Bill Weye

Tag: instructors

When professors go wild! Cell phone edition

There seems to be an Web meme of capturing video of professors going crazy in live classes. Because more and more classes are video taped and posted online, more of these videos are surfacing.

For your entertainment pleasure, and a holiday treat, I present a selection of my favorite professors going wild when cell phones ring in their classes. Hey, you can’t get this stuff in online education!

If you’re cell phone rings in class, think twice about answering it.

Photo by hillary h and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Future of the textbook

I saw an interesting presentation by the co-founders of, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, sponsored by UMassOnline on October 1 (more, detailed info). is a project to create a Creative Commons based, online art history text book (Harris and Zucker are art history professors). You can watch the video of their presentation below.

I have two takeaways from the presentation. First, about the technology I used to record the video, the new iPod Touch. I was able to record 40 plus minutes of high definition video (720p) with decent audio and video quality, which took almost no effort. It’s not professional broadcast quality, but given the circumstances — like the lights being turned down — the video came out well. Our instructors should think about using this or similar easy video technology to create content for their courses.

The second takeaway from the talk is also video related. The folks at are using video in some interesting ways, including using Second Life to take virtual tours and do commentary about the Sistine Chapel. Other videos feature Harris and Zucker standing in front of a piece of art and having a conversation about it (not in Second Life), like this conversation they had while in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Hey, instructors, you too can do this! Making quick field videos with commentary, no matter what you study, is entirely possible. I can picture biologists, economists, historians, and zoologists taking their $150 video cameras into the field and creating brief commentaries that can bring students into your world.

Anyhow, enjoy the presentation from the fine folks at

Photo by Old Shoe Woman and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

A technique to encourage critical thinking in online disucssions

In online education the tool most often relied upon to encourage interaction among students and instructors is the discussion forum. Mostly asynchronous discussions. It can be an effective tool if instructors at the same time can encourage active learning — that is, learning by doing.

If you’re interested in developing more critical thinking in your online course discussions, let me draw your attention to an interesting study done by some folks at Georgia State University and published by the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. “Using the Four-Questions Technique to Enhance Critical Thinking in Online Discussions” takes the “four question technique” from another study about encouraging critical thinking through active learning in face to face classes, and develops it for the online class environment.

The four question technique

To develop multiple types of critical thinking the researchers wrote questions that encouraged analyzing, reflecting, relating, and questioning. The original study used the following questions:

  1. “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea in psychology that you learned while completing this activity.” (analyzing)
  2. “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea in psychology is important?” (reflecting)
  3. “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.” (relating)
  4. “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” (questioning).

Using a modified version of the Washington State University Critical and Integrative Thinking Scale (WSUCITS) as a discussion grading rubric, the researchers found that using the four question technique did enhance critical thinking.

Do you use any unique methods to encourage critical thinking in your online discussions?

If you’re a UMass Amherst online instructor for Continuing & Professional Education and would like help brainstorming ideas to increase critical thinking by your students in discussion forums, please write to our faculty support line (facline <at>

Photo by  Rob Inh00d and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Common elements of effective screencasts

People research the darndest things. I found this useful article published in the online journal, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, about common elements and instructional strategies of screencasts.

Based on the screencasts of the three journal authors and other professional screencasts, a framework with two categories was developed:  structural elements and instructional strategies.

Structural elements describe the format of a screencast in terms of “sectioning, screen recording, and general narrative elements”. The three common structural elements the authors identified  were

  • Bumpers – formulaic intros and “outros” to the videos
  • Screen movement – there are two options here: dynamic screencast movement (the video follows the mouse movement on the screen, like a movie camera) and static screencast movement (there is no point of view movement following the mouse, just a static frame). The default production choice is for static screencast movement; the authors hypothesize that dynamic movement is most often used in advanced screencast topics.
  • Narration – the authors have identified two types: explicit and implicit narration. Explicit narration coincides with the procedure that the learner can see on the video, while implicit narration is a more general description of the procedure that can be viewed on the video. Often both types of narration are used in the same screencast, the authors note.

The authors found five instructional strategies used in their screencast samples. While none of the screencasts used all of them, no other strategies were found.

  • Provide overview – “overview of a particular topic by introducing the topic, giving a rationale for studying the topic, and connecting the lesson topic to future lessons.”
  • Describe procedure – providing procedural, or even sub-procedural knowledge of routines and tasks.
  • Present concept – “an explanation of a specific concept related to the screencast topic,” a similar strategy was to “describe options available in completing a procedure.”
  • Focus attention – “The narration and/or cursor location direct learners’ attention to a particular component on the screen or to a certain part of an overall procedure.”
  • Elaborate content – “[elaborate] beyond the topic with regard to a particular procedure, concept, or other aspect of the screencast. This instructional strategy facilitates opportunities to enrich learners’ understanding and to encourage learners to consider other aspects of the process or concept associated with the screencast’s subject-matter.”

I think you could probably argue with this framework, but it’s a good starting point if you’re new to the world of screencasts. New screencasters can draw on the framework to structure their videos and use clear instructional strategies.

In a future blog post I’ll have a screencast that will demonstrate this framework.

Grabbing attention with the thematic and visual impact of words

Wordle is a tool that can help you visually demonstrate to your students what a passage of text is about, what the author was emphasizing in their writing. The above word cloud was created based on the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. The bigger the word, the more it’s prominance in the text you’ve asked to be analyzed. Of course, the assumption is that the more often a word is used, the more important it is to the meaning of the text. Do you think that’s a good representation of the Gettysburg Address?

A practical application for this tool in online teaching might be including these word clouds on the introduction or splash pages for your modules. If you were teaching an English course that was discussing Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” then you might include the following graphic that’s based on part 1 of the poem.

song of myself word cloud

How else can we use these word clouds in online education?

Update: Here are 10 uses for Wordle for learning.


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