Today was session day at the Sloan-C Conference!

The most challenging part of this experience is selecting which session to attend. My favorite session was conducted by James Moore from DePaul University. He provided a very clear and visually engaging presentation of the basics steps involved with vodcasting. This isn’t a new topic for me, as I’ve used Profcast to record live presentations and upload them into iTunes U as podcast episodes; however, I am continually disappointed with Profcast’s inability to capture the entire screen, for example, when I need to switch from Keynote to a web demo. James’ presentation solved this problem for me by introducing me to Screenflow, a very cool software application (roughly $100, as quoted by Moore) for Macs that functions much like Camtasia in its ability to record the entire screen, convert it into a video file and allow for ample editing after the production of the video is complete. Love this! If you’re interested in seeing James’ vodcasting presentation, he has dutifully posted it on his website in a video format (Thanks, James!).

I also attended a terrific session titled “Tag You’re It” hosted by Phylise Banner from Skidmore College. Banner presented about how tags can be used to generating visual clouds of “self representation” through online tools like Wordle. Wordle is very intriguing, even when you don’t have a solid instructional use for it. The concept is simple: go to the website and enter a sample of text, a url to a website (your blog, for example), or upload a document (a resume would be a good idea). Then Wordle generates a visual tag cloud of the words that appear most frequently in the text sampling and it does so creatively. It’s kind of like designing your own personal logo. Who wouldn’t love that? Banner seemlessly explained how Wordle can be integrated into an online class as a student assignment. Students generate their own “self representations” and then share them in the CMS. This leads to students making connections with other students — “Oh, he likes the Packers too!” or “Great, someone who loves yellow labs – just like me!” While this may still seem like ‘fluff’ to some, I agree with Phylise about the criticality of encouraging students to form common ties early in a class. Banner has theorized this community building as a reconstruction of “the hallway,” the area in which much socialization occurs before and after a face-to-face class that is sorely lacking in an online class unless an instructor consciously builds that space into the course in some way. These types of personal, social interactions are the foundation of building community and establishing a safe, trustworthy environment for students to converse, discuss and debate. Wordle is a great idea for an online ice breaker.

The challenges I foresee are students who get confused about how to use the embed code in a CMS and, honestly, I’m wondering if students even have that capability in Blackboard…hmmm.

Here is my Wordle of my blog (why is it so small…I used the embed code…another problem?):

And now for a brief snippet from the exhibition hall. I was underwhelmed by the exhibitors, honestly. All I kept thinking was, “VoiceThread needs to be here to really impress these folks!” Maybe next year! There were two vendors there that had similar products: eScience Labs and a competitor whose name I’m forgetting (sorry, folks). The concept is simple, the impact quite ingenius. The companies build customized lab packs filled with all the necessary equipment and materials students would need to complete lab assignments — think biology, chemistry, anthro — at home. In addition to the physical lab kit, the professor also has the option to provide a customized lab packet equipped with instructions for labs and assessments for students to complete throughout and after labs. This, to me, is huge as it resolves the many of the issues that are identified with online lab classes. Sure, it’s not quite that simple and there are clearly health and safety concerns that need to also be considered here but it’s a great concept. Here’s a look at eScience Labs in the exhibitor hall:

I must also comment on the engaging and enthralling Keynote presentation given today by Curtis Bonk of the University of Indianan and author of the upcoming book (available free online), The World is Open. In under an hour, Bonk took us on a journey through the dizzying world of online open resources and user created content that is transforming the very concept of what it means to learn and to educate. His thoughts were couched in a very positive context about inclusivity and the potential to revolutionize the world through the spread of knowledge to all, rather than the frequent concern and fear over “lost enrollments” we hear in higher ed. His approach was refreshing and I look forward to seeing his book emerge…and being shared.

Well, time to get to sleep for the last half-day of sessions tomorrow. Much to learn! So much fun!

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