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UMS Faculty Focus

The UMS Faculty Focus blog publishes articles on effective teaching strategies for technology-enhanced, classroom, online, blended, or flipped learning experiences.  Faculty e-Learning Grant recipients and other UMS faculty are welcome to contribute. Please contact the UC Faculty Development Center if you are interested in writing an article for UMS Faculty Focus at uc-fdc@maine.edu

Blogs (UMS Faculty Focus Blog)

Blogs (UMS Faculty Focus Blog)


Hello All, 

Below are presenter names, session descriptions, and corresponding materials/resources.  I chose sessions that I believe are most applicable to online teaching/learning across a wide variety of academic disciplines.  Also, all of these session descriptions and materials/resources are available at the ISTE 2018 Conference website.  Please feel to contact me with any questions you might have about the documents, materials, etc.

1. Presenter: Dr. Vicky Cai   

Session Description: We will explain how Scholarly Conversations were designed and implemented in an Educational Technology course to improve the rigor of online collaboration. We will explain and provide visualizations of the patterns of Scholarly Conversations, and recommend evidence-based strategies for how to design and facilitate online collaboration.

Materials/Resources: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1WRuOflSDe8F1Rg53kSZSSqqymcr7W9N_DAxuLoAm83k/edit#slide=id.p

2. Presenter: Dr. Johanna Prince (University of Maine at Farmington!)

Session Description: Join this interactive lecture to gain strategies for creating an online studio learning environment. In a studio approach students are creating, collaborating, networking and integrating new content in hands-on projects. This session is designed to help higher education faculty plan for translating this approach to an online setting.

Materials/Resources: http://jprince.org/teaching/studio/

3. Presenters:  Dr. Peña Bedesem   Chip Cash   Dr. Jennifer Courduff   Dr. Samantha Fecich   Dr. Peter Hessling   Dr. Dennis McElroy   Rachelle Dene Poth   Dr. Susan Poyo   Dr. Mia Kim Williams   

Session Description: Do new teachers really need to be experts in all things Google? How about Twitter? In this interactive session, we will showcase an updated crowdsourced list of top 10 innovative tools every new teacher needs, then engage in a critical discussion about using these tools to motivate and engage students.

* Many of these tools could easily be adapted to teaching online at the collegiate level.  

Materials/Resources: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1WRuOflSDe8F1Rg53kSZSSqqymcr7W9N_DAxuLoAm83k/edit#slide=id.p

Take care, 



Hello Everyone, 

I recently attended the 2018 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference from June 24th - June 27th in Chicago, IL.  This was my first time attending this conference.  It was overwhelming, energizing, and an incredible professional development opportunity.  Over 20,000 people from over 80 different countries attended the ISTE conference this year.  The conference included over 1,200 sessions exploring a wide range of topics related to educational technology.  Please click on the link below if you'd like to search the ISTE 2018 conference program: 


ISTE 2019 will be held in Philadelphia, PA June 23rd - June 26th.  If you're passionate about utilizing technology to enhance teaching at any grade level (Kindergarten to College-level) I strongly encourage you to attend. 

If you'd like to know more about the mission of ISTE and/or the ISTE Standards for Educators, please click on the link below: 


If you're looking to get more involved with a state-level association dedicated to educational technology please see the link below to the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM), which is affiliated with ISTE.


During my final UC Faculty Focus blog post (July, 2018) I'll be sharing materials, resources, etc. from many of the sessions I attended at ISTE, 2018.  

Take care, 



Like any good digital resource, tools evolve overtime.  Recently, Pear Deck has made some exciting changes to their platform based on user feedback.  So, what’s new?   

  • Now you can build Pear Deck interactive lessons straight from the Google Slides application!

Learn More Here - https://www.peardeck.com/googleslides/


  • A wonderful new addition to Pear Deck’s capabilities is Pear Deck Vocabulary which allows you and your students to customize interactive flashcards through Flashcard Factory for an individual or group active learning experience.  This tool is also integrated with Google, Merriam-Webster, and Quizlet!

Learn More Here - https://www.peardeck.com/pear-deck-vocabulary/


  • The addition of digital citizenship curriculum through partnership with Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” focuses on educating students about internet safety.  While this is K-8 focused, as many Pear Deck partner schools are K-12 based, there is available information from a case study which focuses on a school that adapted the curriculum helping students learn further about:

- Internet Safety

- Privacy and Security

- Relationships and Security 

- Cyberbullying and Digital Drama 

- Digital Footprints and Reputation 

- Self-Image and Identity 

- Information Literacy 

- Creative Credit and Copyright


Find Lesson Plans and Learn More Here - https://www.peardeck.com/digitalcitizenship/



Hello Everyone,

During the spring, 2018 semester I taught a course at the University of Maine at Augusta titled EDU 395 Field Experience Seminar.  This course was designed to engage students in the study of K-12 education programs through visits, consultation, and appraisal of practices in selected schools, instructional centers, or community agencies.  The purpose of the course was to acquaint them with the many facets of the school community and to provide them an opportunity to work cooperatively with practicing teachers in schools.   Students in this course were required to log 100 hours of face-to-face contact time at their selected school site.  Additionally, students in this course were required to attend and fully participate in seven two-hour bi-weekly course seminars that were held as virtual (online) synchronous meetings via the ZOOM videoconferencing tool.   

This was my first time using ZOOM as a means of hosting class meetings and I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was with its ease of use, ability to facilitate meaningful discussion among students in both large and small groups, and various other pedagogical applications.  Also, ZOOM allows instructors to make recordings of class meetings that include closed captions. 

I definitely have a lot to learn about ZOOM and look forward to doing so.   I’d love to hear from others about how you’re using ZOOM in your online synchronous classes.  Below is a link to several video tutorials that highlight different functionalities of ZOOM. 


Take care and happy summer,



While much of my focus regarding polling device technology has surrounded summative and formative assessment I do want to take the opportunity to highlight that these types of technologies, both paid services and free, can create the optimal student engagement experience.  Pear Deck is just one of many technologies that can help enhance your classroom or online instruction and can aid in refocusing student’s attention on the subject matter at hand.

Anytime you can add interactions, both personal and technological, you elevate the classroom experience and begin to play upon student’s various learning styles.  Assessment of knowledge is just one way in which polling tools can be used within the classroom.  Some other strategies I have used include adding polls to classroom discussion as a way to begin conversation or to use as talking points to highlight topics that prove to be meaningful to students as you are focusing on areas which they have identified allowing for individual ownership of learning.  The same can be done at the end of a presentation to highlight key topics within the discussion and illicit feedback from your learners.

 I often recommend that students create a free Pear Deck account so that they may utilize the tool and add an interactive element to their own classroom presentations.  The wonderful thing about this tool is that it is a Google add-on and students within the University of Maine System are used to using Google Apps, so creating interactive Google Slides should come easily removing the barrier of having to learn new technologies which may deter from the actual learning experience.  Polling tools can also be a fun way for students to study within a group for an upcoming exam and it can be done either face-to-face or virtually allowing for study sessions which fit around busy individual schedules.  This is also a great way to get on-campus students connecting with commuter students, who often don’t stick around campus after their classes end for the day, for group work or study sessions. 

Finally, I like to use the tool as a way to end class sessions by asking students, “Where do we go from here?”  Are students keeping pace, are they where they need to be, do they require further instruction, or are we ready to move forward onto the next lesson?  It is also a great review tool to begin classes with especially in the case that you only teach once a week or want to review content covered over a particular length of time before a high stakes assessment.

I’d love to hear other idea of how you use polling technology within your classrooms and/or within the virtual learning environment.  Feel free to drop your comments below so we can learn from each other!


Hello Everyone,

Earlier in the Spring 2018 semester I incorporated an assignment into one of my fully online asynchronous courses that required students to engage in a one-on-one synchronous conversation with me via the Zoom videoconferencing tool, Google Hangouts, or by telephone.  I kept the conversation short (15 minutes). The syllabus language I used for this assignment is as follows:

6. Videoconference meeting with Instructor: (1), (20 points total).  On one occasion you will be required to schedule and participate in an approximately 15-minute meeting with your instructor to discuss your academic progress and other topics related to EDU 251 – Spring, 2018.  This meeting will take place via videoconference technology – Google Hangouts or Zoom or by phone sometime during the fifth or sixth week of the semester.

I sent my students the following questions ahead of time, which served as a framework for our discussion:

      1.  Are you satisfied with your academic progress at this point in the course? If not, what are some ways I can help you to improve during the remainder of the course?  

        2.   Do you have any questions or concerns related to any of the following:

        A.    Technical aspects of the Blackboard shell for the course.    

        B.    Course concepts, course learning outcomes, etc.

        C.    Previous or future assignments.

      3.    Have you completed and passed the PRAXIS CORE Exam?  If not, how can I   help you prepare for this  exam?

       4.   Do you have any other questions for me?

During the 7th week of the spring semester I sent an anonymous and optional survey to my 29 students to potentially explore their perceptions of this assignment.  The survey questions were as follows:

  1. What are three single-word descriptors that capture your overall impression of the 15-minute synchronous discussion/conference with Prof. Surrette?  (For example: Useful; Supportive; Clarifying OR Inconvenient; Pointless; Unhelpful)
  2. Write a few sentences that expand on your overall impression of the 15-minute synchronous discussion/conference with Prof. Surrette.

20 out of 29 students completed the survey. Below I’ve included all responses to survey question #1 and three responses to survey question #2 that I believe are most representative of others students’ responses.

Responses to Question #1:

1. Informative, Helpful, Positive

2. Helpful, Practical, Clarifying

3. Supportive, Helpful, Knowledgeable

4. Helpful, Encouraging, Reassuring

5. Helpful, Useful, Educational

6. Helpful, Useful, Effective

7. Informative, Supportive, Helpful

8. Enjoyable, Informative, Helpful

9. Useful, Necessary, Fantastic

10. Helpful, Useful, Enjoyable

11. Supportive, Helpful Fun

12. Helpful, Informative, Friendly

13. Useful, Informative, Clarifying

14. Clarifying, Useful, Supportive

15. Useful, Helpful, Informative

16. Supportive, Informative, Reassuring

17. Useful, Supportive, Helpful

18. Useful, Supportive,

19. Informative, Helpful, Kind

20. Helpful, Easy Going, Smooth

Responses to Question #2:

1. “I found the 15-minute conference with Prof. Surrette was a nice way to personalize the online class community. People can tend to feel very isolated with online courses; especially if they don't have a center to go to and do all of their schooling at their house or their local library. This was a good way to put a voice/face to our teacher and be able to validate our thoughts and feel like we were being heard. The discussion board posts can only do so much for bringing the students together and this conference was another step towards a traditional college class.”

2. “I really like having face to face contact with a professor instead of just all online. It is nice when you have a question you know who you are sending an email to because I have had some human contact.

3. “I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Prof. Surrette. Seeing how online classes eliminates the contact between people within the class, especially Teacher to student, I loved having that interaction so that we can both understand where we are in the class and how we are doing. I highly encourage this to continue.”

I’m very pleased with the results of the survey.  The EDU program at UMA is considering adding this assignment to other courses, especially online asynchronous EDU courses students will take early in their college career. 

As always, your input and questions are welcome.

Take care,






When it comes to the end of the semester (it is coming), and when it comes to a group of students working independently within shared perameters and expectations, a truly individualized final project might best be written by each student.  In Illuminated Autobiography, an Honors 200-level course, we have embarked on a journey of self-discovery through words and images that began back in January with published manifestos on why autobiography matters at all.  If you don't write your story, someone else can; writing retrieves memories, reattaching meaning to symbol; writing makes something real; writing discovers the "radiance of the past" (a particularly lovely phrase taken from Patricia Hampl, whose book on memory and imagination leads our investigations).

From Hampl's "radiance of the past" we proceed through practical advice from Bill Roorbach, who exhorts us to just write, to find a time every day to read the hard books, to write our own apologies for rushed work, to play and experiment and accept that while a person may have innumerable good, bad, and indifferent characteristics in life, a character on the page will have two or three if they are to be credible.  Both writing mentors tell us that memory is faulty and invention necessary; both tell us that reality is always in service to art and artfulness, on the page.

My students - well, they have a lot to say too.  And so by mid April, I'm ready to give them a serious estimation of time that should be spent crafting a final project in this creative expression core course.  I'm happy to remind them of Hampl, Roorbach, the graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel in her debut Fun Home, the thorough-going comprehensiveness of Amy Tan in her later-career memoir Where the Past Begins.  "Writing is the witness to myself of myself," Tan writes, bearing out Hampl's insistence on world-recovery in writing the story of the inquiring self.  Tan's world is many pages of "quirks," chapters, journal entries, emails to her editor, letters, photographs, and drawings.

Students in my class are invited to make a book of their own - autobiography, memoir, or personal essay - from scratch.  I ask that they spend 7-10 hours on the project, which should include thinking time, planning and drafting time, writing and designing time, feedback-from-others time, and polishing/finalizing time.  I ask them to remember the many versions and examples of books we've read, viewed, touched, and visited over the semester.  Sometimes a book doesn't look much like a book, but it becomes its own new thing, a new form.  And always it carries a sense of its maker.  Always it uses a shared language to experiment with language, to expand our visual vocabulary.

Beyond these remembered points, conceptually, of our course, and the estimated time frame expected from the project, I'm reluctant to enumerate further detail.  To the teaching with technology angle, then, I have asked each student to contribute their own assignment to a shared Google doc, comprised with imperatives like "Write a three-chapter book on . . ." or "Design an accordion style book about . . ." or "Alter an existing book to reveal . . ." etc.  You see the pattern. 

This is a test.  But not only a test.  It's both more and less, really.  It's a test of a method, pedagogically: how much room can you give and still get good results from a group of hard working but over scheduled students?  It's a test of how well earlier parts of the course flow together in a meaningful way to now be more than the sum of parts.  But as a individually dictated direction, each final project assignment is exactly not a "test" in the objective sense of the word--it's a road map, a vision, an articulation of the place one wants to go.  And perhaps the reasons why.  And it gets itself read - by everybody.

Link to our class Google doc of individual student assignments for the Final Project in HON 207 Illuminated Autobiography, used with permission:


Whole class assignment guidelines on p. 1 and students' own assignments on p. 2.


In my last video I shared a video of Schubert's Erlkönig created for my students. I have since gotten a better grasp of iMovie--which is just advanced enough for what I want to do--and created a video of the overture to Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger. The video displays the two-piano score along with the main leitmotifs. Leitmotifs are a, usually short, melody associated with an object or character. This is used in movies are the time, perhaps the most famous one being this for a shark:

Or this for a galactic villain:


Wagner's leitmotifs are more complex, changing as the characters they represent evolve. This particular opera is about German guilds of the 14th - 16th centuries including one for singing (Die Meistersingers/The Mastersingers). In the story a young outsider (Walter) falls for the daughter of a Meistersinger (Eva) and has to audition to be accepted to the guild and win Eva's hand. It's Wagner's only comedy. 
Here's the video:


The last few weeks have been a round of meetings, some in person, some through online conferencing. They have ranged in subjects but have come together in my mind.

The workshop that I attended in person was on the subject of Cultural Responsive Teaching led by Dr. Daniel Tilapaugh. He talked to us about critical self-reflection in how we can engage in deep equity work that will have positive benefits for all students. We discussed how we could make learning more relevant for our student across their multiple social identities.

The other meeting was a very informative webinar by Dr. Marta Frisardi, a biology instructor at U Rock about her online course that included an interactive lab Science component. She gave us a tour of her class, her curriculum design, and interactivity of its parts.

In the last few days, I have been pondering how I could utilize the technical strategies of Dr. Frisardi example with the engagement and equity work that must be done in our classes if we are to educate and expand our students lives?

Dr. Frisardi online class is structured in a very user-friendly way. She highlights and breaks down the complex, simplifying visually and aesthetically (through color and spacing) the readability of assignments, discussion boards, reading, etc. 

I appreciated the way she broke down the units of work, into weekly segments, then further broke that down into a to-do list that would help the student keep track of the complexity that her subject entailed. But my subject is complex without the data markers that can be pulled out often. So, I again wondered what was I dealing with?

The subject and study of Folklore are fun but messy. It calls for not only looking at the joyful and artistic expressions of groups of people in a culture (folk art, folk songs, etc.) but it also looks at jokes, legends, myths, stories and other genres, that can be racist, sexist and demonize “the other.” It sometimes calls us to look under the rock at the not so nice aspects of group expression. To allow for those examinations to take place, to be able to talk about and critically analyzing the many nice and not so nice folk expressions, the “class” space has to be a safe one. 

How to decenter the “authority” of the teacher, how to empower the student, how to recognize and acknowledge that many students have issues and trouble examining aspects of the expressions of groups when they or their families and communities might have been targets of those folkloric expressions! 

How do I do that online? How do I structure an online program which by necessity must have preset parameters? How do I allow for open dialogue, reflection on what is being discussed, allowing for all voices to not only be heard but also to have respectful pushback from students who might disagree with an analysis or view? 

Frankly, I am not sure, but I saw in Dr. Frisardi’s example an example of “warmth” intentional access, and openness through the use of color, simplicity, easily decipherable instructions that give me hope in my quest. 

For that, I am very grateful.





How H1N1 Improved My Teaching and Student Communication

In fall 2009, the potential of an H1N1 Avian Flu pandemic seemed high in the US and everyone was in a panic. Our university created an emergency action plan and it included that all faculty needed to have backup plans in place for students who might be quarantined. The plan could not include issuing incompletes. The fear was that more than half the students in a class might feel fine but not be allowed on campus during their quarantine period and it was up to faculty to figure out how to make that happen.

I created a plan called “Skype Buddies.” Students were randomly assigned to groups of 4 or 5 Skype Buddies who were the colleagues in the class that would "Skype" you in if you need to miss class. I took time out of class for students to make sure everyone had Skype on their laptops and knew how to use it. Also, everyone in the group exchanged contact information as well as Skype names and added them to their contact list. It was during a time when Skype was fairly prevalent as a communication tool amongst the 18-25 year-old crowd. The plan would be that you could contact any of your Skype Buddies using the contact information (text or email) and find one who was going to be in class that day (in case the pandemic panned out and half the students couldn’t attend class). The Skype Buddy would set up his/her laptop in class in such a manner that you could hear (and maybe see?) what's going on in class. The Skype Buddy would also be able to have an occasional quiet conversation with you if you need something repeated or have input to offer to the class (this was before the chat feature of Skype).

The beauty of the plan was it took me as instructor out of the loop. I wasn’t having to spend valuable time before class trying to Skype in missing students or run tech support if it didn’t work. The onus was on the students. The funny part of the plan was no one in any of my classes that semester caught H1N1. But I did have a student who had to go to a family funeral out of town and a commuter student whose car wouldn’t start and wasn’t going to be able to be in class. They asked if they could implement the Skype Buddy for something besides H1N1. Who was I to say “no” to a student wanting to be in class?!

For the spring 2010 semester, the university didn’t require any kind of H1N1 emergency plan, but I kept Skype Buddies in place. Over time, I changed the name to “Backup Buddies” and offer the groups the chance to pick the communication tool of their choice (Skype, FaceBook Messenger, FaceTime,…). I’ve even let them pick the groups based on preference of communication tool. A little of class time is spent giving everyone a chance to make sure they have contact information for all their group members and has the ability to use the given tool and features prior to needing it.


On my end, it feels like the student is right there in the class. The Backup Buddy in class often pays better attention than they do when they aren’t a Backup Buddy due to the heightened responsibility of repeating what might have been missed or relaying a question on behalf of their Buddy. I never ask the reason why a student needed to implement the Backup Buddy plan, but I often hear why anyway. One student was at the hospital waiting room while her father was in surgery. Several students have had sick children at home and were unable to find a babysitter on short notice. My favorite anecdote related to Backup Buddies is the student who was out of town for a relative’s funeral who admitted that he had lied to his family that our class was a 3-hour class when it really wasn’t because he was trying to avoid encountering an overly affectionate aunt. I’ve met students’ parents, pets, and children via the distance technologies. In the 17 semesters that I’ve had Backup Buddies, I’ve never had a student abuse the privilege but students who’ve used it have always been appreciative.


What’s a makerspace and is it really a new idea?

Experiential Education (Dewey, 1938) is "a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people's capacity to contribute to their communities" according to the Association for Experiential Education. Since Dewey’s time, many philosophies, learning theories, and methodologies have emerged that fall under the umbrella of Experiential Education.

Grounded in constructivism (Piaget, 1977), Semour Papert envisioned constructionism as a collaborative effort to construct knowledge in a MicroWorld (1981). He describes it as "hard fun” when students participate in project-based learning—when they are active in making tangible objects in the real world. Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge. Students learn by participating in project-based learning facilitated by the teacher who coaches more than directs. Students make connections and gain new knowledge, typically through reflection on their experience. Projects have 2 essential components: a driving question or problem and activities that result in one or more artifacts (Blumenfeld et al., 1991).

With the advent of technology in the classroom, there has been potential for an increase in experiential education. Shannon Doak describes emerging learning theories that support the use of technology to create more authentic learning environments. The first is Myers and Wilson’s (2000) Situated Cognition, which supports the idea that learning occurs when situated within a specific context--learning takes place in a learning community or community of practice, in which the learners take an active role.  Situated Cognition involves a process of interaction between the learners within the community, the tools available within the specific situation and the physical world. New knowledge is built as the learners participate and interact in the situation. The second emerging theory is Distributed Cognition in which the student is afforded more power. It is a student-centered approach to learning where the learners participate in a systematically designed learning environment that supports interaction among its participants (Bell & Winn, 2000).

Growing in recent popularity is the concept of makerspace, a place for creating, learning, and exploring; a makerspace is filled with a variety of tools and materials from 3-D printers to scissors and glue, from scrap pieces of cardboard to electronic components. Makerspaces tend to focus on the state of mind and the process of “making” more than the tools and materials themselves (Makerspace.com, 2015). Makerspaces themselves have great potential for creating an appropriate environment for Experiential Education. The New Media Consortium’s 2016 Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition has identified makerspaces as an important development educational technology for higher education (Johnson, et.al., 2016)

Many movements, fads, curricula, products, and theories have come and gone (and some have stayed) that are rooted in Dewey’s Experiential Education. This research project proposes to look at current and trending applications of Experiential Education in both K-12 and university settings in two diverse geographic locations with different cultural backgrounds.

Do you have a makerspace on your campus? How are students using it? How do you capture the social constructionism/constructivism for students who don’t have access to your physical makerspace?


Learning Futures


What a great name! “Learning Futures.” This is the name of a “group” at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia where I am having the great fortune to spend my sabbatical. I would say I’m here for “spring 2018” but it’s actually the fall semester in this hemisphere. I promise not to discuss differences in weather because you wouldn’t want to read any further if I did. But I will describe some of the other similarities and differences I’m observing in education systems in Western Australia (the largest of Australia’s six states and two territories) and Maine.


A colleague of mine, David Gibson, that I’ve known for 15 years is UNESCO Chair of Data Science in Higher Education Learning & Teaching here at Curtin and heads up the Learning Futures group that is part of Curtin Learning and Teaching. Within the Curtin Learning and Teaching center there are two other groups: “Digital Learning” and “Course and Teaching Quality.” It would be like combining all the great work of the UMaine System’s University College with each campus’s assessment programs and faculty support programs along with the work of TRIO, Upward Bound, and any support systems in place for students who aren’t ready for traditional pathways into college. It’s a small but talented team doing a massive amount of great work.


My first thoughts in coming here were that the only commonality Maine could have with Western Australia would be that we both have large rural areas which have similar issues when it comes to PK-12 education as well as college prep. I quickly found out we have much more in common. Both states have a high secondary school graduation rate and a low college-go rate. Both have a small percentage of indigenous people and a long history of Europeans and those of European descent trying to eradicate the indigenous. Both have a LOT of ocean coastline. Both have desolate areas, only a few major municipalities, and a low population density in the rest of the state. The socio-economic curve for both states is NOT a bell curve. And my favorite: the people in both states are friendly and helpful (WA folks are proud of that, Mainers prefer nobody knows that about them).


Learning Futures is working within those parameters to increase the college go rate and successful graduation rates as well. Programs include:


There is much to learn from our colleagues “Down Under.” More to come in a future blog post.


Hello All, 

As an instructor who teaches mostly online, I'm constantly on looking for new and engaging web-based resources aligned to course learning outcomes.  For my Fall, 2018 courses I'm considering adding a section in each weekly module in Blackboard that provides students access to Podcasts.  If you're unfamiliar with Podcasts, they're typically digital audio files that people can download from the Internet and listen to on a variety of devices (cell phone, tablet, laptop, etc.).  Podcast listening is on the rise, especially among young people.  Also, many Podcasts are open-access (free) and come from reputable sources.   

Are other online instructors using Podcasts as a supplemental resource in their courses and if so, what are students' impressions?

Take care, 




Anne Fensie, an Instructional Designer of University College, has been leading a Book Club discussion on "Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" over the past several months on the UMA Augusta campus. Faculty book club members meet once a month online via Zoom to talk about the book and how to apply its ideas to our own teaching.  It's an easy and interesting read.  


The authors offer simple techniques based on current cognitive science that promise to help students learn material more deeply and "make it stick." As we all know, cramming doesn't work; nor does reading text over and over again.  So how do we help students stay interested and engaged while building their learning competencies?  How do we learn new material?  How do we learn to apply and adapt it quickly and competently?  In a nutshell, the authors advocate retrieval, mixing up practice, interleaving older concepts with new ones, allowing some time to forget before reintroducing the concept, embracing difficulty, and avoiding the illusion of knowing. All these techniques contribute to long-term memory.  

Sharing the book with other faculty is a wonderful way to learn new teaching skills.  I have discovered that we all use at least some of these techniques.  The challenge is to use them all consistently in all our courses, live and online, to reinforce what our students learn. The book club brings us together socially to share our thoughts on how we teach.  I always look forward to learning the creative ways in which my colleagues are implementing the concepts from the book.  As this edition of the UC Lunch & Learn Book Club is winding down for the year,  I want to express my gratitude to Anne and my colleagues for sharing. I hope we can continue building the Book Club next year to include colleagues at our sister colleges.  It's worth the effort!



I have the good fortune to be writing this from Liberec in the Czech Republic. I am a senior faculty member at UMA in the discipline of psychology with an enduring interest in cross cultural (and clinical) psychology. I'm enthused about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and the applied research in "student centered teaching."

For the past five years or so, with two colleagues here at Technical University of Liberec (TUL), we have been trying out various approaches to collaborating in real time as well as asynchronously, at the course level as well as at the student to student level. We've had enough success to continue on and the world is changing so as to make our work easier. Currently I'm teaching two UMA courses online and co-teaching four TUL courses. In these courses we've embedded the expectations that students will participate internationally in both real time and asynchronously.    

I'm posting this in the hopes of networking with UMS faculty and learning about the experiences of faculty across the disciplines, in leveraging 'mobile' communication tools (in our case Google Communities, small group video conferencing and polycom) to provide UMS students with the opportunities and incentives to collaborate with their Czech counterparts at the level of specific assignments (e.g. course projects, research etc.). What interests do you have, what experiences (good and bad) and what are your thoughts about these opportunities going forward?

Bottom line, we can now connect (videoconference) quite easily over almost any distance. Students are experienced in social media, video conferencing and digital literacy but who is harnessing this capability in the service of cross cultural collaboration and exploring our course content?

I'll be happy to blog about our experiences if asked but don't want to simply be going on about our work. I can be reached at kelliott@maine.edu. I'll occasionally check back here and will return to Maine in May. I look forward to sharing our work.  - Ken Elliott  



I spent spring break creating videos and podcasts for my students. The idea comes from the inventive videos on YouTube which have created new ways to experience classical music. The most popular is, perhaps, where the score is displayed as the music unfolds:


Another style of video uses image to render the structures of the music as they happen in time. Here's a video of Bach's Crab Canon:

What makes this video so remarkable is not the technology, but how the images are consonent with the music. Everything from the choice of using Bach's original manuscript the way the counterpoint is animated work together--what we hear and see are in sync. 

For my first attempt I returned to an older project never finished, a video of Schubert's lied (song) "Erlkönig". Given the story of the "Erlkönig" (which I will let the video tell), along with my interest in approaching this performatively and not as an educational tool, I went with minimal visuals: black background, white lettering, and limited structural prompts. Above all I tried to keep the visuals from competing with the extraordinary images the song conjures on its own: 

A final note, rather than follow my advice--let performative priorities guide my technological choices--I did the opposite: I used Adobe Premiere Pro. Premiere Pro, a powerful program of which I can control only a small part. It was a mess!

The later videos, which I hope to upload soon, were done with iMovie (including the iPad version) which, like Flowvella, fit the kind of work I am creating. 

[UPDATE: Just notice there are problems between the coordination of music and text. Rather than fix it now (the file has problems), I'm going to focus on the videos I've started in the more user-friendly iMovie.]


Each semester there is a particular course that sends its students out into the larger university community at USM to interview professors.  A worthy dispersal, promising discipline-specific conversations and discoveries about how learning happens.  Thee professors--inhabitants of various discourse communities, in various offices, classrooms, labs--can meet students for a face-to-face conversation, type responses in an email reply, or . . .

If the first option is impossible for scheduling or location reasons, and the second option seems to overtake the job of the student (shouldn't they be doing the note-taking?), a third way can be found via a friendly technology tool. 

Kaltura's recent entrance on the Blackboard scene makes it a good choice.  But as I am still becoming acquainted, and because the student who sought me out for an interview was in a previous semester's class, I wanted an avenue to respond to her good questions (attached here) that would approximate the 'live' quality of a video feed but could be freely shared/accessed without needing the BB platform.

One good outcome of using the free version of Screen Cast-o-Matic for the video is that I can keep an eye on her questions while I'm talking, and I can be pulled off stage by the 15 minute mark.  (At the outset of the video I reassured the student that 15 minutes would be more than enough, but as it happens, in our discourse-communities-of-prolixity, I nearly ran out of time before I ran out of breath.) 

Outcomes: the student received her responses by the assignment due date and still had some note-taking to do to keep the project honest; the professor worked within the time limit through structured questions about research, teaching, mentoring. 

By the end, the home-video-ing experience created an opportunity to make a pitch larger than simple Q&A sometimes allows: I felt as though I was exhorting a member of the new generation to care -- about my field, her eventual field, any field, as long as it can be pursued with an ethical drive and commitment to good citizenship.  I can't say as though this could have come out in a standard, face-to-face interview experience, where that monologue-ish finale might have been curtailed by better 'listening' to the student's cues of facial expressions, body language, qualifications, etc.  For better or worse, then, Screen Cast-o-Matic enabled inquiry, response, and, I hope, mentoring. 


Note: the student has granted her permission for my inclusion of both her questions (below) and the video clip here (above).




One of the most exciting aspects of my graduate school experience was the level of discussion and sometimes, the arguments we indulged in, in our seminars. They were loud and passionate, sometimes rowdy.  Those discussions were also respectful and constructive, at least for the most part. 

That was learning in action for me!

What I want with my online or hybrid classes is to engage the students in an intense discussion that will utilize their critical thinking facilities so that we may all learn something more than we knew before.

How to do that when the "discussion" is online. Or in the case of a hybrid class, the class does not engage F2F with each other enough to feel safe and confident in expressing their thoughts?

I have noticed that students are "shy," or hesitant to express their ideas or thoughts on various subjects to others in the class. They will readily agree with any interpretation that is offered by the teacher, or they will sit mutely for the most part. 

In their writing up of assignments for me, there is a freeing up of their "voice," sometimes sharing very moving and personal insights or thoughts. Yet in class, or discussion this "voice" is muted again. 

In the "Discussion" boards on Blackboard, there is often a feeling of mandatory obligation in the level of discourse. If I ask for the student to post an original post and reply to two other students, there is often little or no engagement. They simply post a thought or idea about the assignment and respond with cursory insight to two different posts. 
No back and forth, no interruptions, no attempts at persuasion!

 My conundrum and my quest are to free up that "voice " they have when writing, and expand the feeling of safety to include the online discussion portion of the class. 

There are unfortunately few examples in social media that offer respectful discourse for them to practice that muscle. They read the caustic and hurtful trolling that occurs to everyone who posts their thoughts and ideas for the world to see. 
The message that one needs to be careful and keep a low profile does not help to learn how to exchange ideas and thoughts, to disagree even to be passionate about those held opinions but to remain civil and respectful.

I think the online teaching community is working on this, at least I hope so because it is vitally important for the future of our ability to be educated and useful citizens of this country. 


Hello All, 

Please view my video blog at the link below:

Take care, 



In teaching the Russell Scholars Topics class, RSP 299: Literature and the Arts, I look for ways that students in my face-to-face class can make a collaborative document that allows them to research/create in private and then share/discuss in public.  Our Topics class focuses especially on the relationship between visual and verbal elements in culture and encourages students to become more visually aware of their world as they gain linguistic tools to respond to it. 

In the first unit of the course we move from the vocabulary of formal elements in painting and the other arts to theories of museum-collecting and museum-going; we talk about the "ways of seeing" (ala John Berger) embodied in an original art work and the free exchange enabled by mechanical reproduction--the process that creates a "language of images" in which we live.  From here we read Susan Sontag on photography and build a familiarity with iconic images and makers in the history of photographic arts.  To the very moment of the selfies we took that morning before class, this evolving form bears thinking through: what have been the uses of photography?  What are the uses of photography today?  What does Sontag mean when she claims that "looking is never neutral"? 

In teaching the class, I need a format for students to create and share their work that can encompass both research and application.  I need a venue or platform that lets them combine images with text--famous photographs with passages they choose from Sontag's writing to "caption" these pictures.  And I need a method flexible enough to contain also their own iPhone images from the most casual of circumstances, so that we can forge connections between what we do in the province of the classroom and in the tangential, if not directly linked, provinces of 'real life.'  (What better medium than photography to articulate that link, given its near-constant presence, its ubiqitousness, its running dialogue on our multiple screens and in our very pockets?)

Google Slides does the trick.

The course fulfills the Cultural Interpretation (CI) core designation, which means we aim to "engage students in the close analysis and interpretation of cultural representations to learn how people make sense of themselves and their world."  This bit from the official language describing the course continues, "Students critically evaluate and develop arguments about cultural representations or the contexts that produce them or give them meaning."  For us, in a nutshell, this means we study photographs (and other art forms) as symptomatic and agency-laded artefacts of culture.  It also means that in creating their own images and text, students practice critical evaluation of the ideas and values and information conveyed in these artefacts.

Here's their assignment:

Please add two photographs to our Google Slides presentation.  One should be a picture you took yourself, and it can be uploaded from your phone or other digital file.  The other should be an image from the photographer you’ve been assigned to look up.  The ‘famous’ photograph should be accompanied by the artist’s name, its title, if it has one, and the date it was made.

Your own photograph should be accompanied by your name and the date it was made. Give it a title if you’d like.

Each photograph should have its own slide, though you may format the slide any way you like.

With each photograph, place a caption of your choosing from Sontag’s “In Plato’s Cave” essay--the first chapter of her book On Photography.  Captions can be very brief or up to a few sentences.  They need not include Sontag’s direct mention of the photographer.  Make your choice by thinking of how her words might help open up our experience of the image in some way, provoking further thought.

The assignment instructions and reasons-for-being appear in the first few slides on the link below, and then the students' contributions:


The final effects of the Google Slides document are not final - perhaps that's one of the most interesting features of the technological tool.  At once it is a record of our experiences in this part of our class and a document paused in its living until someone revisits it--perhaps to add a slide or change a word or leave a comment.  It's true that the end of our semester makes a natural, finite timeline or end to the document's immediate relevance, but its afterlife can be a model for a future group of students, a pedagogical tool, a record of collaborative engagement for students to show to friends, family, or future employers.

Savviness with the cultural interplay of images and text seems an essential skill for today's students; the ability to engage in collaborative creation is not far behind.


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