Professional development

This category contains 14 posts

Getting started with Zotero

Here is the PDF handout (with links) for today’s workshop:



Zotero 101: collect, organize, cite, sync

I’m really excited to announce the next technology/pedagogy workshop, “Zotero 101” with Katie Morrissey. Katie is a Plan H (Media, Cinema, Digital Studies) Ph.D. student who is an experienced Zotero user with lots of practical knowledge to share.

Friday March 9, 3:15-4:45pm, Curtin Hall 108

Zotero is a free, open-source tool which helps students and researchers create a research and readings database. “It is a powerful and adaptable tool for scholars and educators of all stripes. It can be whatever you need it to be, whether you are a student, a teacher, a researcher, or just someone looking for a better way to manage your data. Its many features can be used in myriad combinations, tailored to particular fields and projects. Residing directly within your web browser, Zotero is central to the entire research process, allowing its users to pick and choose the features that are best-suited to their ends, merging them into a quick and efficient workflow” (zotero.org).

Streamline big research projects like seminar papers and dissertations by managing your citations and saving sources in one place. Create a library or collection of resources for your class to use, or have students build a library of references together. Prepare for prelim exams by reviewing your entries, similar to flashcards.

To RSVP, please email sulliv97@uwm.edu. Laptops are provided, but since this event will guide you through the installation of Zotero in your word processor, it would be best to use your own laptop. If you miss the event, I will post a review right here on this blog.


Teaching with sound: links from today’s workshop

Most English students use their eyes. A lot. They use their eyes to compose essays on a word processor, conduct research on the internet, and create presentations with PowerPoint or even Prezi. And of course, for sighted students, words on a page need eyes. Novels, essays, poems, paper drafts, and instructor comments almost always appear broken down into letters of the alphabet. This workshop hopes to open the door to another sense that is handy for making and perceiving compositions: hearing. What are the possibilities of sound for writing classrooms? How can instructors, especially those who teach online, engage students differently through a voice as opposed to a written text?

For easy clicking, here are some links to tools and/or resources that will accompany today’s upcoming workshop, “Composing with Sound” featuring Sarah Etlinger.

Audio commenting

  • Voki: Create talking avatars; embeddable in D2L and can be emailed.
  • Vocaroo:  Online voice recording tool; record audio clips (flash is required); share via web link or embed in D2L. Each recording has no set length. Voice messages can be saved to a computer, or they can be kept on the web site where they expire after a few months.
  • Fotobabble: Web-based app to add voice to uploaded photos and images; requires no downloads; can embed in D2L

Archives of sounds and music for use in audio compositions



  • Musicovery Moodpad: a graphical interface that allows users to play songs based on mood

Know about more resources? Put them in the comments!

Image by Flickr user Laura Bendall

Audacity, iTunes, and writing

From paper comments to audio essays to podcasts… discover the possibilities of SOUND for teaching, commenting, composing, and more. Join us for the first technology/pedagogy workshop of the spring semester, “Sound(ing) Composition” featuring Sarah Etlinger Friday, Feb. 17 3:30-5:00pm in Curtin 118.

Graduate students and instructors in English or English-related programs are welcome to attend. No previous technical experience assumed. To RSVP, please email sulliv97@uwm.edu by Friday 2/10. You will need your own headphones for this workshop. Earbuds would suffice, but noise-canceling headphones are ideal. Laptops will be provided. If you bring your own laptop, please be sure to download iTunes and Audacity (both free programs) in advance of the workshop. If you miss the event, a review will be right here on this blog.

ideas and best practices for using D2L in english courses

Last Friday (Nov. 11) was our first technology/pedagogy event of the semester, “Using D2L in the English Department.” This roundtable discussion raised many questions, provoked lively conversation, and also stirred up a wealth of knowledge and best practices related to using D2L in writing and literature courses.

Panel participants were Diane Unterweger (who teaches composition online and face-to-face), Kristi Prins (who is the English 101 coordinator and teaches composition and media studies online and face-to-face), Adam Pacton (who teaches composition, and is teaching online for the first time this semester), Rebecca Dunham (who teaches creative writing and literature online and face-to-face), Paige Conley (who is the English 095 coordinator and, while she has never taught online, had valuable comments about being an online student), Kris Terwelp (who is the English 101/102 online coordinator and has taught online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses), Laretta Henderson (who teaches online and face-to-face literature courses in the School of Information Studies), and Dylan Barth (who is a composition instructor, D2L systems administrator, and online learning guru). Adam Andrews and Sandy Brusin also contributed much to the discussion.

We covered a wide range of topics, but the primary strands I noticed were:

Discussion Forums
Peer Review and Conferencing
Navigation and Linking
Delivering Content
Time Management
Instructor Persona
Student Identity
Creating Community and Engagement

Discussion Forums

Unsurprisingly, the use of D2L Discussions for English courses was a major topic in the roundtable. Adam P. talked about instructor presence in a discussion forum and how he minimizes his voice as “the authority.” He treats the discussion forum as a place for students to talk. When he contributes, he tries to link different threads into a larger narrative of discussion, so that he doesn’t appear to be saying “you students missed ideas and here they are.” He writes a “discussion narrative” to recap the points that students discussed and to have the opportunity for discourse analysis. These discussion narratives then become course texts students use to get information.

Kris and Anne Wysocki picked up on this thread later in the conversation. Anne said that a benefit of having the class discussions written out online is that students have transcripts to go back and analyze. She has found it productive to ask students to re-read the discussions and look at how their ideas have changed over the course of the semester. Interestingly, Kris observed that composition students seem to write better reflective essays when the class is online. She suggested that one explanation could be the fact that students have all the class discussions as archived resources to retrace and reconsider, which is particularly valuable for reflective work.

Echoing Adam’s strategy of leaving the Discussion forum to the students, Kris quotes students in the D2L News or Announcements page rather than highlighting points within the discussion forum itself. This allows Kris to have a voice in the discussion and pull out useful comments, but she can still leave the Discussion forum to the students and avoid interfering in that space. Kris mentioned that her Discussions grow very large, sometimes with over 90 posts in one forum. In contrast, Laretta does contribute to the actual Discussion forums. She participates by asking questions and pushing students to be clearer or re-think a response. The questioning format is less didactic than making “you got this wrong, here’s the answer” types of statements in response to student posts.

Rebecca uses Discussion forums a lot in English 233 (intro to creative writing). In this course, students read model texts and talk about them, and then students generate their own work as a subject of discussion. Rebecca uses the Discussion forum to recreate the workshop environment. She tries to make it a space to give feedback, and a space where students feel like they can contribute freely. Her discussions often grow very large, as students get interested in each other’s work and become comfortable with their classmates. She said that she is fortunate to have taught Education students online, since they are eager and willing to participate in discussions. Many instructors agreed that we need to push some students harder than others, depending on whether or not the students are interested in the course. Diverse groups of students have different needs for guidance and assessment.

As far as encouraging and assessing student participation in discussions, Laretta is consistent and clear about her expectations. She uses an A-through-F grading scale and a rubric. Each week, students get points for the level of discussion. She has detailed descriptions about what students must do to get specific grades for discussion; abstract guidelines don’t work, she said. It takes more time to assign points every week, but it makes a difference in how much people actually use the discussion. Katie Morrissey (who teaches film and media studies online) agreed. She said that when she first taught film studies online, her guidelines were more abstract and she was more lenient. Now, she uses a more detailed rubric, and she reports improvement in the quality and quantity of discussion posts.

One final best practice related to discussions: for online classes of 25 or more students, breaking them into discussion groups is a great idea. Laretta suggested putting students in groups as “teams” writing responses to each other. This teamwork can make a discussion more manageable. She also advised the use of “conditional releases” which permit only students in certain groups to see and respond to certain topics. Adam A. stressed the importance of peer response groups, especially in blogs, which to him seem more interactive than the D2L discussion feature. Adam uses a multi-author blog outside of D2L, and then assigns students into response groups of 6. This way, every post gets at least six responses and the responses become part of the participation grade. Adam A. here emphasized that it is a student space, and he saw major pedagogical pay-off just by requiring them to get in there and talk to each other.

A good size for discussion groups is about 7 people, according to Laretta, and responses to classmates are part of the students’ grade. Some instructors advocated varying the groups and getting students to talk to different classmates throughout the semester. Rebecca said that, in creative writing workshops online, that becomes difficult because students like to build up trust. Sandy Brusin waits to learn about her students’ interests and writing abilities before assigning the groups, and then (like Rebecca) she keeps those groups the same all semester.

Peer Review and Conferencing

For the purposes of online-only peer review, Diane puts her students in groups and creates a group submission folder in the D2L dropbox. Students in the same group can retrieve each other’s papers.

Instructions to create a group dropbox

Kris said that a point of frustration for her is group conferencing. She appreciates the value of getting students into groups so they can hear from more than one person, but she advised that D2L doesn’t work well for group conferencing. She has tried Skype for conferencing as a group, which works well as long as students have a microphone and a headset. She is also using Scriblink with some success this semester.

Navigation and Linking

A good tip Kristi offered is the ability to customize links on the navigation bar of your D2L site. As an alternative to the group dropbox for peer review, she uses GoogleDocs. Kristi creates a link to “GoogleDocs” in her navigation bar to give students quick access to that website and to make it part of the primary web interface of the course. Dylan mentioned that customizing the navbar can be tricky.

Instructions to customize the navbar

Instructions to add an external link to a non-D2L site

Instructions to re-use a custom navbar you created for a previous D2L site

Kristi also uses the D2L Links page to point to other things, such as research blogs that she asks her students to keep in English 102 online. Adam P. uses images in his links page. For example, to link to the library homepage, Adam uses the library’s logo as the link, rather than just linking text. It gives the Links page a less intimidating, more inviting look.

To help students navigate the announcements, Dylan recommends using large text for the title of the announcement (for example, “Week 1”) and putting the most recent things at the top so they are not hard to find.

Delivering Content

Kristi discussed her use of D2L as an assignment archive and learning storehouse for documents. She structures the “Content” area of her D2L site to facilitate students’ reading and responding. Adam A. and Dylan mentioned the option of using an HTML editor to upload assignments, however they both concluded that the HTML editor is not reliable and they both prefer to upload PDF files of all their documents. Adam said the PDF works for him because he is assured that nothing about the appearance of the document will change once it goes online.

Instructions for uploading content

Help with the HTML editor

Kristi uses primarily text to deliver her course content. Many instructors agreed that they relied mostly on text, whether in announcements, emails, PDF files, or discussion posts.

Anne raised the issue of “reading overload” that often plagues students in online-only courses. There comes point when you just want to stop reading. She asked if any instructors use visual, audio, or other multimedia to deliver content. Katie said that she delivers her lectures in text, though (if she had more time) she would like to create slideshow lectures or video lectures. Matt Trease concurred that writing lectures for online delivery takes a lot of time, though he said it might be easier to deliver a lecture as a podcast or video. Speaking out loud to students is less formal and requires less calculation than crafting a written lecture.

Paige stressed that, when she was a student in past Art courses online, the weekly video lecture was so welcome. She recalled how it made her feel like she was part of a face-to-face class, she appreciated having the ability to pause the lecture when needed.

Laretta mentioned her use of Camtasia lectures, but advised us that students don’t necessarily like too many of these lectures. She said that a Camtasia presentation is good once in a while, but it’s best not to use too many. In her experience, students prefer to have the information in writing. Kris agreed that her students mostly like plain and simple text, though Adam P. said he’s gotten positive feedback about his informal video messages to students.

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) has workshops on using multimedia to deliver content in D2L.

Here are instructions for inserting a YouTube video into D2L

I could not find instructions for using video within D2L, as far as clear direction about the preferred file type, or any guidance on how to upload the video directly to D2L. If you know how, please add a link or some tips in the comments.

Time Management

Rebecca mentioned that it seems more challenging to get through the material in an online class compared to a face-to-face class. She said that everything seems to take more time online, and she advised us to remember that it is true for the students as well as for the instructor. It’s not just a matter of being concise, but also covering less. Many participants in the roundtable agreed with her. They said they have had to eliminate activities and lessons from a course when they move it to an online-only format.

One practice that Rebecca has adopted for her online classes is the use of a textbook. Though she usually doesn’t use textbooks in her face-to-face creative writing and literature courses, using a textbook in the online class is helpful and gives students a place to go to “fill in the gaps” for content that was skipped or rushed online.

Laretta advised us that, if you are teaching multiple sections of the same course online, it can be pedagogically and practically useful to combine the D2L course sites. For pedagogical reasons, Laretta says that having more students on one site adds a more diverse range of responses and more options for creating student groups. Practically, it saves Laretta a lot of time since she only has to update one D2L site instead of three. She mentioned that, if you have combined multiple sections into one D2L site, you can sort the email list by section and then email specific groups in each section.

You can use this online form to request that two sections be combined in one site.

Instructor Persona

Kristi uses the Announcements area of her D2L site to add some personality and humor to her updates. She posts photos, YouTube videos, and random links so that her D2L site might be a place students enjoy checking.

One potentially negative aspect of instructor persona on D2L is the “Big Brother” feature that allows instructors to track and monitor students in an online course. Instructors can see how many and how often students have read discussion posts, opened course content, or checked into the site. Though, a few instructors agreed that the Big Brother feature can backfire, since technically it’s not perfect and also it can be deceptive. It can tell you a student has read fewer posts than he/she actually has.

Student Identity

When Laretta teaches about race, she prefers the online environment since students are anonymous and they are inclined to be more open to issues of race. In a face-to-face discussion, students are not as open to commenting on sensitive issues, and I’d imagine gender, religion, and ethnicity also fall into a similar category. Sandy mentioned that D2L can put students on the same level and give them a neutral space to feel protected and free to be honest/open. The more silent students will be more likely to talk if they are online – it equalizes the students who never stop talking online. Another benefit is that students can take their time and compose their responses rather than feeling rushed to say something in a face-to-face class.

Another point Laretta mentioned about student identity is the creation of profiles and avatars on D2L. Students can create a custom profile and add a photo. This can help instructors feel like they really know students.

Does anyone know how to make avatars appear in the discussion threads? Laretta implied that was possible, but I am not sure how. If you know, please leave a tip in the comments.

Creating Community and Engagement

Paige, who has taught face-to-face courses for the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), uses D2L as an archive and a way for students to keep up with the class if they need to be absent for legitimate reasons. Given the interests of students she encounters at MIAD, she uses D2L as a way to extend the conversation visually. She uses the announcements page to do a lot of visual work, which is a simple way to engage students without overcomplicating the site with an extra space that students have to deal with.

A tip for student engagement that Dylan offered is the mobile D2L. There is no “app,” but students can access content and discussions on their smart phone. The mobile D2L is limited, but still could be useful for students on-the-go. Dylan also recommended trying to build your syllabus as an HTML document, rather than simply uploading it as Word document. The HTML format would make it easier for students to access the syllabus on a mobile device.

That wraps it up for me. Thanks to all who attended and participated!


Rachael Sullivan’s iMovie workshop was fantastic! Although she prepared the workshop for iMovie 09 (per the loaner computer from L&S IT that was supposed to mirror the computers in CRT 108), the room actually has iMovie 08. Details…

In spite of this, we got a great introduction to the general layout and workings of iMovie, learning basic skills that could transfer to all versions of iMovie. Here are the topics we covered:

  • the iMovie interface
  • importing video
  • editing video
  • using the yellow selector box
  • using the Edit tool
  • the Clip Trimmer (called Trim Clip in iMovie 08)
  • the Precision Editor (iMovie 09 only)
  • splitting clips
  • adding transitions
  • changing the speed of a clip (iMovie 09 only)
  • adding still images
  • adding text
  • adding and editing audio
  • crediting sources and choosing a license
  • exporting the video
  • iMovie 09 advanced features (we can dream, right?)
  • iMovie resources

You can download the iMovie basics handout to see exactly what we covered during the workshop. It includes lots of screen captures that any first-time iMovie users could follow to create their first video—but remember, the handout is written for iMovie 09. Feel free to distribute it to students, or email Rachael for the editable file (sulliv97 [at] uwm.edu). Thanks to everyone who attended the workshop!

And for those who are interested, here are some of the resources and links that Rachael has gathered over the years. (She credits Ken Stone for his excellent iMovie guide, from which she adapted a few screen captures and some instructions for my own handout.)

Material Licensed for Remixing

Video footage

Prelinger Archive


FreePlay Music



Free Sound (just sound, no music)

Stock Music for Educators


Flickr (go to Search > Advanced Search > Creative Commons)

Possible Assignments, Student Samples, etc.

Bill Wolffʼs gallery of student videos

Bill Wolffʼs “the one” assignment

iMovie Public Service Announcement (PSA) assignment

Using iMovie to Talk about Tragedy

Madeline Sorapure’s “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions

Fair Use regulations for educators

Know about more resources? Put them in the comments!

Digital creative writing practice and pedagogy workshops

This semester’s workshops focus on digital creative writing practice and pedagogy. Here’s the schedule:

  • The first workshop (11/5) looks at a wide range of fiction/creative non-fiction/poetry in all-digital formats.
  • The second workshop (11/19) teaches participants to use Prezi, an easy-to-learn (as in 10 minutes) application, from a creative writing perspective. (Remember our Prezi workshop from last year?)
  • The third workshop (12/3) is about sharing ideas developing together some flexible ideas for digital assignments in English 233: Introduction to Creative Writing.

These workshops are held from 11:00 am – 12:30 pm in Curtin 108. See you there!

spring digital technolgy roundup

I’d like to mention here several digital technologies we haven’t necessarily covered in a workshop — they’re fairly popular programs that I’ve used as a student this semester, and in case you’re looking for non-D2L options for online course spaces, these might prove useful.

PBWorks (wiki)
Several graduate students and instructors at UWM have already used wikis for their own professional development and teaching — from a place to gather their writing for preliminary exams, to looking at Wikipedia as a site of collaborative research writing and debate, to using wikis as a site for collaborative creative writing or to build collective definitions of key course terms.

This spring, one of my classes used PBWorks, one of several collaboration sites that allows educators to build a free wiki for their students to use. (They have a free education edition that allows up to 100 users.) Our class used PBWorks as a place to develop definitions of key terms that we worked with throughout the semester, and we also embarked on a collaborative story and end-of-semester reflection.

Ning (social network)
Ning is one of several social networking sites educators use, but as of July 2010 Ning plans to end all free/ad-supported networks, so it’s not really a practical option for instructors at UWM going forward.

There are several alternatives to Ning, including SocialGo, which I tested out, making a mock-up site for English 102. The set-up was a little overwhelming at first, but I’m betting that SocialGo isn’t much more complicated than any other social network — it’s just a matter of taking in all the elements of the site. My one complaint is that discussions aren’t very well “threaded,” from what I can tell, but a different setup or template from the one I used might thread differently.

Social networks are a nice alternative to D2L’s discussion threads, as they give you and your students a much greater measure of control over the look and feel of the space that you communicate in. If you depend on D2L’s digital dropbox or surveillance mechanisms (tracking of student activity on the site), a social network might not answer all your needs — but I can imagine using D2L just for the “administrative” side of class and using a social networking site for discussion, for example.

Jing (screen capture and screencasting)
Jing is downloadable software that lets you take and share screen captures and screencasting fairly easily. (Screencasts can last up to five minutes.) This is helpful especially for instructors of online classes, as it allows you to show your students how, for example, to upload an assignment to D2L or to change the file type of a document or start searching the library’s website. (I have also used Jing to make a short presentation for class, kind of like talking over PowerPoint slides as they appear on screen.)

Related software, Camtasia, is from the company that makes Jing (TechSmith). Camtasia is not free software, but you can get a free 30-day trial. Camtasia allows you to record a screencast and do postproduction work on the file, allowing for much more polish than Jing.

Twitter (microblogging)
One of my classes required that we post to twitter at least once a week this semester, and another professor openly and strongly encouraged students to get on twitter and at least start following people in the field.

In the class that requited twitter, my classmates and I found it to be a good space to post links that were tangentially related to class, as well as to have some of those hallway or water fountain (I mean… um… bubbler) conversations that occur before and after class meetings. I also found that twitter was a good place to follow events, such as the Olympics and conferences, as they were happening.

More on the blog front
There are several ways instructors are working with blogs in our department, but I heard about one at the last workshop that I found fascinating: Adam Andrews, a lecturer in our department, maintains an open blog that all of his online students post to. Students talk to each other across sections about their writing and non-class-related things. Adam sees this as an online space where the “underlife” of these comp classes can develop, giving students another way to interact with each other “outside” of the formal structure of class. I wonder if a cross-section wiki could work similarly.

Looking ahead
Is there something here or anything else you’d like us to cover in a workshop next fall? I’m going to be spending part of my summer thinking up workshops for next year, but without your input, I have no idea what would be most helpful: a session on Prezi and creative writing? another look at Dreamweaver? Flash? course document design?

You name it. Feel free to comment on this post or email me at kkprins@uwm.edu.

using your UWM webspace for teaching

This fall’s workshops all focused on different aspects of getting your UWM webspace up and running. In this workshop, we focus on how you might use your website for teaching.

To get started, check out these examples of course-related webpages:

  • Andy Buchenot’s English 240 blog
  • Trent Hergenrader’s website (check out the English 102 and 233 websites under Teaching)
  • Gregory Jay’s website (check out the Highlights links)
  • Anne Wysocki’s website (check out the Classes link)

(Using your UWM webspace or other websites to teach? Send ’em in, and we’ll add them to the list!)

As you can see, there are several ways instructors use websites for their classes:

  • Andy posts things of interest that relate to the class and keeps a list of links to his students’ blogs.
  • Trent includes several pages about his work, from what he’s writing and reading to his coursework. Additionally, though, in the pages linked from the Teaching section, Trent includes his course description, calendar, policies, goals and contact information (syllabus stuff) and includes major assignments.
  • Greg Jay’s site is a compendium of his own work, including publications, PowerPoints from talks, photos from travels and an extensive page on Whiteness Studies (which could almost function as its own mini-course).
  • Under Classes, Anne includes links to several course websites with syllabus and assignment information and other course-related documents, but her site also links to her own work, the department and the university.

More generally, I see three major ways that these and other instructors use websites for their courses:

  • to house syllabus/course documents/assignments (in addition to or replacing paper copies)
  • to house links for student research and reference (including links to other course sites/pages)
  • to house student work (such as links to student blogs, etc.)

What other uses do you see on these sites? On others? What other uses can you imagine being beneficial for the classes you teach?

Finally, why would you want to do any of this? What benefits and limitations do you see to moving these and other kinds of work for class online?

presenting with Prezi

Much like PowerPoint, Prezi is a presentation tool. Unlike PowerPoint, Prezi allows you to show spatial relationships between elements in your presentation fairly easily and elegantly.

Prezi is online software as a service, so you’ll need to create an account and be able to work online to use it. They have a basic level that is free to everyone, but with a .edu email address, you can get get their enjoy account (the second of three levels) for free.

Their website has a learn section that can help you get going, and it includes tutorials, guides, manuals, templates, and more. (As you get started, you might also look at how people are talking about it here and here and here. And here. And of course, here.)

stay in touch

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English Department Tweets


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