Monday, July 16, 2018

Flipgrid Your Canvas Course

One of the challenges of online learning is the balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Research shows us that students enjoy synchronous activities because they support persistence, and build student-student and student-instructor presence. However, time and space constraints can impede such activities and, in many ways, defeat the advantage of anytime/anywhere learning.

Enter video-based discussion tools, such as Voicethread and Flipgrid. These tools bridge the gap between synchronous and asynchronous learning by allowing students to record video-based discussion threads. These "threads" are called "Grids" in Flipgrid. Students can record up to 5 minute videos - completely free thanks to the recent acquisition of Flipgrid by Microsoft. And because Flipgrid integrates into Canvas, the instructor can grade the discussions through the Speedgrader Assignments feature.

Are these tools an exact replacement for a live webinar? Not entirely, but they have many of the hallmarks that make it feel as though it is live. As we begin rolling out this tool at ESU, look for some research regarding its efficacy and satisfaction among students.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Case for Summer Tech Camps

#techmaker18 summer boot camp is a wrap. What a week. 100 kids learned about Ozobots, conductive thread, Bloxels, Alexa programming, Makey-Makeys, Scratch, 3D printing, plant DNA extraction, HTML coding, forensics science, Cricut signs, wave machines, buoyancy engineering, guitar petal programming, scribble machines, Microbits, and much more. At the Friday Finale dinner where we showcase the kids weekly work, one little girl gave us the best compliment ever: "Can you do this for us the whole summer?" These kids want to learn, want to engage, and are over the moon about technology and applied learning. Even some of the older kids who were arm-twisted into coming begrudgingly admitted they had fun. 

Public schools should seriously consider sponsoring these tech camps throughout the summer months. There is clearly an interest and a case for filling the otherwise vacuous three summer months with rotating tech camps. Granted, there is an expense and a tremendous amount of preparation and organization, but what the kids demonstrated is that they are interested, engaged, and hungry to learn. The key, as we saw all week, is Active, Authentic Learning Opportunities. The most successful of the rotating workshops engaged the kids in hands-on activities. Competition among them also played role. When grouped into teams for the Penny Boat Engineering Challenge, the kids were excitedly vying to see who could adapt a 3D boat that would hold the most pennies using nothing but straws, rubber bands, balloons, and paper clips. (The winning team loaded 145 pennies!) 

The winning Penny Boat Challenge design held 145 pennies

Another popular activity was the WSU-Tech Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab where they showed the kids virtual welding, virtual painting, riveting, and augmented reality using a technology called ZSpace.

Inside the Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab

But by far, the most popular activity were the Ozobots. These small computers are designed to "follow" special pen trails on paper. Kids can craft their own trails that the Ozobots can follow. Older kids can navigate an Ozobot through a Lego obstacle course that is controlled by an Ozobot app.

Ozobots in Action

This tech camp was open to kids from 4th grade through 9th grade. Despite the wide age range, the kids all stayed focused and engaged throughout the long days (five 1.25 hour workshops) and week (four consecutive days).

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

My Use of the Lightboard in the Classroom

By Tom Mahoney, Assistant Professor of Mathematics

At its core, a Lightboard is a piece of glass mounted in front of a camera.  Using lights around the glass and a black backdrop, I can write on the glass with neon markers that glow brightly, all while looking into the camera.  The writing that the camera sees is backwards, but software reverses the image to correct this.
Already, this setup provides a way of making great instructional videos.  I can show how to build solutions step-by-step, use my eyes, facial expressions, and gestures to direct students to the most important concepts. My goal is to draw students in and hold their attention by being more than a disembodied voice, which is common in other mathematical videos (such as Khan Academy).  I frequently record minilectures and create quiz solutions to post on Canvas.  This helps solve a common problem where part of a class does well on a quiz, while the other part doesn't.  Normally, I'd have to choose between boring part of the class by going over a quiz they already did well on, or let the other group fall further behind by not going over it.  By posting a solution video online, students who need it can watch them at their own pace.  Even the students who did well benefit because now it's something they can go back and rewatch to review before exams.  When I taught Calculus II in Spring 2018, I recorded about thirty 5-minute videos, one before each quiz, of problems similar to the quiz problems.  For the whole semester, there were 570 total views and over 70 hours of video that were watched (including rewatching videos).  On average, each student watched about 220 minutes of these solutions videos.
One of the things I love the most about being at a smaller school is that I feel much closer to the students.  Instead of being in a large lecture hall with 500+ students, I get to know all the students' names and faces, and they get to interact with me one-on-one.  However, creating this kind of intimate classroom online is difficult.  Placing a camera in the classroom means that students mostly see the back of the instructor's head, and rarely receive eye contact in the same way that on-campus students would in the same lecture.  I wanted my online courses to have a greater level of intimacy.  That is why I have been using a Lightboard in all my online courses since Fall 2017.
My online courses have a weekly live video conference that I host to answer questions about that week's assignment.  It's part lecture, part virtual office hours.  By using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS; free, open-source, and cross-platform), I can reverse the video, as well as add in other components (slides, live chat, web browser windows, etc.), all in real-time.  Below is a picture from one of the conferences from Mathematical Proofs in Spring 2018.  The chat on the right comes from Zoom, and students use the chat to ask questions.  By including the chat in the final video, students watching the recorded version also get to see the chat unfold in real time, which is not a feature of other Zoom recordings.

Mathematical Proofs is often the first course graduate students in the math department take at ESU.  By using the Lightboard, they are seeing me face-to-face in real time, and the feedback I received was very positive:
·         "I also really enjoyed the chatroom and especially when it was linked to the Zoom video.
·         Thank you for being a professor who tries innovative approaches to teaching with technology - it made the class much more worthwhile."
·         "The see-through glass board you used to write on was really helpful because you were able to write and also give us visuals using hand gestures at the same time."
·         "The ability to communicate live - face to screen - Is a huge advantage.  Also the light-board was probably the best tool that I've ever had for a course with respect to presentation."
·         "The lightboard was fantastic."
I’ve really loved the engagement and student excitement surrounding the Lightboard since I started using it. I will continue using it in future classes while experimenting with OBS to use even more features, like streaming conferences directly to YouTube.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

TechMaker 18 is Right Around the Corner!

Techmaker 18 is just a few weeks away, but we still have spots for a few more kids! Join us for the best summer kids tech camp in Kansas. Kids aged 8-14 (3rd grade - 9th grade) are eligible. This year we have several new exciting activities, including a visit from Wichita State Tech's Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab. Kids will get a chance to see and experience all the exciting technologies in the mobile lab. For more information, refer to the registration form. If you can't make it to the Emporia Rec Center to register, contact Dr. Anna Catterson at This year's Techmaker 18 Logo was designed by one of our Techmaker campers from last year. Each year, the kids design and vote on the logo for the next year. We then use this logo as our theme. We hope to see you there!

Friday, May 4, 2018

2018 Horizon Report Preview

The 2018 Horizon Report preview has been released. ESU Learning Technologies serves on Expert Panel of participants who helps guide the technology forecasts for the near term, mid-term, and long-term - also called "wicked challenges".

According to the preview, the key trends driving ed tech adoption in the short term (one to two years) are:

  • Growing focus on measuring learning. "This trend describes an interest in assessment and the wide variety of methods and tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, and other educational needs of students."
  • Redesigning learning spaces. "As universities engage with strategies that incorporate digital elements and accommodate more active learning in the physical classroom, they are rearranging physical environments to promote these pedagogical shifts."
 Key trends in the mid term (three to five years) are:

  • Proliferation of open education resources. The report called attention to the growing number of universities pushing forward their own open learning initiatives, noting that the term "open" is a "multifaceted concept" that should be broadly defined "not just in economic terms but also in terms of ownership and usage rights."
  • Rise in new forms of interdisciplinary studies. "Digital humanities and computational social-science research approaches are opening up pioneering areas of multidisciplinary research at libraries and innovative forms of scholarship and publication. Researchers, along with academic technologists and developers, are breaking new ground with data structures, visualization, geospatial applications, and innovative uses of open-source tools."
And in the long term (five or more years):

  • Advancing cultures of innovation. "As campuses have evolved into hotbeds for entrepreneurship and discovery, higher education has become widely regarded as a vehicle for driving innovation. The focus of this trend has shifted from understanding the value of fostering the exploration of new ideas to finding ways to replicate it across a span of diverse and unique learning institutions."
  • Cross-institution and cross-sector collaboration. "Increasingly, institutions are joining forces to combine their intellectual capital or to align themselves strategically with innovative efforts in the field. Today’s global environment is allowing institutions to unite across international borders and work toward common goals concerning technology, research, or shared values."
In the section on challenges that are impeding technology adoption in higher education, the report preview called out two "solvable challenges" (problems that we understand and know how to solve):

  • Authentic learning experiences, defined as "those that bring students in touch with real-world problems and work situations"; and
  • Improving digital literacy, the task of developing students’ digital citizenship, ensuring mastery of responsible and appropriate technology use, including online communication etiquette and digital rights and responsibilities in blended and online learning settings and beyond."
The "difficult challenges," or those problems that we understand but are not sure how to solve, are:

  • Adapting organizational designs to the future of work. "Technology, shifting information demands, and the evolving roles of faculty are forcing institutions to rethink the traditional functional hierarchy. Institutions must adopt more flexible, team-based matrix-like structures to remain innovative and responsive to campus and patron needs."
  • Advancing digital equity, or access to technology and broadband internet — necessary "to promote full participation, communication, and learning within society."
And the "wicked challenges," those that are complex to define and perhaps impossible to address, are:

  • Economic and political pressures; and
  • Rethinking the roles of educators in the face of technology-enabled approaches to teaching and learning.
 The full report can be found on the EDUCAUSE site.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Google Vision Kit: Artificial Intelligence Meets Making

We recently acquired a new Google Vision Kit which uses artificial intelligence to detect and recognize objects. Along with Google Voice Kit which was released late last year, these new kits blend making with artificial intelligence. Vision Kit includes an onboard Raspberry Pi camera connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero. It takes about 1.5 hours to assemble the components and another hour to install and configure the software and apps required. Below I'm "recognizing" a bottle of dog vitamins. The Vision Kit can connect to an LCD so that the image is displayed. When setting up the Kit, you pair the device to your Android phone so that it can run over your wireless network. There are more than 1,000 objects in the image library.

Once everything is installed, you run a Python script using a Chrome browser shell command. Using the device IP address, you execute a pre-built script called '' that automatically recognizes whatever is in the viewfinder. The command line scrolls constantly while is recognizes and classifies the object. I captured the image below from my laptop. Note that the script constantly updates as the camera detects whatever is in its viewfinder

Here's a promotional video illustrating how it works and illustrating Face Tracker, Face Recognition, and Image Classification.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Microsoft Artificial Intelligence Translation


We recently became aware of an exciting new technology from Microsoft Garage - a research incubator arm of the company - called Translator. This free artificial intelligence PowerPoint add-in can convert more than 60 languages bi-directionally. Let's say that you are entertaining a group of students from China who have limited English skills. Using Translator, the spoken words appear as captions in the targeted language - in real time. To start Translator, simply click the option on the ribbon.

This feature can also be used for audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Additionally, up to 100 audience members in the room can follow along with the presentation in their own language, including the speaker’s language, on their phone, tablet or computer. 


Live subtitling: Speak in any of the 10 supported speech languages – Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish – and subtitle into any one of the 60+ text translation languages.

Customized speech recognition: Optionally customize the speech recognition engine using the vocabulary within your slides and slide notes to adapt to jargon, technical terms, product or place names, etc. Customization is currently available for English and Chinese.

Personal translations: Share a QR- or five letter conversation code and your audience can follow along with your presentation, on their own device, in their chosen language.

Multi-language Q&A: Unmute the audience to allow questions from the audience on their device in any of the supported languages (10 for spoken questions, 60+ for written ones)

Inclusivity through Accessibility: Help audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing follow the presentation, and participate in the discussion.

Translate your presentation while preserving the slide formatting: Next to the "Start Subtitles" icon, the "Translate Slides" button allows presenters to translate their whole presentation while preserving its formatting.


Download Translator for free

Watch a demonstration of how this technology works.