Wednesday, July 23, 2014

8 Tips for Making Beautiful Presentations

Believe it or not, when I started teaching art history I had to rely on physical color slides to illustrate my presentations. Ugh. When I stop to pause and think about how technology has revolutionized communications and learning, the transformative nature of digital images makes me speechless.

Still, it takes more than access to an endless flow of digital content and knowledge of how to effectively use this content to make something meaningful.  And that is why I am writing this post.

Last night, I received these two Tweets from Michael Berman (who happens to be my boss) in response to my presentation, The Fractal Life: Harnessing the Power of the Social Era for Agile, Authentic Living.
Michael's nudge made me think about how I've improved my design sense over the years to put together beautiful presentations but it also made me think about the importance of stressing why this is so important.

Humans are visual creatures. Creating and engaging with visual content was more innate to our species than text.  But beyond the "what came first" argument, we must understand the power of images to engage the affective domain of learning.  For a moment, reflect on your childhood memories. What comes to mind? How much of what you remember is imprinted in memory because someone took photographs of those moments? Just last week, I spent a week in Carmel with my family and visited the gorgeous Point Lobos State Park. My older sister mentioned, "Wow, I remember coming here with mom and dad as kids!'  I thought about that and could not remember the trip at all but had a clear vision of a single photograph of me and my two sisters sitting on one of the creamy colored rocks. I remembered the Pepsi-Cola jacket I was wearing, the "Captain and Tenille" style haircut I had, and I also remembered my younger sister clinging to her favorite stuffed animal (in tears because she had been told to leave it in the car initially). 

Our personal memories, our lives are shaped through images. And as they have become more accessible to educators, understanding how to use them effectively to persuade, impact, empower, and inspire others is an important part of communicating.

But Michael's Tweets also made me realize that creating beautiful presentations requires more than nice images and thoughtful design.

Here are just a few tips I would offer to anyone who has a desire to create more beautiful presentations.

1. Make the text-to-image paradigm shift.  

  • This can be a big, very big shift for college educators. If you are presenting live to a room of people, your voice, your facial expressions, and your the motions of your body should deliver your textual narrative.  The screen behind you should be an opportunity to enhance what you say. Build your slides around images, not text. Text will play a role but it is more of an opportunity to anchor thoughts, reference sources, showcase key concepts. 

2. View your role as a storyteller. 

  • What is your story about? What key message(s) do you want your audience to walk away with?  And what image(s) come to mind when you imagine these messages?   
  • Be vulnerable and share stories from your own life. Make yourself and your topic real, relevant, and meaningful to your audience.  I often use images of my family and videos of them or that they have created.  I delete these slides before I share my slide decks on Slideshare or other social media sites publicly, out of respect for their privacy.

3. First impressions matter. 

  • Create a compelling title and a great title slide with an visually dynamic image.

4. Be thoughtful about text placement and font choice. 

  • Using Haiku Deck to design your presentations is a good way to train yourself to create visually-centric presentations with beautiful text.  You'll see how the style of Haiku Deck demonstrates how laying white text over a block of transparent black will make it 'pop' off the page and anchor it visually on your slide. The transparency of the block also allows for the image behind the text to show through.  Also, you will begin to start thinking about text placement as you select your images (a sign that your skills are developing!). 
  • Haiku Deck is simple to use, free, and is available in a web and iPad app.  Another great feature is the direct integration with Flickr's collection of Creative Commons licensed images. When you select an image using Haiku Deck, it is automatically attributed (in very small text) at the bottom of the screen. Haiku Deck presentations may be presented from the web, embedded on other sides with html code, you may export them into PowerPoint files for offline presenting, export them into SlideShare, or you can export them into a PDF that will organize each image with your notes (a nice way to create a handout).
  • After I used Haiku Deck for a few months, I found that the style of my "decks" had grown on me so much that I now organically design my own slides in Keynote to look like Haiku Deck slides (and, yes, I still use it too for special projects).  
Here is an example of a Haiku Deck presentation I made.

The Power of Images in Teaching & Learning - Created with Haiku Deck by Michelle Pacansky-Brock

  • Another incredible tool I use heavily and learn a lot from is Canva. It is an online graphic design tool. Even if you don't think of yourself as a graphic designer, I encourage you sign up for a Canva account if you are interested in creating more visually aesthetic content.  You will receive emails (not frequently) notifying you of new, awesome, interactive tutorials that will teach you how to improve your design skills. Being a Canva user is like being enrolled in a Design Academy!

5. Use Creative Commons-licensed images and learn to attribute them correctly.

Image by Michelle Pacansky-Brock CC-BY
  • Be a rockstar and model how to properly re-use digital images for your peers and students.  If you are using images in a presentation, on a blog, or in some other manner that you did not take, you are using images that are shared under some type of copyright license. 
  • Traditional copyright (all rights reserved) requires the permission of the copyright owner for re-use, unless your re-use falls under Fair Use of the U.S. Copyright Law (see this fabulous video for help with this complex topic).  Creative Commons licenses offer more flexibility for re-use.  Images that were never covered by copyright or that have have a license that has expired fall into the Public Domain and may be freely re-used.
  • If you locate an image on Google Image search, for example, you likely have no clue who the copyright owner is and if you choose to download it and use it in your presentation, you may be violating copyright law. 
  • Try searching for Creative Commons licensed images on sites that provide you with the full attribution information. Some recommendations are FlickrCompfight, and Wylio (requires an account and a premium account will auto-attribute images for you!).
  • Want to understand how to attribute CC-Licensed images? Check out this great article from Creative Commons, "Best Practices for Attribution."
  • Don't hesitate to search for Public Domain images too! Check out this presentation by kapost for some search recommendations.

6. Make it a labor of love.

  • Creating beautiful presentations is intensely time consuming. I put dozens of hours into the creation of each presentation. When I look at my slides, I need to be able to feel my ideas through the slides. If I cannot feel what I'm trying to convey, then I know the presentation is not working.  I know I am done with my presentation when I love it.

7. Vary your content

  • The human brain becomes likely to drift off about 10 minutes. So, as you design your presentation, build in "moments" that will shift your audience into different experiences. This may simply be including a silent video that plays behind you instead of a still image, pausing to play a 1-minute video, having your audience respond to a poll, shifting over to Twitter to acknowledge Tweets coming in on the backchannel, or posing an open-ended question to the group. 

8. Share your stuff!

  • If you don't have one already, create a Slideshare account and share your presentations. When you upload a presentation, you'll have the option to share it with traditional copyright or select from one of the Creative Commons licenses.  It will default to allow users to download your presentation but you have the option to disable this by editing the settings. Once your presentation is shared on Slideshare, you can embed it on a blog, Tweet it, and even directly share it to your LinkedIn profile! Make it social and inspire all your networks with your beautiful work!

    Follow me on Slideshare!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Fractal Life: My Day of Learning With LinkedIn

On Friday, I spent the day sharing and learning with the User Experience Design team at LinkedIn in Mountain View. It was an awesome day! I grew up in the Silicon Valley and spent years of my life before I went into education commuting the freeways throughout the valley. The drive in to the LinkedIn headquarters was a reminiscent one for me personally and also provided me with ample time to reflect on the increasing role that technology plays in formal education and the social landscape that continues to transform our lives, the very nature of informal learning, and the possibilities it holds for transforming education.

The Fractal Life

The Fractal Life: Harnessing Social for Authentic, Agile Living from Michelle Pacansky-Brock

Steve Johnson, LinkedIn's VP of User Experience Design (and a friend of mine from high school) invited me to join his team for the day and it started with my presentation, The Fractal Life: Harnessing Social for Authentic Agile Living.  My presentation was very much a story about my own life as an educator and how, through my professional risk-taking -- inspired by two amazing parents and open heart surgery at age 34 --  and the intensive development, continuous nurturing, and on-going sustaining of my social networks I have been fortunate to discover my authentic passion and align it with career opportunities that make me look forward to every day.

Living authentically has given me clarity that vulnerability is not only important to being happy, it is the essential element that individuals should leverage as an ongoing feedback loop in their life.  Using vulnerability as a feedback loop reminds an individual every day of the need to take risks, the need to lay our souls bare to understand who we are really are, what we are good at, and what makes us entirely miserable.  The outcomes are not successes or failures; they are simply experiences that we loop back inside and sort through to identify what we have discovered about our uniqueness.  In this way, our feedback loop transforms our life into something like a fractal, always in motion, taking in fresh experiences, while learning from everything -- yet, always guided the same, consistent pattern, our commitment to vulnerability and risk-taking.

Learning with LinkedIn

After my presentation, I had an exciting day sharing my experiences in higher education with leaders from the UED team.  I am unable to write about the details, due to a non-disclosure agreement I signed upon arrival.  But on a more broad level, I can share that conversation simply made me wanting more.  While I had opportunities to share many of the realities that educators face when it comes to making sweeping changes within our organizations, the need to make these changes is more clear than ever.

LinkedIn has 300 million worldwide users and has extended the professional network experience into a virtual, global space.  Fostering relationships has always been key to a successful career and as we prepare students for the future, ensuring they understand how to do so with social technologies is invaluable.  A mindfully nourished LinkedIn network can be an invaluable resource for an individual seeking to make a career advancement or to a graduating high school student or community college student preparing to transfer to a university.  Yet, how often is LinkedIn leveraged as a learning resource in college? How many college students are encouraged to connect with and/or follow subject matter experts on LinkedIn or research company pages? These are questions I'd love answers to! I'd love to work on an eBook that contains activities that leverage a tool like LinkedIn for learning.

As more workplaces adopt the social business model and social technologies continue to become more integral to informal learning, shouldn't we be building more ways to improve dialogue between the private sector and education?

Thanks for inviting me for the day, LinkedIn!

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Graduation Gift for My Kids: Class of 2018 & 2020

Last month, I read this great post by Shawn Humphrey @BluCollarProf in which he wrote a fictitious commencement speech to the class of 2014.  I connected with the vision he portrayed of a social "deal" in which a child find oneself immersed as s/he grows, experiences life, learn who s/he is, struggles to find her/his passions, and understand where s/he fits into this world.  The deal includes a scripted path with behavioral and academic expectations at each bend. At the culmination of the journey, the young adult, according to "the plan," should encounter a quest in the real world -- a quest for employment for which s/he has been prepared and will consist of interviews and a self-fulfilling offer.

Humphrey's satirical examination of how we, in the U.S., prepare our youth for professional success today is something I often think about as an educator and as a parent. It was on my mind in June as I sat teary-eyed, celebrating my niece's graduation from high school, my older son's promotion from 8th grade and my younger son's promotion from 6th grade. But, really, are we preparing graduates for success in today's professional workplace or our own?

Humphrey continues:
With globalization, continuous technological innovations in communications, and ever decreasing transportation costs, more and more people are showing up each and every day to do what our educational system programmed you to do at a lower price. The barriers to entry that you spent a lifetime building are falling all around you. The visible manifestations of your academic superiority – the tassels and medallions that drape your neck, your Honor Society membership card, and even your diploma – will not protect you. You loyalty and long-term employment with a company will not protect you.
The world has changed. Our education system has not. For the most part, it continues to operate as if the aforementioned deal is still alive. Let me be clear. It is not.
With the nudge I got from Shawn's great post, I made the time today to purchase an early graduation gift for my children that I believe they will thank me for when they graduate from high school. I purchased their own personal domain name for each of them.  They will build their websites when they are prepared with the skills to do so.  These personalized URLs will be like business cards are today.  Each individual will be expected to have a public space on the web to point their global contacts to, facilitating the sharing of ideas and the fostering of relationships through collaboration.

I will continue to do what I can as a parent to ensure my children have opportunities to become proficient with creating a social presence that will foster values that are embraced in the social era.  Happy graduation boys -- class of 2018 and 2020!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Risking It All: Learning in the Social Era

This past week, I had the pleasure to present the keynote at the Academic Affairs Symposium for Rasmussen College in Minneapolis, MN and Tampa, FL. The back-to-back events came on the heels of my attendance at the Online Teaching Conference (OTC) in San Diego, CA, providing for a flurry of a travel for the week, but also some immersive conversations.  Lynda Weinman of was one of the keynote presenters at the OTC (watch the archive of her talk here).

I had heard Weinman speak at the MoblEd Conference at Pasadena College in 2009, but that presentation did not share her personal learning journey. Weinman's story was captivating and held so many poignant lessons for educators today -- from embracing our inner passions, recognizing that we're all good at something (and it's not going to always be reading, writing, or math), sharing the values she took away from her alternative higher education experiences at Evergreen State College where there are no grades, acknowledging that it was feminism that empowered her to recognize that she could truly be whatever she wanted to be in this amazing world, and being candid about the challenges of raising a child and being a successful professional.

Weinman's presentation had the conference attendees on their feet. It was not filled with cutting edge terms or glitzy tools. It was grounded in her real life journey, the raw experiences that make her human. 

After that moment in the audience, I knew I had some work to do on my own keynote presentation for Rasmussen, which would be shared at a symposium themed, "The Human Element in a Digital World."  I had already planned to open my presentation with a story about my son's very first video he recorded at age 7 after receiving his first hand held video camera for Christmas. He came to me and said, "Mommy, I made a video. Will you put it on YouTube?" Not really knowing much about YouTube at the time other than it was a website where people could share videos (which I valued as "pointless"), my parenting instincts replied with red flags. What does one do with that question? Ultimately, I obliged...taking a risk. You see, the video he recorded was a screencast of his handheld DS video game, showing the evolution of a Pokemon character. My son, at age 7, the very day he received his first video camera, was intrinsically driven to record this "screencast" and share it back to the same digital community from which he had learned to play Pokemon. He was a global community.

Before long, comments came in on the video to which he commented back. There he was, age 7, engaging in a global dialogue with his personal learning network -- explaining where to find find Barboach to other players. Today, the video has more than 18,000 views. My son is almost 14 now, has a collaborative YouTube channel with a friend, and still looks back on that video with great pride.

Sadly, his formal learning has not kept in line with the type of connected learning he experiences in his informal learning. This is a problem today. Education is not the same as learning (another key phrase I picked up from Weinman's keynote) and this problem drains the relevance, as well as the passion from students.

The gap between learning and education is widening as the workplace for which we prepare our students for (one of, but not the only, objective of higher education) continues to shift to the social era.  Gartner predicts that by 2016 many large organizations will begin the adoption of social networks as a form of interaction that will significantly supplant the use of phones and email.  Value in the social era is cultivated around openness, collaboration, shared visions, and transparency. Those who demonstrate their ability to foster relationships through social technologies will be one step ahead of the rest.

But forming professional relationships via social technologies is an outcome that stems, first, from an individual's ability to understand who she is, what she loves to do, and what intrinsically drives her.  How else does one know who to connect with?  These are the factors -- the golden nuggets of life -- that are lost in today's educational system.  An individual won't create a blog, start to Tweet about a consistent and relevant topic, or even re-share existing web content through curation tools if one does not have a sense of where she fits into this world. And that is the fundamental problem with education.

In my keynote for Rasmussen, Risking It All: Learning in the Social Era, I attempted to highlight these issues but I also tried to frame them around my own story.  I shared the fortuitive psychological derailment (I really don't have better words to explain it!) that emerged after I had open heart surgery at age 34 when my children were 3 and 5. Three years after that surgery, I voluntarily resigned from my tenured teaching position at a community college, which I really thought was a job I'd keep forever.  I found myself with a new calling that involved supporting and discovering the role of online learning in higher education and I knew that I needed to find a new position to follow this calling.  I accepted a new role about 200 miles away and relocated my family. The position didn't work out. Seven months later, I resigned and had no job. Crazy? Stupid? Maybe.

I turned to my social networks, continued to blog, increased my Twitter network, and literally started to create small jobs for myself. This process took me to dark, scary places but it also brought me face-to-face with figuring out who I really was and what I wanted to do every day. I tried things -- many jobs.  Some lasted longer than others but duration was no longer how I measured success; for I understand that every step I was taking was a critical part of my learning journey. Failure really is the best teacher.

Another realization I have had through this journey of mine is how grateful I am for experiencing the type of real-life job search college graduates have today (and my own children have ahead of them).  I feel more empowered to stress the value of social media in the higher education learning landscape because
  1. Personal and professional success will improve if individuals can demonstrate how to create value in the social era 
  2. By fostering one's social presence one engages in a reflective and challenging conversation in a public platform that begins to help us become agile and adaptive professionals, while discovering our strengths and motivations
Today, I feel most fortunate to have found a culture at CSU Channel Islands under the leadership of Michael Berman, that genuinely takes risks -- as opposed to just talking about how we all should be taking risks. I am one of those risks. In March, CSU Channel Islands hired me remotely to support their faculty in their efforts to develop high quality, humanized online learning.  I feel grateful to be able to pursue my passion, share my talents with my new team, work closely with amazing educators, have the support and flexibility to share my ideas as a speaker, and not need to uproot my family again.

I believe educators must engage actively with social technologies to understand how value is constructed differently in the social era. Without this experiential learning, the mainstream perceptions of Twitter as nothing more than a hedonistic, superficial playground for celebrities and their followers will never be overturned. My engagement with social media has empowered me to learn a great deal about myself and allowed me to reconceptualize the idea of a "career."  I view my life now as a fractal, ever shifting and in a perpetual state of change.  As I look back and learn from my experiences, I understand that I cannot control the future. I can only prepare for it. And the best way to prepare for change is to consistently be genuine to myself, be good to others, and learn from absolutely everything.  This is the life -- the personal and professional life -- that more, rather than fewer, of our future college graduates will experience. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Social Media: Its Impact on Life & the Workplace and 3 Takeaways for Higher Ed

I have been reflecting deeply on some startling predictions I read recently that indicate significant changes within the organizations of workplaces.  In an effort to be adaptable and agile in today's rapid changing environment, business leaders are embracing social business models.  One of the major changes that is expected to occur in just a few years is a significant increase in the use of social networking within organizations to facilitate stakeholder relationships and communications -- replacing today's commonly used tools, the telephone and email (Gartner).  

This led me to discover some compelling data from IBM's 2012 study, Connected Generation: Perspectives from Tomorrow’s Leaders in a Digital World, which examined the perceptions and values of a global sample of 3,400 college and university students.  The study found that the way college students are using social media is fostering a greater sense of awareness of global issues, increasing an individual's perception of his/her voice in society, and increasing engagement in real life activities.  There is no data to indicate that college age students value virtual relationships more than face-to-face relationships but there is evidence that these two types of connections are valued equally. 

The IBM report certainly doesn't paint the typical portrait of the technologically obsessed, apathetic college student that is so commonly referenced in discussions about technology and college teaching.  In fact, it seems to suggest that engaging in the use of social technologies has some educationally compelling outcomes.

What are the takeaways here for higher education? 

  1. We must be active participants in the social era.
    The ability to use social technologies to foster relationships is a highly valued skilled in a global, digital society. As the use of social networking trickles from informal learning (i.e. the perceived "fun" stuff like YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.) into the workplace, faculty, staff, and administrators must recognize that they too must step up and join the conversation. Twitter handles will need to become commonplace, just as email addresses are.  Experiencing the value that comes from interacting with one's own Personal Learning Network (PLN) will need to become part of the natural progression of being part of a campus community. 
  2. Social media tools are valuable assets to the college learning landscape.
    The boundaries between formal learning and informal learning in the social era must blur in order to sustain relevancy, students for success in the social workplace, as well as find one's authentic self through the development of one's own digital footprint. Recognizing this is one thing, overcoming barriers (like leading the way through the gray areas of FERPA because it's the right thing to do) will set the successful organizations of the future apart from the rest.
  3. "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation." -Brene Brown 
    Risk-taking is the new norm. This is true for professors, for support staff, for administrators, for college presidents, and for students. We all need to learn to embrace discomfort, to experience vulnerability, and to know that through this pathway we will find new opportunities to create the learning spaces of tomorrow and the learners of tomorrow.  This is hard. This is very hard. The successful college leaders of the future will be those who will do the things they imagine to be the right thing to do, instead of just talk about them or imagine someone else doing them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Evidence of Good Things Happening in "The Center"

Why use Google+ and Twitter for Professional Development in Higher Ed?

Last October, I began my journey as the Coordinator of The Center, a new social online learning community, part of @ONE's suite of  professional development services designed to support California's 112 community colleges. It has been an amazing ride! In June, I will be leaving my role as coordinator, but I will remain a contributing community member.

The Center was very much an experiment.  Utilizing social technologies to cultivate a professional development environment for higher education institutions is not exactly commonplace today. Yet, the need for educators to understand how to foster relationships through social tools, create value through collective exchanges, and realize how much more we learn together, as opposed to being individual people, organizations, districts, states, regions, nations, etc. is quickly becoming essential to our shift into the social era.

Fostering relationships through social technologies (which is distinct from using technology -- as anyone can learn to use a tool) will continue to define leaders in the future. And in the social era, a leader is not a position. In the social era, everyone is a leader.  And this is one reason why cultivating one's own professional online presence and developing a professional learning network (PLN) is essential for educators. If we aren't actively engaging, learning, and sharing to understand how social technologies transform the nature how knowledge is constructed and valued in the 21st century, how are we to model this essential skill to our students?



The primary outcomes of The Centery are to improve sharing and increase innovation across California's 112 community colleges. The Center attempts to achieve this goal through inviting members to join a Google+ Community and/or follow The Center on Twitter.  Google+ Hangouts on Air are held every two weeks, featuring faculty, staff, and/or administrators from CCCs who volunteer to share innovative practices using technology to improve learning. All Hangouts on Air are archived and shared on @ONE's YouTube Channel.
Joining The Center's community or following The Center on Twitter is open to anyone, as is viewing the Hangouts.  Therefore, The Center has the potential to be a global collective, while showcasing innovations from within the CCC's 112 campuses -- aiming to dissove the physical boundaries of campus walls.

A sampling of the Hangout on Air topics have included:

The Center's Spring Survey Results

This spring, I shared a link to an online survey in The Center's Google+ community and Tweeted it from The Center's Twitter account (@Center_Ed).  At the time, we had about 220 members on Google+ and 250 Twitter followers.  50 people responded to the survey. That is about a 22% response rate.

Here is a summary of the some of the findings from the survey:
  • 75% of respondents are employed at a California Community College 
  • 52% are a CCC faculty members
  • More than 3/4 (80%) of respondents strongly agree or agree that The Center improves awarness of innovations occurring on campuses other than their own.
  • More than 3/4 (78%) strongly agree or agree that The Center improves the sharing of ideas across campuses.
The open ended prompt, "Share a specific improvement or benefit that has been an outcome of your experiences" with The Center," generated some exciting qualitative data.
  • "I started a Google Hangout for a campus club meeting. Planning to use for online office hours, as well."
  • "I have changed the way I respond to student work (using video) as a result of several hangouts and the resulting discussions."
  • "Having a topic active for several days has led me to spend enough time thinking about it to feel comfortable trying something new in my classes. Also, having a channel to share how it went with others encourages me to do it and improve upon it."
  • "With my new awareness of what colleagues at other colleges are doing, I am helping my college to revise our Distance Education policies and training programs. I could go on and on -- The Center has had a huge impact on my teaching life!"
  • "I'm so impressed with the use of social media that is displayed. It is a great way to build community among educators."
  • "I've been inspired to do more videos and screencasts with my online classes for more instructor presence."
  • "I have created a personal faculty web page. I have started using new programs like Haiku Deck and introduced new programs to colleagues."
  • "Have found the thoughts of other faculty very helpful to my online teaching and my work with our Committee for Online Learning..."
I don't know about you, but when I read these statements, I get pretty excited. I see evidence of more faculty willing to take risks in their teaching. Today, fostering a culture of experimentation in which pushes college professors into vulnerable places.  A social community built with free tools that offers ideas, support, and reflection opportunities for instructors, staff, and administrators -- both part-time and full-time, regardless of one's physical location -- seems like worthy initiative. I look forward to seeing what continues to develop with The Center and am grateful for this opportunity!

Thank you +Micah Orloff for supporting this leap. 

Learn with The Center This Summer

  • The Center's Hangouts on Air are now on summer break but will reconvene in the fall.
  • Learn more about The Center here, includes links to all Hangout video archives!  Archives are a great way to learn this summer! And the Google+ community and Twitter are always open!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Join Me! Active Learning with Google Drive - Tips & Strategies

Active Learning with Google Drive: Tips & Strategies

Thursday, May 15th

4:00-5:00 Pacific

Click here to go to the Google Event.

I'll be moderating a fantastic Hangout on Air tomorrow, Thursday, May 15th at 4pm PT -- Active Learning with Google Drive: Tips & Strategies. +Kelly Falcone from Palomar College and +Gregory Beyrer from Cosumnes River College will be joining in to different perspectives about teaching with Google Drive. Kelly will be sharing her pedagogical tips and strategies for making your online, blended, or F2F class more active with some pretty impressive activities she has up her sleeve. The Hangout on Air will stream live online and all who view the live event will have an opportunity to contribute to an interactive activity Kelly will walk you through.  Stunningly simple.

While Kelly teaches at an institution without an Apps Domain (a sitewide license to Google Apps), Greg teaches at an institution that has an Apps Domain. He'll step in to share his perspectives about the benefits and challenges this brings to the instructional experience.

Like all Center Hangouts on Air, the Q&A feature will be enabled. All you need to do is open the Google Event at the time of the Hangout on Air and the video will start to stream right there on the page. If you have a question, click the Submit a Question button and we'll see it! Just remember, we cannot respond in writing -- only verbally (a subtle but important point).

What is The Center? 
  • A next-gen online learning community designed to connect California's 112 community colleges. All Center events are free and open to the public. The Center is brought to you by @ONE.  
  • All Center Hangouts on Air are archived. Click here to subscribe to the playlist!

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Search for Captioned, Brief Videos in YouTube

This is one of those "ah ha" moments for me! I constantly find myself swimming in a sea of fabulous video content in YouTube that I want to share with my students, grappling with the voice in my head shouting "these videos need to be brief so your students will watch them and captioned so they are accessible to all learners."  (Online instructional videos re-used more than one term in a course at an institution that receives federal funds must include closed captions, per section 508.) But I never knew how to filter content in YouTube to find only captioned, brief videos.

And YouTube's captioning tool is a great option for adding captions to online videos but only for videos you create.   So, when designing an online class, it's an excellent strategy to seek out videos that already captioned and concise.  The question remained -- how does one do this? 

I dug into Google, did some searches and viewed several videos on YouTube that showed outdated search interfaces and then recorded my own short tutorial. Here it is. If you are like me and want to know how to find captioned, brief videos on YouTube -- this will be a game changer!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Presentain" for Mobile, Engaged & Archived Class Sessions

Today, there is a lot of potential to leverage mobile devices for engaging and enriching learning. The challenges are in understanding how to ensure learners don't get excluded in process, keep costs low, and, of course, support effective pedagogy.

Recently, my good friend +Vicki Curtis who teaches ESL at Ohlone College mentioned to me that she was experimenting with the use of a new tool called Presentain in her face-to-face class. The features of Presentain at first sounded confusing to me but the outcomes of the experience (for both instructor and students) made me curious enough to listen and want to learn more. So Vicki and I stayed in touch while she continued to try it out and she soon let me know that she felt confident she was on to something good.  Last week, she joined me as a guest for a Center Hangout on Air. And it was awesome!

Here is a quick overview of Presentain but if you really want to check it out, view the 40-minute Hangout embedded above. In it, you will see Vicki engage the live Hangout on Air audience in an interactive demo of the tool, as the virtual audience members play the role of students in her class (to be clear, Presentain is not intended for distance presentations -- it does not synchronously relay audio, in other words).

Presentain is available for free but you will find the need to upgrade if you like the product. The free version is pretty limiting, enough to get a taste. There is no "education" license, per se, they offer a staggered pricing plan based on features included. Click here for pricing information.

For the "presenter," Presentain requires use of their web app and free mobile app (available for Android and iOS). Prior to a live presentation (before a face-to-face audience), the presenter (let's use the word "instructor" for our purposes) loads one's presentation into the web app in PDF form. The presentation is stored there. At this point, the instructor can also create and store polls within the account (paying attention to the poll and presentation limitations of one's account type).

At the time of class, the instructor enters the classroom, takes out her mobile app (this could be a smartphone or tablet), and launches the Presentain app. Also, she logs into the Presentain web app from the computer in the front of the room (connected to a projector for the students to view). At this point, students are entering and settling in. On her mobile, she is able to view thumbnail views of the presentations she loaded previously. She selects the one she wants to present for the class and indicates whether or not polls will be included and, if so, pulls those into the queue. Then Presentain provides a PIN number to enter into the web app. Now the presentation appears on the computer screen and the Presentain web app provides a simple, unique URL to share with students!

Students are now ready for class. The instructor greets them and asks them to take out their internet devices (smartphone, tablet, or laptop -- anything with access to WiFi, provided there is WiFi in the room -- or else a network connection would be required on the device, of course) and go to the URL displayed on the screen. From there, the students view each slide on their device.
  • Presentain allows any student to view the instructor's presentain on his/her internet connected device, regardless of platform, via a URL (no account or log in required).
 as the instructor clicks through her very few, slides that are beautifully designed with sparse amounts of text and Creative-Commons licensed images (grin). The instructor moves throughout the class, bending down to engage closely with each learner. She makes eye contact directly with each student as she moves through the room.  She holds her mobile device in her hand and swipes the screen -- yes, it is acting as a remote. She doesn't even need to think about it.
  • Presentain turns the instructor's mobile device into a remote.
As she pays attention to her learners, that mobile device in her hand has also been transformed into a recording device. The microphone is picking up her words as she speaks and the app is recording the presentation as she delivers her content to the students.
  • Presentain turns the instructor's mobile device into a recorder.
Now, after three slides and ten minutes, the instructor pauses. She activates a poll on her mobile. It projects on the screen in front of the class and simultaneously the students see it appear on their mobile devices. They read the prompt and click their response. As they respond, the results of the poll appear dynamically in the form of a pie chart on the screen. The instructor enthusiastically engages with the responses and the students start to inquisitively ask questions about the concept that had just been covered. Together, they engage in inquiry to understand why most students chose A, while some other students chose B and C.
  • Presentain enables an instructor to use dynamic polls from a mobile device that students respond to on their internet connected devices (no log in or account required).
One student is still confused. He is embarrassed and does not want to raise his hand. So he clicks the "return to Dashboard" link on his iPhone's screen and from there Presentain gives him the option to submit an anonymous question. He types his question. The instructor receives an indication (that is not seen on the presentation screen) that a question has been received. She clicks the notification to review it and chooses to display the question to the class.  She notes that she felt similar confusion about the topic when she was a student and then proceeds to clarify things using a real world analogy. The instructor prompts the class to submit questions if they have more, as time is running out.

Fifteen minutes have now passed. The instructor knows that's enough presentation time. It's time to move on to an activity. So, she stops the presentation on her mobile device using the Presentain app and requests the app to publish the recording. Within moments the recording is available and the link may be emailed to students and/or embedded directly in an LMS.
  • Presentain instantly provides an embeddable video of an instructor's presentation, enabling students to review class sessions or experience sessions that were missed.
Intrigued? Watch the Hangout. You can learn more at  Vicki Curtis can be followed on Twitter @LearningGuide12.

The Center is brought to you by @ONE.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

#ET4Online 2014: A Year of Awakening?

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

Yesterday, I returned from three days at the Sloan-C/MERLOT Emerging Technologies Symposium for Online Learning in Dallas. I am still processing! But here are some reflections.

My key take away at this moment -- aside from reflecting on the deeply amazing humans I met and spent time with -- is that some of the significant organizational changes that have been bubbling up throughout higher education surfaced in different ways this year. This is good! I felt that the presentations this year were topical and compelling. In short, there was discomfort and debate -- more so than in previous years. This too is good! Some presentations even delved into subjects that have become indiscussable at some institutions. And that, to me, is a significant moment in the process of organizational change. 

According to Argyris (1999), when individuals in an organization are confronted with change they find themselves forced to deal with topics or issues that challenge their traditions.  These traditions are governed by mental models, which are undetectable, yet salient, conditions that inform how a person thinks and acts. 

When a mental model that guides a tradition in an organization is challenged, a person will behave in one of two ways. Most commonly, a person will exhibit defensive behavior. Defensive actions may include exhibiting signs of frustration or simply avoiding the topic all together. For example, "That's not how we do things here" or "That wouldn't work because..." These behaviors build upon each other and after enough repetition, the members of an organization become familiar with the expected response and stop raising the topic. The questions (that is, the new ideas, the innovations, the curiosity) stop being introduced into the organization and the status quo is reinforced.  The topic, therefore, becomes indiscussable and the tradition, whatever it may be (even if we all dislike it) remains intact.  We all have seen this right?  Think about when a new person in your organization is hired and asks that uncomfortable question that nobody else asks anymore because everyone else has learned the answer.

 If defensiveness can be overcome when a person becomes aware of his/her mental model, however, the mental model can be seen in a new light. A person can begin to think critically about why and how it became so powerful and start to have a deep conversation about alternative actions. This is when an organization begins to become a learning organization.  This is when awakening can lead to meaningful changes. And it starts with conversations about difficult topics.


Reclaiming Learning

First, Jim Groom @JimGroom shared an important keynote that I both think and hope awakened the minds of many attendees.  View the Storify archive of Tweets here. 

Groom's keynote to me, illustrates, the model of organizational learning I described above. Groom's talk took the audience through a historical look at web culture when geocities offered users the opportunities to easily cultivate their own web presence and connect with others.  This open, communal experience was contrasted with the LMS, higher education's "go to" learning landscape.

It is as if we don't even think beyond what's outside the LMS today in higher education. It is as if we think we're teaching online but we aren't -- we're teaching inside a walled garden.  And how does learning inside an LMS prepare a student for live in our digital, mobile society? These were some of Groom's points.

The LMS has become our tradition. The open-web has become the uncomfortable change -- the flood waters that the administrators of our institutions try to keep out. This is the indiscussable topic that Groom took hold of in his keynote. 

Throughout the past several years, I have worked with many faculty who have shared with me that they want to teach with this tool or that tool to promote more engaging, collaborative learning for their online students but their institutions will not allow them to because of this or that.  Or they immediately pause and become filled with caution and concern at the thought of integrating a tool into their students' learning that is not included within the LMS.

I realize my words may be stirring up emotions within you as you read this and I am fully aware there are topics to discuss and learning that needs to happen in order for us to facilitate learning with web-based tools (which is the crux of my book, Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies).  The point is that we can work through these topics together, as a community of online educators, if our top priority is our students' learning, as opposed to maintaining and controlling them. 

Groom's points dug deep. If we teach inside an LMS and only inside an LMS, are we truly teaching "online"?  If our students only experience interactions within the controlled, secure walls of an LMS, are they truly experiencing what it means to be online? Are we, as educators, leveraging the educational benefits of the internet if our learners do not engage in activities outside the walled garden of an LMS?  Are we as a system of higher education embracing even a small percentage of the power of this "learning revolution" we appear to be occurring around us?  How is learning online improving students' abilities to think critically about media? To create original media and share it for re-use in a digital, mobile society? To locate, evaluate, and re-use media effectively?

And as we, more and more, strive to design "learner-centered" online learning environments, the LMS is designed to lock students out from their own learning contributions after a term has ended.  As Groom so eloquently put it, when students learn in an LMS, they learn in an environment that has no relevancy to life after college.

As I reflect on my own teaching, the more I have ventured outside the LMS to designed an online learning environment for my class that incorporates a tapestry of student-centered media projects with web-based tools the more inspired, relevant,  and active my students' learning has become. And that topic has been the premise of this very blog, my book, and my other related work.  In fact, I became so passionate about this topic that it led me in 2009 to leave my safe, tenured position as a full-time faculty member and eventually begin my life that same year as a free-lancer. In many ways, teaching outside the LMS led me to a life as an academic outside the academy. Hmm. Interesting connection.

The LMS is a helpful tool for providing a secure place for having students authenticate as registered students. That is a function I rely upon it for. The LMS is also a valuable tool for communicating grades to students, which must be done securely to comply with FERPA.  I also use my LMS to deploy periodic traditional assessments for learners, because they provide students with automated feedback from me, as well as opportunities to learn from their mistakes when assessments are allowed to be taken multiple times. 

I have much more processing to do about Jim Groom's talk. But, for now, I'd like to thank him for taking us to this level of learning.  

Mess in Online Education

Image by Cy Twombly
The plenary presentation at #ET4Online, Mess in OnlineEducation: How It Is, How It Should Be, was delivered by Jen Ross @jar and Amy Collier @amcollier.  Their presentation reframed the culturally derogatory term "mess" into a positive vision for online education.  Yes, your teaching should be messy.  Why?  As the presenters reminded us, learning is messy.  If we could visualize how each of us learns, we would be able to see that each of us learns in an entirely different way. I was reminded of a Cy Twombly drawing while listening to this presentation. Some may see it as a mess; some see it as beautiful. Either way, it's art.

But mess is more than supporting learning differences.  Mess involves designing for and allowing for learners to experiences the challenges, stumbles, and failures involved with the real world, as well as building in flexibility to allow life to intervene. Right now, my online students are embarking upon a project that involves locating a practicing art photographer (anywhere in the world), interviewing him/her about his/her work, and creating a VoiceThread about the photographer's work.  I have this project chunked out into three steps, each with a deliverable, clear criteria, and a due date, to keep students on task.  The experience is different for each student. For example, some students identify a photographer quickly, others reach out to several before they make contact with one who is available to be interviewed, and I have had two students (over two years) who have needed my help finding a photographer. Most students relish in how incredible it felt to be in touch with a "real" photographer and learn about his/her experiences. Some have maintained connections with them and even been sent prints from the photographer after the project's completion. One photographer asked my student's permission to share her VoiceThread on his blog (nice turn of the tables!) and another student received an email from a photographer letting her know that her project had "validated his career."

The project is messy. I never know how it's going to turn out or what problems we are going to encounter. The important thing is that my students know I'm in it with them and I'm there for them -- and that they remain in communication with me. I have had semesters where I've thought, "Maybe I should end this." But after listening to Amy and Jennifer's presentation, I feel empowered to continue this project.  It truly is real-world learning that will foster skills for life, more so than any multiple-choice test, discussion forum, or assigned blog post.  Learning outside the LMS is real world learning. And that is why we need to embrace it.

In the presentation, Collier and Ross also noted one recent trend in edtech that is discouraging mess in online learning -- the proliferation of technologies that simplify the teaching and learning process.  In their presentation, they included many screenshots from promotions and writings about products that promote their ability to save teachers time, to minimize assessment challenges, etc.  While I agree that the focus on lifting the teacher from the student experience has been overly celebrated in the MOOC heyday -- and I shared early reservations of employing MOOCs widespread in community colleges here -- I hope the presentation does not throw cold water on the many innovations surfacing in educational technology today that will continue to improve upon the sterile, tidy LMS-driven experiences Groom critiqued in his presentation.

As I already noted, it were not for the emergence of web 2.0, I would never have ventured outside my LMS.  I would still be teaching my visually-centric art history courses using text-based discussion forums (ouch).  I enjoy not only the opportunity to continue to explore new tools emerging on the edtech horizon, but working directly with entrepreneurs who want to learn how to improve education.  I support more dialogue between higher education and edtech startups -- not less.  Entrepreneurs need to learn from online educators --. and those who will survive are those who are willing to learn.

Questions for reflection:

  • "How is your online class preparing your students for success in the 21st century?"
  • "How does the design of your online class generate opportunities for students each go different ways, encounter unique challenges, and identify their own solutions?"

Thinking Ahead to 2015

Next year, I will be conference chair for the 2015 Sloan-C-MERLOT ET4Online Symposium.  The event will be in Dallas once again on April 22-24, 2015.  Send me your ideas and your suggestions so it can continue to be an engaging, thought-provoking experience and advance the conversation about the role of emerging technologies in online learning.


Argyris, C. (1999). On organizational learning. Malden, MA: Blackwell Business.