All posts by Cecile-Anne Sison

Putting IT To Use: One Button Studio

Since the MMLC has been in the Library, we’ve really been taking advantage of our proximity to our peers. I thought I would start a blog series called “Putting IT To Use” about how a language professor or other Humanists could incorporate some of the new (or at least new to you!) technology Northwestern has.

IMG_2969First up is the One Button Studio (OBS), which is similar to the Lightboard studio in practice.  A lot of units will most likely talk about these two studios in terms of how you can shoot segments to use in MOOCs or flipping/blending/hybridizing your courses. And they’d be right! It’s easy to use – all you need is a thumbdrive (oh and BTDubs did you know the MMLC has thumbdrives available for check out?) to save your recordings onto.

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DemoCats I – Sylvie, Mochi, Kuma and Luna


In what will hopefully become a recurring feature for the MMLC blog, our pet cats (and our colleagues’ pet cats) test out the equipment that the MMLC has available for checkout. If you have a tech-leaning Northwestern-affiliated cat who would like to become part of our team, please feel free to shoot me a message in the comments.


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To Connect and Serve: Where to go for MMLC Support Services

mmlcmanexportcameraGood news for you Humanities faculty out there! The MMLC has completed our move to the NU Library and many of you may be wondering where you can go or how you can get the same services you were used to getting in Kresge. The MMLC may be spread out across campus now, but we are committed to supporting you and your students. All of our facilities are open when classes are in session, and among some of our new spaces are:

  • The MMLC Computer Classroom (NU Library Lower Level, Room B183)
  • The MMLC Equipment Checkout Counter (NU Library Lower Level, Room B185). Open Monday-Thursday 8:30am-6:30pm, Friday 8:30am-5pm
  • The MMLC Activity Space (Deering Library Second Floor, Room 208 – shared with the Music Listening Library). Open Monday-Thursday 10am-10pm, Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 1pm-5pm, Sunday 1pm-10pm.
  • The MMLC Student Project Studio (Locy Hall Room 316)
  • The MMLC Digital Art Computer Lab (Roycemore School B37)

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It Don’t Mean A Thing, If We Don’t Have A Swing (Space)

This summer will mark the beginning of a massive renovation of Kresge Centennial Hall. The MMLC, along with many of the building’s faculty occupants, departments, programs and centers, will move to a set of temporary locations during the nearly 3-year project. We’re very excited for Kresge’s future, but we’re also working to make sure that our assigned interim “swing space” in Northwestern’s Main Library allows us to continue meeting the learning and instructional needs of Weinberg students and faculty. In this article, we want to provide more details about our upcoming temporary home, explain how our operations will change, and share some suggestions that may help. Full Post

The Anatomy of a 1 Hour iPad Activity

iPad cart workshop

As promised, the MMLC unveiled a new iPad Cart that I talked about last month. To get people up to speed, the MMLC hosted a workshop for interested faculty on October 12, 2013. Since many of you are aware of the basic functions of iPads, the workshop focused on why you would want to use an iPad in class and how to design lesson plans for short one-off activities.

Why use an iPad in a classroom setting?

The purely logistical reason for integrating iPads is that there are specific apps you want your students to use but your students don’t have access to their own iPads or the MMLC’s term loan ones. Or you have an activity that can’t be done with just a computer. Perhaps more importantly, you have a creative activity that you want your students to do in class for the immediacy of it. You want your students to experience real-time pressure, work in groups, and ideally maximize engagement – which is what we had in the back of our minds when we presented the participants of the workshop with the activity we were going to have them do. Full Post

iPad Carts: Activities in One Hour


So the big news around these parts lately is that the 2 year iPad study taken on by Franziska Lys has ended the research phase, so now we can take what we learned from supporting these classes and apply our iPad resources to what we at the MMLC feel would be most helpful.  So what exactly do we think will be helpful?  Having different ways of circulating our iPad inventory, that’s what:

  1. The status quo: 2-3 classes per quarter (depending on enrollment numbers) where the students get to keep the iPad all the way through finals week and personalize their iPads just as if they bought them straight from Apple.  Some of these will also be set aside for Faculty teaching these classes in case they do not already own an iPad.
  2. For faculty who want to play around with the iPad/get to know how to use it: We’ll have one iPad for faculty to check out for a week, and also given with Factory Settings so professors can set it up as they like.  Another will be set up in the lab, built with apps and loaded with media so Instructors can get to know apps that the MMLC have found to work well in the classroom.
  3. The exciting one: An iPad cart meant to be used for classes with enrollments up to 15 students and 1 instructor!  This cart will be treated like all of the MMLC’s other reservable equipment, and can be reserved/checked out for 3 hours up to the end of the day.  The iPads on the cart are meant to be used for activities that are short term and require no personalization or set up.  These iPads will be given out to Faculty to be distributed and then collected at the end of the class period, and since we know that 50 minutes goes quickly, the iPads will be set up with a specific apps that the MMLC has found to be useful.  Each will be set up with sequential pre-made accounts, so ideally an instructor would wheel the cart into the class, hand them out, and start iPadding [not an actual word].

I want to focus on the exciting one, of course.  I’ll take you through the process of reserving the cart, what kind of questions you as an instructor should ask yourself, and most importantly, exactly what kind of activities you can do with the cart.  The key to using the cart, as with many things in life, is to plan ahead.




Since this cart will be all about immediate usage, we need to make sure that both the cart and you as the professor are prepped and ready for the class, which is why making the reservation in advance is so important.  You can make a reservation for the cart in one of 3 ways:

A) email us at

B) call us at 847-491-4167

C) our favorite way, stop by the lab desk in Kresge 1-335



When you make a reservation, you should already know the answers to the following questions:

  1. What activities do I want to do with the students?  If you don’t have a clue about this, this blog might help you come up with some ideas.  If you really don’t know what you want to do with your students – perhaps just schedule a consult with someone at the MMLC.  It’s perfectly acceptable to just want to explore your options before diving in.
  2. What apps will you be using to do these activities?  Are they already on the iPad, or will the MMLC need to add them to the iPad ahead of time?  Though we don’t have one at the moment, we’ll be publishing a list of apps that will be included on the iPads on the cart.
  3. Do you need to distribute any material to your class (from a Collaborative app such as DropBox or GoogleDrive)?  Do you have this set up on your own computer yet [hint: you will need to set this up on your computer, and we can help you do it so long as it’s planned ahead of time].
  4. Do you have any specific language or dictionary settings you need activated on the iPad?

On to the activities.  After reviewing all of the rubrics for the classes that participated in the iPad study, it seems that at least for language professors, the main goal of the class was to make students better at

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Listening comprehension
  • Being more comfortable with speaking.

At the same time, the MMLC has identified categories of activities that the iPad is well-suited for, each of which can address one ore more of those goals.  Keep these in mind, I’ll refer to these categories periodically.

A) Communication – being able to talk with others, back-channeling
B) Collaboration – sharing files, working together on things
C) Media Consumption – reading, surfing the web, watching videos, listening to audio, annotating
D) Content Creation  – drawing, writing, making videos
E) Presentation — more than just making the usual slide shows, having an iPad for presentation can sometimes promote interactivity with your students.

Now that you know what kind of parameters we’re working with, let’s talk about things in terms of a Professor’s goals. The best way of improving is that age old thing – practice.  So what are things you can have students do in an hour?   What are things that one can do on the iPad that are self contained?  For activities that do not require personalizing the device with a student’s information, the iPad is especially powerful in terms of Media Consumption, Content Creation and Presentation – all of which are helpful for honing reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

iPad as an Interactive and Extremely Current Textbook

Reading and listening comprehension, here it is.  Taking advantage of the dictionaries on the iPads is a major help as it allows students to read quicker.  Even more than that though, with the internet in the palm of their hands, your students have access to limitless articles, some of which are hot off the presses.  An example of an activity one could do is something that Noriko Taira Yasohama did with her Japanese students – the students were tasked to find an article online, speed read it, and within 10 minutes present a verbal summary of the reading to a partner who would record their speaking.  Instead of presenting their findings, you may just want your students to annotate whatever they read or make a written summary, and there are several note-taking apps available in order for your students to do so (e.g. Noteability, Neu Notes, Good Reader).  In addition to news articles or scholarly journals, access to the web also includes blogs or forums that students can interact with.  And this sort of media consumption followed by summation is not limited to the written word – with the iPad, students can also access videos to improve listening comprehension – they can watch them and comment on them with little fuss.

iPad as a Readily-Available Web Browser

Similarly, the browser (Safari) allows the students to be online and therefore have access for research.  You can do something like Rami Nair did with her Hindi class – when students were given a word or a term, they had to research and present to their peers a definition of the term (for example “a knight”), complete with pictures and/or videos.  Another possible activity could be something that Chungsheng Yang had his Chinese students do, which is have his students find images to represent idioms.  The portability of the iPad in a sense makes whatever classroom you are in into a computer lab.

iPad as a Self-Contained Learning tool

The great thing about the iPad is the number of apps available to you and your students.  There are thousands of apps that are geared toward education, many of them to suit your needs (you just need to find them).  There are specific vocabulary games, such as Word Tracer, which many Chinese classes used for students to remember the correct order of strokes when writing characters.  There are Flashcard and Quizzing apps, which were employed by Judith Wilks’ Turkish class to help with memorization of the vocabulary lists for each unit.  There are even apps to use real world data in the classroom, such as one used to track the Euro in Katrin Voelkner’s Business German Class.  Or a Meme Generator that was used in Benay Stein’s Business Spanish class.  These apps seem like games to the students (and indeed they are!), but they can easily and quickly be done in a classroom setting.

iPad as a Creative tool

Even without recording, just having students speak via presenting to you or their peers is good practice.  There are several presentation apps that allow students to make something more than just a powerpoint presentation.  With web access they can use Prezi, but also there is Slide Shark, Keynote or Doceri (which allows for real time annotation of the presentation).  Students can make their presentations interactive with immediate feedback using an app like Top Hat (which acts like a mobile device version of ‘Clickers’).  What’s great about all of these apps though, is that it’s possible for students to put together a presentation in less than an hour if they have all of their content readily available (which they do!  Either you can provide pictures or videos or articles, or the entire internet is at their fingers – just as Rami Nair’s class did as mentioned above).  Sometimes a student presentation does not even have to be long – it could be a single image either drawn (like Margaret Dempster’s French class did using the Doodlecast Pro app) or a collage in the style of a Comic Book, which is something that Marie Hicks, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) does with her students.  The ease of the tools coupled with access to content on the internet can allow your students to be creative.

Taking presentation further to recording however is incredibly powerful because it gives the option for students to review how they’re doing.  One thing that is agreed upon across the board is that it’s helpful for students to be able to watch and listen to themselves speaking – what they hear in their heads while speaking is not necessarily what everyone else hears. They can listen to their pronunciations, right or wrong, and then make adjustments in the future.  To this end, the iPad is one stop shopping for this – the iPad has a camera, it can record audio, and it has editing tools that are easy to use (such as iMovie).   One activity that Ana Williams and Raquel Amorim have been doing in their Portuguese classes (without the use of an iPad) is have the students produce a commercial.  They do this in class with a regular camera, and the commercial is a single shot.  They then have to wait for the videos to be processed before the students can review it.  In January of 2013, the MMLC hosted a workshop for faculty and we based one of our exercises on this – we had faculty split into groups, choose one of the products we provided, write a commercial collaboratively (in English, using Google Docs) and then shoot the commercial.  The MMLC then spent 10 minutes showing the faculty how to edit, and the entire commercial was completed in 50 minutes.  The results were quite good, especially considering that typically students are quicker than faculty when it comes to picking up how to use technology.

These are by no means all of the ways you could use the iPad with your students in an hour, but hopefully it will get you thinking.  Having one device that is capable of all these things is fun, but preparation is key on the part of the instructor.  While everything is fairly intuitive, our interviews with the students made it clear that the more thought-out the assignment and the more established a projects’ parameters, the better the students responded to it.

MOOC: Motivating Oneself Onwards? Curses!

MOOCs are a big topic at Northwestern right now, with the University exploring both Coursera and 2U classes for next year. So what’s it all about? What will it mean for students to take a MOOC? I recently completed my first Coursera course and I have to admit it was tough, but not in the way you might think.

You get a nice signed Statement of Accomplishment when you finish a Coursera course.

You get a nice signed Statement of Accomplishment when you finish a Coursera course.

Maybe this is a little bit meta, since the Coursera course I took was the second iteration of Gamification taught by Kevin Werbach at UPenn’s Wharton School of Business. There was a lot of psychology in broad terms focusing on motivation in relation to target audiences so I can’t help but make parallels between the talking points of the lectures to how I approached the class.  Werbach himself even copped to utilizing certain aspects of Gamification based on what he knows about motivation in the structure of the class.  And truly, that’s what I had the most trouble with – pushing myself to continue.

Enrollment at different periods of the Spring 2013 Gamification class.  Graph by Kevin Werbach.

Enrollment at different periods of the Spring 2013 Gamification class. Graph by Kevin Werbach.

Coursera is a different beast than 2U.  Ideally, 2U classes will allow you to get credit at your institution (exactly how much credit equivalency remains to be seen).  If you’re enrolled in a participating institution, you can enroll in a 2U class.  Coursera is free and anyone – and I mean ANYONE – so long as you have a computer and an internet connection, can take it.  I guess that’s why the M in MOOC stands for Massive(-ly).  To give you an idea of how massive, midway through the course we received an email with the stats.  Originally around 63,000 people had registered for the course and only 12,000 handed in the first assignment.  They expected this sort of attrition, but what’s amazing is that Gamification is a popular course and this percentage of loss was actually much less than most.

So what was so hard for me?  Why do so many people drop out?  What’s the difference between going to class online and physically going to class?  Sure, it’s been at least 7 years since I last took a college level class. I will freely admit that while attending Northwestern, my alma mater, I occasionally missed class on purpose (my reasoning being that sometimes I prioritized learning through my extra-curriculars over lectures).  The difference was, I knew if I missed a physical class, I had friends to catch me up.  I wasn’t a total slacker back in the day, and when it came down to the graded elements, I always knew I would figure it out and manage to pass whatever tests or essays came my way.   I was always accountable, and I had a professor who would call me out if I stepped out of line.  I think there was also the aspect of “the class is paid for already and it is a service for me” – like I was paying for the final grade on my transcript rather than the actual things I learned.  With Coursera, I didn’t pay for it, so the only person keeping me accountable was myself.

So with a MOOC like this, there has to be an honest interest in the subject matter or there has to be a reason to know the material – you have to want to learn the material.  Otherwise, there isn’t anything that will force you to watch the video lectures.  You have to actually set aside time to watch the videos, do the homework (in some cases but not this particular course, even read).  No peer pressure, it’s all on you.  Granted, Coursera offers a “Signature-Track” where you can pay around $40.00 to have all of your work linked to your name (rather than a number) –

While paying my tuition during my undergraduate years might have been a de-motivator for me to attend class, for my friend paying was motivation for her to attend her Coursera class.

While paying my tuition during my undergraduate years might have been a de-motivator for me to attend class, for my friend paying was motivation for her to attend her Coursera class.

while I was lamenting my lack of motivation on Facebook, I found out a friend was also taking the class (the massiveness of the class making the world even smaller) and she confessed that paying the money was the only way she would be motivated to do the work.  So here monetized motivation works in the opposite way than normal tuition did for me – when no credit is at stake, not completing the work would seem like a waste of the $40.00!

Werbach on Laptop

Having the freedom to attend class whenever you want allows you to multitask.

I had an interest in the topic, so that was enough to push me to “attend” the weekly two hours or so of lectures (it helped that I could do things like wash dishes while doing this).  After taking this course, I’ve since learned (through my perusal of other course options and by comments made by friends and colleagues) that the production value of the the Gamification course is not the norm.  I can’t even imagine what I would do if Professor Werbach’s delivery had been less engaging or if the lighting was terrible or if he hadn’t done as much prep work as he did.  I won’t sit through a movie that bores me to tears, so I definitely wouldn’t sit through lectures.  So I have to give Professor Werbach props for all of his work dividing up his lectures into easy digestable bites and trying to make the visuals  high quality and as interactive as possible.  He even had a game going on in the background of his lectures for the observant many (I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to take this class yourself).  He peppered his lectures with the occasional guest interview, and while the subject matter was useful for real world examples, sometimes the lack of finesse with the recording made it difficult for me to want to watch.  You might say, “but Cecile, you make media – you’re just being picky!” but I swear to you it makes a difference.  People may be forgiving of shaky-cam, but the minute the audio is not up to scratch, people turn off what they’re watching.  I don’t have the facts and figures, but I know that Gamification retains a higher percentage of enrolled students than most other courses.  I’d be willing to bet much of it has to do with the fact that his videos don’t suck.

So I’d committed to at least watching the videos, but we also had assignments – how did I choose to actively participate rather than just audit the class?  We had quizzes (which were obviously open note, with both multiple choice and multiple selection type questions).  I wonder about my retention of the topics for these quizzes because for me the information was so current – I would watch the video and immediately take the quiz.  While learning all of these things superficially, it’s really up to me how well everything sinks into my head.  For the most part I did well on these. We also had written assignments of business proposals and GRADING of our peers’ written assignments (which I will go into a little more in depth on).  Since we were given a rubric to use for grading at the time that we were writing our own, I felt that the writing assignments acted more like busy work than deep theorizing.  I was regurgitating notes from the video lectures for the most part and just organizing it a way that would satisfy the rubric.  This rubric was both a ticket to passing the course, yet also a crutch that made it hard for me to invest myself in the writing.  Though the process of writing helped me solidify concepts but given the constraints (and even word count), it was hard to feel like any of the writing was meaningful.  Especially since I knew that my work wasn’t going to be read by the authority on the subject (Professor Werbach) but just my peers (which I’m getting to).  At least I didn’t feel regret about passing on the Signature Track, since I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read my work!

The feedback I received on my final written assignment.  The suggestions were valid.

The feedback I received on my final written assignment. The suggestions were valid.

With all that said, I did very well on the written assignments.  Perfect scores across the board.  I don’t say this to brag, I say it to show that if you follow the rubric, you can’t fail.   So this brings me to the point where I talk about the hardest part of the class for me – Grading my peers.  This is the thing about MOOCs – since anyone can take a Coursera course, you have different levels of students and different levels of understanding, and even people who have varying grasps of how to write a Business Proposal.  You even have different ages of people from teenagers all the way to people in their 80s.  The majority of these people are not currently enrolled in school.  It was difficult for me to grade my “peers” (quotations intentional), so much so that grading the first assignment was the point where I considered dropping.  And I was not alone.  In Professor Werbach’s wrap up video of the class, he says that the “precipitous drop in enrollment” happens when the peer assessments roll around.  For me, it wasn’t because some of the assignments were hard to figure out what the point was (one infamous assignment I had to grade included an emoticon).  It’s because this was actually the most work for me, it’s where I actually applied my mind the most – reading and understanding.  And I wasn’t sure until that moment what this class could offer me that I couldn’t learn simply by reading Professor Werbach’s book.  I will say (and Matt I’m sure will echo my thoughts) that some of my reviewers, when answering “What they liked” or “What they thought I could improve on”, really surprised me with their insight.  I guess the type of people who continue in the course past this point are the type of people that care.   So I guess I was *one of them.

So the question remains.  Will I take another Coursera course?   The answer to that is a resounding yes!   I’m “watching” for some classes that will be offered again that seemed interesting so hopefully they’ll happen when I have enough spare time to devote to it.  Learning for learning sake should be enough motivation for me now.  Do you have an idea for a course you want to build into a MOOC?  When you do, keep in mind your audience’s experiences – it’s one thing to make a MOOC, it’s quite another to have your students stay with you to the end.  With all that said, I leave you with some statistics on the class that Professor Werbach compiled because when you teach that MOOC, there’s no telling who your student might be.

Stats compiled by Professor Werbach after the conclusion of the Spring 2013 Gamification class

Stats compiled by Professor Werbach after the conclusion of the Spring 2013 Gamification class

* To a point  – I didn’t care enough to participate in the message boards.