Friday, February 17, 2006

Discussion for Politics, Blogging for Composition

This will now be the second time we have piloted the discussion group with a Government class. The first time we ran our student's grades through a battery of statiscal methods to figure out if grades were affected by the presence of the discussion forum. Indeed they were. The course registered about a 15% increase in grades across the board. Now in its 2nd pilot, with the same courses but a different instructor and board format, I am eager to find what the numbers will say.

Because of the incredible success of our first board, I have decided to go ahead and engineer a similar tool that may be able to at least provide the same results but with students enrolled in English and Composition. I thought that perhaps a "discussion" would not be the best format for this crowd, but perhaps a "Blog" would be better suited.

Indeed, a blog would allow our aspiring writers to self-reflect and review each other and topics that they come across while participating in an English reading or writing class. I will go ahead and develop a blogger tool, modified enough so that it will fit well with the educational environment, and allow for instructors and myself to track all sorts of interesting data so we can measure if in fact students in reading or writing will show improvement as a result of being regular bloggers. This is by no means a small project, so look for our results in a few months.

What do you think? Discuss under comments -->

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Multimedia Off-topic

Well, another day has gone by. Now I get to go home and work on my multimedia hobby as of late. I recently acquired a TiVo on eBay for $35 bucks Series 2 with a 80 hrs of storage. After receiving the TiVo I discovered why it was so cheap: the modem was dead. If you don't know, TiVo requires to be setup through a phone line of all things, so it was impossible to setup the TiVo, until I discovered some "walk-troughs" (aka hacks) over at the TivoCommunity.com web site. It took a little doing but soon enough I had my TiVo hooked up to my computer through the serial port and the TiVo got on the Internet that way.

With the updates out of the way and the new TiVo OS version 7 (I think) I was able to put a Netgear wireless USB connector on it and now TiVo is on the network 24x7. After some more configuring I had the TivoToGo setup and now I could download all of my favorite shows to the PC (Stargate, La Femme Nikita, Futurama, and others). All of these downloaded as DRM protected MPEG2 files (TiVo Files) and with the commercials which were fully expected.

Long story short, I found this little cool program on the Internet (for 50 bucks) that does an awesome job of removing 90% of commercials from your MPEG2 files (including TiVo files if you install TiVo Desktop). It took about 5 minutes to learn and it allows to batch any number of MPEG files you need. Previously I had been using Nero 7 to manually remove the commercials but that simply took way too much time. Now, with VIDEOREDO I am able to process something like 10 TiVo files in less than 30 minutes and leave it be to batch processing so they become MPEG2 files. Once this process is done, I use AutoGK to convert everything to DivX and archive it on my server for later viewing. Its an absolutely addicting hobby, I had to go out and buy a SATA RAID 5 card and 4 300GB Maxtor SATA drives for a total of 850GB of safe storage for my videos and other things, such as the zillion number of pictures and MPEGS we record with my Cybershot. All in all, a worth while investment.

A Twist on the Uses of a Discussion Board

Yes, most people that are involved in education, especially distance education, have heard a zillion times about the "Discussion Board" and how it is supposed to connect you and your students. You'd be surprised at how many false starts and failed attempts I have seen with hybrid and online courses. But why? Why did it not work?

Here is the twist: Yes the technology is great for connecting people but how are you going about making that connection? What is motivating your students to come to the discussion and post?

In a recent experiement I assisted a Government instructor (the perfect victim of my experiment) in setting up a PHPBB forum for his classes. To my complete amazament, after only one week of class (mind you I work for a small college ~ 2,500 students) we had seen over 300 posts on the discussion. In contrast to the WebCT discussions that were simply not taking off at all. What is the difference?

The approach is the secret ingredient. The PHPBB forum allowed us to combine all sections of the same class under the same forum. This just about triplicated the number of members of the forum. It also created an unexpected side-effect: cross-polination of posts across different course sections (but same course). We could not have predicted how this effect would be so successful. To top it all off, discussion regarding current events that affect everyone in regards to politics and government.

The bait worked. The accessibility for all and the "hot topics" created basically a small discussion community. The success has been tremendous. Students are totally into discussing these topics in the board, but also in class; before class starts, after class ends, and moderated in class by the instructor. Because of the cross-section availability of the participants, some distance learning students that are within reach of our campus, have actually driven to sit in a live class so they could be part of the >>>> ongoing discussion.

The benefits are entirely obvious: reading, writing, research of issues, and critical thinking: form an opinion and defend your ground!

Hello World (of Education)

Today's mantra is: try it yourself before you convince your clients to use it. I am a Instructional Technology Designer for a small community college. The long title basically means: to empower others in enhancing their instruction through the use of new and innovative technologies. That's pretty much how my days at work go.

Often you don't hear alot about how technology is (supposed to be) enhancing education. As an engineer by trade (software) I am accustomed to devising solutions for clients that are easy-to-use and that address a problem. My client's current problem goes something like this: I have tried everything and I simply cannot reach my students. The solution is actually quite extensive, so hopefully with this blog I will be able to share with you, from an instructional, educational, and engineering perspective how I am progressing towards this solution.

By the way, don't expect to see the final results of this experiement in my life time, but feel free to draw your own conclusions and attempt the "experiements" yourself.

...and I simply could not end this first post without geeking out: echo "Hello World (of Education)";