Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tech Tips

My courses are Gen. Ed. Humanities writing courses, not technology courses. At the same time, I consider "everyday digital literacy" to be an important part of what students can gain from taking an online course. So, I use these extra credit "Tech Tips" to introduce curious students to various tools that I use in my own work and learning online, hoping that those tools can be useful to the students too as they work and learn online.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION. I make sure to provide detailed instruction on the core tools we use in the class (Blogger, Google Sites) while using a big list of extra credit "Tech Tips" for students who want to learn about other web-based tools. The idea is that students choose whatever tips grab their attention, with a point of extra credit available each week for the tips they complete. Like all the other work for class, these can be done ahead of schedule, so some students sit down and do a whole semester's worth of tips all in the first week or two, which I think is just great: that means they have learned about all kinds of tools that they can use all semester long!

DETAILS.

You can see the list here: Technology Tips. I am constantly adding new tips and retiring old ones; I like the idea that the list is long, but I don't want it to be so long that the list itself becomes overwhelming. My focus is on web-based, cross-platform, browser-neutral tools, so you won't find any actual mobile apps there. I am really interested in content-generating tools (especially meme generators!), and also time-management tools, along with anything that can help students be more productive online.

In general, these are all tools that I use myself, with just a few exceptions. For example, I actually use Gmail, but I do teach students how to create email folders in their OU Exchange email (sad but true: many students report that they did not know how to do this). Likewise, I keep D2L use to a bare minimum (Gradebook only) but I do teach students how to add a photo to their D2L BS profile because they are probably using D2L discussion board in their other classes, in which case a profile photo is really important.

Almost every tip asks the students to DO something to their blog (either in the form of a post or a design change at the blog) or to their website or to their Pinterest Board, etc. Some of the tips take more time than others, but they are meant to be fun, and I really enjoy seeing which tips the students choose and what they do with them.

I sometimes add new tips during the semester, although I usually try to get them all lined up before the semester starts or during the first week. Whenever I see a likely candidate for a Tech Tip, I bookmark the tool in Diigo using the label "techtip," and that means I always have a big heap of possible tools to add when a new semester rolls around.

HISTORY. I've been doing the Tech Tips since Fall 2009 (I think), and in those years there are tools that have come and gone, while some great tools (like the OU Library Custom Homepage) have been available every semester since the very start. At first, the tips all asked the students to send me emails, but that was kind of overwhelming, so in 2013 I switched the emails to blog posts, making the Tech Tips more social, which was definitely a big improvement. This way, students get ideas about which Tech Tips they might want to do by seeing things at other students' blogs. In Spring 2015, I hope to create a special category of "quote generators" based on my own Doctor Who Quotes project. More on that later!

GOALS. The general goal here is to increase students' digital literacy, introducing them to new tools and also to new features of familiar tools. In addition, each Tech Tip has a goal of its own, which means there is all kinds of learning going on here. My greatest satisfaction comes when students let me know that they are using the tools they learned about in this class for their other classes or for personal projects of their own: success!

GENERAL THOUGHTS

I would say the Tech Tips are one of the most important features of my class, even though they are just extra credit. Whether students do only a few of them, or whether they do Tech Tips every week, they get a sense of what IS possible with free web-based tools. I would actually love to teach a class in web tools, especially tools related to writing, web publishing, and digital content creation. It's nice to be able to sneak that in as part of the classes that I teach now; my guess is that for at least some students, what they learn from the Tech Tips might turn out to be their most valuable learning in the class!

There were 254 Tech Tips completed in Myth-Folklore in Fall 2014 and and 225 Tech Tips in Indian Epics, so that's almost 500 Tech Tips all together... a whole lot of technology going on! :-)



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