The future of technology looks bright, and things are progressing quickly, but sometimes it isn’t moving fast enough for me. A friend once commented that she couldn’t wait to have a computer chip in her brain. She explained, “Imagine downloading a new language in your brain and being fluent in a matter of minutes.” To that extent it’s a bit scary (think Terminator scary), but I understand what she means. It’s when I think of everything I want to do in relationship to everything I need to do that I wish I had more technology to help. At these moments, I need to multitask.

It was today while I had a bad headache and couldn’t focus on the computer screen that I wished the essays would grade themselves or at the very least have them read to me so I could comment on them. This worked well when my mother was here this summer. It wasn’t student papers then, but it was an article I had to read for a class I was taking. My mother and I were driving to Manville for some family research (another story told on another blog), and I was stressed about getting everything done. She read the article to me and I had her highlight some thoughts and had her write notes in the margins. We even discussed the points, which really helped with the essay I had to write eventually.

With this experience in mind, I searched my computer and discovered the speech recognition software already available in Windows Vista. I have been wishing for a program to type what I say so I can compose while I’m cooking (another favorite pass time). Of course, it's been out there for years, but I'm just now figuring out the benefits of speech recognition and multitasking! Of course, it's not perfect and it won't discuss the issues with me, but it can read it to me and make changes at my request while my hands are busy doing something else (like chopping garlic at this moment). I will also have to spend some time editing the mistakes. Is multitasking worth it? I'm not sure. I'll let you know as soon as my pie comes out of the oven. If it tastes bad, then I was too distracted talking into the computer. Multitasking is good, but sometimes it can be a disaster.

Another downfall is that this does not seem to work with GradeMark. The program is not recognized, so at this point it won't help with my grading, but if you use the Track Changes feature in Word, you're in luck (this involves using the speech recognition and the narrator).

If you have Windows Vista, you already have this program. It's under "Accessories" - "Ease of Access" and "Speech Recognition." Narrator is there, too. Mac Speech is available for the Mac. Windows 7 has speech recognition as well. A quick YouTube search reveals several videos demonstrating it. I would hope it's improved in Windows 7, but that will have to wait for me. I have other priorities at the moment (like planning a wedding).

For now, I’m playing with it and will, perhaps, find a way to write my class notes while creating my culinary masterpieces! I hope that I can also blog more often--hands free. The next step is to figure out why it doesn't work with GradeMark. If I can make it work with GradeMark, and make grading essays more fun by using technology, then I’m going to do that. Using Turnitin with GradeMark already helps, but using speech recognition takes it a step further.

If you use speech recognition in teaching or grading, let me know. By the way, the pie was delicious!

It happened one day when a friend sent a tweet that read, "I used crowdsourcing in my Calculus class and it's the best thing I've ever done." I had no idea what she was talking about, so I did a Google search.

Crowdsourcing is a business term similar to outsourcing, but not exactly. It's like letting the customers do the work rather than hiring someone. The customers help create new and interesting ideas. In particular, it seems to work these days in technology by posting a particular problem on the Web and the conversation begins with possible solutions. It's like having the world for collaborators.

Within my search about crowdsourcing, I discovered Cathy Davidson's article about how she is planning to use crowdsourcing in her English course: This is your Brain on the Internet. Her first sentence captured me (just like any good article should): "I loved returning to teaching...except for the grading." Like her, I hate grading. The feedback is the most useful part for students, but the dreaded grade is like a punch in the stomach to the students, and most only look at the grade and don't care about the comments. But the comments are what matter!! It's that part of grading I don't mind. I just wish I didn't have to judge their writing or make an evaluation.

In the past, I tried several ways to prevent this stomach punching: portfolios, allowing continuous revising, etc., but this created more of what I hated: too much paper grading! I ended up not giving the essays as much attention as they deserved. I went back to the old way, then, and just had to "suck it up."

Now I have some hope for the revision process that must be present in all writing, but that all students seem to want to ignore. Davidson's article inspired me. Now, I'm not saying I completely agree with her grading scale: "Do all the work (and there is a lot of work), and you get an A. Don't need an A? Don't have time to do all the work? No problem. You can aim for and earn a B. There will be a chart." This seems simple enough; however, I think that students should be awarded for quality and not just quantity. Besides, I'm not much for making charts.

Instead, I will use a process I already use: peer review. Peer review has its own controversy. I hear it from my students most: "If I don't know what I'm doing, how can I expect my classmates to know? How can they help me?" Of course, they don't really get the point of peer review: getting and receiving feedback while learning about critical reading and thinking, and it must be directed very clearly for it to truly work (That's another blog someday...), but nevertheless, I use it and will continue using it.

So, taking what I know (peer review) with Davidson's slant (crowdsourcing), I have decided on using peer review twice and the drafts will be worth more points than they used to be. For example, 50% of the grade comes from the peers (which they will conduct using a very detailed review process and a rating scale); the other 50% comes from me. The peer review will be conducted using Write Cycle from Turnitin and the essays will be dispersed across several sections and conducted anonymously so students won't be able to make any deals with their friends. Yes, I'm sure there will be ways to know whose paper they have, but the process is random as well, so the chances of friends reading friends' essays are slim (especially when this is dispersed across 2 sections of composition with at least 40 students in all). Will this work? Once again, I'll have to let you know--just like Davidson will--but I have hope.

A colleague commented that Davidson really isn't inventing anything new: it just has a new fancy name. Maybe he's right, but at least she helped point me in a more creative direction than where I was headed.
As I'm taking an online class this summer, I was thinking about new ways to teach research. My students seem to have lost their natural curiosity about life around them, so it's been difficult to get them to find interesting subjects they'd want to research.

In the past I'd ask them to write down at least five questions that they'd always wanted answered or that they were curious about. These turned out some interesting questions, but some of them were just silly (e.g. "Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near," etc.) or unanswerable (e.g. "What is the meaning of life?"). I helped them analyze their questions and asked if it would be something they could research in the library. This helped a bit, but for some it curbed their enthusiasm.

During my class, we've been reading several interesting case studies such as information about where the refrigerator got its hum; when the horse was introduced to Native Americans and how they adapted them to their needs; and why 'Kindergarten' was invented. I thought that these would be interesting questions for students to research. They would be different than the typical topics like abortion, global warming, gun control, yada, yada, yada...

My plan is to create a list of questions such as these and have my students conduct in-class research. I'll have them first work in small groups searching for the information on the Web. They will find that the answers are difficult to find and that some sources have different information than others and they'll need to decide how to resolve it.

This is as far as I've thought about the logistics, but my hope is that it will spark some curiosity in them and they'll really want to find the answers so they'll struggle through the frustrating and interesting research process.

I'll keep you updated!
Ms. B.
I have compiled a list of resources (online and software) for Distance Educators. This is for the Wyoming Distance Education Consortium Conference, which was held in Casper this week. Thank you to Liz for her help in developing these resources.

Resources for Navigating the “Sharky” Waters:
Successful Surfing of the Learner-Centered Wave

Presentation by Keri Bjorklund and Liz Skrabacz Dzabic WyDEC 2009

Web Resources A review of the 100 best education sources on the Net. A blog on teaching college math using current technology trends. A blog on teaching composition and literature—keeps track of current technology trends & discussion on instructional technology. A free video conferencing site by Logitech Inc. similar to Skype. “The George Lucas Educational Foundation.” Free lesson plans and material—advertises for public education, but there is still some useful material here. Free voice recording using toll free numbers. Great for students lacking high tech recording systems and needing to create sound files. An answer to the expensive classroom clickers. Students respond to polls, discussion questions, etc. using texting, twittering, and other devices. A site to create your own educational blog. It can be an addition to lectures or additional resources or discussion for students…and it can be reused. A site through California Polytechnic State University that explains what a grade means as a way to fight grade inflation.

Software SCORM creation software. (Jing & Screencast) Jing is a free screen capture software. Created by the makers of Camtasia, it is a stable option for when Camtasia is outside the budget. It does the same thing and a screencast membership comes free with Jing. Screencast is a way to easily store and share screen capture videos and images. The free long distance phone service using the computer. This can be a way for students to contact their instructors without incurring long distance charges. Can also be used with video and conferencing software. (Freemind software) Mind mapping software: an option other than Power Point for presentations, and a useful study tool for students. Mind mapping software that is completed online and is not software you download. Has direct online links and set up. A social networking site that can be useful to maintain contact with students and for them to communicate with each other while being monitored. Want to stay anonymous, but still want a picture of you on your site? This is a fun way to do it: create a cartoon character of yourself in the Simpsons’ style. Don’t like the Simpsons, but like the idea of creating a cartoon version of you? Visit this blog for a list of free sites to do just that! Animating software using this software and a webcam. Be yourself or an alien! A visual word dictionary that not only defines words, but connects them to other words. From CNET, this site provides a list of freeware that is useful for professional and personal lives. $ Face puppet animation software. Turn any still photo into a moving, talking, interactive image $ For a minimum fee, you can create moving, talking avatars—most useful for brief eye-catching announcements.

Insight Media $ Educational and training videos for the classroom: DVDs and other visual media for university and secondary classrooms.
Teaching is often a thankless job, and it's no exception in higher ed. All too often I hear about how people hate English and how they think taking an English class in college is a total waste of time. Often I hear how "boring" the reading is and how the tasks I've assigned are "too hard." Once in a while I hear good news...about how I'm a great teacher and how much they have learned from me. I'm sure I'm not alone, so for all of those teachers, instructors, and professors out there needing a pat on the back, I pass this link on so you can smile with me: From RYS.

Ms. Professor B.
Will writing some day become obsolete? I have read articles arguing for the end to handwriting instruction and argued against this because handwriting helps brain development and well, we still write checks, to-do lists, and other items by hand, so handwriting is still needed--besides it another tool we should not abandon for the sake of technology! OK, so enough of my soap box.

Something else has challenged handwriting...and even typing: Your Brain on Twitter. Yes, this applies to twittering (If you haven't gotten on board yet, do it! I want to connect my students to me...well under a different account from my personal twitter...but that's a future blog.)

This NPR technology report aired on Friday. Adam Wilson created a brain cap out of an actual "swimming cap that has a series of electrodes" on it and it helps a person type with their brain. The intended audience is for people with certain disabilities, but could it be possible that soon all of us will be typing with a mere thought? Think about it: assign an essay and students think about what they want to say, not even having to verbalize it, and TA-DA! there's an essay in my inbox or whatever. I could probably grade it while reading it without having to type, speak, or drag and drop comments in the essay.

This is both scary and exciting.

Scary because eventually, we will be simply brains in a vat experiencing and learning everything from downloading it. Will that be living?? Yes, we'll know a lot, but for what purpose? Or will it provide more time for living? Could I learn a language on an international flight by downloading it in my brain and then interactive in person with the people? Will it mean that I'll have to have a computer chip in my brain, or can I get away from it? Will everyone be tracked by the government or companies? Will I forever be tethered to a computer, or will I be more free?

This is exciting as well because then perhaps people will not hate English so much and it will save us time! It's also exciting because currently this particular "brain cap" will lead to other technology that will enhance our lives, and perhaps I simply love it for the sake of loving technology. I don't know exactly, but I just know that I almost got in a car accident listening to this on NPR because I was so excited about it. I already want one. What I'd like to do is be typing this will also working on the paper I'm supposed to be writing. Perhaps this is the most exciting: technology such as this will improve multi-tasking!

So carry on Mr. Wilson and hopefully I can live to see the day when typing and writing are obsolete...although it's hard to imagine going through life without my favorite leather journal and mechanical pencil at my side at all times.
Like to know what's going on, but don't always have time to read the news? Check out the new news streaming site This site has stories streaming across the page. Star and open the ones you want to read, let the others go. You can even set your properties to view categories that only interest you.

You do have to sign-in. Click on "existing user" to see if you can log in using your Facebook and/or Gmail account or sign in as a "guest."

It's worth the sign-up, and for now, it's free!

Ms. Professor B
Yesterday I spent the afternoon learning about new software called freemind. This software has many new purposes. It's useful for students to create an essay outline, business folks to keep track of ideas & notes during a meeting, and for instructors to present material.

I'm not a big fan of Power Point. I tend to focus on discussion and questions, and I use Power Point as a way to introduce questions and keep track of students' responses. I will include pictures and links to it, but I find it frustrating at times moving from Power Point to the Smartboard, and to the Internet. It can be time consuming...and annoying. Power Point presentations also seem to take forever to build (at least for me). I'd rather have notes with links on them and have the links open and move through the points. Well, Freemind helps me do that.

I can create a visual outline without using bullet points and moving through screens. Students can see all of my links while I talk about each one. My points can be created into links and link to files, videos, websites, and more.

I tried it for the first time last night. I created a lecture in an hour (finding links, photos, etc.) and I used it in my lecture this morning. Students seemed to respond well to it. Although it was a lecture, there was a lot of information they could take in while I talked about particular points and link to different items. The best part was that my notes were organized and the links I needed where at my fingertips when I needed them without having to toggle between Power Point, the Internet, etc. If anything, it helped me stay organized.

So check it out!

This reference page came through our library. It's amazing. On one website, you can see the front page of over 700 newspapers worldwide. The site also contains an educator link that has lesson plans on how to use the front pages in a classroom. It's mostly for K-12, but it's still interesting. It's also an interesting way to see what's going on in many cities and states across the world. What biases are apparent on the front page? What do the editors deem the most important to include on the front page? These are the questions that are interesting to investigate.

The Newseum is an actual museum in Washington, DC and there are several links that convince visitors to take the trip. All-in-all, it's an interesting visit and perhaps a way to keep up on the caveat: if you're interested in reading an entire story that continues on page 2, you'll have to visit the original newspaper site and perhaps purchase the paper or a subscription.

This is an interesting article from about what makes a good teacher. Some of the items in the list are rather general, but it's still rather interesting.
The Problem

This past semester I was given the task of teaching a poetry and drama class online. This seemed simple enough: have students post discussions following the reading and write a number of small essays analyzing the reading. There was one catch, however. The class was meant to fulfill a performing arts requirement for AFA degree seekers. How was this to be accomplished in an online class? This is especially difficult in a rural area where students do not always have access to the best Internet connection, computers, or computer skills. So, not only did I need to create a class that had never been taught online before, but I also had to develop a way that students could create a performance without requiring sophisticated and complicated technology. That's when I discovered

The Solution is a website in which users create an account and phone in “episodes.”

Subscribers use a toll-free number from several global locations and simply punch in the channel number and the channel password over the telephone. There is also a conference call option in which members enter a channel and a meeting password. The site is free up to 30 minutes for conference calls and up to 200 MB for episodes. Audio files created over the phone are automatically saved to the Gabcast channel. There’s no need for the caller to enter save or any complicated code. It’s just like leaving a voicemail.

The episodes can be published to the web, incorporated into blogs, or remain unpublished. I asked students not to publish their recordings due to copyright laws; however, some students’ readings were posted because of the nature of the material. Viewers can listen to the episodes by visiting my channel.

Usage is simple. I created a class account, provided the password, and had students call in their readings. Students had the option of recording a drama scene or reciting a poem. I uploaded each episode into Blackboard so everyone could listen and critique each recording. It was a highly successful exercise and students had positive feedback about the activity.

Although this was used for an English course, this can be used for recording lectures, directions to assignments, or participating in conference calls. A variety of material already exists that could be accessed as supplemental material. In fact, entering “math” in the search box provided at least 9 pages of results. Certainly, there is a use for across disciplines.
Happy recording!