Category Archives: Suzanne Kissel

Experiences with GoodSemester

by Dr. Suzanne Kissel

I can’t believe that it’s been as long as a month since I was invited to join GoodSemester.  The email has been sitting in my inbox since February 15th, waiting for me to make the time to attend to it properly.  On March 15th, however, the folks at GoodSemester announced that anyone could sign up for an account, for free, no invite required.

So much for exclusivity.

But exclusivity is not really the point of platforms like GoodSemester.   The platform is designed to take advantage of connections between people and materials to generate knowledge.  For instance, the primary means of sharing content in GoodSemester is through Notes.  Although the types of content supported by this feature are fairly standard, the sharing capabilities inherent in the system are not.   Authors can keep notes private, restrict them to course participants, or make them globally available.  If the later is selected, notes are licensed under Creative Commons, meaning that others can use them with proper attribution.  Under ideal conditions, therefore, the note becomes a collaborative item with the initial author able to see changes that others have made and participate in the conversation.  In GoodSemester, the function most commonly seen as analogous to the classroom lecture is made collaborative; however, any attempt to compare GoodSemester’s notes and notepad to LMS content functionality soon falls apart.  It is like comparing apples and oranges; there just isn’t enough in common to make a worthwhile comparison.

This sparks questions about how we can categorize GoodSemester.  Is it an LMS?  I don’t think so and the folks who created the platform agree with me.   In a recent interview with the company founder Jason Rappaport, Michael Feldstein acknowledges the difficulty of categorizing the product.  He also identifies this as an issue typical of today’s marketplace:

And one of the questions platform developers and teachers alike are asking is how much functionality do you really need? Is it just WordPress? Is it WordPress plus Google Docs? Is it WordPress, Google Docs, and grade book? Is it a simple LMS with only a handful of tools and an app store? There are lots of different models.

He’s right, of course.  It seems that most of the new technologies that I’ve evaluated for teaching are designed to do a few things in a near revolutionary fashion rather than all things as expected.  They pit openness, collaboration, and an individual focus again products that define themselves as system.  If there’s one thing that I know about all of the products that I use to facilitate instruction is that they are not systems.

But the question is that whether all of these products that-are-not-systems relate to the systematic mindset that so pervades how institutions of higher education approach technology.  This is never more evident than in LMS selection process.  Since 2002, I’ve participated in these sometimes very long, very drawn out activity that seems to question everything, other than whether the institution really needs an LMS at all.   The fact that an institution needs a system to take on the complex and increasingly vital operations associated with hybrid and online learning almost goes without saying.

I’m not going to quibble with whether the institution needs a system or not, but the burgeoning of tools reinventing how we teach online begs the question of why schools can’t create their own system?  Rather than embarking on a process to select an LMS, it would be so much more cost effective and efficient to pour that energy into building an LMS from all of the pieces and parts abounding in the marketplace.

It is becoming increasingly clear that institutions need to step away from the apparent safety of buying an all-in-one solution and start exploring the possibilities of building what they really need.

1 Comment

Filed under colleges and universities, education, higher education, Learning Management Systems, Suzanne Kissel

Recorded Lectures in the Face-to-Face Environment

by Dr. Suzanne Kissel

Most instructors who teach face-to-face in higher education, especially those who tend to have fewer 30 students in a class have long held that recorded classroom events would add little benefit in terms of learning.  Indeed, the greatest fear is that learners would use the recorded events as an opportunity to skip class, erasing all possibility of their productively interacting with the instructor and other learners.

However, if used appropriately, this technology can increase learning through improving student ability to interact with each other and course materials.  Just consider the following technologies and teaching practices that make this possible:

  • Interactive and Collaborative Notetaking:  Many of the lecture capture systems available today allow learners to take notes specific to a certain point within the presentation.  Learners can then refer back to their notes when studying or participating in a classroom discussion.

    This capability is only enhanced when presentations are included as part of online course materials.  For presentations imbedded within an iAuthor textbook, learners can interact with the materials by making printable notes.  Learners can also email contextualized questions to the instructor or to other learners.  Moreover, if presentations are published in an online platform such as GoodSemester, students can instantly share their notes with the instructor or other learners, in addition to making comments on notes posted by others.   Not only does this benefit the student, it also gives instructors vital, lasting information student interaction with the material.  This allows instructors to better tailor lectures and materials for future classes.

  • More Classroom Time for Face-to-Face Interaction:  Through making materials, including recorded lectures and presentations available online, instructors gain more time for interactive discussions in their classrooms.  Presentations that can be made available consist of not only lectures, but also tutorials for lab work, presentations by guest speakers, and demonstration of complex procedures. Moreover, students can access these materials from virtually anywhere and anytime.  Recent surveys, such as that conducted by Fernandez, Simo and Salan as part of their article entitled Podcasting: A new technological tool to facilitate good practice in higher education, have found that students respond well to this flexibility.
  • Better Retention of Class Concepts:  Although not directly related to interaction, students feel that offering lecture recordings (both audio and video) benefits their ability to learn and retain class concepts.   Numerous studies report that students overwhelmingly feel that reviewing recorded material had a positive effect on their exam grades.  Research done with undergraduate general psychology students shows that those who had access to recorded materials and took notes while accessing them scored significantly higher than those learners without access.

This brings us to one of the issues that instructors cite for not making lecture and presentation materials available to learners – the fear that they will use this as an excuse not to attend class.  However, an excellent article published only last year, entitled Lecture Capture: A Guide to Effective Use, compiles a convincing display of evidence to show that learners view electronic materials as an excellent opportunity to review new concepts.   Although some learners accessed materials directly following the class session, the majority of learners reviewed the recordings right before the exam.

Another reason that instructors cite is the difficulty of recording presentations and the need to frequently revise them; however, audio and video podcasts can be easily created outside the classroom.  Classroom-based recordings can be made with the investment in one of the many automated lecture capture systems.

In short, a technology that seems that it would decrease interactivity within the classroom, actually can be seen to enhancement.  That enhancement only becomes magnified through the capabilities of new publishing systems for electronic media, such as iAuthor.  Indeed, this is the wave of the future and an essential means for reaching today’s learner.

2 Comments

Filed under education, education technology, face-to-face instruction, iBooks, online education, Suzanne Kissel, technology

Is iAuthor a Learning Management System?

By Dr. Suzanne Kissel

This was the question I found myself asking this weekend as I attempted to move my robust ENG 201: Writing About Literature course into the format.  Compare iAuthor to any LMS feature list and the application fails, miserably.  It doesn’t have a gradebook, discussion forum or chat; it isn’t designed to integrate with any SIS or offer any sort of Single Sign On capabilities.  In fact, it doesn’t take long to realize that comparing iAuthor to any LMS on the market is like comparing apples to oranges — quite as frustrating and quite as futile.

Of course, iAuthor isn’t meant to be an LMS.   It’s an alternative; not a competitor.   iAuthor takes one aspect of putting a course online and does it extremely well.  It manages content.  This makes sense as that is what iAuthor is meant to do.  Arguably, iAuthor puts content online better than any LMS out there.

There’s definitely a learning curve.  After a short weekend investment, I had all of my pre-written content divided into sections and up in an iAuthor template.  The table of contents was created automatically and the use of styles allowed me to change all of the formatting in a single swoop.  This is also one of the main attributes of the template.  Much more time would be required to make my course content unique and a true showcase, but the time I invested was a good enough start.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the iAuthor interface looks like and what I was able to do in about five hours over the weekend:

In doing one thing, and doing it extraordinarily well, iAuthor exposes another chink in the armor of the traditional LMS.   There are single products out there for almost every function of the LMS; they do it and do it better.   This is one reason why some contend that the days of the LMS are numbered.  iAuthor does a great job of presenting content, even more so because it allows for the seamless incorporation of Creative Commons and other open materials.

However, the reason why iAuthor’s powers of disruption are limited is that it is tied to the iPad.  In order to invest the time it takes to learn the full capabilities of iAuthor, you had better be sure that your students have access to this technology.  As far as academic use is concerned, the fate of one seems tied to the fate of the other.  All we can do now, is to keep testing the viability of the iAuthor + iPad in the classroom to see if the utility of the two together is enough to overcome the cost.

In the coming months, we will be posting on one experiment of designing a course on iAuthor and using that course in the face to face classroom.  Stay tuned… it’s going to be an exciting ride!

Leave a comment

Filed under eBooks, education course content, education technology, iBooks, Learning Management Systems, online education, Suzanne Kissel