Category Archives: learning

Exploring Interactive Text

The writing tool telescopic text came up in one of our team conversations recently, this led to a longer conversation about text and various ways in which text is represented online. This conversation made me flash back to Bret Victor’s idea of “explorable explanations” In his 2011 article he asks the question:

what does it mean to be an active reader?

In his essay Bret Victor  suggests three possible ways to facilitate active reading:

  • reactive documents: these allow the reader to play with the author’s assumptions and analyses, and see the consequences.
  • explorable examples: these make the abstract concrete, and allows the reader to develop an intuition for how a system works.
  • contextual examples: these allow the reader to learn related material just-in-time, and cross-check the author’s claims.parable




Other similar interactive visualizations can be found on

While these examples point to interesting ways to engage learners, the problem is the skills required to create such resources. Tools such as telescopic text are relatively easier to use and don’t require any special skill or knowledge to use. On the other hand creating an interactive like the parable of polygons requires some coding skills. In order for faculty to embrace and adopt  the tools will have to become more user friendly. An example of a user friendly resource is keshif  a data browser which allows users to visualize and explore data. The only step needed is to upload data via a particular format via Google Docs.  Currently I’m interested in exploring user friendly tools that can be used to augment text  to encourage active learning. Crossfilter and dc.js are two tools I’m exploring right now.

WP video tutorials

Over the past week I have spoken to some faculty folks concerned about their students not being able to cope with the technical demands of setting up their first blog. I tend to point out that they might have students who have already used a rampages blog for other classes and even if they do not,  rampages(wordpress) has a couple of useful videos that can be accessed through the dashboard. I noticed that this link can be easily overlooked. I thought a short post with an annotated image might be helpful to point to folks in the future. Hopefully students will find this a useful tip when setting up their sites initially.
To access the tutorial videos , make sure you are logged into your site go to dashboard>video tutorials. Clicking on any topic will launch a short informative video.






Sharing images with Google+ Events

This week  my colleagues and I went out on a Photo Safari around Monroe Park, it was quite interesting because for once I was actually taking my time to notice things that I usually pass by without thinking twice. The Photo Safari also reminded me of a neat little feature in Google+ which easily gets overlooked but is an easy way of sharing images. In some ways its similar to Apple’s photo sharing through iCloud but has the advantage of being cross platform.  So here is my little how to on using Google+ to share images

The first thing to do is go to your Google+ page,  create an event and invite guests (or you can choose to make it public) and turn on the option that enables guests to add photos to the event.


Next anyone participating in the “event” needs to download the Google+ app  for Android or iOS


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When you’re logged into the app go to “events” and you can check in and then add photos to the event. Now all you have to do is to click on add photos and select the camera icon. Any images you take are automatically added to the Google Event page resulting in a live stream of event photos.

The Event Photos page (below) shows the images in chronological order.

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The highlights page shows the most commented upon images


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So there you have it an easy way to share images with Google+ events..

Tablets can be more than entertainment devices

“Tablets are for entertainment purposes, not for writing papers and doing class projects—key components of higher education ” (Michael Hanley, Ball State’s Institute for Mobile Media Research)

The quote above is from an article  shared by my colleague Britt, the main crux of this piece is that students view tablets as entertainment devices and not tools for learning. This research is based on 10 years of studying media consumption by young adults.

While I agree that tablets are great for entertainment purposes, I think they have potential beyond the entertainment factor.  Tablets are tools and like any other tool their value and effectiveness is dependent on how we imagine creative ways  to use them. Thus the way in which we conceive of them as useful or not in education depends on our own imagination.

In thinking through this I was reminded of Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model of technology integration


Substitution: technology being used as a direct replacement/substitute for what we already do with no functional change.

Augmentation: Technology is used as a substitute but with functional improvement over what you used to do without the technology.

Modification: The use of technology allows for significant task redesign

Redefinition: Technology enables what was previously not possible

How does that apply here? well students like everyone else will tend to use tools in ways that reflect previous practices. So most students according to the article use their smartphones for watching video and accessing social media. Accordingly they view tablets as serving the same purpose as their smartphones.

But can we blame students if their instructors do not model ways in which they can use their devices for educational purposes?

How can faculty leverage these devices to provide students with authentic student centered learning experiences relevant to the digital, networked age we live in?  

It starts with the question what can I do with these devices that I couldn’t do before?