In the spirit of Web 2.0, more and more sites are allowing us to share their content by embedding in other pages. Often, these sites provide the embed code necessary for this; you just highlight the code snippet, copy it, and then paste it into your own context (e.g., embedding a YouTube video into a Blackboard course site). Sometimes, however, the embed code is not provided. No worries. If you know the URL (a.k.a., “web address”) to the content you want to embed in your site, you can use the tool below to generate the embed code (if you don’t see the form below, click here). Please note that, as is indicated, this tool is still in alpha; you may use it “as is.” Although it should work just fine, there’s no guarantee that it will always work. Also, a good rule of thumb when it comes to embedding: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Sometimes simply linking to a resource is the best way to go.
Posted here are links to podcasts in which Dr. Jim Dvorak demonstrates how to create a custom grade schema in Bb 9.1 (first video) and then how to implement that custom schema (second video).
In this video, Dr. Reuben Puentedura discusses models for learning and teaching with technology. Good stuff!
In this post, I want to share several simple ways you can help yourself focus on your writing project using Microsoft Word for Mac [Note: this post is based on Word:mac 2011 14.3.2].
Roll up the Ribbon
Towards the top right corner of the Word window, you will find a small arrow pointing up (see image to the right). When you click this arrow, it “rolls up” Word’s ribbon (“ribbon” is what Microsoft calls the area where the tool bars and buttons are displayed). Hiding the ribbon gives you a bit more work space and removes the temptation to play around with all the buttons to see what each one does.
Go Full Screen
Putting Word in Full screen hides the menu bar and expands the Word window to fill the entire screen. This, combined with rolling up the ribbon, decreases screen clutter and maximizes the work/writing area. You can enter full screen mode in several ways:
- choose “Enter Full Screen” from the View menu
- toggle full screen with the angled arrows in the very top right corner of Word’s application window (see image to the right)
- press Ctrl+Cmd+F.
Press Esc to toggle full screen mode off.
Toggle Focus View
Word for Mac includes a special view called “Focus View.” Focus view removes everything from sight except the page on which you are typing. A toolbar containing the bare minimum functions/options auto-hides at the top of the page. Moving your cursor to the top of the screen will display the toolbar. Otherwise, all you are left with is the page on which you are to inscribe your thoughts (see image below). Press Esc to toggle Focus View off.
According to “Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973“, federal agencies should make information technology and electronic resources accessible to people with disabilities. Though this is a requirement for federal agencies, more and more educational institutions have felt the need to provide accessible content to students as well as the student population becomes diverse. This is especially true for institutions offering online content. Generally we want to develop content that uses “universal design” principles. Here are some of the principles proposed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University:
- Equitable use
- Flexibility in use
- Simple and intuitive
- Perceptible information
- Tolerance for error
- Low physical effort
- Size and space for approach and use
Not all of these principles are applicable for designing things online, but most do. Here are some general advice that may help.
Accessibility for Course Design:
- Syllabus: In your syllabus, it is a good idea to include statements about how you will accomodate students with special needs. You might also want to let them know that they can seek advice and assistance from Mrs. Amy Janzen, Director of Freshman Experience & ADA Coordinator, if they have a documented special need.
- Assessments: Students with certain disabilities may require longer time to complete a test, especially when they require help to have tests read to them. Use selective release to release the test to students at different times. Ask the North Institute for help setting this up.
- Navigation: Your course should be designed in a way that is simple and intuitive. Students do not have to spend too much time learning the mechanics of your course. Otherwise, there is unnecessary stress on top of learning the content itself. Use folders to organize your content. Use sequence to let students know how to proceed. Name your folders in ways that make sense to students. And be consistent once you start a pattern.
Accessibility for Information Presentation:
- Emphasis: For emphasis, you might want to consider using italics or bold, instead of color or underline. Screen-reading applications can miss text in color, and underscored text are interpreted as hyperlinks.
- Links: Make sure you have active hyperlinks to resources you try to link to. If you, for instance, wants to point to CNN’s web site, link to it as “Please go to CNN“, rather than including the link within the text without active links, such as “Please visit http://www.cnn.com”.
- Text-to-speech: If students have a need to listen rather than read text. Try to find a text-to-speech tool, such as Natural Reader, which unfortunately is not free if you intend to download the sound file into mp3. A good alternative is to ask students to download the free version and then they can have text read to them without you having to produce the mp3 files. On iPhone and iPad, it is also now possible to turn on the “text-to-speech” functions. Users of Google Chrome can also use Select and Speak, which has rather natural-sounding voices. Some free applications are available for you to produce and download mp3 files, such as Vozme, but often users are limited by the kind of voices they can get.
- Graphic: If you have a graphic in your text, make sure you include “alt text” which will help screen-reading applications determine what the graphic actually is, unless, you include a graphic in an assessment and your very purpose is to let students recognize what this graphic is. In such scenarios, please come talk to us for some possible solutions.
- Video: If you have a video in your course, you might want to provide “closed captioning”. This can be an extremely time-consuming task, but I found that with Youtube’s automatic transcription function, it is much easier to use and then edit Youtube’s automatic transcription rather than starting to work on it manually. Please see the following video for Jim’s closed captioning.
NOTE: The course, students, and grades in the video demonstration are fictionalized for demonstration purposes only.
Blackboard has a state-of-the-art Grade Center you can use to generate a final grade, which may save you tons of time towards the end of the semester. There are two ways you can arrive at your final grade:
- Total: You can have a lump sum “total” grade which will add up all raw scores in your course, provided that you have all the columns created for the assessment activities in this course. When you are in the “Grade Center”, you will see a column called “total”, which adds up all grades for you. You can also customize it by clicking on the option icon beside it, choose “edit column information”, select “selected columns and categories” and then select only the column or categories you need.
- Weighted Total: You can have a “weighted total” column that generates a weighted score, based on weighting you assign for various categories of assessments. To arrive at this weighted total, you have to make sure you put all items in their proper categories. Below is the general procedure for generating a “weighted total”.
Creating a “weighted total” final score:
- Make sure your course has all the “categories” you need. Blackboard by default has a few commonly used categories such as “assignment” and “test”, but if you use additional categories, such as “quiz”, go to “manage”, and then “categories” to create specific categories by pressing the “create category” button.
- Check to make sure that all items are assigned to the proper categories. The best way to do so is to go to the Grade Center, click on “manage” and then “column organization”, which will display all items and the categories they belong to. If items are not correctly assigned to the right categories, check the boxes besides these items, move to the top of the page, and find “change category to…” to assign or re-assign an item or a group of items to the right category. Remember to click on “submit” to save your change.
- Now you are ready to generate your weighted total score. Go back to the main page of the Grade Center, click on the option icon beside “weighted total”, select “edit column information”, select the category, and click on the right-facing arrow button to add the category to the big box under “selected columns”. Once you do that, you will be able to assign the percentage to the category, such as 40% for assignments, 10% for quizzes, etc. You will also notice that you can drop a fixed number of lowest grades if you choose to do so. Keep adding categories and weights until they add up to 100%. Click on “submit” to complete it.
This is a fairly easy process to go through once you become familiar with the rationale. Of course there are quite a number of ways this process can go wrong, which cause you or your students to doubt whether the final grade thus calculated is correct. I can assure you that the math of Blackboard works as well as Excel or any other calculation device you may use, except that is easier to change in Blackboard. When problems occur, it may be related to the setting of specific items or categories. Here are a few tips you might want to consider to avoid some issues:
- Make sure you do not have many redundant grade columns that are contributing towards the final grade without you knowing it. Sometimes you have certain columns hidden, but they still play a role in your grade calculation as they are assigned to specific categories. You should check under “manage” and then “column organization” to see exactly how many columns you have. If you have a redundant column you don’t need any more, delete it or assign it to “no category” to make sure they do not skew your grades.
- Make sure all items are being calculated. When you create any column, you are given the option to “Include this Column in Grade Center Calculations”. If you have inadvertently chosen “no”, it could cause a column to escape from the calculation, which also skew the final score. That’s where I would look if a particular category of items do not add up correctly.
- You may also find it very convenient that Blackboard Grade Center allows you do directly calculate the letter grade for your class. To do that, go to the Grade Center, click on the option icon beside “weighted total”, and then for “primary display”, choose “letter” from the drop-down menu. Or you can have “percentage” for your primary display and “letter” for your secondary display. Blackboard comes with a grading schema that translates percentages to letter grades. This is a schema you can edit (manage –> grading schemas–option icon–>edit) or you can create a new schema for yourself.
All of these processes seem very complex when I write it down in words. If it seems confusing or intimidating, please simply come to the North Institute and we can help you to set it up in a fairly short time. Please also let us know if you think you have set it up correctly while students complain of issues. Thanks.
On Feb 13, 2013, Dr. Grant Testut gave a wonderful talk during the Beam Chapel “intentional sabbath” from technology. I do not know about you, but I am guilty of being glued to my computer or iPhone almost all the time. Some time away from technology could be very helpful and healthy.
In the meantime, there are times when we have to use the computer, and we would appreciate the benefit of using some productive applications such as Word for writing or Blackboard for grading without the constant urge to check or post to Facebook or other sites. In Homer’s time, the method is to tie yourself to the mast. Here are a few methods that can be also effective in resisting the temptations from the sirens of social media and other distractions.
When you are reading something online, you can use “clearly” to filter out things that distract you from reading. Read Jim’s article here for further information.
When you are working in Blackboard to grade student work, respond to discussions, etc., log in to Blackboard using Lockdown Browser, which is used most frequently for secure testing. However, both professors and students can use it to check Blackboard and work in Blackboard, which should allow you to concentrate on your course work without being able to go anywhere else.
Educational writer Annie Murphy Paul mentioned an application that writers use a lot: Freedom which puts you in an offline mode while you focus on doing something like writing. It cost ten dollars, but I saw pretty good reviews about it.
Of course, there are many old-fashioned methods such as turning off your modem at home , or in my case, hide in the tornado shelter, which I have named “Center for Underground Writing” where I can work with no wi-fi signal.
Any other suggestions?
Guest post by Dr. Rebecca Briley, Professor of Language and Literature
“Don’t forget to write”—how parents used to admonish their kids as they sent them out into the world—may have been replaced with “Don’t forget to call,” but with the access to email, “Writing is the new….writing.” Maybe not between a kid and his/her parent, but certainly between a student and his/her professor. Now there is no excuse for not asking that question, clarifying that assignment, or contacting that professor when one is going to be late or absent. Maybe schedules are hard to synchronize, but email takes just a few seconds, regardless of weather or location. Most professors appreciate taking care of quick matters via email, reducing the need to meet face-to-face, as well; their prompt and clear replies can save both of you a lot of time and frustration. But a few rules do apply: spelling and grammar still count! Don’t confuse an email with a tweet or text message: spell out all words, don’t rely on emoticons, and don’t let your messages become too casual. Let the professor set the tone and respond accordingly. And don’t be embarrassed or irritated if you have to remind your teacher who you are or which class you’re in: there may be just one of them for you, but for them, there’s usually 20 or 30 in your class alone! Let emailing enhance your learning experience, but don’t let it replace time well-spent in class discussion. Email is not a substitute for coming to class!
Dr. Rebecca L. Briley