Mobile Mania

Let me start with a few numbers:

You probably did not need me to tell you that mobile technology has become so woven into our everyday lives that phones seem to be merging with our bodies. 89% of participants in a recent study reported feeling “phantom pocket vibration syndrome” – the false perception of a vibrating phone in their pockets.  Or people feel like they lost a limb when they displace their phones. Some hip Brooklynites or Silicon Valley types try to combat their over-reliance on mobile technology at Camp Grounded, a tech-free summer camp for adults offered by an organization called Digital Detox. (And yes, they do have a website.)

While there are some brave souls out there among our faculty who do not allow any technology in their classrooms, most of us struggle on a day-to-day basis with how to integrate various types of technologies into our classrooms in intelligent and effective ways. Given the high percentage of smart phone ownership and the increasing use of tablets, it seems like a lost opportunity to not think about how we can harness the computational power of these devices for our students’ learning.

This past winter, Educause – a non-profit organization that focuses on technology in higher education – studied undergraduates and their technology use at US institutions, and the survey included a sample of 225 Northwestern students. As you can see with the number on smart phone ownership quoted above, smart phone numbers will soon match the number for laptop ownership which, according to the survey, is 99.1 %. (The 0.9 % were two students who didn’t own a laptop at the time of the survey but were planning on buying one.) It is also no surprise that Educause identifies “Leveraging the wireless and device explosion on campus” as number one on its list of top-ten IT issues facing higher education.

At a “Mobile Meet Up” event hosted by NUIT in July, it was clear that mobile access and the demand for reliable and fast wireless coverage is something very much on the minds of NUIT folks. The plan is to have 80% of all interior spaces at Northwestern covered by wireless access and to implement a more powerful and faster system in 2014-2015. As reported by Julian Koh, more than 12,000 devices access the network during peak times. There are also new options for the Northwestern community for wireless access when traveling abroad: You might have seen the announcement that Northwestern “has joined a growing list of institutions worldwide that participate in eduroam (education roaming)—a secure federated wireless network for the international research and education community.”

But let’s return to the question of whether the proliferation of mobile devices should impact our curricula and modes of teaching, and if so, how. There is already a rich body of research out there studying “mobile learning” (or sometimes referred to as mLearning), which is commonly defined as learning mediated by a handheld and portable device such as a smart phone or tablet. (One of my favorite modes of “mobile learning” still is to grab a book and find a nice tree sit under and read. But somehow old-fashioned print books don’t figure prominently in most “mobile learning” discussions.) There are subfields to mobile learning with their own acronyms, such as MALL (=mobile assisted language learning).

One argument for integrating mobile devices into our teaching is reflected in the statement below, which was one of the conclusions drawn during a recent round panel discussion that included MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson: “The current generation of students is radically mobile and connected. Students expect to be able to do anything—anytime, anywhere—and seek the same flexible access to learning that they have with other resources.” (See here for a summary of the event and here for videos and materials of the presentations.) I agree that we should accommodate our students as best as we can if they want to access learning materials from different devices. We don’t have a set of stable best practices yet, but several projects are underway to integrate mobile devices into teaching and learning at Northwestern.

Students in a Northwestern Japanese Class

One such project has involved iPads in language classes, which is being spearheaded by Franziska Lys and supported by the WCAS Hewlett Fund for Curricular Innovation and administered by the MMLC. For the past two academic years, several language instructors have had the opportunity to use iPads in their classes and investigate the benefits and challenges of integrating tablets into their teaching. The participating faculty members are currently  in the process of gathering the results and they will soon be published on a new iPad study website. In addition to the sets of iPads connected to the study, the MMLC has purchased 16 iPads that can be checked out by faculty for class sessions. (See Cecile’s blog entry for more information.)

Ben Gorvine and David Smith in the Psychology Department have experimented with a software called TopHat that can be installed on computers and phones, and which functions as a sophisticated student response system and renders the use of additional clickers unnecessary. So far, they have used it in a Statistics for Psychology class as a way to engage the roughly 100 students during the lecture. One interesting observation Ben and David have shared with us already is that students did not seem too excited about using their phones for accessing TopHat, but instead preferred their laptops. Ben and David will present more of their findings at our MMLC Happy Hour on Friday, October 18.

Another relatively easy way to experiment with mobile technology is to find apps that can be layered on top of other teaching materials. I added the modifier “relatively” because, with the number of apps at the Apple store currently at over 900,000, it can seem like a daunting task to find the right app for your students. The MMLC iPads will come pre-loaded with the most useful apps, and we will offer information on our website and newsletter on helpful apps. If, for example, you want to encourage your students to study their vocabulary while waiting for the shuttle, you can recommend Quizlet, an app the students can use to create flashcards on their phone or browse existing sets of flashcards.

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Technology for n00bs: Transcription Equipment

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about our intrepid MMLC leader, Matthew Taylor, it’s that he is extremely detail-oriented.  As such, he loves taking notes!  Outlines of lectures, discussions from meetings – if it can be written down and saved for future reference, he’s excited.  After a recent meeting, Matt and I were discussing our notes and wishing we could remember some of the finer points.  Partially in jest, I said, “Next time, I’ll just record the meeting and transcribe the whole thing!”  You should have seen his eyes light up!  And thus, I began my adventure exploring the MMLC equipment shelves.

I’m a pretty fast typer to begin with, but I tell you, this transcription equipment is awesome!  It is possible to take almost any kind of audio – CD, mp3, cassette tape, etc. – and use the foot pedals to play, stop, rewind, and fast-forward, all while keeping your hands free to tippety-type away.  Here’s how the MMLC can help you begin your own adventure of transcribing proportions! Full Post

Of MOOCs and More

MOOC by giulia.forsythe on Flickr

MOOC by giulia.forsythe on Flickr

Recently, I was one of 62,373 people who enrolled in Coursera’s Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) on Gamification. Unfortunately, I am also among the 56,781 people who did not finish the course. (My more disciplined colleagues Cecile and Matt did indeed stick it out to the end and you can read about Cecile’s experience here.) Now, I am in no way proud of the fact that I dropped out of the course, but as the numbers tell you, I am – quantitatively speaking – in good company. An attrition rate of more than 90% is common for most MOOCs, as this visualization shows. The low completion rate points to one of the great challenges of this type of online education: how do you engage students in a virtual environment in a sustainable manner?

This is obviously not the only question that arises in regard to MOOCs and their role in higher education. In my brief foray here I am not attempting to summarize the debates that have been raging around MOOCs but simply give you a quick overview of two new major online initiatives that Northwestern is pursuing. (One document that has been referred to widely in discussions of MOOCs is this open letter written by faculty members of the San Jose State University Philosophy Department in response to pressure from the administration to integrate a Harvard MOOC into their curriculum. Or see this balanced article in the New Yorker that integrates perspectives of MOOC fans as well as skeptics. See below for a an infographic on major players from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Another helpful overview of the MOOC landscape can be found in this well-designed visualization by Online Schools’ Visual Academy. )

"Major Players in the MOOC Universe," Chronicle of Higher Education, Digital Campus 2013

“Major Players in the MOOC Universe,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Digital Campus 2013

Starting this fall, several Northwestern professors will have the chance to see for themselves what teaching an online course to thousands of students all over the world feels like. In February, Northwestern announced that it had signed an agreement with Coursera to offer Northwestern courses via Coursera’s online platform. As most of you know, Coursera is a (for-profit) company founded by computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng from Stanford University. Coursera’s website currently lists 374 courses that anyone with an internet connection can sign up for, for free. More than 3.6 million users have signed up for courses and when you go to the company’s homepage you can watch this number tick up in real-time. Until a few days ago, Coursera’s main plan for revenue generation was tied to offering a “signature track” for its courses where students have to pay around $50 in exchange for a “verified completion certificate.” On May 29, Coursera announced a new partnership with 10 public universities, through which it “is recasting itself as a platform for credit-bearing courses,” as the Chronicle of Higher Education put it in an article. According to an Inside Higher Education piece, many faculty members at these institutions expressed surprise when they found out about the deal their universities had struck with Coursera. The lack of faculty involvement in negotiations between for-profit companies like Coursera and 2U and universities has been a common complaint and one that has also been voiced by some Northwestern faculty members at recent Senate meetings and at a Faculty Assembly in May.

A good starting point for orienting yourself about Northwestern’s two new major online learning initiatives is this site created by the Provost’s Office which includes a chart contrasting the two efforts:

The table’s contrasting nature is helpful for capturing the main differences between the Semester Online and Coursera initiatives, yet Coursera (and other MOOC providers) are well on their way (or already are) offering for-credit, tuition-bearing courses. (Georgia Tech recently released the details of a new kind of arrangement between the university, the MOOC provider Udacity, and AT&T that will offer a master’s degree in computer science as a low-cost alternative to its on-campus program.)

Northwestern's offerings on Coursera site

Northwestern’s offerings on Coursera site

Northwestern currently lists six courses on its Coursera site and they include three courses offered by McCormick professors, two by Medill faculty and one by the Law School with topics ranging from Systems Engineering to Digital Content Management. At this point, none of the courses have start dates and only three of them have introductory videos in addition to the course description. I encourage you to watch these videos as they give you a good sense of the educational style of MOOCs and the production values involved in creating these courses. Several units on campus have joined forces as the “Coordinated Services Center” that will assist faculty members in the development and production of these courses. (All costs associated with producing these courses rest with Northwestern, which is different from the 2U model where the company is responsible for production costs.)

As of now, no process is in place yet for how Northwestern selects a particular course for the Coursera platform. However, the recently assembled Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup has emphasized the need to establish a transparent process and is advising the Provost’s Office on procedures. This workgroup has been chaired by WCAS Associate Dean Mary Finn and has representatives from all schools including five Weinberg faculty members (of which I am one). You can find the complete membership on this site and you should feel free to reach out to me or any of the members with questions or feedback.

The second online endeavor Northwestern is pursuing is with the for-profit company 2U and a number of other universities who came together as a consortium to offer for-credit, tuition-bearing classes in a program called Semester Online. The website currently lists classes by Boston College, Emory, Northwestern, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, and Washington University to be taught in the fall 2013. The consortium originally consisted of 10 schools but several have since pulled out, including Duke University, which left the consortium after a faculty council’s vote against Duke’s participation in Semester Online (see this NY Times article for more information). The only Northwestern course slated for fall 2013 is Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communication. In an email from May 14, Dan Linzer solicited proposals for Winter 2014 (due June 1) and beyond (due August 1). If you somehow missed the email you can find FAQs on Semester onlineon the Provost’s website, including the process for proposal review that the faculty workgroup I mentioned above helped to draw up. (The workgroup has been discussing a similar process for Coursera course selection and is hoping it will be put into place soon.)

Northwestern students can enroll in any of the 11 Semester Online courses offered in the fall and the NU News announcement about these inaugural courses states that enrollment remains open until August 5 and classes start in the week of August 26. They run for a semester but Northwestern students will receive only one credit. Non-Northwestern Semester Online courses will be treated like transfer credit and the approval towards major and minor lies within individual departments. At last week’s Weinberg faculty meeting, several chairs reported that their departments had voted against accepting Semester Online classes towards their majors and minors.

The discussions and meetings on online learning I have been engaged in during this past academic year revealed wide-ranging reactions: from excitement about new ways to reach students and experiments with online platforms and tools to deep concerns about academic freedom, intellectual property, and the potential threat partnerships with for-profit companies pose to higher education. There is an obvious need for continuing these important discussions and the MMLC is planning to host events around this topic in the coming academic year. We welcome your input and ideas. Until then, I might try to sign up for another MOOC, and if I ever make it through one, you might hear about it in an upcoming blog post.

Optimizing Pedagogy for Blended Learning

faculty at Northwestern

Faculty in Weinberg’s iPad Study for languages

Blended learning — the combination of traditional teacher-led classroom instruction and independent student learning outside the classroom using online materials — has been an exciting evolution and a perrenial “hot topic” within the education landscape. Though the idea only became fully conceptualized about 10 years ago, with some calling it instead “hybrid learning,” initial efforts began long before. The MMLC led some of Northwestern’s earliest efforts in the mid 1990s in French and German language programs with the launch of Le Français Internautique and Intermatik. In French, grammar and listening comprehension activities shifted into an online space. Contact hours could then focus on topics requiring face-to-face discussion, even allowing for a possible reduction in class meetings. In German, online components provided students with valuable online resources that complimented their normal in-class time. In each case, students appreciated greater control over how and when they learn.

Taking a Better Look at Blended Learning

The broad definition of what constitutes “blending,” has led to the concept’s now seemingly ubiquitous usage. Nearly every Northwestern course could be considered blended; most already satisfy the definition by simply using Blackboard or a similar course management system to distribute educational materials for independent learning outside the classroom. Yet, even if blending is automatic, a better understanding of blended learning components and opportunities can assist in developing an optimal pedagogy.

In March, the MMLC invited faculty to participate in an EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) videoconference seminar, “Looking for the Pedagogy in Blended Course Design” led by Patricia McGee, Associate Professor University of Texas at San Antonio. Representing NU were Richard Lepine (PAAL), Franziska Lys (German), Ana Williams (Spanish & Portuguese) and MMLC Director Katrin Völkner. Although the full proceedings will not be available until mid June, select details and resources from the event are already available online:

In talking about blended approaches, the seminar focused on four main topics: (1) identifying practices that fit with course priorities, (2) adapting an ideal strategy for blending, (3) using a learner-centered approach, and (4) identifying student needs specific to blended learning.

Best Practices for Blending

After having made meta analyses, McGee identified a unified intersection of best practices. The first of these is the adherence to a phased approach. For example, if starting from a course with largely face-to-face interaction, McGee suggests taking at least two steps to reach a stage where (if desired) no course content is covered in class. First, enable the blend by making technology and resources available to replicate the same resources used in class outside of class. Then, enhance the blend by incorporating subtle changes to the pedagogy such as including supplementary material online. Finally, in a third phase, a transforming blend requires learning outcomes be met by using the out-of-class resources to actively construct knowledge.

When imagining the design of a blended course, best practice suggests focusing first on course objectives before deriving course activities, assignments, and assessments. Then, as McGee suggests, evaluating these objectives one by one can inform content delivery decisions — should a topic be presented online or in class? — and also inform the pedagogy whose role includes bridging the online and in-class activities.

A common pitfall in embracing blended learning is the “course-and-a-half” phenomenon. This occurs when online elements are added to traditional courses without removing or streamlining the existing areas of the course. Overall, this creates more work for both students and and instructors, and leads to decreased satisfaction. Designing blended courses from scratch can provide the best opportunity to avoid such problems but it is not often feasible or possible to locate the necessary resources and time (as much as 3 to 6 months) for a complete redesign. Instead, the course must be incrementally moved online, enhanced, and streamlined.

Pedagogical Strategy for Blending

McGee acknowledged that pedagogical design for a blended course is both the most important and most challenging task. Integration of the online and in-class activities is key for the online learning to have the most relevance and is too often overlooked in blended courses. What one does in and outside the classroom must be connected. But what should be done in these areas?

With more of the core learning occurring outside the classroom, there are opportunities for formal and informal approaches to class meetings. Formal activities might include workshops, coaching, mentoring, lecturing, debate, or active learning tasks such as group work, problem-solving, simulations, case studies, or role-playing.  Informal activities might include creating small group conferences, ad-hoc work teams to work on self-directed investigations of problems, or as an opportunity to engage in self-directed active learning tasks.

Blended learning also offers additional opportunities for student assessment which McGee recommends be done thoughtfully and intentionally.  Online assessment should be, in her view, reserved for low-stakes assessment: quizzes, assignments, essays.  High stakes assessment (exams, tests, presentations) should be reserved for the face-to-face environment.

Additional activities best suited to the classroom also include giving advice, clarifying muddy points, peer-led discussions, peer debriefing, collaborative work, and reinforcing social presence.


One of the great strengths of blended learning is its ability to put greater responsibility and control of the learning in the hands of the learner. By making the learning process more directly relevant to the learner, goals for greater and longer-lasting learning outcomes can be met.

McGee suggests active learning tasks are essential to any learner-centered design, and offers three different ways of organizing active learning tasks: Process, Product, and Project.  The process-driven approach focuses on the completion of smaller isolated or progressive activities, such as fieldwork, audio recording, concept mapping, peer review, and gaming. The product-oriented approach focuses on a defined end-product that, when completed, will demonstrate the learner’s command of the course material. These more complex products might include essays, and podcasts. In most cases, group work is required for a project-oriented approach where completed activities and assignments fit into a mutually understood list of course objectives. Examples of these learning interactions might include debates, shared blogs, and other online group collaboration.

Technology decisions can have an impact on the success of active learning tasks. Often, technology is employed for asynchronous communication: forums, e-mail, blogs. Yet, whether to recommend or require students collaborate in synchronously, in real-time, or asynchronously can have effects on mental engagement. Asynchronous modes can support a deeper understanding through time-intensive questioning or problem solving. By contrast, synchronous activities can also include valuable mentoring and peer review activities. In short, both activity types have value and should be included in a blended design.

Identification of Student Needs

If a learner-centered model is valuable, equally important is an understanding of students’ changing needs. Students today are “born digital” and, with this background, have a greater proclivity to consume information visually rather than textually. And yet since much of blended learning courses still tend to place tremendous value on text and text-based communication, the highest levels of engagements might be missed if the blended content does not also evolve.

Similarly, even though they are “digitally native,” recent students often do not always have the proper background to perform well in blended courses. When considering how to prepare students for blended courses, McGee identified eight predictors of success:

  • self-regulation
  • self-management
  • ability to be emotionally engaged
  • adaptable identity (e.g.  a grad student expected not to be the expert)
  • realistic expectations of time & effort
  • high academic achievement
  • comfort with eLearning
  • technological know-how

The first three of qualities receive particularly strong emphasis because they are essential to an active learning space, while comfort with eLearning and technological know how, while important, rate highly among the learner’s extant capacities. For blended learning to succeed, development of good behaviors can and should receive special attention in early, foundation courses.

A depiction of the HyFlex learning model developed by Brian Beatty of San Francisco State University.

A depiction of the HyFlex learning model developed by Brian Beatty of San Francisco State University (presentation slide from McGee’s EDUCAUSE presentation)

To help students prepare for blended courses, one unique approach is the “HyFlex” model, first introduced at San Francisco State University by Brian Beatty. In the HyFlex model students choose a main “home” interaction setting of either face-to-face or online, but after this, they are locked-in to neither. Each student can select either method of participation weekly, according to their needs. This system appears best suited to larger, multi-section courses as it requires that the two versions of the course, online and in-class, remain constantly in sync.

The MMLC and Blended Learning — We are Here to Help

With a long and accomplished history of blended course resource development behind it, the MMLC is ready to help faculty learn more about blended learning and how it assist in the associated curricular development of your courses. Although we live in a technology-enabled and blended world, we’ll be happiest to meet face-to-face. We invite you to email to set up an appointment or to obtain more information.


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.


Technology for N00bs: Video Conferencing

It’s confession time, my friends.  I, Sarah Klusak, am kind of scared of technology.  Sure, I can do a fair amount of basic computer stuff, your Facebooking and Googling and whatnot.  But then I started working at the MMLC, and I quickly realized how incredibly lacking my technology know-how is.  I mean, have you ever peeked inside the equipment cabinets behind the desk in the MMLC public lab?  I’m wary of even LOOKING at anything in there for fear of breaking it!

But that’s all changing, thanks to the lovely Cecile!   She has graciously offered to teach this “n00b" (internet slang for technology newcomer or “newbie”) how to use some of that scary equipment, and I’ll be sharing her wisdom in a series of “Technology for N00bs” blog posts.  All of these articles will have the same premise – if I can overcome my techno-fear and become comfortable with this equipment, SO CAN YOU!

Feeling rather cyborg-esque with the Logitech camera

Feeling rather cyborg-esque with the Logitech camera

Prior to starting at the MMLC, I had never tried Skype or Facetime or any of the other myriads of video conferencing programs.  Fancy video calls were fine for the folks in Back to the Future 2, not for ME!  Then my best friend moved across the country, and suddenly I had a valid reason to shed my video-phone phobia.   Enter Cecile, Logitech camera in hand, to teach me the finer points of video conferencing.  Let’s begin this adventure together, shall we?

The Basics

Thankfully, video conferencing is MUCH easier than I originally thought.  There are really only three things to consider: the microphone (audio in), the speakers (audio out), and the camera (video).  Regardless of what program you use, once you figure out these three parameters, it’s a “set it and forget it” scenario.

The easiest video conferencing situation is a one-on-one conversation using the computer‘s built-in equipment.  For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll be using Skype on a Mac computer (this IS the MMLC, after all).  Before beginning your conversation, make a quick stop at the “Preferences” menu to verify your settings.  Click on the “Audio/Video” button and adjust the settings if/as necessary.

Whose fault?  DEFAULT! (Ugh, that was terrible.)

Whose fault? DEFAULT! (Ugh, that was terrible.)

As you can see in this picture, I’ll be using the built-in microphone, speakers, and camera for this call.  For this set-up, I didn’t even have to change anything – it automatically defaulted to the built-in options.  Once these audio/video options are set and verified, I go back to the original screen and find the person I want to call within my Contacts.  Once I know they are online (the program will show their status), I dial them up and commence the conversation!  Easy peasy!

But what if I want to use something OTHER than the computer’s built-in equipment?  What if there are 10 people on my end trying to squeeze into the frame of the computer’s camera?  What if I’m in a public space and want to use those fancy “headphones with a mic” thingies?  Fear not, my friends, because it truly is easier than it might seem!

The Fancy Schmancy

Whenever you’re using external equipment for your video calls, it’s usually a simple matter of plugging it in and letting the computer do most of the work.  A majority of this equipment will have a USB connection.  Once it’s plugged into the computer, just visit the old “Preferences” tab and click on the “Audio/Video” button (like before).  Your equipment will automatically show up as an option in the drop-down box, so just adjust your three parameters (microphone, speakers, and video) accordingly.  For instance, here’s what I chose after I plugged in those fancy headphones:

Rockin' those headphones like a BOSS!

Rockin’ those headphones like a BOSS!

Now, let’s move on to the really fun stuff – the Logitech camera kit, which can be checked out from the MMLC’s public lab (Kresge 1-335).  This thing looks like some sort of alien sent to take over the world (and maybe it IS), but don’t get too intimidated.  The Logitech is basically just a camera, microphone, and speaker system specifically made for video conferencing.

Logitech: Deconstructed

Logitech: Deconstructed

After you connect the power cord and camera to the base, just plug the power cord into an outlet and connect the USB to your computer.  Then you’ll follow the same basic steps as before – “Preferences” tab, “Audio/Video” button, and adjust the settings as necessary.  If you want to completely customize the settings, now’s your time to do it.  Do you want to use the Logitech camera and speakers, but speak into the computer’s built-in microphone?  You can do that!  It’s all adjusted in this same window, so feel free to go crazy!

Doesn't this thing look like the Eye of Sauron when it's all set up?

Doesn’t this thing look like the Eye of Sauron when it’s all set up?

One of my favorite things about the Logitech camera is that is has a remote control.  While you lean back in your chair on the other side of the room, you can move the camera around, zoom in and out, lower and raise the volume, you name it!  I suggest simulating an earthquake during your next important conference call, just to keep everyone on their toes.

Are you a n00b like me?  Do you want to learn more about a certain type of equipment or technology?  Leave a comment or send me an email ( with any suggestions for my next “Technology for N00bs” article!


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.


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.