Screencast Tours of EDUMOOC Google Group, Alerts & Reader

For those new to Google Reader, I’ve recorded this brief tour of the EDUMOOC Google Group with a few tips for keeping discussion threads organized.

Additionally, I’ve recorded this tutorial on how to setup Google Alerts for EDUMOOC and subscribe in a RSS feed reader, like Google Reader.

I personally plan to follow the #edumooc hashtag on Twitter as well as my Google Alerts in Google Reader as my primary means for following the EDUMOOC conversation. How do you plan to aggregate and filter contributions? Leave a comment with your steps!

Better yet…record a screencast demonstrating your process or workflow and share it with the rest of us!

~ Jason

Before Beginning #EDUMOOC: Tips for Participants

In just over 2 days, over 1,000 participants from three dozen countries have sign-up for participate in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) devoted to exploring Online Learning Today…and Tomorrow! There has been a lot of buzz over this latest MOOC, hashtag #EDUMOOC. For those who have never participated in a MOOC before, you’re in for a treat as this will be an online learning experience unlike any other.

If you are new to MOOCs, take a few minutes to view these brief videos by Dave Cormier that answer the questions “What is a MOOC?” and “What is ‘success’ in a MOOC?

I can’t stress enough the importance, as Dave described in his video, of defining for yourself how you will define ‘success’ in the learning experience and in being proactive in adding your contributions to the conversation, as well as reading others’ contributions and commenting. Here are my top 5 tips for others preparing to embark on #EDUMOOC:

  1. Setup a blog (if you don’t already have one) and post to it. While we do have a Google Group for this MOOC, if you are looking to build your personal learning network beyond the scope of this course, it’s helpful to have your own online home where your conversations (ie: your initial posts and replies) can persist long after the MOOC is over. So, if you’ve not already done so, setup a blog using a free tool like Blogger, WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr, etc. This may sound obvious, but once you setup your blog, go ahead and post to it…at least once per week during the MOOC. I personally plan to spend more time on Twitter than the Google Group or blogging, but will post my reflections and more lengthy conversation contributions to my blog and then post the link on Twitter. On my WordPress blog, I use the free WordTwit plugin that automatically tweets each new blog post I make.
  2. Give Twitter a try. You’ll find during this MOOC that there will be a variety of different locations where conversations will be taking place and Twitter will no doubt be one of the most active. If you’ve never tried Twitter before, now is your chance to give it a try! Sign-up for a free account at twitter.com and include in any of your course-related tweets the hashtag #edumooc. You can then search Twitter, either at twitter.com or on any of the Twitter apps, the course hashtag #edumooc to see the entire flow of “tweets” related to the course.

    A great place to learn more about Twitter is to take a look at the archived presentations and links for the session, Using Twitter for Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development in Higher Education that David Wicks, Skip Via, and I offered this past January where explored best practices for using Twitter in teaching, learning and professional development.

  3. Let people know of your posts!. When you post to your blog, be sure to let the rest of the EDUMOOC community know that you’ve made your contribution to your blog. The easiest way is to share a link to your post on Twitter, using the hashtag for the MOOC, #edumooc. You also can reply to the thread for the week in the Google Group with your contribution.
  4. Bookmark online resources of interest. When you come across online resources that others are sharing that are of interest to you, bookmark the links using a social bookmarking service. I personally use Diigo and have found it to be a fantastic way to create my own digital online locker of resources that I can then access in the future. When you bookmark an online resource, use the course tag edumooc.
  5. Set boundaries for yourself. The larger the MOOC, the easier it is to easily become overwhelmed with the amount of resources shared and volume of conversations that take place. Don’t feel like to have to keep up on everything that’s happening in the course. Set goals for yourself and give yourself permission to get out of the course what you need from the course. I personally plan to set aside 30 mins. per day to check Twitter and read through the previous day’s contributions to the Google Group to stay up-to-date on the conversations and to participate. Remember that the more you contribute, the more you will in turn find others engage with you.

Those are just a few of my tips…what other tips do you have for individuals preparing to participate in a MOOC? Leave a comment with your tips, or better yet, post your own on your blog and leave a comment here with a link to your list!

If you’ve signed-up for #EDUMOOC and stumbled across this blog post, leave a comment and say hello! MOOCs are all about connections and networking with others!! You can also fine me on Twitter @jrhode or Facebook at facebook.com/jasonrhodephd

**UPDATE 6/23 – I’ve recorded a couple of screencast tutorials and posted here with a few more details on how to get started with the Google Group, as well as setting up Google Alerts and subscribe to see what those who are blogging during #EDUMOOC are saying**

How to Create an ePub E-book

As I previously shared, I’ve been experimenting with creating a ebooks in the ePub format and am very impressed with how simple it really is! Here’s a screencast I recorded with more details on how I created my sample ePub.

Links to sample Pages and ePub documents I mentioned are at jasonrhode.com/myfirstepub

If you are a Windows users, there are other utilities for automatically converting existing PDF or HTML files to ePub. I must admit I’ve not tried any of these yet so I can’t confirm whether or not they do in fact work.

If you’ve tried creating an ePub, whether you used Pages or some other tool, leave a comment let me know your experience!

How to Send Text Messages to Students via Email for Free

I’m intrigued by the increasing growth in the use of SMS (ie: text messaging) in mobile communications and it’s implications for online learning. I’ve recently been experimenting with providing my students the ability to contact me via text message (sms) as well as to allow them to opt-in to receiving course-related news and reminders as text messages from me. I’ve explored several different work flows and options for accomplishing this and am sharing here the text messaging approaches I’ve tried thus far.

Google Voice

First off, I setup a free Google Voice account at http://voice.google.com using my Google Account. When setting up a Google Voice account, I received a phone number that I can give out that when called, simultaneously rings any of my phone numbers that I wish. I setup my Google Voice number to simultaneously ring my work phone and mobile phone. My Google Voice phone number is in fact is the phone number that I give out to all of my students to contact me if needed.

What I also realized is that in addition to voice calls, I can also receive send and receive text messages from my Google Voice phone number for free! So, if my students send a text message to me at my Google Voice number, it goes to my Google Voice account.

I also installed the free Google Voice app on my iPhone so that now when I receive a text message at my Google Voice phone number, it shows up in my Google Voice app.  I can then choose to send a reply back if I wish, again for free directly from the Google Voice app. Here’s the home screen of my iPhone with the push notification that I’ve received a new text message in Google Voice.

Launching the app, I see a preview of the message that I can click on it to read the complete message. My Google Voice Inbox also contains any other voicemails that I may have received at my Google Voice phone number.

With my Google Voice app, if I have my students’ mobile phone numbers, I can send them text messages for free from my Google Voice app. This is a great free solution and allows me to give my students and single phone number to reach me at, either voice or text message.  However, I was also looking for the ability to more quickly broadcast a text message to all my students who opt-in to receiving such messages.

SMS Email Gateways

Nearly every mobile phone carrier provides free delivery of text messages using a sms gateway.  The list of SMS gateways at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_SMS_gateways tells which email address to use if you want to send an email and have it arrive as a text message on someone’s phone. The number must contain no punctuation. For instance, to send to a number typically expressed in the USA as 987-555-0100, you would email 9875550100@SMS-gateway.

I invited my students to opt-in to receiving text messages from me by simply emailing me their mobile phone number and carrier.  The carrier part is important, as each carrier has a different SMS gateway. As each student sends me their phone phone number and carrier, I lookup the SMS gateway for their carrier and add the sms email address to my list of email addresses for the class.

Then, to send a text message to my students, I simply launch my email client and copy/paste their sms email addresses in the BCC field and then enter my message to be sent in the body of the email.  It’s important to remember that text messages are limited to 160 characters, so emails sent via sms with more than 160 characters will be truncated beyond 160 characters.

I opted to not include a subject in my email as many phones don’t display the subject. Upon sending the email, each student receives the email as a text message.

This is the option that I’ve preferred to use for sending announcements as text messages to students.  I’ve also send personalized feedback to students using this same work flow.

Twitter

A third option for allowing students to receive course news and announcements via text message is to setup a Twitter account for the class where news and announcements will be posted and then make use of Twitter’s built-in follow via sms feature.  I gave this a try for my Illinois Online Network Spring 2011 “Social Networking in Online Learning” advanced online seminar.  This course introduced Twitter to students, so it made sense to try Twitter’s sms delivery capabilities.

I setup a Twitter account for the course at http://twitter.com/ionsn1111 where I posted course-related news and announcements.  I then posted the following message in Moodle for my students:

Are you the type of person that prefers to receive text messages over email? Did you know that you can receive our course news announcements that I post to Twitter at http://twitter.com/ionsn1111 also as text messages to your mobile phone? Simply text “follow @ionsn1111” to 40404 to receive all future course announcements as text messages.

If you’d like to try out this feature of Twitter and then later no longer want to continue receiving the text messages, you can text “OFF @ionsn1111” to 40404 and you’ll no longer receive the messages.

Here’s what the text message sent looks like, as well as the automated receipt send to subscribers confirming that they are subscribed. New subscribers also receive the latest message posted to the Twitter account for the class.

Students don’t need to have a Twitter account!  They will receive all future tweets posted to the class Twitter account as text messages.  Using Audioboo to tweet audio announcements, students in this course subscribed using via sms also received audio announcements!

This third option using Twitter is perhaps the simplest for the instructor as the students need to take the responsibility to follow the course Twitter via sms and the instructor simply posts to the class’ Twitter feed.  The drawbacks are that this approach doesn’t allow the instructor the flexibility to send a text message to an individual student and students can choose to un-follow course news via sms.

Overall Impressions

I’ve found my experiment with communicating with students via sms thus far to be a very positive one and I plan to continue making use of sms for communicating with my students in the future. I’m curious to hear at the end of the course feedback from my students who tried the texting experiment their thoughts on the value of texting in fostering social presence in our online community.  I’ll be collecting feedback from my students and will continue to refine my texting practices and plan to share my findings in the future.

I’d love to hear from others who also are using text messaging in their teaching. Do you currently make use of text messages in your teaching?  If so, what work flow works best for you?

Also, if you found my instructions here useful, leave me a comment and let me know your experience!

NCES Releases Elementary/Secondary Information System

ELSi ScreenShotNCES has just released a new web application, the Elementary/Secondary Information System (ELSi). ELSi is comprised of three separate tools, which allow users to quickly view public and private school data, view commonly requested tables and create custom tables and charts using data from the Common Core of Data (CCD) and Private School Survey (PSS). ELSi utilizes frequently requested variables and tables—it’s a fast, easy way to obtain basic statistical data on U.S. schools. ELSi gives the user the ability to create customized tables by choosing row variables, column variables and filters to refine the data.

To view this new tool, visit: http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/elsi/

This web application is a product of the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Education.