Archives for March 2013

Live-Tweeting Presentation on Social Teaching Strategies, 3/29/13, 12:45-1:45PM CDT – Join us!

On Friday, 3/29/13, I will be giving a keynote presentation from 12:45-1:45PM CDT entitled, Social Teaching Strategies for Engaging Today’s Active Learner at the Annual Western Illinois University Symposium on Teaching, Research and Creative Activities.

During the presentation, we’ll consider how students today are using social media in their daily lives and explore together how social media can be used to actively engage students in the learning process, both in and outside the classroom. A social teaching framework will be shared as well as principles and best practices for leveraging social media in teaching and learning.

I’ve begun drafting a interactive online handout that will contain presentation slides and resources that I will share. In addition, as I’m always willing to try something new in my presentations, I plan to incorporate for the first time into one of my faculty presentations several interactive pieces that will provide further opportunities for faculty participants to interact live using their mobile devices as well as extend the presentation beyond the “physical walls” of WIU.

Live-Tweeting & Twitter Backchannel

I’ve selected the hashtag #socialteaching and will be using it extensively over the coming days in sharing resources prior-to, as well as during my presentation. Join the conversation or share additional resources on Twitter related to use of social media in teaching and learning using hashtag #socialteaching.

Thanks to the instructions I initially stumbled across from Alan Levine and step-by-step video from Adam Bellow, I plan to live-tweet during my presentation using Keynote Tweet 2 on my Mac. Watch for the #socialteaching Twitter stream on Friday, 3/29 and join the conversation!

Mobile/Web-based Polling using PollEverywhere

As I’ve been informed that the majority of the faculty who will be attending live will have either a smart phone or tablet, I plan to incorporate numerous polling questions before and during the presentation using PollEverywhere. I’ve signed-up for a presenter plan for 1-month for the sake of this presentation and will be using the PollEverywhere Mac Presenter App to embed live polls in my Keynote slides as well as live-tweeting the polls, with responses able to be received by web, text, or Twitter. Please feel free to respond to the polling questions when you see them become available!

Texting Backchannel using Celly

to join, text @socialteaching to 23559

I’ve been intrigued for sometime now with the applications for use of text messaging in teaching and have been exploring various text messaging tools. I recently setup a free account with and have created a Celly group @socialteaching that I will be inviting participants (live and virtual) to join and try as another backchannel option before, during, and after the presentation. Whereas the Twitter stream is public and open, the texting backchannel can be made private and has different applications for within a class setting. During the presentation, I plan to send out a couple of different polls that participants can respond to directly via text message. Participants can also share a comment or give other feedback directly via text message.

Again, this is another experiment on my behalf and would love to have anyone interested in seeing in action to join the texting group and give it a try! To join, simply text @socialteaching to 23559 or join at

Google+ Hangout on Air

I’m also toying with the idea of doing a Google+ Hangout on Air and live-stream the video of the presentation. I’ve not decided yet if I will try pulling this off, chiefly because I will be relying on a wi-fi connection during the presentation. If my connection seems solid and I can pull off the technical details, announce the live stream on my Twitter and Google+ and the live stream of the video (and later the recording) will be on my YouTube channel.

Your Participation is Invited!

I’d love for you to participate “virtually” via social media in this presentation! In summary, here again are the ways you can get involved:

  • Join conversation on Twitter, hashtag #socialteaching
  • Respond to polling questions, as they are live-tweeted (will have prefix hashtag #poll for easy identification)
  • Join the texting group to participate in private backchannel and share your insights via text message

One more request I will throw out…What suggestions or strategies would you share for faculty who are considering incorporating social media into their teaching? I’d love to include tips as part of the presentation! Feel free to leave a comment here on my blog to tweet using hashtag #socialteaching

Lessons from the World’s Most Captivating Presenters

We all would like to be better communicators. Whether you give formal presentations or simply share ideas informally with others, we always can become even more skilled at communicating. These slides share 10 tips that anyone who communicates.
Courtesy HubSpot

Blackboard Feature Request: Customizable Course Communication Dashboard Home Page

For quite some time, I have been frustrated with the lack of options within Blackboard for customizing the entry point of the course. While an instructor can set any tool or content area to be the default entry point in a course, there’s only so much that can be done in a Blackboard content area or page using the current built-in functionality. When Blackboard introduced the “Home Page” as the new default entry point, students were given access to a variety of information streams when logging into the course. However, these information modules are still primarily system driven and can not be easily customized or new modules setup by the instructor. With a few further customizations, the Home Page could become a much more useful tool.

For years, the Announcements page was the default entry point in Blackboard. With the release of Blackboard Learn 9, the Home Page was added which includes various information modules for the user, such as: Needs Attention, What’s New, My Tasks, Alerts, etc.

Home Page

Home Page in Blackboard Learn


While the Home Page tool was a step in the right direction, it is still very restricted and falls short in allowing faculty to customize at the level in which it can be a true “Communication Dashboard” for the course. I’ve shared this feedback with Blackboard product developers at BbWorld and the Blackboard Idea Exchange over the past nearly 2 years, but since I’ve yet to see my suggestions implemented, I’m sharing them here as well so that perhaps others can echo the value of such a feature enhancement.

What follows is my rationale for why I’ve desired a more instructor-customizable communication dashboard as the entry point for a Blackboard course as well as a sample of my “homemade” solution. In future posts, I’ll then share more specifics for how to create a customized communication dashboard in Blackboard and incorporate a variety of different information sources within the dashboard.


In my teaching, I’m often introducing in-service teachers to new technology tools and practices that they can apply into K-12 classroom teaching. My students and I use 3rd party blog, sms, calendar, and other tools in addition to Blackboard and I would like to be able to provide information about accessing these tools as well as streams of information from them in a single communication portal. Basically, I’ve simply been looking for a customizable and yet visually appealing area within Blackboard where different information sources can be embedded. In particular, these are the tools that I use and want to easily share with my students:

Latest Blog Posts – During the course, my students and I each setup and post to individual 3rd party blogs. Even though my students are instructed to subscribe via RSS to my blog as well as the blogs of their classmates, I want to display clickable titles of the last several posts from my blog.

Course Calendar – While Blackboard’s Calendar is greatly improving with the release of the new Blackboard Calendar in Service Pack 11, up until this point, the built-in calendar hasn’t been acceptable and I create a Google Calendar for each class. I would like for a version of that calendar for the upcoming 7 days to be embedded and viewable by my students.

Texting List Sign-up – In my teaching, I use and encourage my student to opt-in to my texting news list powered by Remind101. I would like to provide the information for signing-up to join the texting list.

Course Podcast Player – I’ve setup a podcast for my course and would like to embed a player so that right from the course entry page, students can listen to the most recent episodes of the podcast. I’ve previously shared steps for how I setup my podcast using Dropbox.

Class Blogs – The students in the course each setup their own blogs and post to throughout the course. I would like to include links for each of my students’ blogs.

Instructor’s Tweets – Twitter is another important communication means used during the course. I would like at the outset of the course to include a Twitter widget displaying the latest tweets from the instructor, with the widget to be changed after Twitter is introduced to students and they begin tweeting, to display latest tweets using a course hashtag.


With a little HTML and CSS know-how, I’ve gone ahead and created this course communication dashboard that I now use in my Blackboard courses. It includes the communication streams and information sources that I want my students to see when they login to my Blackboard course. Students have commented on how helpful having such a communication dashboard available upon entry to the course has been and as a result, I’ve continued to include my homemade version in the courses I teach.

Course Dashboard

The dashboard is a simple html page (more details to be shared in a future post how to setup) set as the default entry point for the course. For this particular course I’ve shared, the dashboard contains the following information items:

Class Photo Roster – Students were requested to provide a digital portrait during the first week of the course. These photos are displayed along with their preferred first name to be used during the course.

Announcements – Latest several course announcements, also posted and sent via email using the Announcements tool in the course, are displayed for students.

Latest on Dr. J’s Blog – Utilizing a simple javascript RSS embed utility, Feed2JS, an embedded script that displays the latest 5 blog post titles from my blog that students can click on to go directly to those latest posts.

Course Calendar – Google Calendar I’ve setup for the course.

News & Reminders – Details for how students can sign-up to opt into our course texting group.

Course Podcast – Embeddable player using BigContact to play the latest episodes of the course podcast.

iTunes U – Details for how students can sign-up to try the iTunes U version of the course being made available as an experimental trial during the course.

Class Blogs – List of all class members’ blogs.

Tweets from Dr. J – Instructor’s tweets, to be adjusted later in the course to instead display most recent tweets using course hashtag

Ideal Solution

This “homemade” dashboard I’ve created isn’t ideal, but it is closer to my ideal course entry point than the current Home Page tool in Blackboard. It’s conceivable that Blackboard could develop a customizable dashboard, based on the Home Page tool but redesigned, which could take the information modules already in the Home Page and build in additional flexibility of the layout (2 columns, 3 columns, 1 wide column & 2 narrow columns, etc.) as well as include module types where faculty could embed various other information sources, images, scripts, or HTML.

Students could still perhaps add other personalized modules, but the instructor should have much more flexibility in how the Home Page is formatted and be able to embed other types of content or information streams. I envision this communication dashboard being much more instructor-driven than the current Home Page tool, affording the instructor the ability to develop “social presence” within the course by featuring at the login page the various communication streams for the course. I hope this solution will eventually be considered by Blackboard Product Development and I welcome any opportunity to provide further input.

What entry point do you use for your Blackboard course, the Home Page, Announcements, or something else? What features would you like to see in an ideal course entry point? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

Why I Picked Feedly to Replace Google Reader

By now, you likely may have already heard of the announcement from Google that Google Reader will be shut down as of July 1, 2013. Since the announcement, there has been much commotion online from loyal Google Reader users expressing their disappointment in Google for “pulling the plug” on yet another service that had many education uses. I thought I’d use this opportunity to reflect on my own use of Google Reader and RSS to this point, reevaluate what steps I will take moving forward to transition to a new solution for reading and sharing news online, and share the steps I have since taken to begin my transition away from Google

How I Use RSS Today

I began using Google Reader back in 2005 when it was first released as a Google Labs experimental project. At the outset, Google Reader was my sole solution for subscribing to blogs and also for setting-up and following Google Alerts for topic-specific news headlines. Over the years, as Google allowed through APIs for other services to access and manipulate RSS contents, I began to try other RSS aggregators and apps, most recently Reader, Flipboard, and Mr. Reader, that provided a better overall user experience (better UI, more sharing features, mobile-optimized, etc.).

Yet, Google Reader remained my central hub for news and information online. Subscribing to blogs and other news sites in Google Reader, it became the primary source for me to read and share news with others. I would star articles, search through my subscriptions for articles I had previously read, and share articles from Google Reader to other social media services using tools like Buffer. In fact, if you follow me on Twitter, the vast majority of the links that I’ve shared over the years came directly from Google Reader. the most compelling use of Google Reader.

Google Reader had become the “plumbing” for my online consumption and sharing of news and resources with others. While I was using other apps to manage my Google Reader subscriptions, read articles, etc., I was able to seamlessly move from one app to the other to read and share news as it happened, with the services I used syncing through Google Reader.

Why I Chose Feedly

While there are indeed many different options for subscribing to and consuming news content today, what I was looking for most was a great experience on my smart phone, tablet, and desktop computer which all would synchronize so that I could continue to move from one to the other as desired. I find that today I primarily read my news on my iPad, but also at times my iPhone when my iPad isn’t handy.

In my searching, I came across Feedly’s promise for a seamless transition for Google Reader users to it’s Google Reader clone, Normandy. In addition, I saw that Feedly already had mobile and tablet apps along with a desktop browser plugin that would all synchronize my activity for now over Google Reader, and eventually its new cloud-based synchronization platform Normandy. That was enough to convince me….I decided to give Feedly a try!

Thus far, the experience has indeed been seamless and I recommend that those looking for a replacement to Google Reader definitely try Feedly.

Getting Started with Feedly

If you already have a Google Reader account, getting setup on Feedly is simply…just login with your Google account that you used for Google Reader. I’d recommend then taking this brief guided tour as well as viewing the following tutorial to get an understanding for how Feedly is similar, yet different from Google Reader.

I viewed both, and in no time I felt right at home in the Feedly mobile app as well as browser interface. I was able to setup my Pocket (used for saving select articles for reading later) and Buffer (used for time-delayed sharing on Twitter) accounts within to easily share to either of those services directly from within Feedly.

In short, so far I am very pleased with Feedly and do hope that Feedly takes advantage of the opportunity created by Google Reader’s demise to grow their features and API integrations with other services. Only time will tell…

Have you tried Feedly? If so, what has been your experience thus far? Or, if you are considering a different news reading tool, which one and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

10 Years of Online Learning (Infographic)

10 Years of Online Education