All posts by Mark Schaefer

Don’t Lose It! Move It!

A blast from the past… the “old” MMLC lab in Kresge Hall with a co-led MMLC - NUIT workshop on migrating content to Canvas…  Vicki Getis from NUIT talks with Penny Fahey (middle) as Katrin Volkner listens.

A blast from the past… the “old” MMLC lab in Kresge Hall with a co-led MMLC/NUIT workshop on migrating content to Canvas… Vicky Getis from NUIT talks with Penny Nichols (middle) as Katrin Volkner listens.

This month, the University’s main course management system, Canvas, will move front and center, and Blackboard will be taken off line at Northwestern at the end of August. The systems will change, but the content inside won’t for NUL services like Course Reserve.

In fact, in changing from working with Blackboard to working with the more modern Canvas, the Course Reserves area has become a one-stop location for all reserved materials, from streaming media clips to full-length films, to books, journals and articles.

Kurt Munson, the University Library librarian who heads up services like Course Reserves, says that the move from Blackboard to Canvas certainly made things easier for faculty and students.  And the Library has been consolidating services for requesting reserve materials and centering the requesting reserves and the delivery of those same materials in the same place: right inside each Canvas course site. Full Post

Get Thee to Canvas!

Graphic showing 70% adoption rate of CanvasThis graphic from the Canvas Transition team in NUIT shows almost 3/4 of the classes at NU are now using Canvas Learning System for classes

Canvas, the new learning management system for classes at Northwestern, will be the only platform available for class use next academic year.

Already more than 70% of classes have made the switch, and for faculty who have not made the switch from Blackboard there are people from the MMLC, and NUIT, and even Canvas support staff waiting to help you make the transition with workshops, drop-in labs, even online chat available 24/7.

Remember, NUIT will switch off Blackboard for good this summer.

To help you get prepared for the move, we asked four Weinberg faculty to play mentor and guide for a few moments, to encourage colleagues to make the “leap” to Canvas.  We spoke with Denise Meuser from the German department, Raquel Amorim from Spanish and Portuguese, Noriko Taira Yasohama from Asian Languages and Cultures, and Lam-Thao Nguyen from the French and Italian department.  All have taught classes using Canvas this year, and they shared with us advice and tips to help you make the plunge with Canvas.

Full Post

Design – in Time – Saves Nine

Front page of "old" Obamacare Sign-up site.

The “original” front page of the insurance exchanges site in fall of 2013.

picture of iPhone and Galaxy

Hmm. Which one is the iPhone? Hint: it is not the left one.

The word “design” seems to be used more as a noun than a verb in the last decade or so.

The “design” of the website for insurance exchanges,, was a big issue last fall, as it interfered with signing people up for healthcare.

Court rulings on whether or not Apple’s “design” for the iPhone was copied by Samsung have made headlines for several years as the trials wend their way through the courts.

Design has come to be affiliated with a kind of “personal” style. Adopting the “look” of Ralph Lauren’s clothing, or the look of Gucci or Levis, or Old Navy says something about you, and how you want to be viewed by others. Some would never wear Gucci and Old Navy at the same time. Some people would never wear Gucci, period.

You get the idea.

Can the same be true of documents, and web pages and PDF files you create? Is there “fashion” in fonts? Or at least better at doing their “job” than other fonts? Full Post

The Face-Time Continuum

Video chat is growing in use by leaps and bounds. Skype, FaceTime, OoVoo, Google Hangouts, Facebook…

Mark Schaefer conducts a video chat

Mark Schaefer “chats” with his phone, using USB lighting connected to his laptop.

When Apple released the FaceTime software for iPhones and iPads it brought video chat to the forefront of long-distance communication.  It’s as simple as opening an app and tapping on an email address. And its ease of use is a selling point for Apple.

The MMLC has a video conferencing camera available for checkout, and Northwestern’s upcoming CMS pilot-program for Canvas uses “video remediation” for feedback with students. Video chat – it’s coming.  Grading could soon be done with a video recording sent to the student as feedback.

Over the last two years working with the iPad Study I encountered a lot of resistance from faculty to engage in a video chat.  “Oh, I look terrible on camera!” and remarks similar to that. And I would tell them, it’s not you that looks terrible. It is the lighting in the room.

 The web is full of examples of bad looking video chats (this link will take you to “Let Me Google That For You“, a site which will then seemingly — and humorously  — take over your mouse pointer for a moment to search for examples of chat screen shots.)

Students use iPads in Japanese class.

Students studying Japanese use iPad video cameras during a class activity

You’ll find silhouetted outlines of people who thought the window behind them would look good in a chat, or did not realize the lamp across the room was too weak.

Simple, low-cost solutions

Let’s look at simple ways to improve the lighting, improve the camera’s angle, and how to communicate on video.

Mark Schaefer uses LED lights to improve a video chat.

Using two USB LED lights connected to my laptop makes a big difference in how I look on the other end of the chat…

If you use a laptop, you can get small LED lights that are plenty bright, stay cool to the touch, and are easy to use.  For this setup with my laptop, I bought two LED lights from Amazon. They plug into a USB port or into an AC charger for a smartphone.  The foldable one is a Samsung book light with four brightness levels and cost 28 dollars, but it has its own battery, and it can even charge another device from its battery.  The smaller flexible one has 28 LED lights — it cost a little over 3 dollars!  I bought two different ones just to demonstrate,  it would have been fine to by two of the three dollar LED lights.


Here is a before/after pic from my Mac’s webcam, with no retouching.  The lights are bright, but not annoying.  (I also turned down my monitor’s brightness on my laptop to minimize that “zombie blue” color so frequent in video chats.)

This is a "before lights" and "with lights" comparison. The LED lights connect to the laptops USB ports, or can be powered from a USB smartphone charger

This is a “before lights” and “with lights” comparison.

You can see I have made some physical changes, too.  My laptop’s camera is “eye-level” to minimize the “nostril” effect of a cam on my desk looking up at me.  A few hardback books can make a fine stand if you need it.

I chose to wear a dark, non-patterned color. (Black really is slimming!) And there is no distracting pattern or logo.  And whatever you do, avoid all white, it makes all kinds of people look less than their best in webcam video.

If you want, you can pay more money for more specialized lighting.  Some are made for tablets too.  The costs range from twenty dollars to two hundred dollars.

The ViewMe Lights work with a laptop and a desktop, and the quality of the light is good. If you will regularly appear in television interviews via Skype or some other method, it might be worth the $199 investment.


A company called ChatLight has two modestly priced models.  Each forms a ring around a computer monitor or tablet, like a makeup room in a theater. They give a very complimentary look, and make deep wrinkles appear less so. They cost twenty dollars for an iPad and twenty-five dollars for a laptop.


But two LED lights for about 7 bucks total from Amazon?  Not bad!  At least you can see my blue eyes… Though the look of the development area where I work looks less catchy than the Crowe cafe!




Sitting at my desk in the MMLC, it seems obvious that two LED lights, connected to USB ports on my laptop and aimed at my face during a chat, make a world of difference.


Additional Resources:

The Next Web: How to create a great video chat experience. (YouTube promotional video)

ViewMe lighting system (a more expensive, more elegant solution).

Inexpensive (under 4 dollars) LED USB lights from Amazon used in this article.

Samsung LED foldable book-light with battery and adjustable arm, $28.








What’s the Point, PowerPoint?

Presentation Workshop Series in May

The MMLC offered two workshops in a series for increasing presentation skills for faculty. Both workshops were well full, and full of great questions and contributions.

MMLC Presentation Software Workshop

Matt Taylor and Mark Schaefer of the MMLC discuss with faculty “best practices” for presentation software. The two part series, along with many others, will resume in the new academic year.

Both Matthew Taylor and Mark Schaefer were on hand, offering hands-on guidance for faculty working in various software programs, and filled the time with “best practices” for presentations for conferences, and also for classroom use to improve learning.

For those that could not make it, here are two links with the resources, and links to great places on the web where you can pick up tips & tricks, templates, and short video tutorials.

  • Workshop 1 • Concepts of Presentations. (Note: NetID required)
  • Workshop 2 • Animations and Design Approaches.

You can see one of the many resources at the above links in the “Walk” verb tenses animation.  Presentations are commonly used at conferences and and symposia, and the resource links are full of good ideas for those situations, but they are also good for drawing attention to things like sentence structure when teaching a language, or a technical process.

We will offer more workshops in the future — feel free to suggest topics that you would like to explore in an hour long or 90 minute workshop!


This animation, made in Apple Keynote, is one of the files included as an example of animations in teaching language.

This animation, made in Apple Keynote, is one of the files included as an example of animations in teaching language.










If you are interested in discussing presentation software further, stop by and visit!  The Multimedia Learning center is on the ground floor of Kresge Hall, Suite 1-347.


World Wine Web winds up!


This May, we concluded our inaugural “World. Wine. Web.” series of events for this academic year. The informal gatherings hosted monthly by the MMLC for faculty were lively, entertaining, and filled with discussions about the careful use of technologies that can improve learning.

World Wine Web gathering at MMLC

An informal gathering of faculty to discuss technology and learning…

The hour-long gatherings provided food and drink and discussions for faculty — by faculty. The success of the format was its simplicity: a little mingling, followed by a brief overview by our guests, and then a majority of the time open for questions, discussions, and more mingling. The MMLC also worked to make the setting itself relaxed and informal, transforming our Kresge 1-375 Seminar Room into a salon.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Ana Williams (Portuguese) spoke about her use of Moodle as a course management system and how it contrasts with Blackboard, allowing students to achieve a unique interactivity through their blog-like posts.
  • Franziska Lys (German) is a member of the Northwestern CMS Planning Committee currently evaluating the future of online course systems. She discussed the various criteria and options they’re investigating.
  • Aude Raymond and Christiane Rey talked about the process, challenges, and benefits of rebuilding a custom-made online learning courseware, compared to licensing products from textbook publishers.
  • Michael Kramer (History) has been pioneering Digital Humanities in the classroom by having his Digital Folk History classes create and add to a digital archive through WordPress and Omeka platforms.
  • John Bresland (English) teaches his students to make compelling visual essays, demystifying the tech behind it and inspired everyone with the quality of the work his students produced.
  • Lis Elliot (Slavic) discussed her investigation of dictionaries: both the need for a culturally sensitive visual dictionary for Russian learners and also a future dictionary project to developed over the summer following a summer digital humanities workshop taking place in the MMLC.

There will be more World. Wine. Web. gatherings next academic year. As before, a little red wine and some imported cheeses will help to fuel the conversation both during the main discussion and afterwards between faculty from different areas of the College. Let us know if you have some discussion ideas you think would make good food for thought.


Twitter Hacked! Are You Next?

Illustration of AP and Twitter logo

Twitter Hacked!  Are You Next?

The Nest Web article on hacking Twitter accounts.

Screen snap of article at The Next Web on the successful hacking of Associated Press’s Twitter account. The false tweet caused the stock market to stumble, but was soon corrected by Associated Press and quickly verified by the White House that the report had been in error.


You may remember near the end of April when the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked, and a false new alert  was sent about an attack at the White House?

You could be embarrassed next.  Why?  If you, like the AP, have not enabled 2-step authorizations on your social media accounts, you very well may be next.

Feeling Insecure about Your Security?

Security in the cloud-connected world is getting constantly better.  In the past year or so, Google, Facebook, Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, Twitter, among other organizations have built-in an extra layer of security, called two-step authorization.

If you log into a public computer in the library, or at a colleague’s computer and want to get something from your Google Drive or Dropbox account, normally you log in with your user name, and password to that service.

But if you enable “two-step” authorization — the site will let you in only AFTER it first sends a text to your mobile phone with a short code, a kind of temporary extra password that lets you use a different computer to access files in the cloud.  If someone were trying to hack into your account and guessed your password, they would not be able to access the account without the code text sent to your mobile phone!

How to set up 2-step

Dropbox icon

Dropbox’s icon on a mobile device

Let’s use Dropbox as an example:  We will “authorize” Dropbox app on a new tablet.

First, log in to Dropbox on your computer, sign in to your account.

Click on your account name in the upper right of the browser window and choose the Settings icon.

In the next window choose the security tab.  There on the left, just below your email address and “change password” area is the “Two-step verification” link. setting icon to change security and password settings.

After logging into a Dropbox account, visit the Settings area of the account to set up 2-step verification for increased password security.

Enter your mobile phone number. Dropbox will send a short code as an SMS message containing an easy to remember five or six digit number. Type that number into the verification field.  If you don’t enter that code in about 15 minutes or so, Dropbox will “forget” that code, and it won’t be good again, a kind of time-limited access.

From now on when you log in from a public computer, leave on the “Trust this computer” unchecked.  But you can choose to “trust” your laptop, or mobile device like a tablet or smartphone.

The short code that is sent via SMS to your phone? You need to enter that code in a separate box after you have entered your account login information, and password.

Screen snap of 2-step verification screen in Dropbox

Enable two-step verification in Dropbox in order to make it difficult for bad actors to break into your account.


Here is why this is good


In the “old” way, if someone hacked your account, and changed your password, it could lock you out of your own account.

Screen snap of SMS from Dropbox

This is a screen snap of how Dropbox alerts you to add in a second verification code, after your password, to ensure that it was you that added or made changes to your account.

But with 2-step verification turned on, no one can change your password without an SMS message showing up on your phone.  If you did not log in to a “new” computer or device, that means someone is trying to get access to your stuff.

If you DO get an unexpected SMS — perhaps someone was trying to access your account.  Log in to the service and change your password as soon as you can, to make sure that your stuff remains yours, alone!  Like the SMS says, “happy Droboxing!”

You are not alone

Here are some great step-by-step articles and tutorials for a variety of cloud services.

A good article at Wikipedia on what 2-step Auth does.

Setting up 2-step with GMail, and Google Drive

Setting up 2-step with Dropbox

Setting up 2-step with Box

Setting up 2-step with Apple iCloud and iTunes AppleID

Setting up 2-step with Twitter

All of us at the Multimedia Learning Center take security seriously, and balance it with a reasonable need to be efficient in our time with cloud-based resources.  If you have questions, just stop by and see us! We are on the ground floor of Kresge Hall, Suite 1-347.