Backing up Your Course Data with CourseSites

Written by Berlin Fang

You can use the “export/archive” functions to back up your course data with CourseSites. You will need to do this for a number of reasons:

  1. Creating a copy of the course so that it can be imported into a shell in future semesters;

  2. Restoring a past course to check certain information.

Usually you do this at the end of the semester, but you can do so multiple times during the semester as long as you have space to store such files.

CourseSites gives you the option to “export” or “archive” a course. The former allows you to mainly export the content of the course, while the latter allows you to preserve student activities (especially Grade Center history) as well.

Check this tutorial for instructions on archiving your course.

If you export a particular type of content (such as tests only)  from one course to another, you may want to consider using “export course” function to export the source course first (see tutorial), and then use “import package” to import (see tutorial).

You can also download your Grade Center data for backing up or for offline grading. Check this tutorial for details. If you intend to use this option to grade offline, make sure there is no change in columns or users between the time you download the grades and the time you upload the Excel file back.

Tellagami for Communication and Learning

Written by the Instructional Design Team

Tellagami is a great mobile app. You can use a photo (or a stock) background. Add voice or type in dialogue. You can send it by text, twitter, email, and embed one in an online class.

You can post a slide, a saying, or learning artifact to reinforce learning. Or you can have students post a picture of something and narrate it for a class assignment. Click here to view how to use tellagami for learning (30 secs):

Managing Assignments with CourseSites

Written by Berlin Fang


Collecting student assignments by email can add to the increasing clutter of our digital lives.  Well, there is a method to madness.   You can collect assignments using your learning management system.  All major learning management systems (OpenClass, CourseSites and Moodle) have ways for you to collect student assignments, grade them and record them directly in the grade book that comes with the learning management system you use.

The benefits of doing this is that you do not have to sift through your emails to find a particular attachment and then relate that to a particular class.  Nor would you have to create folders to store such files.   A learning management system would streamline the entire process while students can get quicker feedback as soon as you have given them.

I am going to use CourseSites as an example to show how it works to management assignments with a learning management system.



While this tutorial shows you as an instructor how to manage assignment using CourseSites, the following tutorial shows students how to submit an assignment.  Consider copying the URL and share it with students if you intend to collect assignments the way I explained:


Please note that you can also create “self and peer evaluation” type of assignments or group assignments using CourseSites.  Let me know if you need any help creating this type of assignments. In addition, you can also download all your assignments from the learning management system, grade them offline and enter your grades online if that’s more desirable.

Grading Assignments with an iPad

Guest post by Professor Karen Cukrowski

I want to share with all of you a MAJOR time saver I learned here at the Adams Center when Cynthia Powell was teaching us how she uses Notability in her classroom.

I’m going to show you Notability ($1.99). However, iAnnotate ($9.99) or Evernote (free) work almost the same way.  I use this app for assignments that are pretty short and for which the students could benefit from quick feedback from me.  I’ve now graded about 300 such papers, and since the process works like a charm, I expect I’ll grade many hundreds more before the semester is over using this method. Special thanks to student Billy Haten, who allowed me to demo one of his drafts of a research question.

The following tutorial will show you how to use Notability for grading.  You can also check the video tutorial:

Open the file:  I have my students turn in their homework to the class files.  However, you can open a pdf or Word Doc from an email,your Google Drive, or Dropbox. I just don’t want to deal with that much email!   Regardless, you need to retrieve the student’s document/homework from wherever it is.   When you have a document open, just tap anywhere and “Open in ‘Notability’ “ pops up.   Select that.  You have to click a couple of more things, but don’t be discouraged.  These clicks become quite automatic once you’ve done it a couple of times.  Select “Create new note” when the dialogue box comes up for you to make such a selection.  (Notice you can add a rubric or something if you want by clicking “Add to other note.”)  Hit OK.  And voila! You have the student’s paper ready for you to mark.

Grade the paper:  You can mark the paper any way you see fit, by handwriting with a stylus (my preferred method), typing, or even by speaking your notes into the little microphone icon.  I almost always use the pencil tool in a thick blue line, and that setting is then saved for me the next time. Very handy.When grading it, notice that there is magnifying glass at the bottom. If you click it, you can drag the little box around to see everything up closer and write more precisely.   If you make stray marks, no problem—you can either erase them with the eraser or by clicking the left-facing back arrow to undo it.    Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do to help you with the wretched step of grading itself!

Return the paper:  After grading, it is time to send the paper back to the student by email. To return the paper to a student, use the “send” arrow that’s up there at the top. Select Email. Then hit Email Notes. When the email dialogue box launches, type in the student’s address, which is conveniently in the subject line automatically.  Note: you do have to add to send the email.   And guess what? You only have to type the whole address ONCE—our email program remembers that student for subsequent assignments, making the whole process even more streamlined.   Once finished with the email address, hit Send, and the student will soon receive the attached file.

Record the grade:  Don’t forget to record your student’s grade in your gradebook!

I have saved SO much time by sending back papers this way and NOT having to distribute them in class. Also, notice that no trees died today due to this assignment—and yet the students will receive fast feedback on an important step in their research projects.

I hope this tutorial helps you.  Using this method is far less complicated than all these pictures make it look. I’d be happy to help you, if you’d rather just have a demo. Karen Cukrowski,, or text me on my cell phone at 325-829-8249, and we can set up an appointment. (Berlin Fang in the Adams Center also knows how to use this program, if you want to see him.)

Active Learning Activities: Poll Everywhere

Written by David Christianson

Active learning isn’t about fun. It’s about engagement. It’s about doing something with information beyond intake and producing output. It’s about producing output right now, in the moment, and not waiting for a paper due in two weeks or a test on Thursday. Students are great at active learning, but they need instructors to provide the opportunity and a direction for it. Here are two activities to produce active learning in your class.

Name: Poll Everywhere

Who: Whole Class

Time: 2-3 minutes

Process: Poll Everywhere is a live polling website for presenters, also known as an audience response system. Free for up to 40 responses, instructors can make unlimited polls using even the free account. Responses can be represented in a number of visual ways, including bar graphs and word clouds. Questions can be open ended or multiple choice. Students or workshop participants can either send their response as a text message or use the website to answer, making this activity friendly for anyone with a mobile device. Houston Heflin, Assistant Professor of Bible, Missions, and Ministry uses Poll Everywhere to make formative assessments and get students actively involved in the lesson.

Purpose: Electronic audience response systems have been shown to improve student learning (Good, 2013). Eric Mazur, celebrated Harvard Physics professor, uses them for formative assessments in his classes. When students indicate they do not have a firm grasp of the the content being addressed, he uses peer learning activities to supplement the lecture. Peer learning can be helpful because, “The better you know something, the more difficult it becomes to teach because you’re no longer aware of the conceptual difficulties of the beginning learner.” Using Poll Everywhere to gauge your students’ understanding will allow you to know, before the test, if some sort of intervention is needed.”


Good, Karly C. “Audience Response Systems in higher education courses: A critical review of the literature.” INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY (2013): 19. [UMBCtube]. (2009, November 12) Confessions of a Converted Lecturer: Eric Mazur [Video file]. Retrieved from

Writing with the iPad

Written by Berlin Fang

In one of our recent surveys on iPad usage at Abilene Christian University, we found a good “word processing” app is what students want most from an iPad.   I do hope that someday someone can produce something like Microsoft Word for iPad, but I have already found iPad to be a great tool for writing.   To do this, we have to dispel a myth that there is one single app that does all you need to do with a writing activity.    No, there is not.  Instead you use a combination of tools.   Even on a laptop one uses for writing, a writer uses several applications, such as a web browser to do research, a PDF reader to read articles, some bibliography management software to manage references and a Word processor for the actual writing.

Cloud computing has made it possible for us to work fluidly across platforms and devices.   We can use applications on both a laptop and an iPad (or other mobile devices) for the production of a writing assignment.    Involving iPad as part of the process gives a writer certain advantages due to the voice input and touchscreen features that iPads have while many laptop computers don’t.   Here is a sample process how I write an article using both the iPad and the Laptop:

  1. Gather references with iPad.  iPad comes with the Safari browser, but you can download some other browsers for easier gathering of information.  For instance, you can use Diigo, a social bookmarking browser, to read and bookmark anything you read.   Using a Diigo account, you can access your bookmarks anywhere on a mobile device or on a laptop.   You can use Chrome to do something similar to this.

  2. Take notes with iA Writer, Evernote or CamScanner.  I take notes with an iPad app called iA Writer, which has an onscreen keyboard (with quotation marks, brackets) that is better than the one from iPad, for easier editing.    Evernote can also help you take notes, including notes in multimedia formats.   When you are reading a print book, iPad can be extremely helpful as you take notes in a variety of ways, including taking pictures of a paragraph, which you will refer to in your writing, if typing notes is slower.  Camscanner allows you to scan print materials which you can then turn into text using its OCR feature.

  3. Write with IA Writer.   After gathering the notes and references, I can then produce a working draft with IA Writer.  This seems rather counter-intuitive, as iPad is not best known for the ease of input.   This challenge can be addressed by purchasing a Bluetooth keyboard identical to the one you’d use for a laptop.  I also love writing on the iPad as it is possible to dictate using the voice input method of iPads.   The only weird thing about it is that I risk giving impressions of talking to myself.

  4. Syncing your draft to the Laptop for editing.  After you have finished writing your draft on the iPad with iA Writer, export it to Dropbox or Google Drive which you can then open on a laptop for editing and formatting.

  5. Minor editing on the iPad.  A piece of writing is never complete.   Once I have the bulk of editing done, I sometimes continue to proofread it through Google Doc.    This is most helpful as I carry the iPad/iPhone around and can use odd time for such purpose, for instance, when waiting during kids’ extracurricular classes.   Of course, it is not advisable for you to do that if you have rich formatting to preserve.   A word processing software would do better.

This may seem to be a cumbersome process, but it actually works extremely well once I am in the flow.   The combination of tools allows me to take advantage of the strengths of various devices (such as laptop for editing and formatting) and iPad for reading, notes and drafts.   People’s writing processes are personal or even idiosyncratic, so I assume you may find better combination of devices, tools, functions and features that work for your purpose.

Writing, whether for a class paper or for academic publication, involves both the consumption of information and the production of it.  iPad has been around for quite a while, but I noticed that many people use it predominantly to consume information, such as going to web sites, checking email, listening to podcasts, and watching video,  which are all fine.  However, the device can also be helpful for the “production” of things, such as notes, audio and video segments, and presentations.  Of course there are situations when the dichotomy between “production” and “consumption” is an artificial one.   The two can take place iteratively during the same project, such as the writing of a paper.  I hope this post gets you to think along those lines.

Using Word Clouds for Reflection and Discussion in an Online Class

Written by Scott Hamm

Word clouds (Wordle) are those fun & familiar combinations of words that summarize a topic or idea. We’ve seen everywhere from the USA Today to Facebook. They can be used  to promote reflection and synthesis on course content. Here’s how:

  • Syllabus review: have them submit a Wordle to a discussion forum posting the top 10 key concepts.

  • Markers: key issues, policies, theories, etc. from the first three weeks of class, or mid-semester, etc. Let’s you know if the students are grasping course concepts.

  • Quiz:  A fun quiz is to have students post key terms, concepts, ideas, etc. You can set a ten to twelve entries. Then, have them get together in groups or as a class to add to the Word Clouds.  Non-threatening and many enjoy the variation.

More ideas/ resources:

This linked blog post gives you a bunch of word cloud options that includes a how-to-use snippet: 9 Word Cloud Generators That Aren’t Wordle

A brief one-page article demonstrates the use of word clouds in an online graduate class: Hamm, S. (2011). Using Word Clouds for Reflection and Discussion.  Journal of Teaching Theology and Religion, 14 (2).

Assignment example and rubric used in a graduate class in an ACU Higher Education online graduate course.

Brainstorm Doc and Marshmallow Toss

Written by David Christianson

Active learning isn’t about fun. It’s about engagement. It’s about doing something with information beyond intake and producing output. It’s about producing output right now, in the moment, and not waiting for a paper due in two weeks or a test on Thursday. Students are great at active learning, but they need instructors to provide the opportunity and a direction for it. Here are two activities to produce active learning in your class.

Name: Brainstorm Doc

Who: Whole Class

Time: 4-5 minutes

Process: Before your class period, create a Google Doc that is editable by anyone with the link. (Quick tutorial here.) Have students brainstorm and add everything they already know about your topic for today’s lesson on this document. Give them about 5 minutes, and encourage them that spelling, punctuation, and grammar do not count for this exercise.

Purpose: Doing this activity before your day’s lesson serves at least two functions. First, students orient their minds to thinking about the topic recalling information, and transitioning into a learning state. Second, it gives you chance for formative assessment. This window into students’ prior knowledge will let you emphasize what they do know and address any misperceptions that come up.

Adapted from Jensen, 2003.

Name: Marshmallow Toss

Who: Whole Class

Time: 3 seconds

Process: This is done regularly at a nonprofit’s board meetings that my wife is on, and I think it works well for the classroom as well. In the meetings, everyone has a bag of marshmallows. Whenever a board member thinks someone else has expressed a good idea, they toss a marshmallow at him or her. In a classroom, an instructor, TA, or student designee would be the one with the marshmallows, tossing a fluffy reward at those who participate well in class discussions or other classroom-positive behaviors.

Purpose: Discussion with the whole class can sometimes be painstaking. Marshmallow Toss makes the landing a little softer, more fun, and lightens the mood a little. Positive acknowledgement from instructors or peers like this can  help stimulate an environment where expression is encouraged.

How to Capture and Annotate a Screenshot

You may sometimes need to share certain things on your screen with students or colleagues. Taking a screenshot has never been easier. You can even edit it in a variety of ways. Here are a few methods:

For instance,

  • iDevice: If you use an iPad/iPhone and you would like to capture an image on the screen, hold the power button, and then press the home button once, and you will hear a click indicating a photo has been taken. This photo will be stored in your photostream (look for the camera icon). You can use the edit function to edit the photo, for instance, to crop it to the area you will need.

  • Mac: If you use a Mac, hit the keys “Shift”, “Command” and “4” at the same time, and then release it, you will be able to see the cursor turn into a cross/target icon, and then you can use your mouse or trackpad to drag this cursor over the area you would like to capture. Release your finger from the mouse or trackpad when ready. A file will be saved on your desktop with a file name starting with  the word “screenshot”.

  • Jing: If you use the Windows operating system which does not come with a screen capture application already, you can use “Jing” to capture what is in your screen and highlight, point or annotate. You can then save it on your computer to use in another application. Jing is an application you will need to download to your computer (Mac or Windows). You can even use to capture a screen video (up to five minutes).

  • Phraseit: If you have a photo you use and you would like to add some “speech/thought bubbles”, use “phrase it”, a web-based photo annotation tool. Upload the photo (it has to be 640 px x480 px in resolution”) and then you can add speech or thought bubbles as you would see in a comic strip. Keynote and PowerPoint may also help you to accomplish the same if you insert the photo in a slide.

Released: The 2014 Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition

This internationally recognized annual report highlights six emerging technologies or practices that are currently impacting or will be entering mainstream practice in higher education over the next five years.

Trends listed in the 2014 report:

  1. Growing ubiquity of social media

  2. Integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning

  3. Rise of data-driven learning and assessment

  4. Shift from students as consumers to students as creators

  5. Agile approach to change

  6. Evolution of online learning

Join the Adams Center Instructional Design team on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 11:30a.m. as they examine Online Learning policies, procedures, and practices.

See the 2014 Horizon Report to read more about important developments in educational technology and perceived challenges in technology adoption.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Active Learning Activities: Talking Chips & Real Time Case Study Discussion

Active learning isn’t about fun. It’s about engagement. It’s about doing something with information beyond intake and producing output. It’s about producing output right now, in the moment, and not waiting for a paper due in two weeks or a test on Thursday. Students are great at active learning, but they need instructors to provide the opportunity and a direction for it. Here are two activities to produce active learning in your class.

Name: Talking Chips

Who: Groups of 3-5

Time: 10-20 minutes

Process: As students enter the class, give each one a stack of colored chips (such as poker chips) or colored note cards (heretofore referred to simply as chips, regardless of the item). Have as many colors of chips as you want people in each group. For example, for groups of 4, have red, white, blue, and green chips. Form groups by having students find others with differently colored chips, so each group has each color of chip and no duplicates. Each chip serves as permission to make a contribution to the discussion. In answering the question, each student’s goal is to get rid of their chips by making that many meaningful contributions to the discussion. Each time they comment, they surrender a chip. This helps ensure that each student participates equally. Once all of the chips have been surrendered, students can redistribute them for the next discussion round or end the discussion, depending on your goals for the class period.

Purpose: This activity encourages participation from reticent students, and will limit students who tend to dominate such activities. This can be particularly useful for discussing controversial activities.

Adapted from Barkley, Cross, and Major, (2005).

Name: Real Time Case Study Discussion

Who: Whole class

Time: Varies, length of case study

Process: Have students discuss a movie or role play they watch as they are watching using a social media site, such as Facebook. Dr. Stephen Baldridge (Social Work) did this for one of his classes. First, he set up a Facebook group* and invited his students to the group before the class session. Students logged on to the group before they started watching the movie as a case study. As they watched, anyone in the group could make comments on how the case study related to the material they were covering. Students were able to see each others’ comments in real time as they watched the movie, and by the end, they had a collective page of notes.

Purpose: This collaborative activity allows students to not only apply their learning to a particular case, but also for them to benefit from each others’ observations.


*There are various ways to organize this via social media tools. Twitter hashtags, a Google Doc, an OpenClass Share feed, and others.

Sending Email via Your Course Management System

If you use your email to communicate with students in a class, you will need to create folders or tags to track such emails. You probably will also have to create email groups for various classes. Students or you may also delete such email messages by accident, or misplace them at locations where you would not be able to find them at a later date. You may find a need to dig out some emails and resend if any of the above happened. To avoid all such time-wasting busywork, you might want to consider using your learning management system to send email instead.

With OpenClass, you can send email to students by clicking the “email” button on the course menu. You will then be able to choose the users to send the emails to.

With CourseSites, you can send emails to them in any of the following three ways:

  1. Use “send email” under “course tools” to send emails to everyone or selected users.

  2. Use “announcement” tool under “course tools” to create an announcement. When you do so, remember to check the box beside “Send a copy of this announcement immediately” to create the email message while keeping the announcement in the course. The benefit of doing this is that you keep your email message within the course as an announcement in case students ignore their emails but come to the learning management system to retrieve course materials.

  3. Use the Grade Center to send email to particular students. As you grade their work, you may want to communicate with them about certain problems, and you do not need to get out of the Grade Center to send an email to them.  Remain in the Grade Center, choose the student(s), and click on the “email” button to send an email to them. This will save you quite a bit of time that could be wasted switching back and forth from the Grade Center and the Email tool.  This works best when you are grading student work or checking their performance within the Grade Center.

Check this video for a demonstration of these three methods if needed.

We often hear that students are not reading longer email messages. Besides, email messages may mess up your formatting. For these reasons, if there are documents that you would like students to spend substantial time reading, consider posting it as a document in your course site, while using announcements/emails to notify them of the availability of such documents, and where they are.

Active Learning Activities: Give Me Three Steps and Think-Draw-Pair

Written by David Christianson

Active learning isn’t about fun. It’s about engagement. It’s about doing something with information beyond intake and producing output. It’s about producing output right now, in the moment, and not waiting for a paper due in two weeks or a test on Thursday. Students are great at active learning, but they need instructors to provide the opportunity and a direction for it. Here are two activities to produce active learning in your class.

Name: Give Me Three Steps

Who: Partners or groups of 3-4

Time: 4-6 minutes

Process: Give learners 1 step instructions. “Everyone please stand up and wait for directions.” After they have stood, direct the learners to take a set number of steps, depending on the size and mobility of the room, in any direction. For example, “Everyone please take seven steps in any direction, then wait for more information. Once they have stepped, have learners partner up (or get in a group of three to four) and give them a question to discuss or something to review. For example, “Now, find the person that is nearest you and partner up. Once you do that, discuss this question. How did the Sykes-Picot Agreement at the end of the First World War contribute to the current conditions in the Middle East today?”

Purpose: One of the problems with not doing active learning activities is simple inactivity. Comfort is not compatible with engagement, so breaking that cycle of comfort and inviting movement can transition students from a state of comfort to one of attention.

Adapted from Jensen (2003).


 Name: Think-Draw-Pair

Who: Pairs

Time: 5-10 minutes

Process: Instruct learners to draw a visual representation of an important concept you are addressing. This drawing can take the form of a cartoon, a diagram, or whatever they think of to represent the concept. Give them at least 5 minutes, but no more than 10, to complete the drawing. Then, have them partner with someone else and explain the drawing to that student.

Purpose: Vision trumps all of the other senses (Medina, 2009). When learners create their own interpretation of a concept in a visual form, they create a better understanding than they would otherwise (Schwamborn, et al, 2010). In this version of the old Think-Pair-Share activity, learners don’t just discuss – they visualize. As they share it with someone else, they then verbalize their conceptualization and may identify holes in their thinking, allowing them to wrestle with the concept even more. And, of course, they may learn something new from their learning partner that they hadn’t realized about the concept.

Adapted from Jensen (2003).

Using Respondus to Convert Tests for Use in OpenClass

If you have tests from a textbook publisher it is very likely that they allow you to download these tests into a compressed format that can be directly imported into your course shell with a major Learning Management System. At this point, OpenClass does not handle such imports except in a handful of formats. However we could use a combination of Respondus and CourseSites to make this conversion possible.

To do this, you will need to download test files into a Blackboard-compatible format. Some publishers have such tests already exported for you to download directly from their sites. Others allow you to export on your own, into a format you would like to use. In the latter case, export a test into a Blackboard format. This will produce a zipped file you can save on your local computer, and send to us for conversion.

The Adams Center can then help you to convert such zipped files for use in OpenClass via Respondus. Or we can show you how to make this conversion if you have a copy of Respondus yourself.

Getting Publisher Content into CourseSites

Textbook publishers are moving vigorously into developing resources for faculty members. Some offer resources such as PowerPoint files, animations, videos and tests that you can use in the course. Coursesites offers a number of ways for you to utilize such content:

1.  You can “pair” certain publisher courses with your CourseSites.  McGraw-Hill, for instance, allows you to pair their content with your CourseSites course so that it is possible to manage grades and assignments within CourseSites. Check this video for instructions on how to do that. You may want to check this site for a complete list of videos about pairing content from some other publishers.

2. Some publishers provide “course cartridges” that you can use. These cartridges are pre-configured courses, complete with content and assessments that you can use in class. You can use such cartridges as a start, and customize them based on your actual need.   You will need a course cartridge number to import such content.  The sales rep of your publisher should have access if such cartridges are available.

Please note, however, in either of the two cases above, the content you customized is not easily transferable between semesters within CourseSites. If you want to develop an online course yourself to be reused, these may not be good paths to follow.

3.  Sometimes textbook publishers may have tests you can download into “Blackboard” format, which you can then import into CourseSites to use or customize.


We hope you can keep this in mind as you build your course content. This may save you time as you get your content ready for the course you teach.

APPs For The Beginning of the Semester


Looking to use your iPad in new, fun ways with your students? Below are a couple free apps that you may find useful.

Talkboard is a simple and intuitive collaborative whiteboard app. Anyone you invite to your Talkboard can write or sketch on the board. It updates live so everyone can see as the board evolves and share what is created.

  • Showme   is an interactive whiteboard that allows you to create voiceover whiteboard tutorials and share them online.


All the Write Moves

As students use their iPads more for writing, they may find these apps helpful in coordinating with their laptap and transferring docs back and forth.

  • My Writing Spot:  The blog buzz is that this is the best writing app. Not free ($4.99).  It syncs with an associated desktop writing app, so that you don’t have to work out of multiple files, or go through the annoyance of transferring plain text files into whatever format you want to work with on your desktop or laptop computer

  • Pages:  The most robust, pricey ($9.99), but the cadillac of writing apps. Works with iCloud.

Getting Organized

The beginning of the semester is always a good time to start thinking about these apps. Students may ask you for help. If they do, here are some apps you can suggest:

  • MyHomework Student Planner: Students may like this cross-platform planner as a way to get organized with various classes and multiple learning management systems.

  • CourseNotes:  Handy little app that let’s students organize their notes in one spot.  $4.99 (although, it is healthier than a McD value meal 🙂 )

What can we learn from games about feedback?

A Faculty Focus article published in January 2014 discussed a study which suggests that not that many students take advantage of faculty feedback to improve their work.  The article argues that, though students are not blameless for ignoring professor’s feedback, instructors could also use some improvement in the way they provide feedback, as feedback not carefully given may be too overwhelming, underwhelming, inconsistent or even contradictory.

According to Dr. Jane McGonigal (author of Reality is Broken), good feedback happens to be one of the reasons games are addictive. Games provide great feedback so that gamers “fail early, fail often”, as Dr. James Langford would say.  Good feedback pushes gamers to the very edge of their skill.  Gamers get to experience the joy of growth in their skill in an immediate and often enjoyable way.  Exactly what do game designers to create great feedback?  And what kind of things can educators learn from game design?  Here are some ideas that may help you improve the feedback you give:

  • Great feedback has “intensity”.  In good games, feedback comes in visual (things happen on screen), quantitative (scores) and qualitative formats.  One thing we can learn from this principle is that it may benefit students to connect your grades (quantitative) with feedback (qualitative) .  It is also a great idea to connect your feedback consistently to your learning outcomes and assessment instructions.

  • Great feedback has “variety”.  Most feedback in instruction comes in written format.  It may be a great idea to increase the variety of format.   Use voice or screencast to actually show students your comments or suggestions.  This will work pretty well for the grading of written assignments.   Many applications allow you to “screencast” as you show on the screen where you would expect a student to make improvements.

  • Great feedback has “immediacy”.  In games feedback comes immediately and gamers are very well informed all the time of what they have done right or wrong.  To translate that to the design of instruction, educators may also benefit by giving feedback sooner.  Online testing is a good way for students to get feedback immediately.  With standardized testing, they can see the results immediately after they complete a test, what the correct answers are and where they made mistakes.  Waiting too long may cost you the loss of student interest in learning where their mistakes are.

  • Great feedback has “motivation”.  In games, feedback improves “a powerful sense of control” and “self-efficacy” for learners (McGonigal, 229).   In the design of instruction, try thinking of ways to accomplish similar results.  What if you design your course in a way that students can actually use your feedback to improve their assignment and thereby change their grades as a result?  Yes, that would be “gaming” the system, but in a good way.


Share with us if you have some great methods to provide feedback to benefit students.



Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. (2011) (Reprint edition.). Penguin Books.

A Matter of Time

Please note that CourseSites uses Eastern Time, and we were told that it is not yet possible to customize it to use Central Time.   This has implications for time-sensitive information.

For instance, if you set your quiz to be available at 9:00AM, the quiz will be available at 8:00AM Central Time.  Students may find it available too early and perhaps unavailable anymore at 9:00 Central Time (if, for example, you made it available for only 15 minutes).    Similarly, if you set your due time for an assignment to be 11:59PM,  students using Central Time here will find they cannot submit after 10:59PM.   It is therefore necessary to set the due date to be 1:00AM the next day.

Here are some of our suggestions to address the issue:

  • Convert your time to Eastern Time and use Eastern Time to set up your tests and assignments.   To convert your time to Eastern Time, check this time zone converter.   Please make sure you tell students what is going on.

  • You do not set the display time for your assessments while using “availability” tool to turn a quiz on or off.  Alternatively, keep the quiz available, and set a password for the quiz.   Announce the password when you intend to start the quiz.

  • Turn the editor mode to “off” to see a student view of your course.  This will allow you to see if your quiz can be seen or not.  You will notice that there is a editor mode button on the top right hand corner of your page.  Click on it once to toggle between “on” and “off”.  When it is “off”, you see the course as students would see it (except the control panel which you can still see.)


Contact Berlin Fang with any questions.

Active Learning Activities: Note Share & Tweet This

Written by David Christianson

Active learning isn’t about fun. It’s about engagement. It’s about doing something with information beyond intake and producing output. It’s about producing output right now, in the moment, and not waiting for a paper due in two weeks or a test on Thursday. Students are great at active learning, but they need instructors to provide the opportunity and a direction for it. Here are two activities to produce active learning in your class.

Name:  Note Share

Who:  Either assigned partners or random pairings with a person next to them.

Time:  2-3 minutes

Process:  Have learning partners critique each other’s notes on the section you just covered. What are their partners missing? What did their partners record that they didn’t? Do they seem to understand the main points?

Purpose:  This activity produces quick repetition of the material, which is good for memory. It also allows students a chance to ask questions to a peer and gain a better understanding of difficult material. Students have to analyze the information on their partners notes, which allows a platform for deeper learning.

Adapted from Silberman and Jensen.

Name:  Tweet This

Who:  Partners or groups of three

Time:  3-6 minutes

Process:  Have partners or groups write a tweetable (140 characters or less) summary of a main point or important piece of information. For as many in the class that use Twitter, ask them to tweet it. If you want to limit it even further, use a hashtag such as #COMS211 so it is trackable on Twitter and they can learn from each other.

Purpose:  This activity gets students to succinctly summarize. There is nothing magical about using Twitter as opposed to some other output, except that Twitter does limit the length of the post. This activity adds another emotional element (feeling challenged) to the information, which is a powerful memory enhancer.


Preparing to Teach with CourseSites

If you intend to use CourseSites to teach this semester, here are a few suggestions we would like to share with you to help you get ready.

1. Set up your course shell, if you haven’t done so already. We would also recommend you set up a sandbox shell to test things out as you develop your course or teach them.

2. Enroll your students. Use the “invite” function under “users and groups” to invite users. To get the list of student emails, go to “myACU”, click on the icon for the class roster, click on “email”, and then, copy the email addresses from students. CourseSites email requires the use of commas to separate email addresses. You can copy all email addresses from myACU to a blank Word document, use Word’s “find and replace” function to replace all “edu” with “edu,”. And then copy and paste the new list to CourseSites email.

3. Create content for your CourseSites. You will notice the LMS has a whole variety of functions you can use to post and organize your content. Let the instructional design team know if you need any assistance in this area.

4. Create assessments using CourseSites. Check if your textbook publisher has some tests you can readily use. Many have pools you can import directly into CourseSites. If you want to build some yourself, consider building them in Word first. It is possible to convert some to Bb format using Respondus. Let us know if you need any help in this area.

5. Set up your gradebook. You can add your content in the Grade Center as you teach, but it may be a good idea to set it up now if you know what you will include throughout the semester. Please also know that if you create a graded test or assignment with CourseSites, a column will be created in the Grade Center automatically.

6. Check if your course is available to students. Here is the path to set the availability: Control panel –> Customization –> Properties –> Check beside “yes” to make the course available. Check beside “no” if you want to hide the course while you are still developing it, or after you have finished teaching it.

7. Explain the resources for help. CourseSites support for your students comes from CourseSites itself, not Team 55. You might want to share the support resources with students at the beginning to set the expectations. Once you are in your course, you will notice there is a “resource” button on the top right corner of the course, you and the students can click on that to find help information for getting help.

We have a Google Group set up for CourseSites users. Please send an email to anyone on the instructional design team if you would like to be added.