Updates from Spanish

Creating Fun Online Objects to Make Course Content Easier.” 6th Annual Sloan-C/MERLOT Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium. Las Vegas, April 8–11, 2013.


My mind was all over the place, but it settled down in Las Vegas. TCalixto, 2013.


Sí se puede, and I wasn’t planning.

It was December. I had been turning a blind eye to the “call for presentations” emails that we had been receiving since months earlier when Nancy emailed to encourage me to submit a proposal for the symposium. I was in the middle of writing a different kind of proposal: a change of site for an internship originally set in Central America to South America, and I was also writing an alternate plan for the same internship in the Navajo Nation. The university wanted all that a month before the due date, and I had less than a week to come up with solid ideas. My mind was literally all over the place.

I confess that I neglected Nancy’s email for two days (sorry Nancy.) Then I decided to give it more thought and realized that the material that Marcelino, María, Martín and I have been creating was worth sharing and was appropriate for the symposium’s theme. Our online Learning Objects have a specific purpose and good quality, and have proven to be useful for the students. The LOs answer to our main question: what can we do to ease challenging content for the students and lessen the amount of time explaining the same content over an over in and outside of class? Writing this proposal became my priority. Guatemala, Peru and Arizona could wait. Nevada was first, and once again, Nancy’s guidance was invaluable in helping me be concise and in identifying the main points on the proposal. (See submitted document here.)

I was not happy with just “presenting” the LOs. I wanted the attendees to take something else than just information and really “Plan a Learning Object using media tools that will enhance your students understanding of course content, and save class and office hours time,” as it appears in the symposium’s booklet.


Months later, the proposal was key in putting together a presentation where I introduced the MELO3D project, presented the LOs and their production, and shared important notes about Creative Commons attribution. Towards the end, I explained the results on the best use of these LOs based on the data that Steve Lonn helped me collect in Winter 2012 (thank you again, Steve.) I also added improvements that are needed such as integration of interaction with the students in the grammar podcasts. Yet, the fun part of the presentation had to be the hands-on portion, and I was looking forward to this section the most.

I mingled with the participants before and after the presentation, and during the hands-on portion of the session. I learned that there were instructors, multimedia project developers, librarians, and people from academic units that I would think had little to do with online learning, like Registrar’s Office personnel. Seeing a good variety of participants dissipated my curiosity about the demographics of the potential attendees.

“We can have many ideas,” I said to move on, “but having an idea doesn’t make it real.” So, to plan for a plan, I posed five questions that my Spanish 103 colleagues helped me phrase. The attendees discussed in small groups in the last ten minutes of the session:

  • What do you teach? What are the most challenging concepts in your course
  • Do you find similar learning objects useful in your course?
  • What resources are available at your institution?
  • What first steps are needed to put your plan into action?

After this discussion, the attendees shared a couple of concrete ideas with the whole audience: an instructor of Italian (a U-M alumna) has plans for grammar podcasts, and the Registrar’s Office trainer would like to implement podcasts for FERPA training to employees.

Towards the end, there were still comments from the audience about how the presence of the instructor outside of the classroom environment does help to reinforce learning. The participant made reference to a study that concluded that it is good to have this kind of learning objects available to students 24/7; but listening to the voice of her instructor or watching the instructor on a video is more beneficial as the student connects and extends her classroom reality with her own. Unfortunately, I didn’t take note of the study (or the list of attendees,), but I still don’t want to believe that each instructor needs to make his own podcasts for his class.

Here is a PDF of the presentation. Contrary to what it may look like, I promise it makes sense.

As far as other conference sessions, I found most of them inspirational and useful. Some of them reinforced ideas that we have integrated (or not) in MELO3D. For example, I still need to think of ways to propitiate student contribution to a collection of LOs, or to respond/react to a LO. Also, athough it is not new, I found that the idea of “flipping the classroom” is still not as prevalent across the country as I thought it was and should be.

3Play Media did a presentation on a tool for captioning, transcribing and translating, and it blew my mind. I’m going to be lazy, and instead of a description –in case you are not familiar with the product, I’ll post the video here.

This media tool is not absolutely new to Philomena from the LRC. I hope to work with her, and to use 3Play Media to finalize captioning and translating the photo-journals that my students made in Peru in 2010. Also, thanks to attending this session, the next day I was able to mention this tool as well as the software that I have been using (dotsub.com) to one of the attendees in my presentation. She had questions about the podcasts accessibility to hard of hearing students. I hope this helped.

Even though I knew I had to leave early to flight back to Michigan, I attended the Unconference Sessions. I liked how it was structured, and I have already used a similar activity with my students in the internship in Peru. The dynamic goes as follows:

  • First, a prompt was presented to all the participants: “If it isn’t broken…”, which was discussed in groups.
  • After that, each group wrote down the ideas that came up, and all these were posted on a wall.
  • Then, the participants re-grouped with those who wanted to discuss one of the ideas from the wall. Some pictures that illustrate the activity are found here: http://sloanconsortium.org/conference/2013/et4online/pictures/unconference

At this point and for a short time, I sat in a small group of three where our main topic was the state of mentorship in online education. One of the members teaches exclusively online; and the other (also a U-M alumnus) teaches blended courses. I could not see myself teaching only online classes, but I tried to imagine what I could do maintain a close relationship with my students as I do in Michigan. Here, I have lunch or coffee with students from previous semesters to “touch base.”

Still, even in Michigan, mentorship is something I do incidentally and also using online resources. I may forward an email to a student whoI know is interested in an internship at a museum. I may encourage another to apply for an abroad program. I may provide solicited advice on whether or not a student should join a campus club. (Now in the “online grammar podcasts” era, I can focus more on the student and less on grammar concepts when students visit my office.) As I see it, small “acts of mentorship” count. I feel lucky that the teaching environment of a language instructor is ideal to get to know students: there is lots of talking about ourselves and how we see the world, 4-day-week contact and interaction with groups of 24 students maximum, and personal journal entries. I know that there are courses at U-M that are also conducive to getting to know students, and even in large courses I believe this “mentorship” is possible.

In the end, I was happy with the symposium and my presentation, and I want to thank again to MELO3D for making it possible. The next step is to start working on the photo-journals and turn them into yet another online LO. With this new collection, the students will have access to Spanish spoken in Peru, the weaving way of life in rural areas of Cusco, and to the understanding of an art that connects us to ancient history.


Now, oddly enough, if I were asked to pick one lesson from the whole experience, I would say that it was participating in  the moment when a presenter realized she didn’t have the VGA adaptor to project her presentation (and gosh, how you wish you had brought yours to save that moment.) It turned out well. She demonstrated how a well-prepared visual presentation could still be delivered without the visuals… and with grace and a smile. Her presentation was engaging, and one could sense how the audience was sympathetic and was on her side. Those human moments, produced by (the lack of) technology are priceless.

Sí se puede, and she wasn’t planning.


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Updates from History

Michael Witgen has now taught the History of the American West for two semesters using his online interactive syllabus to structure the class as a combined discussion and lecture. He has observed an increase in student engagement and responsibility compared to classes he taught using the standard lecture model. The electronic syllabus, which includes links to primary and secondary sources and discussion questions, helps students better prepare for class as they develop analytical skills. The focus on primary sources encourages students to think like historians and juxtapose multiple documents to consider biases in order to interpret an event or understand a common ideology.

This format has been working well but we continue to make changes to further encourage class participation. First of all, in addition to class discussion, we added several short quizzes to force students to take more responsibility for the work. Next semester, Michael plans to add student feedback and grading to his system.  The students are required to write three response papers during the semester. For one of these papers, Michael plans to provide a rubric and instruct students on how to give feedback and grade another student’s work. This will help students understand the necessary components of a good response paper and it will broaden their engagement with their peers. Furthermore, we plan to add a discussion section to our site that will foster student dialogue outside of the classroom. While the learning objects and online syllabus have helped increase participation and changed the ways students are learning about the material, we think these additional changes will maximize the potential of this class structure to engage students, increase participation, and provide them with skills that will be useful outside of the discipline of history.

Since this format had been successful in the History of the American West, we are now creating an electronic syllabus for Michael’s American Indian History class. Again, many of our learning objects are accessible through the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and various historical societies’ collections. There are additional learning objects to select from, such as the “Indians of the Midwest” through the Newberry Library and we look forward to working with new material.

Beyond our work on the course syllabus, we have shared our online syllabus at the meeting of the Society of Early Americanists, in Savannah, Georgia in early March. One of the graduate students on the History team presented the syllabus in a roundtable called “Using New Stuff to Think about Old Stuff: Teaching with Digital Archives.” The different presentations highlighted the importance of engaging students through digital archives, as we are doing with the History of the American West class. The discussion following the presentations underscored the need for institutional support—financial, but also connecting with people in different disciplines and in technical support departments—to successfully replicate the technologies we have used for this class.

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The MELO Social Network



This diagram was created by Steve Lonn (a Research Specialist in the USE Lab) and depicts the “MELO Social Network”. Each circle represents a different member of the group and each line illustrates how faculty, staff, and graduate students are connected to the group.  At the heart of the diagram are Nancy and Brenda, who founded the MELO group and are connected to the UM Merlot community. Radiating outward are staff (shown in blue) and faculty (purple). The addition of staff members, like Chace Masters, Steve Lonn and Emily Rodgers, to the MELO group have enabled us to openly share the learning resources we’ve created, to tap into new and emerging technologies, and to understand the outcomes of our efforts through analysis of learning resource usage.  Around the periphery we see the graduate students (shown in yellow), whose efforts drove each of the MELO projects in each discipline and made them each a reality in the classroom.

The most remarkable features of the diagram are those that are not visible.  If we could represent all of the shared ideas and collaborations between faculty, staff, and graduate students, the diagram would be filled with lines. We refer to this phenomenon as “cross-pollination”, which we see to be the most powerful outcome of our group.  Cross-disciplinary pollination, which we’ve documented primarily through anecdotal evidence, arises naturally as faculty and students from very different disciplines share ideas openly and inspire each other.

The final, and most important, feature of the diagram are the thousands of invisible dots, which represent the undergraduate students whose classroom experience was impacted by the MELO group. If we could take you on a tour of the diverse set of MELO classrooms you might see students learning to speak Spanish using Grammar Podcasts (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~tcalixto/grammarpodcasts/Inicio.html) created by Tatiana Calixto. You could witness a dynamic classroom discussion between Michael Witgen and his students in History 373: History of the American West, which was inspired by the interactive syllabus created by the history cohort (https://amwest.pbworks.com/w/page/43556576/Welcome%20to%20HISTORY%20373%3A%20History%20of%20the%20American%20West). In Statistics 250 you might see students engaged in “Name that Scenario” a learning object (http://sitemaker.umich.edu/name.that.scenario/home) designed to help students learn to apply statistic procedures in different scenarios and created by Brenda Gunderson and the statistics cohort. Finally, you might see students from all over campus watching video testimonials about revision in writing (http://melo3drevisionproject.wordpress.com), which were created by Christine Modey and others at the Sweetland Center for Writing.

These and other MELO projects are shared on Open Michigan at http://open.umich.edu/education/lsa/resources/michigan-education-through-learning-objects/materials.

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QR Coded Student-Created Videos

On Thursday Lucille Benedict (University of Southern Maine) presented her strategy to use QR codes on student created videos.  There has been an influx of curriculum involving the student-generated  Youtube-style videos  in Chemistry and other science disciplines, however this take on the idea was not  only unique but practical for students.

Interestingly the author didn’t assume access to technology would be an issue.  She took a poll at the start of the term and determined that most students at least had access to a smart phone.  During the talk she demonstrated how easily a short 2-3 minute video could be filmed and edited using only a smart phone.

The student generated videos were designed to be instructional for the viewer.   After they were completed the author created QR codes for the videos and used them in subsequent terms.  In one example the student demonstrated how to operate a spectrophotometer. The QR code for the video was place directly on the instrument so that other students could scan it with their smart phones and view the video immediately before using the instrument.

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Build the Network, Learn to Think, Learn to Relate: Bring the Network to Life.

Those are just some of the notes I took at last month’s Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium.  These words are from a keynote given by Joel Thierstein, who echoed the many themes of the future of education we have heard time and again in education media. While what he said was not new, he painted a comprehensive picture of how OER, badges, and civic engagement (that’s right!) are beginning to come together in the emerging landscape of global education to provide powerful, self-actualized paths for learners to actualize their goals, both professional and personal. (He also incorporated pictures from NASA throughout his presentation, which was pretty awesome). I am especially excited to see the concepts of civic engagement and digital literacies show up as a set of competencies that can and should be effectively integrated into education today.

The conference also converged around the constructivist model of learning, stressing the experiential opportunities we now have through digital technologies to reach learners in asynchronous settings, from Telluride to Taipei. To me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of the MELO 3D project that I was in Las Vegas to talk about. By building a community from the ground up faculty, graduate students, and staff of the MELO project have become a powerful example of transformation in the classroom through open practices. The combination of two years of experience with finding and developing LOs, a strong, supportive cohort of faculty, the comfort to experiment, and strong staff support have been very effective. Faculty from this project are focused on their students in the classroom, providing them with the opportunity to engage, reflect and share in a supported environment. It’s been a great pleasure to work with the MELO 3D team and LSA over the past year and we received a lot of positive feedback from those who attended our session. I think the power of this project lies in its holistic perspective: not only do you have resources being created, but they are actively being used, assessed and updated to reflect student needs. We see the philosophies, techniques, and training that went into the development of these resources as well as the contexts in which they are being used and the learning outcomes that illustrate their impact. With this project, others can not only see the outcomes, but see and use the materials that were generated from it. For us, we have scaled this project to include work from six different disciplines. We’re not a MOOC (social is hard to scale) but we’ve become a robust community of practice. Oh yeah, and we won a few awards for our presentations at this conference. That was pretty awesome, too.

It was refreshing to see other members of the education community teaching their peers about incorporating OER, Creative Commons licensing and open practices into every day practices. Victoria Stay (American Military University) gave a thoughtful workshop on assessing OER, incorporating the American Library Association’s comprehensive information literacy standards into the assessment of OERs. Students lack research acumen, Stay said, for framing an inquiry in the digital age where information abounds and intellectual discovery is overwhelming for them:. These are both academic research and personal research challenges. While her presentation was on the advanced side of assessment, the tools  she provided to the audience will be useful starting points for many teachers looking to develop their own literacies around successfully finding and using OERs in the classroom.

Another engaging session I attended was given by University of Central Florida’s Amy Sugar and Baiyun Chen, two instructional designers from the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida. They introduced the audience to OERs, from the Creative Commons licenses to showcasing the collection of resources they have created to serve their faculty community in Florida. Their comprehensive collection of OERs can be found on their Diigo collection: http://www.diigo.com/list/onlineucf/repository

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Friday Conference Sessions

Friday wrapped up the 5th Annual International Symposium for Emerging Technologies for Online Learning. I attended 2 sessons:

LessonSketch: An Online Learning Environment for Mathematics Teacher Education and Development

Conference Link: http://sloanconsortium.org/conference/2012/et4online/lessonsketch-online-learning-environment-mathematics-teacher-education-and


This resource is aimed at instructor education. This talk focused specifically on mathematics education. Scenarios can be set up in the flash interface to show different types of students, custom graphics (geometry on the chalkboard, for example), and audio. The resulting videos can be used to spark conversation with how to deal with common errors for particular problems and standardizing education across instructors or institutions. The motivating idea is that these skills area more easily learned through stories and experiences than theoretical readings.

Open STEM Education and Approaches for Maximising Discovery and Learner Impact

Conference link: http://sloanconsortium.org/conference/2012/et4online/open-stem-education-and-approaches-maximising-discovery-and-learner-impact

jorum.ac.uk – repository for OER, everything is under Creative Commons

One of the ideas that was hinted at in other talks but expressed more here is that students come in to classes with mixed background, and OERs could be used to ensure that all students have the required basic knowledge for a course.

The talk returned several times to the marketing aspect of OERs. Universities and businesses are posting a couple resources with open access, but charging for remaining materials. Also, some students are opposed to having materials from a course they paid to take posted publicly under Creative Commons. So far, I haven’t encountered much of this, but it was a handy reminder that “open” doesn’t always mean completely “open.”

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Power Tools for the Power User

One of the interesting sessions I went to during the 5th annual international Sloan-C/Merlot conference was entitled “Power Tools for the Power User” given by Bethany Bovard (Sloan Consortium) and Kim Moorning (City University of New York).

The first part of the session was a talk given by Prof. Moorning about the trends in technology that are being observed in the educational system. There was the introduction of the “Horizon Report” in which top 6 trends were discussed:

  • Power Apps: i.e.: Stanford has created an App pack for their students which packages different hyperlinks to different application, such as access to their library system.
  • Power tablet: uses of the tablet- we need to think about the design content (not just have static content but make it interactive).
  • Power games- the trend has been on the rise, starting from board games and morphing into simulations and virtual reality. (i.e. Georgetown University Simulator- realistically replicates physiological conditions of patients that can then be used to teach different medical practices (such as intubation).
  • Power Learning- learning analytics (evaluation of the activity and accessing the behavioral patterns- get immediate feedback).
  • Power gestures- motion and virtual reality (i.e. kinect, xbox, or evoluce.com)
  • Power internet: non-computer devices that are digitized to run apps.

The second half of the portion was the presentation of a series of tools and technologies to illustrate methods for integration to online classroom format.


Initially, we were asked to download apps (apps that span android and iphone/pad were given).

Four activities were set up in order for us to get hands on experience with the programs.

  • Collaborative writing: sync.in is a web based word processor that could be used for students to collaborate on assignments in real time. It was noted, that each individual user gets their input highlighted in a different color, evaluation of time and effort of each student can be distinguished from one another.
  • Group texting: groupme.com essentially is a private chat room that works on any phone.
  • Voice to text: on the iphone/pad- dragon dictation app can be downloaded for free, where the app converts your voice to text and that could be used for text messages, emails, etc.
  • Audio broadcasting: spreaker.com, a website where you can do live podcasts or record for upload at a later time.


I can see these apps being implemented for courses that are strictly online courses, but classrooms are becoming to incorporate more technology into its midst. It would be important to think about the different trends that are up and coming and take that into consideration when thinking of different technologies that could be used in regular lecture courses to help supplement lecture or additional help for the students throughout the semester.

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