Have Out-of-Class Groups Report Their Work to You via Video

I have my students work in groups fairly frequently.

Some of the most critical skills in my courses involve seeking and giving feedback on works in progress, and functioning in collaborative community.  Sometimes students work in pairs, sometimes in groups as big as five.  They might trade short portions of work for quick review, or spend hours discussing longer works.

In hybrid and online classes, I want this work to continue, so I need ways to assess it that don’t rely on my circling among working groups in a classroom.  After all, my online students are working in places and times of their own choosing, often long after I (a professor of middle age and a fairly boring life), have gone to bed!

How can I know that the groups met?  How can I find out what they did, what difficulties they encountered with the course concepts, what questions they need answered so that we can go forward?

My initial thoughts involved having students fill out a group report sheet, something that would ask the questions I had about their work and required the signatures of all present at the meeting.

That was okay, but they hated filling out the sheets and frankly, I didn’t much enjoy reading them.  They felt lifeless and led me to think the group work was failing.

But when I talked to them about their group work, they were excited and articulate.

Hmmm.  Maybe the group work isn’t the problem.  Maybe the reporting is the problem.

When I design pedagogical experiences, I consider students my “audience.”  So I asked myself, as I always do with anything I create to be read or experience by others, what does my audience value and how can I use that to achieve my purpose?

Eventually, I landed on the notion that students love selfies and video and to watch their peers’ productions of the same.

So I revised my group report assignment, which took very little effort.

Now, instead of writing group reports, my students film their reports on a phone or laptop webcam, at the end of their group meeting.

They have a specific list of questions from me which each person must answer in the course of the video.  They simply set the camera running, and pass the camera around as they answer them.  A group of four might create a video of six minutes or so (I have a maximum limit of 8).  They simply upload the video to one of their Google Drives and share it with me for viewing.

What a hit!  Students tell me they enjoy making the quick video reports, but as important, I love them–for several reasons.

First, students do a more complete job of articulating answers to my questions than they ever did using written forms–even though the questions are the same!

Second, I get to enjoy their personalities, which really come out when they create a video.

Third, because they are talking into a camera and I can observe non-verbal behaviors, I have found that I get a better sense of what they really do and don’t understand as they articulate their answers to my questions.

Fourth, I learn their names much faster if I do these early in the term.

Finally, reviewing the videos is actually fun for me.  The students are more relaxed and often very funny as they talk to me from a coffee shop or a dorm basement.  It takes me less than a half an hour to review an entire class’s worth of reports and it is a delight.

Next time you need groups of students to turn a report about their activities, consider having them create an informal video report, guided by a set of questions you devise.  See what you think of the results.

A Few More Tips for an Effective Online Presentation

Creating an effective presentation which students will encounter online is quite different from creating an effective presentation which students will encounter in your presence.

textbook and phone

Whether you are creating an online presentation based in video, slides, a website, an interactive infographic, or text, asking yourself these few questions can help you create something with which students will engage.

  • Why should your students bother to spend time on this (hot tip:  “because I told them to” is not a good answer)?  Have you articulated this for them?
  • Is the presentation seven minutes or less?
  • Have you organized the information in a clear way?
  • Does the presentation model the information given in some way?
  • Have you balanced the visual with the verbal?
  • Have you thought about visual patterning (colors, headlines, templates, etc) to provide unity?
  • If you have audio, is it loud and clear?
  • Will it work if your students watch it on a phone?
  • Can you name one thing about your presentation that will make your students smile?   Have you balanced purpose with personality?  Does it carry the same vibe as your in-person classes?

Keeping these tips in mind as you create your online presentations will challenge your pedagogical creativity with more positive results for students!

And remember:  if you ask students to create digital presentations, share these tips with them too!

Planning an Effective Online Presentation

Any presentation (whether online or in person) goes better with a little planning!  Such planning becomes even more important when the presentation will occur online in an asynchronous environment.

library cubicle

In other words, you create the presentation, but you have no idea exactly when or where your audience members will watch it.  You can’t gauge their immediate reactions, or see when their attention wanders.  Scary!

Basic organizational planning helps us create a presentation structure that engages readers/listeners from the start.

Think about your presentation in four focused sections:

  1. So what?
  2. Problem.
  3. Solution.
  4. Ramp out.

Here’s a bit more food for thought on each.

  1. The “So what?” is the reason why your audience members should bother spending time on your presentation.  Why will it be useful?  How does it excite curiosity or thought?
  2. The Problem identifies the question or challenge your audience members face, emphasizing what they need to know or be able to do to achieve success.  Forming this as a question can be more involving.
  3. The Solution provides the information needed to solve the problem.  The information should be well-organized and on target.
  4. The Ramp out reminds your audience what they should now know and be able to do, and gives them encouragement to go forth and do it.

And bonus:  I find that using this template helps me focus much better and actually reduces the amount of time it takes me to create a presentation (including this blog post!).

So, next time you are preparing a presentation of any sort for an audience, start with this simple four-part template and see how it helps you succeed.

Use Pixabay to Find Usable Images and Videos

Pixabay provides more efficient image searching that Google Images when I or my students are looking for image licensed for our use.

Snowy trees

The Pixabay website says:

Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.
You can copy, modify, distribute, and use the images, even for commercial purposes, all without asking for permission or giving credits to the artist. However, depicted content may still be protected by trademarks, publicity or privacy rights.

pine cone in snow

As you work with students this semester on digital projects which require images, why not point them to this resource?

Faux-pen Resources for Hope Students: Linking to Library Resources

Faux-pen Resources for Hope Students

Linking to Library Resources

by Jenifer Holman, Electronic Resources Librarian, Hope College

Van Wylen Library

Van Wylen Library has purchased or licensed access to many high-quality, academic journals, ebooks, ereference sources, and streaming videos.  Just having these great resources available through the library web site, however, is not enough to guarantee use. Having an instructor link to a resource through Moodle, electronic syllabi, or even through a class-specific email will increase the odds that students will find and read/view these resources. Librarians do ask that you link to these resources instead of sending a copy of an article or a book chapter. If you send a copy instead of linking, we will not be able to track the item’s use. Use is an important metric that we use in evaluating our collection of electronic resources.

Please remember two things as you link to library resources: 1) always use a persistent/stable link; and 2) remember to add our proxy prefix to enable off-campus access.

Finding a Persistent/Stable Link

This is a session link taken from a browser’s address bar:


While it works for awhile on the same machine on which it was first used, by the time you are reading this on your device, it may no longer work. Most of our information providers provide a “persistent” link that should work in perpetuity. Below are some example of how to find the persistent links for our most popular e-resource providers.





Films on Demand





Off-campus Access: Adding our Proxy Prefix:

Libraries use two main methods to authenticate off-campus users: WAM and EZproxy.  WAM links look like:


While EZproxy links look like:


During summer 2016, our library switched from WAM to EZproxy. If you have any links that start with “http://0-” please update them or ask a librarian for a new link. Librarians are here to help!

We now use EZproxy and our prefix is https://login.ezproxy.hope.edu/login?url=. To keep this prefix at your fingertips (!) you could download a macro program like AutoHotKey and create a macro or simply link to our fantastic off-campus link generator.

Lastly, if you would like a librarian to review your links/resources to make sure they are linked correctly and that we hold the appropriate permissions for use in your course, please let us know by completing this brief form.

Thank you for using library resources!



Three Quick Tips for Your Moodle Gradebook!

To help your Moodle gradebook run as smoothly as possible this semester, there are few quick things you can do now.  Implementing these will eliminate many potential problems later in the term.
TIP # 1:  If you are using a brand new Moodle course (it has not been cloned)leave the gradebook aggregation method set to natural.   This is the default.  Weights and other things actually work better this way!  The Moodle Basics video series (especially episodes 14-18) available on the CIT Help page walks you through the process of adding weights without changing the aggregation. Or we are happy to help you with a private appointment or at a drop-in session.
TIP #2:  If you have cloned a course,  reset the aggregation settings to natural. Check out this new Moodle Basics video!  It walks you through these steps in about 2 minutes.
TIP #3:  f you have cloned a course, delete any assignments you are not going to use in this semester’s version of the course.  “Hidden” assignments can cause a lot of gradebook trouble.
Enjoy your semester!

Designing Out-of-Class Group Work For Success

One of many benefits I have discovered while teaching hybrid courses comes from improved group work.

My students do lots of group work both in and outside of physical class meetings.  I’m learning that when they meet during the hybrid time, for highly-structured group assignments on their own, at times and locations of their choosing, they seem to do better work.

Yes, I really just said that my students do better group work on their own than in the classroom.  That was a surprise to me.

Throughout most of my career I’ve run small group discussions in classes.  In person, I rely on my presence to keep students motivated and to assess how they are doing.  While they work, I monitor by circling among the groups, listening in, answering questions, clarifying.  At the end, I favor whole class debriefing, so that we can build discussions out of challenges or insights.

This method works just fine in person, but it certainly won’t work for hybrid learning experiences, where my students are doing group work without me present.  (I learned that very quickly.  You don’t want to go there.)

Out-of-class group work, like everything successful in online and hybrid pedagogy, needs careful design so that the work challenges students, connects them to other aspects of the course, engages them in a meaningful way, and holds them accountable to quality work.

It took some trial and error!  How you design your students’ group experiences depends utterly on what outcomes you want them to achieve, but I think the steps might help you think about to proceed.

1. Determine Outcomes
What do you want students to know and/or be able to do at the end of your course?  What do you want them to know and/or be able to do as a result of this group work?  How do these things connect?  Does this mean you want your group members to meet physically or can the group work be completed online?  If online, does it have to be synchronous or can it be asynchronous?  Written or in video conference?  You want to be able to articulate this to yourself as it will influence all the rest of your decisions.

2.  Identify Any Prework
Is there anything students need to do, or bring with them, to be ready for the group work?  Read a chapter?  Draft a poem?  Complete an essay and create copies for all group members?  Spell this out–and the timeline for its completion.

3.  Outline Group Process
Exactly what is the process they should follow?  Connect to other lessons or reading if you want them to synthesize.  Include a timeline for the work.  Include assigned roles.  Include time for them to go over the group process together before they begin.  Include time for them to create the group report (more on this in the next blog post).

4.  Create the Assignment for Assessment
At the end of the group work, what will students be able to share with you that proves the success of their work together, growth in what they know and/or are able to do?  The shape of this assessment depends entirely on the outcomes you identified for the group work.  It can be anything from a major collaborative project to a simple report out.  As you design the group session, remember to include the time it will take to do this, and to consider whether you want it to be part of the group session, individual homework, part of another group session, or work to be done during an in-person class session.

5.  Review and Revise
Now that you have drafted your ideas for what you want student group work to look like, you need to look at it all again, to re-vision it.  Does the assessment align with the outcomes?  Are all of the steps in the process clear?  This is a good point at which to time the steps, and to make sure your students can do it well in the allotted amount of time–usually the time of a normal in-person class period.  Remember to include the assignment or report out as part of the timing.

6.  Create Directions
Write up the directions you will give to students, including the amount of time you expect them to spend on each step.  Sleep on it, then look at it again.  Are you missing anything?

7.  Test Drive
Before setting students loose to do their group work outside of the in-person classroom, I find it valuable to test drive my instructions, and to train students about the process and expectations, by running the first workshop in person.  I try to do this even if they will be working online–they simply bring their computers to class and do the work. This gives you the opportunity to assure that your instructions are clear and that your expectations can be met in the time frame you delineated.  And it gives students a chance to work through the new process and ask any questions.  This way, when they do the work outside of class (and independent of you) for the first time, they can focus on the learning and not have the new process get in the way.

Whether you want your groups to meet in person or online outside of class, special attention to purpose and design, along with a bit of careful training, really pays off in terms of the quality of work students will produce as well as their increased satisfaction with the value of the group work that they complete.

As so often happens for me, what I have learned from my hybrid and online teaching experiences have made my in-class process even better.  This comes from the increased attention to every aspect of an assignment that comes with the requirements for designing a pedagogical experience that must work without my immediate presence.  I no longer have the luxury of carrying an idea in my head into the classroom and refining as we meet–I have to work it out completely for students to experience successfully, even if they are working at 2:00 in the morning!