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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.

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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, 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.

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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.

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Communicating Research through Visual Storytelling

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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)

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

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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)

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Enhancing Instruction with Kaltura: Faculty Perspectives on Developing Multimedia Assets

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2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #207:

Part 1

Part 2

Used effectively, multimedia can have a powerful and transformative effect on teaching and learning. This panel discussion seeks to inspire faculty to develop their own instructional assets using AU’s Kaltura video-capture tool. Following an interactive brainstorming session and brief overview of multimedia’s pedagogical value, faculty members representing a range of disciplines showcase the ways in which they have created and used video to enhance and support their teaching. Through these examples, participants explore different strategies for delivering content, engaging students, and assessing learning using self-produced media assets. This session is appropriate for experienced instructors seeking new ideas as well as those who are just starting to consider creating instructional assets with Kaltura.

Joy Adams(Library)
Katie Kassof (Library)
Solange Garnier-Fox (CAS-WLC)
Richard Linowes (KSB-MGMT)
Tovah Salcedo (CAS-BIO)

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Faculty Use of Social Media as Researchers and Public Intellectuals

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2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #101:

Faculty are increasingly using social media and blogs to share their research findings with a broader public. This session examines ways that faculty can maximize the impact of their online presence. The session also looks to share with colleagues potential drawbacks of social media.

Andrew Lih (SOC)
Naomi S. Baron (CTRL and CAS-WLC)
Terry Davidson (CAS-PSYC)

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Using EndNote Web to Enhance Your Teaching and Research

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2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session T8:

This session introduces faculty members and graduate students to EndNote Web as a tool for enhancing teaching and research. Known as a program for saving and managing references, EndNote Web has additional features that facilitate student collaboration on research projects and allow researchers to connect and share resources. EndNote can even play matchmaker by suggesting journals for manuscript submission. This session covers the basics of setting up an EndNote Web account and building a collection of references and then moves on to these wider possibilities. The presenters hope to inspire colleagues to incorporate this versatile program into their work with students and research partners. Please bring your own laptop or borrow one from the library for this hands-on experience.

Melissa Becher (Library)
Mindy Ford (Library)
Mary Mintz(Library)

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Filmmaking at Your Fingertips

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2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session T7:

This session focuses on how you can help your students take better photographs and videos for class projects, regardless of your field. Most students coming into the university these days have already had some video making and certainly photography. But our expectations for what visual media should look like and how it should communicate a clear message is greater than what the students have created (generally). So to help increase the chances of success for you and your students, this workshop will provide tips and tricks for improving the quality of sound and images from the smartphone/tablet. As importantly, we will also provide you with tips and tricks to create visual stories with impact.

Larry Engel (SOC)
Kyle Brannon (SOC)

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Outline for Advanced Stata Workshop

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On Friday, October 2nd, CTRL is offering it’s first ever all-day Stata training event. The workshop will go from 10:20 am to 4:45pm, with a light lunch served in the early afternoon. The full agenda for the workshop is below. Attendees do not need to be present for the entire time.

To register and see the other workshops we offer, go to


Session 1: 10:20 -11:20 am

  • Stata basics
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 1.1
  • Data management
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 1.2
  • Workflow – Hands-on demonstration
  • OLS Regression Analysis
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 1.3

Break: 11:20 – 11:30 am

Session 2: 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

  • Discrete Choice Regression Analysis
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 2.1
  • Multinomial Regression Analysis
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 2.2

Light Lunch: 12:30– 1:00 pm

Session 3: 1:00 -2:15 pm

  • Time Series Regression Analysis
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 3.1.
  • Panel Data Regression Analysis
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 3.2

Break: 2:15 – 2:25 pm

Session 4: 2:25 – 3:50 pm

  • Survey Data, Systems of Linear Regressions, GLS/FGLS/WLS
    • Hands-on demonstration
    • Exercise 3.2
  • Stata Tips and Tricks
    • Hands-on demonstration
  • Stata Programing (Simulation & Matrix)
    • Hands-on demonstration

Session 5: Question and Answers Opportunities will Follow as Desired until 5 pm



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