, , , , , ,

Pedagogy’s Digital Swiss Army Knife: Explain Everything

explain everything logo

Explain Everything draws from a range of educational technologies to be, as its name suggests, the best possible tool for explaining anything

Written by: Sarah Grace

Many of the technologies out there work on two levels: a quick functionality that often leaves you wanting more, and a more complex (often less visible) layer of options that are time-intensive to learn but offer better results.

Explain Everything is designed to offer all of the advanced options of a program like PowerPoint at a glance. It’s intuitive, interdisciplinary, intensely customizable, and in most regards only as limited as your imagination.

This app’s mission is to empower you with all the tools you could need to explain your subject material. You can type, use tables, insert pictures, sound, or video, and do pretty much all of the things you can do in PowerPoint. However, Explain Everything will record like a screen-capture program, can be saved as a video, and is designed for use on tablets, which opens up a lot of doors.

To take one example, you can press record and use a stylus to solve a math problem by hand in the program. Now you have a video of that process, which you can play within your class presentation if you don’t feel like writing it out. This is extremely useful for online courses. You can also quickly create a video demonstrating how to solve a problem, upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or Blackboard, and send it to a struggling student.

Another great feature is the app’s ability to import a live web browser directly into your presentation. You can record yourself annotating an online article, or write notes on what makes a website an unacceptable source… on the actual website. The app will record whatever you do online in the inserted web browser. If there is a complex registration process that your students have to do on their own to access sources, or a certain website you want them to use, you can create a presentation explaining the steps, with a video showing how to do it on the actual site. This tool enables you to ‘explain everything,’ but you will only have to explain it once with the resources you’ll be able to create.

Best of all, you will not have to start from scratch. Explain Everything lets you import existing PowerPoints or other presentation formats directly into the app, to be customized and personalized in dynamic new ways.

There are many other great tools in this incredible application, and they are all easily accessible and easy to integrate into the toolkit that every educator deploys to explain their subject matter. I’ll be introducing more of these exciting possibilities during the Explain Everything session at the upcoming Ann Ferren conference on January 13th. Teaching with me will be chemistry professor and diehard Explain Everything fan Michele Lansigan, who has been using the app for her past two semesters at AU. Come to our session to hear how this tool has changed her classroom and to explore what it can do for yours.

Sarah Grace in a Video + Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

, , , , , ,

Students and Their Email Habits

Laptop opened in dark room

Written By: Nikki Lane

Over the past 4-5 years, popular news outlets have featured stories highlighting the communication challenges facing those of us educating the next generation — especially their ability (or lack thereof) to communicate appropriately using the currently accepted form of business and formal communication: email.

Commonly cited issues:

  • Students aren’t reading some of our emails.
  • Students are texting and otherwise social media-ing during class time.
  • To some students, school = email; and unfortunately, school = boring. Therefore, through the transitive property, email = boring.
  • Some students legitimately have never used email in the way that you expect them to. Some may not know how to write letters (therefore may be unclear about what to put in the subject line, or how to address you, and all of that makes it such that they don’t want to interact with email at all).

What the research says:

  • According to a 2016 study conducted at Bowling Green State University cited by InsideHigherEd.com, increased use of social media and text messaging are not the reason students aren’t reading your emails. In fact, students who are more active on social media are more likely to regularly check their email.
  • The same study indicates that students tend to fall into two different categories when it came to social media use: “instant communicators” and “content curators.” In other words, the first group tended to use platforms primarily to communicate instantly with one another, while the second group tended to use social media to create/collect content from a wide variety of sources.
  • Common sense rules of email for many students are that most email is junk, you can read it or not; respond to it or not; or simply delete it, rarely with consequence. The fact that email is not an instant means of communicating in a world with numerous possibilities for instant communication means that some students tend to favor forms of communication such as text messages and certain social media platforms where there is an expectation that you 1) know the person to whom you are sending the message, 2) are expected to reply, and 3) are expected to reply near instantly.
  • Faculty members often have unrealistic expectations for students concerning email. Students are not adept at using email just because they have some familiarity with using their smart phone to download an app that will then download all their music for them on their phone. “We have this perception that because students are fluent with things like smartphones and downloading music that they are born with chips embedded in them that make them technology wizards,” says Eric Stoller, a social media and communications consultant in education in the New York Times. “They are no better at managing e-mail than anyone else.”
  • According to a study conducted by Reynol Junco at Purdue on students’ computer use, the students he recruited for the experiment spent about 123 minutes a day on their computers, and the only thing they used less than their email was a search engine. While information may be at our students’ fingertips, they are not as adept as we assume they are at actually locating that information.
  • As Keith M. Parsons, professor of history and philosophy, says in a Huffington Post op-ed from 2015, “if Facebook is your favorite book, you have a problem.”
  • Most students appear to be getting messages from their professors. According to the study conducted at Bowling Green, 85% of students are highly likely to read emails coming from their professors. Those emails that they are less likely to read come from academic advisers, the university, and academic departments. The same study found:

More than one-third of students (39%) said they don’t always read emails from academic advisers.

More than half (54%) of students said the same about emails from the university or from academic departments.

72% of students said that they avoided emails from student organizations all together.

  • According to Radicati Group’s Email Statistics Report 2015-2019, the average user sends/receives 99 emails per day. Further, according to a March 2016 report by Litmus, most emails (54%) are opened on mobile devices with desktop representing only 19%.

Here are our top 6 tips for sending “better” emails, emails that will cut through the noise to get to students and that take into account all of the above research:

tip chart

If you’d like to schedule a time to visit CTRL and learn about useful alternatives to email, then sign up today for a one-on-one consultation.

Nikki Lane in an Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

, , , , ,

Examining Classroom Dynamics: Responding to Students

woman speaking behind microphone

Written by: Lindsay Murphy

On Tuesday September 21, CTRL hosted the first of this academic year’s noontime conversations., “Examining Classroom Dynamics: Responding to Students.” Discussing student classroom behaviors that may be disruptive or indicative of a problem, panelists shared productive ways to de-escalate tense moments and how to access additional campus support for students who may be in crisis. The full presentation was recorded and can be viewed below. The panel’s PowerPoint presentation provides suggestions and key contacts as well.


Lindsay Murphy is the Coordinator of Faculty Technology Initiatives in CTRL.

, , , ,

3 Tools for Facilitating Discussion Outside of Class: Piazza, Basecamp, and Slack

Written By: Emily Crawford

Getting students to participate in class discussions can be difficult. Encouraging discussion outside of the classroom can be even more challenging. Luckily, there are an increasing number of applications out there that can conveniently facilitate discussion outside of the classroom in a streamlined, easy to use way. Here are our three top picks and how they compare!


Piazza is a “free online gathering place” offers excellent tools for both basic discussion and more complex collaboration, including  trackable edits from both students and instructors. It uses a wiki-style framework, which means that students and instructors can edit one another’s posts. This feature may or may not be relevant  for basic discussions, but it can be great for collaboration and providing group feedback on a specific project or document.

Students and instructors can post a “Note,” a “Question,” or a “Poll/In-Class Response,” all of which can be edited by classmates and instructors. A “note” is a simple post, like a comment on a forum. A “question” prompts a response, or “answer” post, which can come from any student or instructor. Anyone can post a “follow-up discussion” to any note, question, or poll. piazza

The former two tend to be used most frequently. For basic discussion, the edit function is not really necessary, but it’s good to keep in mind that it exists.

Overall, Piazza is easy to set-up – it lives in your browser, and doesn’t require a download. There are some extraneous features which add clutter to the interface, but overall if you’re looking for a forum-style discussion platform with additional editing features for collaboration, Piazza is generally a great option.

Overall grade: B+


Basecamp was originally created with professional teams in mind for managing project workflows, but teachers have found it incredibly helpful as well, and are eligible for free accounts (unlike for-profit users).  If you’re visually-minded, Basecamp has a lot of features that make for a pleasant and streamlined experience, like a timeline on the course homepage that tracks all activity since you created your “Basecamp,” or course homepage.basecamp

This web app is themed around a the metaphor of a mountain expedition, with the main discussion forum for a class labeled as the “campfire.” It also offers a  message board, which has the potential for multiple comment threads, unlike the main “Campfire” forum. Users can create a “To-Do List,” which lets you set goals and assign tasks, a schedule, “Automatic Check-ins,” and a “Docs and Files” section where people can upload documents or create new ones directly in Basecamp.

It’s aesthetically pleasing, but the cutesy icons and expedition-themed names for functions may not be for all tastes. Because of its diverse features, Basecamp can function as a substitute for Blackboard, but students may miss the ability to easily track grades.
Overall, Basecamp has a lot of great functionality and is ideal for a class with a more project- centric structure, and is great for group work because of  its orientation towards teams.

Overall grade: A-


Slack is a great all-purpose platform for discussion, collaboration, and general communication with students outside the of classroom.  While the app  has the framework and look of a instant messenger app, it has the potential to do so much more. With diverse features, this free application accessible from your computer, tablet, or phone gives users  the ability to easily attach all types of media to any message.slack

Slack has all of the functionality of any messenger app (like Gchat), plus the ability to attach images, files, links, long-form content that you type into Slack itself, or even snippets of web code, should that be your area. It offers a  great alternative to email between class members and professors alike, as you can easily set up mobile alerts to your phone, should you want respond to students on the go. Students can also message each other or create private group chats for team work. For discussions, you can create “Channels,” or content threads, to which multiple students and instructors can contribute. These comments can easily be tracked, if you require participation outside of class.

Slack is ideal for any class with a class participation component, especially for subject matter that may require sharing content like screenshots, other images, or even web code.

Overall grade: A

All three options are completely free for educators, but offer paid deluxe versions for large class sizes. Unfortunately, none of these applications can synchronize their functions with official grades. Slack, like Basecamp, can substitute for Blackboard in that it facilitates assignment submissions, discussion, and collaboration. Piazza offers much of the same functionality, but is less mobile-convenient and less team-oriented.

Slack is our current favorite, but all three of these applications are great options for facilitating discussion and collaboration outside of your classroom.


Emily Crawford in an Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

, ,

AU’s Green Teaching Certificate Program on Track to Break Record

Written by: Anna Olsson

When the Green Teaching Program first launched in the late summer of 2008, 35 AU professors answered a short list of questions about commitments they would make to teach sustainably that fall. Since then, the program has grown and changed significantly, but its core purpose remains the same: To provide incentives for faculty to teach sustainably, while creating a greater awareness of the effects of education on the environment among both professors and students.

This year, the Green Teaching Program is on track to break its all-time record of the number of faculty certified in a single year (151), and it will likely also pass the milestone of certifying its 500th individual Green Teacher. The concrete implications of the program for campus sustainability are significant. Take for example the one action of not printing your course syllabus, and providing it in electronic form only: Assuming that about 80% of the faculty who have earned 1,184 certificates over the last 8 years opted to make their syllabi electronic, and assuming that each faculty member taught an average of 3 courses in an academic year, with an average of 25 students per course, and with syllabi of an average length of 10 pages, this one action alone has saved over 710,000 sheets of paper. That’s a small forest (85 trees, to be precise, according to the calculations by the non-profit organization Conservatree.org). And this is only the estimated impact of one of the 54 actions faculty can opt to commit to in the current version of the Green Teaching Certificate application.

Faculty can collect points for a variety of actions reducing the use of paper by moving towards using course materials, assignments, and exams in an electronic format; reducing the use of energy and reducing pollution by using energy efficient equipment, making a habit of turning off equipment not in use, scheduling office hours on the day of class, and biking or carpooling to campus; as well as other measures such as allowing Green Teaching Program staff to post a Green Teaching score card on Blackboard course pages, listing the commitments made, for students to see, using reusable food and beverage containers, and talking to department staff about purchasing recycled materials and supplies.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Green Teaching Program has been recognized beyond AU, in the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll as one of the reasons for AU’s high score in sustainability ratings of colleges and universities. In addition, six universities across the United States have replicated the program on their own campuses. And so, what started as a small initiative by a few AU faculty and students who wanted to be more conscientious about their use of resources has multiplied into a movement transcending the AU campus, that gives the phrase “think globally, act locally” a whole new meaning.

You can learn more about AU’s Green Teaching Program at http://www.american.edu/ctrl/green.cfm.


, , , ,

Teaching Environment and Sustainability across the Curriculum

Ann Ferren Conference Logo

2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #407:

This session seeks to engage and collaborate with faculty who want to learn about incorporating issues relating to conservation, climate change, and/or sustainability into their courses. These are key challenges of our times and teaching these issues enhances students’ knowledge and capacity to make a difference. Attendees learn strategies for including environmental examples, topics, speakers, projects, assignments, current events, and site visits in any course. Participants who have never taught these topics before but who are interested in interdisciplinary teaching are encouraged to attend. The session focuses upon sharing ideas and discussion of opportunities for including environmental topics across the curriculum.

Heather Heckel (SPExS)
Simon Nicholson (SIS)

, , , , ,

Communicating Research through Visual Storytelling

Ann Ferren Conference Logo

2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #406:

With the rise of digital video tools and internet distribution, many scholars are turning to visual storytelling to communicate research. Increasingly, videos are enhancing and in some cases replacing traditional print modes of communicating scholarship. This session showcases several examples, from the PEW Research Center to AU student research-based videos from interdisciplinary courses. The session covers some development and writing basics for visual storytelling. The session also includes a participatory segment during which teams will develop a short research-based video.

Larry Engel (SOC)
Maggie Burnette Stogner (SOC)
Polina Vinogradova (CAS-WLC)

, , , ,

Abandoning Fears and Taking the Plunge into Online Teaching

Ann Ferren Conference Logo

2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #405:

Mastering the intricacies of navigating an online classroom can be challenging. Aimed at both established and new faculty members, this roundtable consists of experts in online learning, a professor who recently launched her first online course, and a professor previously hesitant to take the plunge but who is increasingly getting ready. Learning outcomes in this SPExS-SOC roundtable are to give participants a clear and actionable plan of what is needed, emotionally and technically, to make this important move into the (Blackboard-driven) virtual classroom and to extend ones reach beyond the traditional classroom.

Iris Krasnow (SPExS)
Patricia Aufderheide (SOC)
Bobbe Baggio (SPExS)
Stephanie Brookstein (SOC/SPExS)

, , , , ,

Millennial Students and Community-Based Learning (CBL): A Perfect Match

Ann Ferren Conference Logo

2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #402:

Today’s college students crave exposure to and cultivation of “real-world experiences” that translates to the professional world. At the same time, they are seeking meaningful opportunities to “make a difference” in the world around them. The session is appropriate for all faculty—from those who have never taught a CBL course to those who are experienced in CBL, but want to explore new ideas and innovations. The goal of the session is to engage faculty in considering the unique interests and needs of today’s students and to introduce CBL course strategies to meet those needs. Additionally, two students who have engaged in a CBL course will share their experiences, its value, and impact. Specifically, the student panelists will describe CBL experiences with a local nonprofit organization, DC Doors.

Jolynn Gardner (CAS-DHS) (Chair)
Marcy Campos (Center for Community Engagement and Service)
McKinley Doty (Class of 2016)
Roshan Thomas (Class of 2017)

, , , , , , ,

The Rewards & Perils of Teamwork: Can It Be Taught?

Ann Ferren Conference Logo

2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #308:

How can teamwork and its real world payoffs be taught within an educational setting where individual effort rather than team output remains the primary source of evaluation and rewards? Can faculty go beyond the mechanics of team organization, incentives, and leadership to have our students learn how to be good team players? Can the norms that various cultures employ to solve the teamwork dilemma be taught within a university setting? Or, are they internalized at a much earlier stage within the family and community? Is there a common set of ethical precepts of teamwork and leadership that should be taught and discussed? This panel brings together multidisciplinary perspectives—from economics, sociology, business, and public administration—to discuss how educators can successfully bring into the classroom the varying real-world work contexts, incentive systems, and notions of fairness and justice that motivate successful teamwork.

Nimai Mehta (SPExS)
Anna Amirkhanyan (SPA-PUAD)
Dave Luvison(KSB-MGMT)
John Willoughby (CAS-ECON)
Gay Young (CAS-SOCY)