pointed out a couple additional reasons why some may wish to start using Wikipedia more in courses:

  • Some are not aware that since 2006, Wikipedia has had a structure for article review and approval. There are now "editors" and "administrators" who have certain rights and abilities to approve edits, delete pages, protect pages from vandalism, and so on. There are also criteria for peer-review-oriented article elevation to "Good Article" and "Featured Article" status.

  • Sources: Wikipedia articles now require verified reliable sources. Even if you don't feel quite right about using a Wikipedia article itself, check the citation source links at the bottom of the page - and there you can link directly to articles from all kinds of reliable sources such as journal articles, major newspaper and magazine articles, books, etc.


Posted by Clark Shah-Nelson at 9:44 AM - Categories: Teaching Tips | General

Nov 21 2011

Listening to Your Feedback and Making Changes: The Add New Topic Button

If you've read this blog for a while, you've probably noticed that when we talk about the tools available in online courses and CoursePlus, we're always seeking your feedback. I'd like to share with you an example of how your feedback directly shapes the tools we build and the way in which everyone interacts with them.

Earlier this year, we introduced an all-new BBS (threaded discussion system) in the online courses. We've made some adjustments and additions based on your feedback (like the addition of basic emoticon support and auto-linking for URLs). At the end of last week, we made another, quite visible change, based on what we heard from you. We found that there were still some people who did not know how to start new topics in a BBS category that had no topics. This was a particular issue for students assigned to a private BBS category for group work. Some categories would go completely unused because the students in the group did not know that they had to click the big, blue "+ Add New Topic" button at the top of the main BBS page to start a conversation in their private BBS category.

To address this issue, we did some interface prototyping and had quite a few discussions, and came up with the solution you now see in the BBS: there is now a blue "+ Add Topic" button next to every category name in the BBS. This makes it easy to see how to start a discussion in a category without any content. Additionally, if the main BBS page is long (and many of them are) with lots of categories and topics in those categories, having a "+ Add Topic" button next to every category name makes it faster to start a new topic in that category. Previously, you'd have to scroll all the way to the top of the page.

Although the button becomes visually repetitive on the main BBS page with this change, we feel that it does make the BBS easier to use overall, and makes it very clear how to add a new topic to a BBS category for those who were otherwise unclear on the process.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 5:37 PM - Categories: Online Courses

Nov 18 2011

Employing Creativity When Using Technology in the Classroom

What are your fondest memories of your education? I’d be willing to bet that somewhere in the corridors of your college past was an instructor whose teaching method was not so much dependent on a text but on his or her approach to the material.


Posted by Rick Ivy at 11:06 AM - Categories: Teaching Tips

Nov 17 2011

OCW: Gratis and Libre

JHSPH OpenCourseWare is free in both senses of the word. Using OCW is free of charge, and OCW materials are free to share and adapt.


Posted by Ira Gooding at 10:25 AM - Categories: OpenCourseWare

Nov 15 2011

Layering: Presence on Content

According to the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework/model a deep and meaningful educational experience occurs at the intersection of cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence. One of the most interesting innovations in educational technology over the last couple years has been the arrival of tools that harness the ability for students and/or faculty to layer communications on top of content, which offers the possibility of increasing all three types of presence. In distance learning, it is arguably social presence which is often most lacking, and these tools may be useful for increasing it.

One example, and perhaps one of the earliest sites to accomplish this, is (See a great intro video on VoiceThread here or a previous post on this blog here.) With VoiceThread, one can upload a PowerPoint presentation, set of images, or other media (teaching presence), and then course members can have a conversation on top of the content, in text, audio or video, on each slide (cognitive presence). So rather than asking a question, making a comment or posting a link to a relevant site or research article somewhere else in a discussion forum, or waiting until the end of the presentation, this can occur on the very slide where the question or comment arises.  And since the comments can be posted in audio/video in addition to just text, one can get a real sense of the person behind the comment (social presence).

Similarly, rather than reading a page or chapter in one location, then going to another to have a discussion, answer a few quiz questions, or complete an assignment - it can happen at specific points within the content itself. For those who use textbooks, here are two examples from the publishing world that take this a step further: (intro video) and Cengage's MindTap (intro video) are both e-book publishers with quite different business models, but which both are putting out e-books which allow faculty to customize their electronic textbooks and add interactivity and communication in another layer on top of the content, in various devices. They allow users to make electronic notes and highlights, chat with other learners, and store their information in the cloud. MindTap integrates with several other systems, such as Google Apps, Kaltura, and ConnectYard, and nearly negates the need for a separate course management system. Instructors can not only customize the e-book by re-ordering, deleting, or adding to it, they can insert links to web resources and articles and have class discussions, assignments, quizzes, and even manage grades using MindTap's cloud-based interactive layer.

FlatWoldKnowledge seems to be headed in a similar direction: allowing instructors to create highly customized content (but based on e-books FWK creates and sells), allowing learners to take notes and highlight items, chat with one another, and add their own input on top of the content. FlatWorld even has a revenue-sharing model whereby users can create study-aids for the content and upload & sell their creations in an online marketplace.

Finally, I should mention (see intro video on main site page). While Diigo started out as a "social bookmarking" tool, similar to, it has evolved into much more. One can now use Diigo not only to bookmark and tag sites, articles, web pages, and so on; one can highlight, take notes, and store links and information in a cloud-based "library" that is accessible from many different devices. Students can use Diigo to help organize learning resources, take notes, tag items for future retrieval, and sharing or finding other resources via searching or contacts and connections. Instructors and students can set up Diigo groups - for sharing resources using common tags, and these groups and/or tags can feed a widget which can be embedded into most Learning Management Systems - so that any time a course participant adds a new resource, it will show up within the course space. Diigo is also very "education-friendly" in that they have special "educator accounts" available to anyone with a .edu email address.

So whether you create your own content, have students create content, use content from publishers, or simply access and manage content from around the web, there are an increasing number of options that can add layers to increase interactivity and presence.


Posted by Clark Shah-Nelson at 3:11 PM - Categories: Teaching Tips | Online Courses | Distance Learning | Tech Tools

Nov 15 2011

Why I like Google’s Tools

1.    The first reason is easy – they are free…

2.    Single Sign-On and No Software Downloads – I really like Google’s approach here. Have a Google Account??  Great – now you can access Google Docs, Youtube, Voice, Calendar, Sites, Forms, Drawing, Blog, and so on…
The single sign-on (and OpenID compatibility) combined with no software to download, is pretty neat and very convenient to adopt within an educational setting (a course or program). I definitely prefer this as opposed to having a multitude of disparate accounts for a variety of tools, which can soon become a hassle to manage (and don’t forget the number of Post-Its with usernames/passwords :)).

3.    Sharing Features: Furthermore, the sharing options (private, specific group, public) makes it even more flexible in its applicability to educational settings, where students, faculty, and experts can collaborate easily.

4.    Integration - These tools can be easily adopted and integrated irrespective of the CMS in use and without any retooling of existing systems.

5.    Access – If you have Gmail or use any of Google's toolsets, you already have a Google Account. Else you can get Gmail, or if you prefer your current email, you can get a Google Account that gives you access to all the tools.

Now, what are some possibilities for adopting these tools in your course???

1.    Course email – Need course specific emails separate from your personal emails? You can create a Gmail account for the course and have students mail questions regarding the course to this address. The Talk, Textchat, and Call features are great for Office Hours and other kind of help or collaboration activities.
2.    Want to start your lecture with a brief poll or survey students midterm regarding their progress? You can set up a poll or survey with the Google Forms feature and embed or link to it within the lecture.
3.    Want to create a conference call with a student group? – Use your Google Voice number to have students call in and even record the conversation. And I believe calls are free within the US…
4.    Encourage students to work in groups on projects? – Google Docs (akin to Word, Excel, PPT), and Drawing can be used for collaboration to generate creative products. The Revision History allows tracking of edits, if needed.
5.    Have students track their progress on a project – Set up a shared spreadsheet with tasks and have students or groups check where they are in the process
6.    Writing a final paper? – Use Drawing to brainstorm and map out ideas or flow. Faculty/TAs can review this and comment on if the students or groups are on the right track.
7.    Need a site with blogging features for a cohort group to share information? – Set up a blog using blogger with multiple author settings. It also allows adding of static/information pages.
8.    Have students create portfolios to display their progress through the academic program – Google Sites to the rescue! You can even embed a commenting or feedback form to allow faculty/peers etc. comment on your portfolio.

And many more with just a single Google account :) I have just touched the tip of the iceberg with possibilities, and to get your creativity cells buzzing!!  Happy Teaching :)

Before I forget: Unfortunately, we don’t provide tech support for any of these tools at present – but they are pretty straightforward for you to figure it out “on your own.”

Posted by Rohini Vanchiswaran at 2:09 PM - Categories: General | Tech Tools

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