The Space Between

Adventures in Instructional Technology


Teaching with Tech Tips: Making Slides Quickly!

Now that I’ve been back in the classroom for a little while, I’m starting to collect various tips and tricks for preparing my course materials. I teach Japanese to high schoolers in the upper mid-west, so I don’t really have my pick of ready-made curricular materials.  I generally make my own versions of activities even when I find that someone else has posted something useful. So I do a LOT of material creation!

Thus, I’m starting a new segment to my very sparse blog: Teaching with Tech Tips.  These are little tricks that I’ve found along the way to help me make materials faster and with fewer clicks.  As I come up with more of them, I’ll try to write about it quickly to share with the world.  I have no doubt that many other people have found these tricks, too.  But they were new to me, so they might also be new to others!

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CALICO 2019 Redux or Why I Go To CALICO

I just got back from CALICO 2019, this year held in beautiful Montréal. It’s always a good experience, and this year was even better than before in a lot of ways. Read More


Expanding faculty support with Academic Technology Student Assistants

I was in a conference session recently when the topic of using student workers to provide instructional support of faculty was raised as a tangent to how to engage faculty in technology training and instructional design. I was surprised to hear that many in the room felt that it was inappropriate to have students supporting faculty in the use of the LMS or other curricular technologies. This is completely counter to how we’ve been providing curricular and technical support at Carleton, so I thought I would write about how we do it and why.

Why have student workers supporting faculty?

The immediate reason is obvious: we can’t do it all alone! Most of us in the field of instructional technology have more than enough to do, learn and keep up with, so the chance to get a little help along the way is gold. This is especially true when you have big initiatives, such as switching your LMS or implementing a new tool. But if all I did was hire students to do the many boring or mundane tasks that I don’t want to or have time to do, there would be little else to write.

A big consideration when I’m hiring students is what the student is going to get out of working in the Academic Technology office. I want them to be excited about the work we are doing and learn as much as they can on the job. And I want them to be able to have several new skills they can add to their resume when they start to pursue internships or jobs after graduation. Hiring students in our office is as much for them as it is for us.

Because of this, I look for very specific things when hiring students. First, I look for students who are personable and comfortable talking with staff and or faculty. I look for some background in technology, but it’s not as important as the people skills.  Tech can be taught and changes so quickly anyway, it’s much harder to teach people skills. I also look for students who are excited to learn new technology or just learn new things in general. I have found that if I find students who fit this bill they are able to get a lot of working in our office.

The Hiring Process

One of the most important skills that our student workers need to have or develop is the ability to figure out the answer to a question. I also feel that understanding how a shared calendaring system works is just a basic life skill at this point. So in my job ad, I ask the students to email me a resume and make a 20-min appointment on my calendar. I also send them the Google help pages if they don’t know how to propose a meeting in Google. If a student can’t figure out how to propose a meeting time with documentation, they may not be well-suited to working in our office. So that usually only gives me a short list of students to interview.

During the interview, I ask them why they are interested in working Academic Technology and about their own academic or personal interests. I ask them to describe a time that they had to teach or tutor someone in something difficult, and then listen to how they describe the interaction.  Are they being derogatory or mean about the person they were teaching? Are they able to name some issues pertinent to training adults? Do they mention any particular teaching strategies that also work well when working with faculty?

Student Training

Once I hire a student, I try to make sure I spend a lot of time with them at a few points early in their work in our department. My primary job is to support the faculty in their use of the LMS. So we get some questions how to do this or that, or what module is the right one to use for their activity. So I make all first-term students learn how to edit a page in our LMS. Because I have a primary goal of making sure they know how to find answers when they don’t have them, I don’t actually train them. I give them a blank site, a sample syllabus, and then point them at the documentation.  I also make it clear to them why I am making them learn on their own. I want them to know that their goal should be to get better at finding answers.

Once they have the LMS down, I try to get them involved in a project. I rarely have one lined up for them from the get-go, but I usually don’t have much trouble coming up with something for them to do. If it happens to be related to their academic interests, that’s a double win.  But they know that they won’t always get to do that.

I also focus on making sure they have good customer service skills. I teach them how to answer the phone and invite the caller to ask their question. I tell them how to address people who just wander into our office. I also teach them how to write polite and informative responses in our ticketing system to faculty. These skills will be valuable to the students no matter what industry to go into, and I make sure they know that, as well.

Finally, I talk to them about boundaries. We don’t have graduate students at our institution, so we have undergraduate students who are potentially sitting down with faculty to help them use some technology.  There is an inherent power relationship there that does not work in the favor of the student. We are very small, the chances that this student either will or currently is in a class taught by that professor is quite high. And I know that all faculty have only the best intentions when working with students, but sometimes they end up unintentionally using that power position to get the student to do more than they should be doing. I have never met anyone who did this on purpose, but having a student there who you know can just do what you need done for you is so very tantalizing! After explaining this to the student, I tell them that if ever they are asked to do something that is outside of the work they should be doing then they can say “Carly won’t let me do that.” or “I have to check with my supervisor first.”  I essentially let them have me take the blame. Almost every student who has worked for me has come back to say that this was very important to them at some point. They all appreciate the feeling that I have their back, and that helps them to learn that boundaries are important.

The Results

The results have been amazing. I have had numerous years of excellent student workers who have been invaluable in helping our office to support the faculty.  They have taken on the bulks of answering or triaging technical how-to questions, and successfully escalate to professional staff as needed. Many of my students who came in with no particular interest in technology, have gone on to take CS courses because they were no longer as afraid of programming as they had been before working on our office.

Faculty have also reported that most of our students have been wonderful to work with. I have had faculty come to our offices and tell me that they don’t want to talk to me, but want to speak with one of my student workers about their question. And faculty who have gotten the help they need from our student workers are often repeat customers.

I have had student workers that have gone on to do amazing things! They work in high-security computing, are doing graduate research in labs, going to medical school, pursuing their PhD in Computer Science, and more. I have written letters of recommendation for so many of them and helped them get some of these positions, but mostly they have been successful because of how awesome they are to begin with.

Working with students is one of my favorite parts of my job. I love introducing them to new and creative uses of technology.  I love seeing them get excited about education + technology, and watched so many of them grow into confident people when they started out super shy. It’s been a wonderfully rewarding part of working at a small college.

I hope this post has been helpful. I’m happy to answer any questions about how I work with student workers any time!


Themes from AZCALL & My Current Research

Arizona State Flag

Recently, I attended a small conference called AZCALL 2018 hosted by the CALL Club of Arizona State University. This one-day conference was planned by the graduate students in the CALL Club at ASU for the first time, anticipating about 60 people to attend.  To their surprise, actual registrations doubled that number!  The best part of attending small conferences like this one is that they are usually highly impactful without being overwhelming. So I’m still jazzed about some of the topics discussed!

The conference opened with a Keynote by Jonathon Reinhardt, Associate Professor of English at the University of Arizona, about the potential of using multiplayer games for second language learners. If you go to his page, you’ll see his recent research focuses on the use of games and gameful educational techniques, which have been very hot topics in both second language pedagogy and instructional design circles.

Aside from the now common theme of games for education, game-based learning and gamification, virtual and augmented reality were represented in presentations by Margherita Berti, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Arizona and the ending keynote by the always energetic Steven Thorne, among others.  Berti won the conference award for best presentation when she spoke about how she uses 360º YouTube videos and Google Cardboard to increase cultural awareness in her students of Italian.  Check out her website for more of her examples, Italian Open Education.

My personal favorite presentation was given by Heather Offerman from Purdue University, who spoke about her work on using visualization of sound to give pronunciation feedback to Spanish language learners (using a linguistics tool called Praat).  Her work is very close to some of the research I’m doing into the visualization of Chinese tones with Language Lesson, so I was excited to hear about the techniques she was using and how successful she feels they were as pedagogical interventions.  It’s interesting that in the last few CALL conferences I’ve attended, there have started to be more presentations on the need for more explicit and structured teaching of L2 pronunciation in particular, which could appear to be in contrast with the trends for teaching Comprehensible Input (check out this 2014 issue of The Language Educator by ACTFL for more info on CI).  But I argue that it’s possible – and possibly a good idea – to integrate explicit pronunciation instruction along with the CI methodology to get the best of both worlds.  Everything in moderation, as my mom would say.

Just like with all things, there is no silver bullet technology for automatically evaluating student L2 speech and providing them with the perfect feedback to help them improve. Some have been focusing on the use of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technologies and have been using them in their L2 classrooms.  However, the use of ASR is founded on the premise that if the machine can understand you then your pronunciation is good enough.  I’m not sure that’s the bar that I want to set in my own language classroom, I’d rather give the students much more targeted feedback on the segmentals of their speech that not only help them notice where their speech might differ from the model, but also to notice important aspects of the target language to gain better socio-cultural understanding of verbal cues.

That is why I have been working on developing pitch visualization component of Language Lesson. The goal is to help students who struggle with producing Chinese tones properly notice the variance between their speech and the model they are repeating by showing them both the model and their own pitch contours. Soon, I hope to have a display that will overlap the two pitch contours so that students can see very clearly the differences between them. Below are some screenshots of the pitch contours that I hope to integrate in the next 6 months.

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I’m looking forward to spending part of this winter break working on a research project to assess the value of pitch contour visualization for Chinese L2 learners.  I will be collecting the recordings I’ve been capturing for the past two years and producing a dataset for each group of students (some of whom had the pitch visualization and some who did not). I will be looking to see if there are differing trends in the students’ production of Chinese tones amongst the different treatment groups. Below are just a few of the articles that I’ve read recently that have informed my research direction.  It should be exciting work!

Elicited Imitation Exercises

Vinther, T. (2002). Elicited imitation:a brief overview. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 12(1), 54–73.

Yan, X., Maeda, Y., Lv, J., & Ginther, A. (2016). Elicited imitation as a measure of second language proficiency: A narrative review and meta-analysis. Language Testing, 33(4), 497–528.

Erlam, R. (2006). Elicited Imitation as a Measure of L2 Implicit Knowledge: An Empirical Validation Study. Applied Linguistics, 27(3), 464–491.

Chinese Tone Acquisition

Rohr, J. (2014) Training Naïve Learners to Identify Chinese Tone: An Inductive Approach in Jiang, N., & Jiang, N. (Ed.). Advances in Chinese as a Second Language: Acquisition and Processing. (pgs 157 – 178). Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Retrieved from”]



CALICO 2018 Notes & Reflections

CALICO logoI’m attending CALICO 2018, held at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.  I’ve decided to blog after the first day of sessions because I expect that I will be far too overwhelmed after day two to make any sense of it all!

It’s been several years since I’ve made it to a CALICO conference, but it’s been amazing as always.  The big themes this year are gamification/game-based learning and the use of automatic speech recognition. All of the projects and research I heard about today was incredibly interesting and I hope to dig into each of them a little more after the fact to learn even more. Read More


ELI 2018 Reflections – Ethnographic Study of Instructional Innovation

This year I had the opportunity to once again attend ELI 2018. This conference is a really nice mix of instructional technologists, instructional designers, faculty, librarians and educational technology leaders. I love how I always walk away with many things to consider.

Many sessions reports (though not all) are delivered from the perspective of larger universities who have very different environments, goals and challenges than Carleton. So it is always my job to try to learn what I can from their work and think about how it can be applied to our small residential liberal arts context.

The theme of the conference this year was “Achieving Student Success Through New Models of Learning”, but as usual there were many sub-themes that became clear through the selection of sessions offered. This is the first of a few blog posts that I plan to post (hopefully, in a timely fashion!) to explore some of the themes or presentations in the context of our institution.

Ethnographic Study of Instructional Innovation with Technology

Many of the sessions focused on faculty development and engagement, including how to connect with faculty about their student learning goals, why faculty pass on development opportunities, and how to help faculty reach intended learning outcomes of curricular innovations.

My favorite talk in this area was given by Joel Smith and Lauren Herckis from Carnegie Mellon University on their 2-year ethnographic study of the barriers and facilitators to implementing educational technologies. For this study, Lauren Herckis (an anthropologist) followed 4 projects implementing new technology in some way for 2 years, with the goal of identifying “the barriers and facilitators to implementing educational technologies and best practices in teaching.” 

The findings Smith and Herckis reported were not surprising, teaching is central to the faculty identity and autonomy is key; it is often the reason they are in academia in the first place. They noted that faculty formative experiences heavily impact their beliefs about teaching, and faculty are often skeptical of data from learning research. And while administrators, technologists and accreditors are motivated to generalize, faculty are motivated to specialize.

In conclusion, the presenters noted that three things need to be aligned to encourage successful instructional innovation:

  • Individual faculty’s views
  • Institutional mission or strategic statement
  • Quality instruction as assessed by the institution 

The presenters will be releasing their full report soon, and I’ve already signed up to receive a copy when it is ready!

This talk was very interesting and I’m looking forward to the release of the full report. In the past, I’ve heard many presentations about how one of the biggest barriers to instructional innovation with technology at small liberal arts colleges is the campus culture. But until now, I have not heard anyone take a deep dive into the complexities of the culture that surrounds instructional innovation on a college campus. Smith and Herckis indicated a number of times that they presented only some of their findings of their lengthy study, and I’m anxious to hear about other conclusions they have drawn.

Local Implications

This prompted me to reflect a bit on how curricular innovation happens here at Carleton.  The 2012 Strategic Plan identified experimenting with online learning models as a way to “enhance our curriculum and improve liberal arts teaching and learning”. The report cites this experimentation with online learning models as a way to “help us adapt new technologies and techniques to our our own purposes and benefit.” We have seen development in this area, such as the CUBE program, but the idea of online learning seems to be counter to the Carleton identity and brand as a strictly residential institution.

I think it’s important to note that the strategic plan explicitly states that we explore online learning for our own purposes. Online learning is not something that we often do, but the techniques and technologies that are often associated with online learning models can also be leveraged in our residential context. As an example, well-written quiz questions delivered online can positively transform how a faculty spend their time with students both in class and during office hours or advising times. At the same time these tools can give students immediate, and contextual feedback on their mastery of the content.

There is more interest on campus in adaptive learning tools, which have enormous potential to add to the residential learning experience. But often the pre-packaged content is not quite right or the cost of the tool is high for small classes. This is where open learning resources (e.g. OLI and OER Commons) and collaboration with other like institutions can be helpful in providing access to quality materials while sharing the workload of generating customized content. Some of the LACOL projects are using these strategies for working toward common goals.

Despite the potential, the dissonance between the integration of technology in the curriculum and our campus culture is not an insignificant issue. I think we have had many, many successful instructional innovations both involving and not involving technology. But I also think that there are more opportunities available to us at Carleton. And I look forward to when all things are aligned to encourage innovation.



Installing & Typing Ancient Greek (2017)

I used to maintain a whole site dedicated to the instructions for enabling English-based computers to type in the many languages that we teach at Carleton. That site still exists, but is horribly out of date. It’s just gotten so much easier to enable foreign language inputs on computers, and it seems that more and more people are posting what they know about it online. But my recent searching for good pages on typing in Ancient Greek left me a little disappointed. There are resources for sure, but many of them were a little sparse and did not include comprehensive step-by-step guides for the modern OSes.

So, with that in mind, I’ve composed this post on how to enable and use Ancient (polytonic) Greek on Windows 10, Macintosh 10.10+ and mobile platforms. I hope this helps those who need to type in Ancient Greek! Read More


What’s New in Moodle! – 2017

As we do every year here at Carleton, we have upgraded to a new version of Moodle for the 2017-18 academic year.  We are now using Moodle 3.3, which comes with a few new features and improvements to existing tools. This post is a summary of those new features, but watch for future posts that will dive into specific features more deeply. Read More


Journals or Lab Notebooks in Moodle

Notepad with pencil graphicThis post is really similar to my previous post on Small Group Discussions, but focused more on individual students and their learning progress throughout the course. The advantage of using this technique benefits both the instructor and the student.  And if the instructor actively participates in the forum with comments and feedback, it can also help to grow the personal relationship throughout the course. Read More


Tracking Student Progress to Assist Metacognition & Self-Regulated Learning

Many faculty are interested in both tracking student progress and also helping students learn to track their work themselves. Most learning management systems (LMS) have a feature that allows students and faculty to keep track of what activities are completed and which are not, in Moodle this feature is called Completion Tracking.

Completion Tracking aids faculty in being able to see at a glance which students have completed which activities across the entire course. The Activity Completion Report (available in the Administration Block > Reports > Activity Completion) shows all of this at a glance. Activities that are considered complete are checked off, while activities not yet complete are not. Students that achieved a passing grade (e.g. on a Quiz) will get a green checkmark while students who do not reach the passing grade receive a red mark.

Moodle 3.1 Activity Completion Report

Moodle 3.1 Activity Completion Report

Note: Completion Tracking is enabled at Carleton, though if you are at another institution it may need to be enabled by your Moodle administrator.

Another compelling reason to use Completion Tracking is the value to the students. When students complete an activity, they are shown a checkmark to the right of the activity right on the Moodle home page. Activities not yet completed have empty boxes enticing the student to complete the work. Teachers can also add the Course Completion Status block to the page so the student can see a quick view summary of how much of the course they have completed and how much more they have to go. This kind of aid is especially helpful to students who may still struggle with organizational skills or self-regulation techniques.

So, here’s your Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress:

Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress

Moodle Recipe for Tracking Student Progress

Moodle Help Links

Further Reading

There is a lot of material on the value of metacognition and self-regulated learning for students in higher education.  These are just a few of the things I’ve read lately. What reading would you recommend?