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Learning Management Systems

Class this past week was a blast primarily because we got to talk about something I was really looking forward too, Learning management systems. One of the reasons I wanted to talk about these is because I truly owe my undergraduate degree to the successful completion of several online courses I took on what was then called WebCT through Georgia Perimeter College. If you are not familiar with it, you would probably recognize it as what we now call ELC or Blackboard.

What is really neat about these systems from a student perspective is that they make it really easy to engage and really get the most out of the online course you are taking. Assuming of course that the instructor knows what they are doing. And that is what we focused on on class – how to set up an online class using these systems and some of the pro’s and con’s of the various ones on the market today.

A quick overview of what we learned:

There are several different systems on the market today but here are a few of the more widely used ones. First of all is the one I am most familiar with, Blackboard (also known as elc and formerly WebCT). This particular system seems to have it all, allowing the instructor multiple applications for engaging with students. There is a blog application that allows for threaded discussions. Very useful if you become confused about who said what. There is also the always handy (but slightly creepy) big brotheresque tracking feature so that you can see just how many times and for how long each of your students was logged on. This way when a student complains that they are failing and you ask, well…did you use the provided resources on elc? You know right away of they are lying or not. From a teacher’s standpoint – helpful. The student…well it can be a total nightmare but hopefully it will begin to motivate students to do the right thing. In addition there are also several different assignment and grade-book options so that if needed you (as an instructor) have all sorts of freedom when designing your course.

Sakai – This appears to be a slick well put together collaboration of educators who have come together in  mutual agreement to share knowledge. I like the professionalism of the site but admit that along with the name it can be a little intimidating for first time online educators. Like Blackboard or Moodle (see below) there are many applications for whatever kind of assignments you may have in mind and for whatever discipline you teach. Personally I think this system is a little easier to learn than Blackboard (and a little easier to manage) but as I’m not a regular UGA staffer I will keep my opinions to myself. So on to the next system.

Moodle – one of the things I love about Moodle (that I admit has nothing to do with it’s capabilities) are the aesthetics. Being trained in graphic design and a visual person, I tend to notice how a website looks first and foremost and what strikes me about the Moodle color scheme (yellow-orange with rounded buttons and cartoon-style graphics) are the inviting and fun colors that say, welcome, come and take a look around, how can we help you? As for the applications, Moodle offers support based open-source software with plenty of extras.

all of these are great systems, each a little different so depending on the type of class you intend to teach, only you can decide what is right for you. So what do you think? What did you learn in class this week? anything interesting about these systems that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it because after all, adding to the online conversation helps the whole group in the end!!

See you next week 🙂

Facebook as a Teaching Tool

I think I have spent more time thinking about Facebook this past week than actually on the site itself for fun. But for me I guess that isn’t really a surprise. I am but one of the many that has become just a tad disillusioned with Facebook as a way to pass the time, looking at it more from a business and marketing perspective and now possibly as a teaching tool.

I really enjoyed the team tech talk on Facebook last week, particularly since I had planned on dedicating the post on my other blog this week to none other than the social network giant. They had some great research articles on how Facebook, in particular, the Groups feature can and has been used to lead class discussions, as well as provide a place for students to come together to discuss assignments, schedule study sessions etc.

I find it somewhat ironic that Zuckerberg himself used Facebook to “study” for a final exam at Harvard back in the early days of the site (at least according the movie The Social Network.)

I have been studying social media for a number of years and think that I could and would find a way to use it in the classroom. That includes finding a way to include the blue and white share-everything-you-can network that is taking over our world. (who knew that the reason for the blue and white simplicity was due to Zuckerberg being red-green color-blind? ) I think that I could successfully incorporate wall posts, links, discussions, photos etc into any class simply because Facebook has infiltrated so much of our lives at this point that I truly believe most students wouldn’t bat an eye if you put a Facebook requirement on your syllabus.

Specifically for me, I would (and currently do) use it [social media/Facebook] for conservation ecology which wouldn’t be hard considering the number of NGO’s  and environmental groups that are now using social media to publicize their mission, raise money, build membership and raise awareness. Think Greenpeace, Earth Justice, The Arbor Foundation and the The Natural Resources Defense Council just to name a few. Personally I am excited because it has never been easier to create a following, garner support and spread a message. Maybe Facebook is taking over the world but it will certainly be a fun ride.


So I am really wondering how my group fared with the awesome monkeys last week while I was away dealing with family business. I hope somebody had a camera! 🙂

What were the main thoughts on teachers using video-conferencing in classrooms? I’d like the class to post some feedback about what they learned to help me catch up if you don’t mind.  Thanks!!

Click on Through to the Other Side…

I have to admit that before I read the articles for class I wasn’t really sure what the term clickers referred too. It brought to mind an image of prepubescent girls in braces popping their gum and twirling their hair. (Don’t ask why, I still have no idea how my mind works, maybe one of the psych’s would know?) Anyway, once I figured out that the term referred to a remote-control-like device the light-bulb went off. I’ve used one of those before!

After reading the articles clickers made even more sense and now as a technology junkie I of course have decided I must have them. They seem like such a cool way to get your students engaged. Think about it, anonymous answers, definitive and useful feedback. What is the downside, other than the costs which are going down all the time? I can almost guarantee that someone will come out with an iPhone/Blackberry/Android/etc. app that allows you program your smartphone to be used as a clicker before long.

I really liked the idea of using the clickers to spur discussion, especially about sensitive topics where you might only have a handful of students respond under normal circumstances. It is exactly this type of technology that I took this class to learn more about!

More to come after today’s discussion…

So despite a few technical difficulties (read, system failure…CRASH…) we were able to see exactly how our clickers worked first hand.

Creating a Web Site – it’s Easier Than You Think…

Want to sell your favorite auntie’s fruitcake online but feel frustrated by Amazon and Ebay? Today’s class would have been perfect for the those frustrated with figuring out the technical mumbo-jumbo you used to have to know in order to build a web-site. Today we learned about Google Sites which are pretty much like having a web sites for dummies guidebook right at your fingertips.

Of course there are other ways to build a website that are quick and easy, Google simply has made it really easy and of course FREE is always nice. There are also sites like GoDaddy and Weebly that have both free and pay-by-month options depending on how fancy you want to get. You could also simply use a blog site or a wiki site as a web site.

After playing around with creating our own sites, we watched a fun video called Wikis in Plain English: yeeaahhh!!!! which had us all laughing. I am fairly easily amused so I ended up watching it a few times and even tweeted about it later 🙂

Our class Wiki will end up being really useful for all of us (in my opinion) as we each add, edit and revise each-others’ entries on various technology topics. I couldn’t resist plugging my Twitter handles!(@kristinasummer or @ThursdayGreen)

I think I have checked out everyone’s blogs by this point. It is really fun reading and commenting, seeing so many others points of view. I have been blogging a long time and I love the community of bloggers that I am a part of. We are a pretty tight-knit bunch and most of us got started around the same time and have helped each other along the way. Several of us ended up getting syndicated around the same time – great writers all. So back to class, since I enjoy seeking out new blogs to read and blogging myself, it has been fun reading what is written by my classmates.

Ok, well that is all for today – can’t wait until our first team tech talk which is fast approaching. We got a new team member and the four of us are really excited about the Monkey Business we will be presenting to our class. 🙂 At one point we were all laughing talking about the project wondering just how many times we would say monkey in one conversation!

Until next time!

Important decisions made (and some fun Wimba Playtime)

Although it was horrendously yucky outside the classroom was a hotbed of activity. We learned about how to use Wimba (and only a few of us got distracted playing with the tantalizingly blank screen)

We also were assigned into our teaching tech groups. Melissa and Brendan are in my group and we decided pretty quickly that we wanted to focus on both video conferencing i.e. Skype, Adobe Connect and Wimba and also how Twitter can be used in the classroom. That one in particular I am pretty excited about since I practically live and breathe Twitter and would love to be able to incorporate it into my classroom.

I think probably the most interesting development is that somehow or another we got wrangled into going first…as in only a few weeks from today. Oh well, if you’re gonna jump might as well jump  in all the way. So it is off and running. I couldn’t help but check in on Foursquare during class. I haven’t been to the Miller Learning Center really since it used to be the SLC and then immediately after class tweeted Dr. Russell to let her in on the exciting news that I was going to get to use Twitter for real learning, just like that professor in Texas.  She is thrilled of course and wants me to come guest lecture her class. I owe her so much ( She is my blogging mentor and the professor responsible for Everyday Public Relations (my main blog that got me the attention of people like Darren Rowse, Penelope Trunk and Peter Cashmore [Mashable – THE largest social media site in the world].

Well I guess that is enough for one very productive day. I am really enjoying the class and looking forward to meeting with my group mates. Until next time!!