Archive for April, 2007

David GotshallThis week, my college is sponsoring a Great Teachers Movement retreat at Cornwallis Park just outside Digby, Nova Scotia. It’s facilitated by the founder of the movement, David Gotshall. (That’s David to the right.) Spending a week with David gives you insight into the essence of good teaching. It’s affected me like no other learning opportunity I’ve known. I’m sure that David would find it amusing (since he doesn’t own a computer) but a lot of my ideas about online course design come from him.

While I’m not in Digby this week, my good friend & one of the greatest teachers I know, Ian MacLeod, will be blogging his experiences. It’s another great example of how we can share what we learn. Enjoy the week, Ian, and don’t worry about the extra pounds. Those Digby scallops are worth it.


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The more I explore the YouTube community, the more I’m amazed with the creativity I find there. Video has exploded in the past year. When I go into classes, I do quick surveys to gauge what students are using. YouTube always comes up at the top of the list.

There are so many great, free online tools that people can take advantage of when it comes to editing video. When my husband teaches introductory video editing, he’s stopped using expensive software like Final Cut Pro (that comes in the more advanced classes). Instead he’s using an online editor called Eyespot. Eyespot has the added benefit of letting you share what you make and remix what others make.

Jumpcut is another easy-to-use online video editor that lets you add sound, titles and transitions. There are even a few built-in effects.


One of the greatest features of either of these sites is the community. When you upload your video, you can let others use it to create something of their own. It’s interesting to see how others build on what you make.

Go ahead. Try it out & come back to let us know what you think.

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How far up the “ladder of participation” do you go?  (See an easier-to-read version of the picture here.)

participation ladder

UPDATE:  Take a look at Phil Wolff’s remix, The Ladder of Disclosure.  Hilarious. 

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skunkThe first time I ever heard the word “skunkworks” was when I was involved in our strategic planning process last year. A few people in the college submitted papers about how community colleges can innovate. One was about entrepreneurship and mentioned the idea of a skunkworks. Basically, a skunkworks is a project that operates outside the regular rules of an organization. Organizations incubate these kinds of projects in order to innovate since bureacracies aren’t the healthiest place for new ideas to grow. It’s like Euan Semple said a few weeks ago. Sometimes organizations just need to get out of the way. And Clarence Fisher used the idea of a skunkworks to describe what teachers sometimes do when working with new ideas in a classroom.

What do you think? Do teachers need a skunkworks to innovate?

(Photo, Skunk nose, by fieldsbh)

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Storytelling can be a particularly potent way to learn, whether through words, pictures, sound, or video. Stories are dramatic and engaging. By their very nature, they’re about making collective meaning of experience. That’s what learning is.

Ira Glass, producer of This American Life, says that all stories have two building blocks — what happened and our reflection on what happened. Here’s how Ira tells it.

So how do you use storytelling when teaching? Storytelling can help launch a group discussion, especially online where you need to pay more attention to creating a warm, inviting place for learning. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to a group of students. It’s an engaging way to make sense of the facts & concepts that make up the meat of learning. And it’s a wonderful way to understand what learners know when they come to you and how they put their learning to work. (By the way, Anecdote, a company that facilitates organizational learning, has a wonderful post on facilitating storytelling here and a longer exploration here.)

How would you use stories to nurture learning? What’s your story?

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I just came down from upstairs where my husband has shut himself off to finish marking the 250 or so assignments he has to finish this week. I may be biased but I couldn’t help but notice that his assignments are really nicely written — not in the sense of “English major” well-written (which he is) but in the sense that they’re well-designed and conceived. There’s a real art to a well-crafted assignment so I asked him how he does it. This is what he told me.

  • First, he makes sure his assignments are simple and clear. I’d say they’re almost minimalist. I notice he uses fairly large type for headings. That makes the assignment very easy to scan. The instructions are short.
  • Next, he revises his assignments every year based on the questions he gets in class. If he hears a question a lot, he’ll write the answer into the assignment’s instructions.
  • Third, for many of his assignments he includes simple templates. This gives students a format and helps them see at a glance how to organize their work and what elements need to be included. For example, I notice in his storyboard template there’s a spot to include any sound that you would add to the shot.
  • Fourth, any content that students need to complete the assignment (definitions, context, why students are doing this, where to find resources, etc.) is written into the assignment. Chris teaches through his assignments. As he says, it’s as much about process as product. He adds information where students need it, not on a separate handout.
  • Finally, for visual assignments, he asks students to include a reflection telling what they did and why. That saves him from having to wonder whether something was intentional or a mistake.

I’m a big fan of backwards design (deciding what students need to do at the end of the course and then working backwards from outcomes to assignments and rubrics to tools and resources). Chris is, too, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he puts so much effort into designing assignments.

How about you? Any tips for designing assignments?

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What’s your secret?

I’m back from a visit to a campus. While I was there, a faculty member showed me an amazing project done by Corrections students. Inspired by the site postsecret.com, students asked others on campus to write down a secret and drop it anonymously in a locker. At the end of the week, they collected dozens of secrets. They put these together and created a video about how we all need to feel secure. As one student writes, “this video was made to represent the fact that nobody is 100% secure and confident with their own individuality…we fear how we will be seen by others.” Take a look.

Give the events of the week, I thought this was a good way to end it.

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