Monday, April 14, 2008

TechEd 2008: Working Together... When Apart

Working Together... When Apart – Collaboration in a Web 2.0 World

Dr. Robert Leneway, Educational Technology Program Coordinator, Western Michigan University

Web 2.0 now offers previously undreamed of potential for virtual projects and teams. But, what are some principles for getting started and ensuring success when working together but apart?

Leneway began by introducing the book Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything by Tapscott and Williams. He talked about the need for Microsoft to open up their software programs – used his son who works for MS as an example of how the thinking there has changed. He uses Adobe Connect to connect with his face to face students when he is traveling around the country.

Virtual groups – why do some succeed where others do not? Same for professional organizations – can they survive in the age of web 2.0?

Presented some traits and practices of successful virtual teams, but first, virtual groups that don't succeed don't develop desired chemistry due to their physical separation, lack of familiarity and time zones. They need social networking tools and the right mix of members, and they must:

  1. establish network

  2. promote communication

  3. keep it interesting

  4. find workable technologies to support your efforts

The biggest challenge is the inability to easily learn about one another and what each person is good at doing. Successful groups:

  1. allow members to learn quickly about each other,

  2. have a few team members who already know each other

  3. idenyify “boundary spanners” with contacts and connection outside of the group

It's also a good idea to create an online site where a team can collaborate, exchange ideas and inspire each other. Assign only tasks that are challenging and interesting, meaningful tasks. Bring in outsiders to stir the pot and add a different perspective.

Why is there failure in virtual teams? He didn't answer, but added that virtual teams buzz when ignited by a question or a task so compelling and exciting that people from across the organization are drawn toward it.

Web 2.0 Tools – concept mapping

Adobe Buzzword – docs supposedly better than Google Docs

Live Skyspace – new from Microsoft

Google Docs

Office Live, Workspace Live

Adobe Acrobat 8.0

Drupal for content management

IHMC Cmap tools

Web Conferencing

Ning – create your own social network

Demoed Adobe Connect Enterprise Server. Used to be Macromedia Breeze. Didn't know about pricing, but it's expensive.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Grading Sakai's Gradebook --> B-

The gradebook in any course management system is the staple of that system. It almost seems pointless if there isn't one, and it's probably the only reason why I still use a CMS in my online and hybrid courses. I've been using the gradebook in Sakai this semester and there are some things I really like about it, but I have to admit, after 13 weeks I'm still a bit confused by it as well.

First, I really like that you can create an assignment and then attach it to the gradebook as part of the process. Then you can grade the assignments and return them to students for the option of a rewrite. This gradebook is cool because you can then create another assignment for students to submit the rewrite to and then attach it to the original assignment in the gradebook. This is in addition to being able to allow students to submit resubmission in the original assignment. There is a good reason to have both options, which I don't mention here.

The gradebook can be a bit confusing. I'm still not sure about releasing grades, and I'm almost certain I will export the grades out of Sakai into an Excel sheet to make sure they are correct. Currently my whole class is failing, not because they truly are, but because I can't figure out some of the things in the gradebook to make all the grades display correctly. And as the instructor, I can't see a total grade anywhere. According to my students, they can't either, which is good right now because I'm sure they'd all be freaking out if they could. :-)

So I like a lot of the functionality of the gradebook, but I think the use of frames in Sakai makes it difficult to maneuver around and see all the students. It is a pain to have to scroll both left and right and up and down. I wish there was a way to limit either the assignments or the students.

With that said, I'm rating the Sakai gradebook higher than expected because it does have features that I've longed for in Blackboard, like the ability to resubmit assignments, and the issues I've had are probably my fault since I never had any training. But in my defense, a CMS should be fairly easy to use and learn without having training if it is to be a success.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dumb Stuff in Sakai: Assignment Links

This is my first of a few posts about things in Sakai that just don't seem right or they don't work right. First up is linking to an announcement. Evidently I'm not viewing this whole lesson space in Sakai the same way the developers are/did when they created it. When I create a lesson, there is always an assignment attached to that lesson. In the Lesson area I can create a page with all the text, audio, video, handouts, etc for that lesson, but there isn't a way that I can see to link to an assignment that is related to that lesson. I have to type out instructions to click on the assignment link on the menu bar to see the assignment. Or I can create a document of the assignment and post it in the Resources folder and then link to that. But still students must then leave that document and find their way over to the assignment area. Why is that? That doesn't make sense.

And to make matters worse, for a few weeks this semester, linking to files in the Resources folder wasn't possible. Oh, I think they think we didn't notice, but I did! Yes, I noticed. I had to upload my documents to Google Docs instead and link to them that way. Turns out I like that method better anyway, so thanks Sakai.

Sakai Announcement Dilemma

One thing I learned early on about using technology in my courses is that I have to be creative and persistent because the technology doesn't always work the way you planned. I've been experiencing that a lot this semester working in Sakai. It really takes some ingenuity to keep the class running the way I think is best.

Let's start with announcements. I feel that podcasts and videos are best received if they are part of the initial announcement students see when they first log in to the course management system (CMS). In Blackboard, you can have the announcements be the first page students see when they log in, and I can make it the first menu item for easy access. In Sakai, the announcement page is buried on the menu. It is listed 7th and many students don't bother to click to go read announcements. There is an option to have a window in the first page in Sakai open an external webpage. I tried posting the course blog link in there but it just made a mess. Plus the available space is so small; it only showed 1/3 of the page, and it would redirect to the whole page after a few seconds leaving Sakai all together. This was not good.

What would work better is if I could put an RSS feed from a blog in there and it would show the posts from the blog as announcements. You can do this on the announcement page, but not on the front page. In fact, this is what I do. I post all announcements on the course network blog (Ning) and then I run the RSS feed through the announcements in Sakai. I do the same thing in Blackboard, and it works flawlessly in Firefox and okay in IE. But in Sakai, there are problems in both browsers.

Like I said earlier, I like to post podcasts, screencasts and videos, with the flash players, in my announcements. They play fine on the original Ning site and in Blackboard, but not so in Sakai. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with how I'm using the feed. In Blackboard I'm using Feedburner to create html code for the feed and I paste that into one announcement that then displays 5 posts from the original blog right in the announcement. It updates instantly when I post a new announcement. In Sakai, my only option is to add the RSS URL in a box. I can't add the html code for the feed. As a result, not all of my flash players will play the audio. Videos seem to work, but not all of my mp3 files. I've tried changing the flash player; for instance, the Google player will work sometimes, but the Yahoo! player will not. My work around for this was to post the URL of the podcast (mp3 file) right in the announcements. Those links work.

So I've seemed to find a work around for the podcasts, but there doesn't seem to be one for making the announcements a bit more accessible.