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johnmartin's picture

Education is Losing


It's exceptionally sad to me to see a 141 year old magazine, Popular Science, shutting off commenting on its website because the effect that trolling comments is actually having on shaping people's opinions about the issues presented. We can help.
People still fear trolls. Or, at least, they avoid them. Maybe they cross the river at other bridges, or decide not to cross the river at all?
It is precisely this type of story that motivates me to implement activities such as the Collaborative (T)Role-driven Reading Response. UW-Madison students, like others in higher education (and all students, I'd argue) should be able to negotiate past the trolls as they sift and winnow
I invite you to help me think through and develop more of these and other crucial "non-academic"  skills.
John Martin
johnmartin's picture

Student photos straight to D2L via Blogger widget

D2L BloggerLast year, as a way to encourage that my first-semester freshmen get out and meet people beyond their residence hall, I made them go to the UW-Madison student organization fair and  take selfies of themselves with the booth people, then insert the photos into a Google doc that was shared among the class. They had to do at least two, but then I gave them something like 5 points for every pic after.

To complete the assignment, they had to: 

  1. get up the nerve to actually engage the booth person, and tell them their stupid instructor is making them do this stupid thing (I enjoyed being an excuse)
  2. take the pic with camera or phone
  3. email or download the pic to their computer
  4. open the Google doc, and
  5. insert the pic (worked well on Chrome and Safari; didn't work in IE.) 

It was a bit of a pain. But we all learned something from it. I learned that I need to simplify it.

So, this year, I've embedded a Google Apps Blogger feed widget in D2L, and anyone in the class can post to it via email. Now, to complete the assignment, they:
  1. get up the nerve to actually engage the booth person, and tell them their stupid instructor is making them do this stupid thing (I enjoyed being an excuse)
  2. take the pic with phone or iPod/iPad/tablet
  3. email directly to the blogger email address, which I'll have them put in their contacts in class, and we'll probably use it for more assignments.
The photograph, titled by the email's subject line will immediately show up on the Blogger blog, which is also embedded as an iframe widget into the course D2L site. Hopefully, pics of their classmates will motivate them to go to the course site to see what others have posted, and while they're there, they can be reminded of other course content.

padletSo, there's this tool, called Padlet, and it's basically a magnetic note board. You can make a board and send people to the URL, and they can double-click on it and add notes that can contain:

  • a title 
  • text
  • links (with thumbnails of the linked site!),
  • documents (with thumbnails of the document!), 
  • video from webcam (though I haven't gotten it to work yet)

So, it's pretty cool, and I can imagine it being used to showcase — all in one spot — a collaborative collection of current links related to whatever course content is being discussed in class.

And, in my ongoing effort to Embed All The Things, it was a no-brainer to make a widget (simple iFrame) in Desire2Learn, and put it on the homepage for my Fall Wisconsin Experience Seminar class.


I want more ideas. Please add them here:

johnmartin's picture

Crocodoc! — Annotating PDFs in an LMS

D2L and CrocodocI just found's recently-acquired Crocodoc, and promptly tried to embed it in D2L as part of my "Embed Everything!" philosophy (and is now part of UW-Madison's "Blessed" tools).

I was looking for a solution to problem: "how can I get my students to collaboratively read a PDF?" (for PDFs that are text-based, it's easy to import them to Google Docs and have them read and annotate them there, but image-based PDFs don't convert very well).

Enter Crocodoc. It turns out that Crocodoc Personal lets one do this quite elegantly, even when linked ("Add Quicklink") as content in Desire2Learn.

Though a tiny bit trickier, it's pretty easy to embed the document as an iframe as well.

There are a number of other uses for this that I can imagine:

  • Art History images: have students claim one portion of an image and research it
  • Burning Questions: After reading, highlight the most confusing part and add your question as a note
  • Embed it in Piazza for group discussions

Add your own ideas in the comments (or on the document itself! Go ahead and mark this document up...

johnmartin's picture

Collaborative (T)role-driven Reading Responses

ReadingResponseRoles squareThis semester, I'm teaching a "tech-enhanced" first year experience class at UW-Madison. Part of it will include collaborative work in Google Docs. But I'd like to make collaboration mean more than "let's be nice and help each other by agreeing with each other" — so I'm going to try to facilitate practicing academic discourse skills in Google Docs by having the students take on roles. Here's how I'm explaining it in the syllabus.

For the four weeks when we have articles and handouts to read (other than the book), You will contribute to a whole-class collaborative Google Doc of passionate reactions to the readings — with a twist. For each reading, you will take on a different reactive role:

  1. Protagonist: supports the author's arguments with additional sources and citations

  2. Antagonist: counters the author's arguments with additional sources and citations

  3. Mediator: tries to mediate the arguments on either side through a third way — with additional sources and citations

  4. Troll: Insults everyone — with links to additional (not-too-offensive) memes

I hope it’s an interesting way to get you to think and communicate critically about the readings and as a way to help you

  • hone your information literacy skills
  • learn to argue academically, with support and citations
  • thicken your skin in academic arguments, and
  • discern between academic arguments and troll attacks

I also hope that you understand the playful performative spirit of this —  one of you is supposed to be a jerk (Troll) each week. Dig deep. The others should take the comments of the troll with a huge grain of salt, and actually encourage them to be more trollish (it's hard for nice people to insult others without good reason). By taking on each role each, I hope you will see both academic and non-academic  discourse played out, and feel the frustration (even tho it’s fun) of trolls and out-of-context responses. Roles will shift each reading so everyone gets a chance to play each role. Please take this seriously, even though it’s playful. I expect thoughtful, well-researched responses (unless you’re a troll, but even then surprise me with your skills!) The best discussions will go back and forth for a bit. For the first week, we will randomly assign roles, then rotate to the next in the list for each reading. So everyone will get a chance to play each role.

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