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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.

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