Step 1: Finding an Open Textbook

I have been interested in using an Open Textbook since I heard about them last year. The idea appeals to me – you can choose your content, students can have the text as a PDF , online or a printout, it is open sourced. All of these things appeal to me. The difficulty? Working out HOW to do this when no one else in my department is using them (at the moment), So, for this weeks blog, I thought I would explore how easy it is to start the process – find & evaluate – an open source text for my Biology class. For more information on why Open Textbooks are important, check out this short  video about Why Open Education Matters


Step 1: Where to start
I need to decide where to start my search for a textbook. For me, this was the easiest part. I want to support a local initiative (BC is leading the way for Canada). BCcampus has been working on first year Biology textbook which is suitable for a Adult Education (grade 12 equivalent) course. BCcampus also has a resources page full of other open texts in case I cannot find one I like though them.Step 2: Get Informed
Before I started looking at the biology texts, I thought I better get informed on how to adopt an open textbook for a class. I read through a faqs page. There is a 101 page with an overview of the steps involved and a more detailed page full of information specific to BCcampus. I am now feeling a little more overwhelmed. I need to look at the textbooks to see if there is one suitable for my class.  If I find one, then I can worry about how to adopt an Open Textbook, if not then I will move my search to another place.

Picture Step 3: Finding a text
There are three different first year biology textbooks. I was expecting one, so this is a pleasant surprise. As I look through the three choices, only one seems to be appropriate for the content that I teach which emphasizes the Cell and Human Biology. Taking a look at the Table of Contents, all the topics that I talk about in class seem to be present. There is only one small section missing which could easily be done as a separate course-ware package. The next step for me is to evaluate the textbook itself to see if the content level is appropriate. I will focus on that for next week as I suspect it will take a bit of time!

Non-LMS Toolkit

I am a recent convert to Google+. I have started using it in the past year and thoroughly and completely love it. I am addicted to checking out my communities at least every day, if not more. I quite like Twitter, Diigo and others but not in the way I enjoy Google+. I do not have a Gmail address, I like to keep that separate, but I have used almost everything else Google has to offer. Thus, when presented with the challenge of building a non-LMS (Learning Management System, platforms like Moodle and D2L) that would support a community of learners, once part was quite clear; my central hub would be Google+, other tools would branch from there.


Google Communities: Most discussion, information, notices would be housed in a Google community. The advantage to using this as the dashboard is the ability to create subcategories to help learners finding the information that they need. There are a variety of different ways to search for posts (person, subcategory, hashtag…) that make information easy to find. This is where students would go first.


Google drive: Most content would be housed with Google drive. It has fantastic file sharing capabilities suitable for a group of people. An individual learner can download a copy of an assignment, notes, review package etc. and modify it as they need. They could also upload any assignments for grading. Peer evaluation is also straight forward as the author of the piece could share any work with another for feedback before ultimately handing it in.


Google Calendar: The calendar function the Google offers would work as learners can import an initial calendar of dates provided by the instructor. Further events can be added by the community (such as a synchronous meeting time or a peer meeting) and accepted by those who are involved. Google Calendar is able to be synched to a mobile making it easier for people to remember important dates. Birthdays are also put on the calendar (option for each user) supporting a sense of community as people can send birthday wishes.
What I like about Google+ is the way it incorporates a variety of tools in one location. I makes it easy for both students and educators as a starting place. Many people use Google in their daily life (hence the term ‘googling’) thus the learning curve isn’t too steep. Google alone, however, will not provide all the tools that are needed for a robust learning experience. For that one must move to other tools.


Collaborate: Moving away from the Google world, I would use Collaborate as way to meet synchronously. I like how customizable the site is as students can not only watch a presentation from the instructor, a guest, or students, but also be subdivided in to breakout rooms for smaller group activities. As each participant can upload a picture and chat in a text-box, a sense of community is built as students can put ‘faces to names’. Collaborate also offers large flexibility for instructor control of who, or how many, can speak, who can draw or show images etc.


Twitter: Twitter is a fantastic way for people to stay connected. Students can connect with other students, with the instructor, and with experts in the field. What is fantastic about twitter is it can be used both synchronously and asynchronously, for community building and content sharing. Students who wish to participate solely for content can check certain times to get the latest information. Others may wish to tweet for community building reasons or have a discussion about a topic. Calls for help can be quickly answered by the instructor or peers. Study sessions can be built at unexpected times. If a couple of students happen to be at the library, they can put the word out for more to join them.


Engrade: After a bit of searching, and some peer recommendations, the grade book I would likely use would be Engrade. It is free, seems to be quite customizable, and simple to use. There is an added benefit that multiple choice quizzes can be given from this site. Depending on the course, this may be a good way to provide some quick feedback to see if students are grasping the material.


For another assessment tool Socrative seems like a good choice. It lets an instructor create multiple choice, true-false and short answer quizzes. It also lets an instructor set up an ‘exit ticket’ to assess students understanding at the end of a class.


Padlet: Padlet is a great way for a class to work on a collaborative assignment. It is easy to learn and use. As a community wall can be built, it would work well at the start of the course for community building exercises. Later it could be used to house student information about a topic, or as a graffiti wall for a brain storming activity. It is useful both synchronously and asynchronously.

There are a myriad of tools available to an educator to create a rich and vibrant on-line world that either does not require an LMS or enhances it. No one place is enough to create a deep learning experience so an on-line educator must be prepared to explore the possibilities.

D2L Musings

I was very apprehensive to use D2L when VIU switched from Moodle. I was very comfortable in Moodle. It was a warm, cozy nest where I tucked all my learning materials for students. I had only used D2L once before, without any training and so took an instant, and arbitrary, dislike of it.
         VIU decided to switch to D2L as D2L houses Canadian student information on Canadian soil. I agree that this is good, but I was dragged in to the new Learning Management System (LMS) at the last minute and unwillingly. I liked my Nest!
         Now, of course, I wonder what all my issues were about. I enjoy D2L and find it very robust! It does what I want it to in a variety of ways. No longer do I have a cozy nest tucked full of interesting things but now I feel like I am a creator of a gathering place. Not only are there books, but there are areas for creative discussion, assessment, places to hand in work. It feels bright, open and airy.
        Part of these changes may be the way I have grown while taking the OLTD courses, but part is also the way I can use D2L to create a community of learners. It enhances learning rather than driving it.

What I like about D2L:

  • It can do so many things! I can post notes, create a quiz, start a discussion, have a dropbox for work, email, keep grades, make a checklist….
  • I really love the gradebook. Students can have access to it if you wish and so can see what work is outstanding. Since starting to use the gradebook this semester I have not had to answer once, “What grade am I getting?” “What work do I need to hand in?”
  • I can completely organize all my files in to neat and tidy folders. I just learned how to do this and I am very excited to try it out. My previous filing system was very haphazard (stick it somewhere and try to find it after)

What I dislike about D2L

  • The lack of control on the appearance! I cannot adjust my frontpage. The colours I use are chosen for me. This does, however, create consistency between the different VIU classes

I am really happy that I have learned more about D2L through taking OLTD 504 as I am implementing a bunch of changes for intersession.

LMS Jigsaw – part 2

WHAT A MORNING! I just finished participating in the D2L jigsaw activity. From 9:30am  – 12 pm we had a fabulous (if long) time of learning all about D2L. I am classes with a fantastic group of educators. I am fortunate to be given the opportunity to be taking this OLTD programme.This demonstrated  how effective a collaborative learning exercise can be. I work with D2L with my classes at VIU so I had an advantage that I new quite a bit about the LMS before we started but I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know! I learned a bunch of new ways of doing things on the platform that I am excited to try out in the new semester.

I do wonder though, what would this activity have been like if there was a student who chose not to participate? We would have missed out on one entire important aspect of the course. Still, I would have been responsible for learning less by myself so I still think a jigsaw activity is an advantageous way to learn. I am glad that I have participated in one online. I will have to think how to incorporate a jigsaw activity in to a blended class when we don’t meet asynchronously. I probably will have learning the components before class online, then doing the jigsaw during class, face-to-face.

Still – Thanks to all of my group. You made this enjoyable and FUN. I will say, it isn’t easy going last after everyone did such an impressive job!


Now it is time for tea


Recently I have been exploring on-line tools to simplify my digital life. One that I used is Diigo, a site which bookmarks journal articles. It can do a lot more than that, but for the moment, having an on-line space where I can bookmark journal articles & highlight relevant phrases is very convenient.

The neat aspect of Diigo is I don’t need to remember my flashdrive, I don’t have to print out a million pages, and I don’t have to use the same computer every time I need my bookmarks. It is much easier to remember one website than a whole bunch of them. My bookmark list on my personal computer can be overwhelming, I don’t really need to add journal articles to it.

Diigo acts like my cell phone in some ways. My cell keeps all the information I need in one space, Diigo keeps everything I think that I may need in one place. I know that for my OLTD classes, this site will be helpful. I suspect that in the future it will be a great help in my professional life as any interesting sites I wander upon I can have for future teaching opportunities

Digital Communication Tools

The type of tools that are used in a digital class are very important as they contribute to the success and failure of your students. I think it is incredibly important to consider who your typical student is and how your typical class is structured. This allows an educator to determine whether synchronous or asynchronous etools are better and allow the instructor to choose the better platforms.

In my class, most students are adults returning after a break or pause in their education. Most work full or part time and have families to support. The typical class at Vancouver Island University (VIU) is face-to-face though the department fully supports moving to a blended model. Thus for my students, asynchronous etools are the better option. Many students struggle with coming to class as it is, a synchronous option would not be a good choice.

Although many students are eliterate, quite a few are not. Any etools would have to have introductory assignments to introduce the students to the system. Additional support may also be needed. I am also fortunate that there are computers available for student use 24 hours a day, in the VIU library as not all learners have internet access or computers at home.

Currently in my class I am using a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) called Desire to Learn (D2L). Within D2L students are currently expected to participate in discussion boards. They are required to post questions or internet links and respond to two other student’s links. I am planning soon to require the use of microblogging, probably Twitter, as the asynchronous nature allows students to participate when it is convenient to them. As the assignment I am planning is quite comprehensive, it will not be created until September 2014.

While reading the OLTD 503 text by Kear (2011) I was intrigued by the idea of podcasting. Many student own MP3 players. This would allow them to “learn-on-the-go”. For visual learners, the podcast could be accompanied by a PDF or PowerPoint with images that correspond to the audio. I may try this for an upcoming lecture on Mitosis and Meiosis.

Kear, K. (2011). Online and social networking communities: A best practice guide for educators. New
York, NY: Routledge.

Twitter in the classroom

Evidence: Technology implementation plan

Learning outcomes:

  • Develop practical and technical skills in all phases of concept, development, design, implementation, etc. for blended and online learning environments.
  • Demonstrate basic competency with design and implementation within blended and online learning environments.

I have been thinking about introducing Twitter into the class for sometime but have never got around exploring the research to see the benefit of using a microblogging tool in the classroom. I also never thought about designing a plan of implementation. I suspect I would have just tried to ‘wing it’. This evidence is a plan for implementing Twitter into a class and as a possible longer-term project.

Introducing a new technology as an early innovator is quite a bit of work so it is really important to have a clear, detailed plan before starting. Not only do you need details for how the tool will be used, but you need to develop a concept, a reason for why the tool is being used and what is be pedagogy behind it. It is also important to use the tool quite a bit before starting as the educator needs to be an ‘expert’ in it so students feel confident asking questions.

While I have not yet used Twitter in the classroom, having a tool to be able to converse with students (and students converse with each other) outside of an LMS or email really extend the breadth of the class. In terms of my teaching practice, this project really emphasized how important a detailed plan is when new tools are being introduced to the class, or to the school


Download File