Data Informs Instruction

Ever teach an online course? Those who have know it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s going on with the students taking the course.  After all there’s “no way” to engage face to face with them, or maybe there is.

In any case having a pulse on if students are engaging in the course and how they’re engaging can be key.  Knowing when to what degree and in what ways students are engaging with course material and each other can help improve the outcomes of the course and help you (the instructor) help students meet with success more often.

One tool available to you in our course site is the Statistics tool.  This tool brings together an extensive amount of log data – and some of it in ready-packaged easy to use diagrams and visual models. You an even run custom reports using the Reports tab:


Here are just a few of the tables/graphs you can see just by selecting the tool:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 08.57.39

Screenshot 2017-11-17 08.57.40

To use the tool, just select it from the tool set. The tool merely reports data – it won’t change anything, but it could help you change how you help your students succeed in your class.


F2F or Online Presentation Engagement

Looking for a quick easy and FREE (did we say FREE) synchronous way to engage students actively in a course presentation?  What if you did so by having students raise their hands?  Doesn’t sound revolutionary does it? Ok fine.

What about trying Slido?  Or perhaps try other similar tools like it, such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter? While the notion of getting students to engage more during a presentation may be alien, odd or just undesireable by instructors; providing opportunities for students to engage does help with knowledge retention.  Providing students a chance to pause, check for understanding and/or take them from passive consumers to active listeners adds value and can add interest and increase the level of participation in a lecture.

Tools like Slido – especially when paired with the notion that almost every student has an Internet capable device (which they often have with them in class) – can help students engage in lectures more, helping to inform you of their grasp of concepts, drive more focused discussion or help you to clarify areas of confusion.

Could this be done with a show of hands? Yes.

However, doing so also means some students may raise their hand (or not) based on peer choices, or simply raise their hand to demonstrate participation (but not honestly answer the question).  A raise of hands is also harder to visually quantify, and it’s harder for students to look around and tangibly recognize a majority or minority of respondents on a multiple choice question.

While these platforms are not a silver bullet, they do a pretty decent job of providing a very easy, low-tech (you often only need to convey a code to students, and then pose the question in a face to face setting) to get this to work.

For more information check out the videos from the sites above or check with Dave E. with the Department of Online Education.

Screencast with Warpwire

icon-warpwire-circle-blueMany of our faculty and courses use the institution’s online streaming service Warpwire. Together with the combined effort of hundreds of faculty, Warpwire houses over 2000 video, image, audio and related media assets, placing, securing and delivering each and every one of them using Amazon’s global content delivery network (CDN) to help all our students make content connections around the world.

Not many of our faculty know however, that Warpwire is a continually evolving platform, and since it’s adoption in 2015, has continued to up the ante of services and features available without increasing the cost to use it.

Most recently Warpwire released two new features: screen capture and live broadcast.

Screenshot 2017-11-16 10.27.57

Screen capture – enables users to use a Chrome browser plugin to record a portion of a desktop or laptop screen along with audio and then include it in a course.

Live broadcast – provides a way to stream live sessions via web-cam and audio within a specific course.

Each of these features offers unique and interesting opportunities for online, hybrid and even face to face courses.  Some faculty are looking for a way to create short lecture or instructional videos ahead of time. Use of a screen capture platform enables an instructor to pull up a presentation in much the same way many instructors present in face to face courses, but be able to record it. Live broadcast enables instructors to hold live sessions with students, record them and make them available to students afterwards. Live broadcast even includes a means by which faculty can tell how many people are watching the broadcast and can include a live chat during the broadcast. While this may sound a lot like Google Hangouts or even Skype, the benefit here is that it’s all secured and held in an institutionally backed and recommended service.  Some students may be wary of attending Hangout or Skype sessions and may violate FERPA regulations.

How else could you use screen capture? Here are some ideas:

  • Use it to record an overview of the course syllabus (actually screen capture the syllabus and guide students through it, especially the complex parts).
  • Provide an alternative course resource that can be made accessible through a captioning service. (Most PowerPoint presentations don’t follow appropriate formatting and alternative text requirements to make content accessible to all learners – creating a video and pairing it with captions can make the presentation far more accessible than say the canned presentations from course text publishers.)
  • Use an internet-based screen capture available to students – for students to record their own video-based presentations to share with the class. (Again, securing this kind of asset with Warpwire verses having students post their speech assignments publicly to YouTube demonstrates better cohesion to FERPA regulations.
  • Screencasts could be used in a language course for assessment or assessment prep. Create a video with language vocabulary displayed while the instructor pronounces the word. Warpwire will even track which students watched it and when, which can inform your instruction or how well students as a whole did on a unit assessment.
  • Record a session where you and a colleague discuss or share conversationally about a course topic – knowing you’ve covered all the content the way you want and delivering that content to students consistently every time the course is offered.
  • Create specific videos for specific assignments as reminders or as quick “60 second helps – in much the same way advertisements create breaks or logical interruptions to television shows.

How else could you use live broadcast? Here are some ideas:

  • For students taking courses with a lab – such as a science course, schedule and conduct a live broadcast of a complex lab procedure, asking all participants to ask a unique question in the chat about the session’s content or steps (for you to answer during the live broadcast).
  • In a speech course – provide a chance for students to deliver their speeches asynchronously (live) to others in the course, while the watchers (other students) provide during-broadcast feedback about the quality of the speech.
  • Bring in a guest speaker located somewhere – anywhere, who can inform or add additional credibility to what you’re already sharing.

What are some other tips in creating these kinds of video assets?

  • If it’s a screen capture – don’t be afraid of having the video be less than super-polished. Students like to see you in your ‘element’ – you’re not a robot teaching the course you’re a person. Maybe you sneeze, or your cat jumps on the keyboard – those things create a contact point with students.
  • Keep screen capture content to less than 15 minutes.  If you think about it, your tension span at this point in this post is beyond bearable, in fact I’m surprised you’re still reading this. Shorter videos of six to seven minutes are easier to digest and keeping it shorter may help you distill the best of what the “normal” 45 minute lecture may disclose.
  • When used discretely, creating videos providing feedback to students directly (one per student) on an assignment may be better than just giving a student a letter or percentage grade.
  • Use screen capture or live broadcast to provide a wrap up or weekly summary of the week or unit’s content.
  • Use screen captures as a means of introducing discussion forum prompts or questions.

Check out the following tutorials from Warpwire on the use of each of these features for use in your classes:

For more on these and other course tips and tools, contact the folks at the Department of Online Education.

A course intro. idea

Lots of online courses look to provide a means of introduction – specifically as a way to warm students up to others taking the course. There’s bound to be some means of engagement of students one with another (or at least there should be). While it’s easy to tell students, “state your name, where you’re from and something unique about yourself”, doing so is an old and rather tired prompt.

Rather, another way to do accomplish much more discussion and interest from students is to have them create a meme and post it to the course discussion area.  Meme’s are “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” A meme carries with it the idea of carrying forward a framework, while recognizing that other frames of reference exist.  In the case of class introductions, using the prompt, “Explain what you do,” can seem daunting and dry. Yet, when paired with a meme as a product – it asks students to create an image or set of images that when given the ‘right’ prompts – help students explain what they do as viewed by different audiences. Take the following one for example on teachers:

teacher-what-i-think-i-do Or here’s one on IT Support Desk folks (Tech Support):


Some of the comparisons following the prompts are laughable, entertaining and yet telling at the same time.  Use the following prompts or just a few of them:

  • What my friends think I do
  • What my mom (parents) think I do
  • What society thinks I do
  • What my boss thinks I do
  • What I think I do
  • What I actually do

Any amount of searching the Internet will turn up quite an array of these memes, so it may be important to help focus student’s efforts to produce these.  You can find a Powerpoint template for creating them here. To be sure these don’t have to be incredibly complex. They can also serve as an entry point to discuss copyright, proper source citation and explanation of meaning.  Meme meanings are not always obvious – not unlike puns or humor from one language or culture to another.  Students could be prompted to explain their memes or attempt to explain the memes of other students.

Additional prompts could also be included, such as:

  • What my future will be like
  • What my parents think my future will be like
  • What my teacher thinks my future will be like
  • What my future won’t be like

Keep in mind these prompts and the pairing of them with creating a meme sets students on a path of exploration and elevates their thinking from information recall (about themselves) to reflection, comparison and contrast as well as evaluation which are considered higher order thinking skills.

As a technology extension, this could also be done using VoiceThread.

Using Triggers to Release Content

I’m pretty sure everyone is familiar with Trigger – but the trigger I’m speaking of here is the one you find in the dictionary not on Wikipedia.  A trigger refers to a mechanism or device that allows other actions or processes to begin to take place once the initial mechanism is activated.   A much better definition is “anything, as an act or event that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions.”

When looking at how to build out an online course, or even a face-to-face course you can leverage different kinds of triggers to allow students to access content.

One of the simplest ways is to simply use the open, close, and accept until dates found in most tools that track a student’s participation in an activity – such as in the submission of an electronic document (Assignments), an assessment (Tests and Quizzes), or in a discussion (Forums).

You can likewise use release, due and accept until dates in conjunction with other tools, such as the Lesson tool, to control the release of content in a lesson or unit.  Doing so really allows a lot of granular control over when students access content – especially when using the release settings:

Sakai 10 Lessons> Edit release settings

Each of these options:

  • “don’t release item until all prerequisites are completed”
  • “require that the student submit this assessment”
  • “require that the student receive __ points on this assessment”
  • “require that the student submit this assignment”
  • “require that the student receive __ points on this assignment”
  • “require that the student submit a posting to this topic”

Are options that can assist with providing a very linear and deliberate flow through course content.

Perhaps there are certain items you want to insure students complete before they go forward – building out skills or content knowledge ahead of tackling other, more complex concepts in the course or unit. Using triggers like these in Sakai, esp. when paired together with the power of the Lessons helps give students direction and can add value to what you’re already doing in your virtual or face to face interactions.

Entering Zero’s in the Gradebook

Toward the end of a term or at mid-term you may be calculating student’s course grades – and as much as we like to think otherwise, some of our students (for whatever reason) just haven’t done the work required in the course.  You now have the need to apply your policy of entering 0 (zero) for each item that they’ve not turned.

Depending on which set of tools you use you may have one or several steps to take.

Scenario 1: You only use the Gradebook to create manual gradebook entries. While you may use the Assignments or Tests and Quizzes tools, you have manually created corresponding entries in the Gradebook and associated them (manually linked them) to the items in the Assignments or Tests and Quizzes tools.

  1. Go to the Gradebook.  Verify that you have entered scores for every gradebook item that’s set to include this item in course grade calculations:


  2. Now in Gradebook, select the Course Grades option toward the top. Next scroll down the list of student’s course grades and locate the the “Set ungraded items to zero” button.
  3. Select the “Set ungraded items to zero” button.
  4. Read the WARNING and if you’re certain you want to proceed, click the “Continue” button:
  5. You’ll get a confirmation message in the Course Grades area when the process is complete (more students and more gradebook items, the longer the process takes):

Keep in mind if you’re doing this at mid-term and you have several additional items that have not yet had point valuations entered, (such as a final exam), AND that item is already set to have it’s points “included in course course grade calculations”, it will set all of those yet to be completed items scores to 0 (zero).  if this is an issue, alter the settings for each of those gradebook items to NOT be included in the overall course grade calculations – and they won’t be affected by this process.

Scenario 2: You use the Gradebook in conjunction with the Assignments and/or Tests and Quizzes tool, allowing these tools to create the gradebook entries automatically.

  1. Since some tools (such as Assignments and Tests and Quizzes) have the ability to add scores directly and automatically to the Gradebook, using the “Set Ungraded Items to Zero” only affects items manually added to the gradebook directly (Gradebook>Add Gradebook Items(s)). You’ll need to address adding zeros to the Gradebook by gong to the Assignment or Tests and Quizzes tools instead.
  2. For Assignments – go to the Assignment in question and click the Grade option. Near the top look for the Apply button:

    Simply add the appropriate score (such as 0) and click the Apply button. Any student without a grade will be given that score.

  3. For Tests and Quizzes follow the same process.  In this case, go to Tests and Quizzes and click on the Published Copies tab. Locate and select Grade for the assessment entry you wish to modify. Near the top, locate the Apply This Score button and add an appropriate score.  This score will get entered for all participants with “No Submission”:

If you’re using Gradebook, Assignments and Tests and Quizzes together (relying on Assignments and Tests and Quizzes to add the gradebook entries automatically), then you’ll need to go through Scenarios 1 and 2 respectively. Hope this helps put a corner on all your zero-woes.


Use Assignments and Gradebook together separately

So I’ve had this question come up a few times, but it’s come up now enough times I felt like I just needed to go ahead and write it up and file it in the “you-could-do-it-this-way-because-there-is-an-advantage” folder.

Many instructors choose to use the Assignments tool in Sakai to do just what it was designed to do – provide a means by which students can securely submit work to an instructor within a specified time frame.  This particular tool in Sakai 10 works well, especially for online courses. If you have a need to have students recognize certain parameters about an assignment, such as a open date, due date and late-accept date, along with specific assignment instructions and even plagiarism detection, then using Assignments is the perfect place to set this up.  You can even pair Assignments with Lessons to layout course content in an organized fashion.

Some instructors, especially those who teach traditional or face-to-face courses, have a hard time using Assignments, especially since it’s commonly used with submission of written documents, such as papers or reports.  While Assignments can be setup to automatically create a gradebook entry in the Gradebook, this setting also means that instructors (or their TA’s) must go to the Assignments tool in order to enter a grade for student’s submissions.  (Yes, technically you could leverage the “Download All” link and provide grades to students that way, but it’s just so many clicks.)

In this particular use case, I had an instructor who basically already had a really good workflow – and merely wanted to adapt Sakai’s electronic submission function with a process they’d already refined.  “In the old days” she would have students turn in their papers manually in class, and she would read them, possibly inserting comments, but ultimately providing an overall score in the form of a point valuation on the physical paper.  She would then record this score into her gradebook and be done.

With Sakai’s Assignments, this became a much more lengthy process and clicking on each students name to provide a point valuation just seemed so time consuming – and I agreed.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 4.55.35 PM.pngThe way to solve this was to have the instructor create an assignment (in Assignments) for each item she wanted students to submit electronically – making sure the settings for the assignment DID NOT create a gradebook entry in the Gradebook. The next step was to create a manual corresponding gradebook entry for each of the items listed in Assignments.

By negating (or disallowing) Assignments to create the link to Gradebook she was able to leverage her already functional work flow.  She uses (or her TA uses) the “Download All” link for each Assignment, prints out each submission and then grades the printed hard copies.  She then goes right to the Gradebook and simply transfers the point values from the hard copies to the list of students in the Gradebook.

Technically you could go further and make the Assignment entries “associated with an existing gradebook entry” – this is different from having the Assignment tool create the gradebook entry.

Hope this helps!