Archive for December, 2010

Voki animated avatar recording

As an experiment, I created an avatar and recorded an audio message using, a free avatar creation site. I plan to use this message in the first week of my Social Science 101 online course.

Unfortunately, Voki limits recorded messages to 60 seconds each and does not provide for uploading of a photo, although it allows for uploading of the short audio recordings. A better, much more complete personal avatar service is provided by, but it charges about $10 a month or more.

Here is the link to my Social Science 101 introduction:

Here is the link to by Humanities 186 introduction:


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New way of conducting a video chat

It is now possible to conduct a cool video chat using  the Xbox 360’s Video Kinect system and Microsoft Messenger.

Dick Eastman, a tech-savvy professional genealogist, writes in his latest newsletter:

“Inside the Kinect is a 640-by-480-pixel video camera, four microphones, and several infrared sensors. Notice the words ‘video camera.’ This thing will work as a high-quality webcam. Keep in mind that it does not require a Windows or Macintosh computer. Instead, the Xbox 360 connects to standard television sets, even that new 53-inch plasma set that may be in your living room. The Xbox 360 also connects to the Internet, either through a wired connection or a wireless wi-fi connection. All you need is a bit of software. Of course, Microsoft supplies the needed software as well. In fact, the required software is included at no additional charge.”

See the demonstration video here:

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23 things

A successful online educator needs to have a wide knowledge of technology and must be adept at using technology to communicate and provide instruction for students. The instructor needs to be flexible and open to new experiences in order to adjust to new developments in educational technology and media. Here are some of the things that online teachers need to learn:

1. The basics. First of all, every teacher needs to be familiar with such essentials as word processing on the computer; creating, saving and revising documents; navigating their computer in order to find, relocate and upload documents; sending and receiving e-mail; and exploring the internet using a browser and search engine to conduct online research.

2. Course management system. Online educators need to know how to use effectively the online course management system provided by their institution. Moodle, Blackboard, Angel and other similar formatted frameworks offer many useful tools for providing instruction to students.

3. Synchronous communication. To add a more personal touch to the mostly asynchronous, impersonal environment of online courses, instructors should offer some opportunities for live synchronous communication and collaboration. This can be done through the course management system’s chat tool or through an outside provider such as Elluminate Live! Ten ways of using Elluminate Live! are describe in this document:

4. Asynchronous collaboration. Online instructors should learn to participate in and contribute to asynchronous forms of collaboration, such as wikis and discussion forums, both of which are usually included as part of an online course management system. For those who want to go outside the CMS, a free wiki creation site can be found here:!

5. Weblogs. Educators should at least consider creating a blog to publish relevant comments about course-related topics. Weblog sites provide opportunities for students and others to respond to the original posts and for the blogging instructors to answer those responses. Students can be assigned to create their own blogs. This can be done as part of the CMS or at such a site as

6. Video creation. Online learning can be enhanced by adding video to the usually more static course web site. This accomplishes two things: adding a more personal touch by allowing the students to see the instructor, and catering to the needs of different learning styles. YouTube at provides an easy platform for displaying video online, including the option of keeping it private from search engines. Once a video has been uploaded, it can be made available to students by sharing a link or embedding coding within a course web site.

7. Recording slide presentations. While PowerPoint presentations can easily be uploaded to a course web site for students to click through on their own, an alternative is to record the presentation including the instructor’s voice. This can be done with software that can be purchased online, such as Camtasia. A less expensive alternative is Movea, which is explained here:

8. Reality simulations. For some courses, web-based reality simulations can add interest for students by using avatars in specific locations or situations that are presented in virtual reality. Such tools can be used as alternatives to synchronous chat sessions or live class meetings. Second Life at is among the sites that can be used in this way.

9. Online conferences. Another substitute for live classroom meetings is online conference sessions. These virtual meetings can be organized through VenueGen at , DimDim at or Big Blue Button at

10. Podcasts/audio recordings. Lectures can be recorded and posted within a course web site or on an outside site or e-mailed to students. Like videos, this is another way of personalizing course content and serving students with different learning styles. Audacity is one free program that can be used for making audio recordings. Tutorials for using Audacity can be found at . An alternative for brief recordings, AudioBoo, can be found at

11. Social networking. Online educators need to know about social networking on the internet and the fact that such sites can be used for much more than staying in contact with friends and family. A comprehensive list of such sites can be found at . Here is a blog post about educational uses of  Facebook:

12. Twitter. A form of social networking is provided by Twitter at , which enables participates to write short messages of no more than 140 characters that are posted online and may be sent or received on smart phones. Digital journalism students’ reactions to using Twitter are posted here:

13. Quizzes. Exams and quizzes are usually provided through the online course management system, but there are outside alternatives such as or

14. Surveys. Online opinion survey sites can be used to gauge student reactions to a course, as an alternative to quizzes, and as an event scheduling tool. These include , or

15. Graphic visualizations. Online instructors can improve their teaching by using graphics based on statistics. Enhanced graphics can make a stronger impression on young learners than more traditional means such as lists of facts or tables of numbers. Many Eyes, at , is a site that allows anyone to upload a data set and create all sorts of graphic visualizations based on the data.

16. Maps. Geographical comparisons can be illustrated by presenting statistical data within maps. At maps of countries are resized based on statistics.

17. Content analysis. Text-based or theme-related courses, such as literature, English composition and political science, can be improved through content analysis. One site that offers a visual form of content analysis by creating a “word cloud,” which illustrates the most used and least used words of a text, can be found at

18. Personalized search engines. If an online instructor wants to help students focus on certain online content, he or she can provide them with a search tool that will only consider specific pre-selected web sites. Rollyo at offers this option. Once the specific sites have been identified, the instructor can generate computer code that can be easily embedded in the online course web site to provide the students with a search box.

19. Social bookmarking. Online instructors can share course-related web sites with students. This can be done at or at

20. RSS feeds. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) can be used to communicate with students about course content, deadlines and other announcements. Instructors who use RSS need to learn how to generate the feeds and need to ensure that the students know how to subscribe to them. An explanation of this technology can be found at

21. Texting. Many students already have smart phones or personal digital devices that can send and receive text messages. While many institutions use this as a means of disseminating emergency messages, instructors may also wish to use texting to send reminders to students. A blog post that discusses this can be found at . If an instructor does not have a cell phone, text messages can be sent from a computer at

22. Using photos. Online instructors need to know how to take digital photos, the basics of photo editing, such as cropping and resizing, and where to find free or low-cost photos that can be used as clip art to help illustrate online course content. Most computers or digital cameras come with easy-to-use photo editing software.  Jasc Paint Shop Pro is a good program that can be purchased for more sophisticated photo editing tasks.

23. eBooks. Instructors should know where to find digital books to supplement course content. Many such books are free because they are beyond their copyright. They may be downloaded or viewed in a variety of formats for reading or listening to. These sites include the following: ,, , , , and


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What is ‘self-plagiarism’?

I had never heard of self-plagiarism until early this year when I started working for the University of Phoenix, which officially considers it an academic violation.

I think it is a policy that should be taken with a grain of salt. If I found a student was guilty of self-plagiarism, I would consider very carefully the circumstances of the offense before reporting it as an academic violation.

If the self-plagiarism was done to avoid doing the required work, such as by simply regurgitating all or most of a paper the student wrote for another course, then I would probably report it and award zero points for the assignment. On the other hand, If the assignment excerpted part of a previous paper within a mostly original paper demonstrating that the student did the work required for the assignment, then I would not report it as a violation but might reduce the point total a bit.

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The battle against plagiarism

In an attempt to discourage plagiarism, starting with courses that begin in January, the University of Phoenix is going to require that when students upload written assignments, they also upload a one-page signed Certificate of Originality. Although this is required, no provision has been made to punish students who fail to upload the signed certificate unless they actually are found to have committed plagiarism. Certificate of Originality

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Diigo account of saved web site favorites is the link to my listing of just a few of the web sites that I have found interesting. I have  provided tags that help categorize the topics of the sites.

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Audacity tutorials

Tutorials for using Audacity can be found at

I have used this program to easily make audio recordings of myself reading the weekly recaps for my City Colleges of Chicago online course, Social Science 101WW. These Wav files, which are available to students through our course web site, can be downloaded and listened to on an MP3 player.

One student responded with the following e-mail:

“Mr Fischer. Great idea placing the weekly recaps on audio. Thanks for taking the time to record all them for us. I dropped them onto my ipod and I listen to them while driving to work. It should help me with test #3 next week. Thanks again.”

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