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Breathing New Life into Media

Did you ever read the book Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson? It’s about a boy, Harold, who draws pretty much anything he needs with his trusty purple crayon.  For example, Harold ends up floating in the ocean during one of his adventures, so he whips out his purple crayon, draws himself a sailboat to climb into and sails away. Problem solved. How cool, right? What if we all had purple crayons that could solve problems that easily? more...

That concept of “what if” combined with a theoretical purple crayon has cropped up repeatedly in my work as an instructional technologist and media production specialist. Faculty, students and staff are wonderful at imagining a continuous supply of the what if’s, while digital technology, software and the web, have afforded us an amazingly diverse box of “crayons” and canvases to “draw” upon.

And I certainly would not classify the what if’s only as problems that need solving. They most often fall into the category of “How would I incorporate X into my class?” with X being something like:

  • collaborative writing/publishing via a wiki with mixed media content (images, audio, video)
  • multimedia narrative projects/visual histories
  • incorporating video clips into assignments and for peer review and commentary
  • student audio/video recording and editing (e.g. fieldwork, interviews, etc.)
  • blogs as presentation/publishing tools

The list is limited only by their imagination.

Work stations in Jesup 316 now have both a Mac and a PC sharing a monitor.

316 work station

Since returning to Williams late last semester as the Media Studios & Technologies Coordinator in the ITech group of OIT, I have consulted with faculty, students, and staff on multimedia production and support on campus, and more specifically, media scholarship in the curriculum.  I am very pleased to share with you now some of the physical and philosophical changes in supporting multimedia development that ITech is adopting in Jesup and the other Media Production Studio locations in an effort to better serve and educate the campus community.

As a stepping stone to OIT’s planned Center for Media Initiatives (CMI), part of the Sawyer/CMI building project, we are pleased to announce the creation of the Media Education Center (MEC) in Jesup 316. We envision the MEC as the primary destination for individual consultation or small group training and support for multimedia projects, digital video production, and media scholarship in the curriculum. Key to the MEC’s success will be our focus on providing some of the core services outlined in the mission statement for the future CMI:

  • Promoting the use of multimedia and technology in teaching and learning.
  • Providing multiple levels of support from solving basic problems to complex multimedia production.
  • Promoting faculty/faculty and faculty/student interaction and collaboration assisted by OIT Instructional Technologists as needed.
  • Provide facilities where students can collaborate on multimedia projects with Student Media Consultants and professional backup nearby.

The MEC is open for use weekdays, 9 AM – 5 PM. We are also staffing the MEC weekdays 10-12 in the mornings and 2-5 each afternoon. We encourage you to drop in during these staffed time slots with your media questions, problems, and ideas.

As the plan for the MEC developed, we also recognized the need to more precisely duplicate there the physical resources found in the other Media Production Studios.  If we imagine our community will come to the MEC to explore and learn, then we must outfit the Studios to produce in the same manner we teach, right?  Additionally, appreciating changes in the patterns and culture of media production methods gave us an opportunity to create media studios that provide a mix of traditional production workstation layouts interspersed with soft seating, laptop areas, and large screen collaborative spaces.  The emphasis on establishing creative and inviting environments, that are functional for individuals and groups interchangeably, remains our high priority.

Large display in Jesup 316 for teaching and collaborating

Collaboration station in Jesup 316

Notable tidbits about the Studios:

The Aquarium– (Jesup 101), is now officially named The Aquarium since that’s what everyone already calls it!  It has a mix of MAC and PC video editing stations, flatbed and slide scanners, and includes an open area with soft seating for laptop use. The Aquarium is only staffed in the evenings and on weekends when the MEC is closed. The timeslots for staffed hours are posted on the door and also linked on the MEC website.

The Cellar – (Jesup B03) – contains PC’s only. It includes a large screen collaborative station for group project work, or easy hook-up for laptops, peripherals (or even gaming consoles – user supplied!) and is intended to promote a more social computing atmosphere.

Jesup 204 – is a mix of high-end media production stations, both Mac & PC. It has a dedicated music composing/recording workstation, flatbed scanners and an open area with soft seating for laptops. Jesup 204 is intended as a quieter studio for more serious work.

We have also moved our dedicated Training Station for use to Jesup 204, recognizable by the bright yellow poster and icons. is gaining in popularity with our users as a one-stop, self-paced, video tutorial training site with offerings on just about any software you can name for media production and office productivity.

Other Studio locations include Spencer 216 (Art Studio building) and reservable Final Cut Pro editing suites in Dodd Annex and Jesup 316A.

To browse a listing of Media Production Studios and the MEC and related equipment, you can visit the OIT site.

To request an appointment with ITech professional staff to talk about media scholarship opportunities in teaching and learning, or other project ideas you may have, contact

Please visit the Media Education Center (Jesup 316) soon! We would love to share our big box of crayons with you!


Blackboard is going away! Over the coming three semesters, OIT will be phasing out the use of Blackboard, our Course Management System of the past six years, in favor of a new system known here on campus as Glow.

As we evaluated the effectiveness of Blackboard, we found that there were reasons both for wanting to drop Blackboard, as well as for choosing to adopt Glow: Over the time that we’ve used Blackboard its licensing fees have grown exponentially and appear set to continue to rise.  At the same time, the Blackboard corporation recently released a major new version of Blackboard which would have required faculty and students to learn how to use a new system whether we made a switch or not.  Coupled with that, Glow itself provides faculty much greater flexibility to present information in ways that parallel the way they teach, and provides OIT programmers a more accessible environment to support customization and enhancement. In addition, the underlying technology is very popular with Williams’ peer institutions, providing an additional strong support community. more...

Screenshot of a course on Glow

Glow screenshot

The transition to Glow is scheduled to take three semesters, from Fall 2009 through Fall 2010, during which time Blackboard and Glow will both be accessible.

  • In Fall 2009, a dozen or so faculty have volunteered to be “alpha testers” of Glow. Blackboard will continue to operate, and most faculty and courses will still be hosted on Blackboard.
  • In Spring 2010, Glow will be in “open beta”: any faculty who would like to use Glow and get a jump on the new system will be welcome to.  Blackboard will continue to operate normally, and any faculty who choose can still host their courses on it.
  • In Fall 2010, Glow will be active.  All courses will be hosted on Glow.  No courses will be available on Blackboard, students will be unable to log in, and login by faculty will be by request only in order to retrieve past course information.
  • After Fall 2010, Blackboard will be turned off, but kept “on ice” for at least a year in order to ensure that no historical but still-needed course information is lost.

In terms of functionality, the new software will let users do everything they can currently do in Blackboard, however there are some differences in the way course materials can be presented.  Glow allows faculty to organize their material in a variety of different ways, including by week or by topic, and allows materials to be referenced in more than one location within their course.  For courses that have been taught in the past, materials can be exported from Blackboard and uploaded to Glow.  As a result of the difference in organizational structure, uploaded files will still need to be placed into the course manually.

Over the coming semester, OIT staff will offer introductory orientation sessions to the new system, and we invite you to participate.  You can find out more about Glow by contacting your ITech specialist or by using the online documentation where you’ll find a section on getting started with Glow, as well as a section on transitioning from Blackboard.


Clicker unit

What are they?

Clickers are hand held remotes given to students in class that allow them to participate in polls. Data is collected from special slides created in PowerPoint using a software plugin called TurningPoint. The collected data is then displayed on the next PowerPoint slide. Williams has been using clickers since 2005. more...


Classroom polling has been used at Williams to achieve pedagogical classroom goals. Professor of Biology, Steve Swoap uses clickers to push his students to a new understanding of class material and to use peer instruction. Peer instruction happens when students are asked to explain to their neighbor why their answer to a polling question was correct. After some discussion, the question is repolled. In addition to assessing student comprehension of class content, classroom polling has been used in creative ways. Some of the purposes for using clickers have included:

  • Creating engagement in large intro courses.
  • Facilitating small group discussion.
  • Collecting anonymous responses to controversial questions.
  • Collecting preliminary data before conducting a study.
  • Response timing.
  • Collecting student presentation feedback.
  • Collecting data from psychology studies.
  • Giving interactive presentations at conferences.

Every year, Williams faculty and staff come up for new uses for clickers. Even so, clickers have yet to be put to use in faculty meetings or for making tenure decisions (That was a joke.)

What is involved in using clickers?

The special software used to create the interactive polling questions is installed on all lectern Macs and PCs, as well as all OIT maintained lab computers. The software is free to download so it can be installed on a home machine or laptop. The hardware consists of the clickers that go to the students, and a USB radio receiver that plugs into the machine you are using. The radio receiver need not be visible to the students, nor do students need to aim their clickers at the receiver. The presentation questions are prepared ahead of time using the special software which integrates with PowerPoint.

Are clickers for me?

Class time is precious and using clickers takes time. If you already have a teaching style that includes class discussion and interaction, clickers may be a good fit. It is also worth considering your comfort level with PowerPoint, the added hassle of managing the distribution and collection of clickers to students, and the time commitment that comes with adapting any technology into your routine.

Where can I get some clickers?

You can borrow a set of 30 clickers on a 3 day loan from the OIT Equipment Loan Center at x4091 located in Dodd Annex. There are class sets also available for longer periods of time from Trevor Murphy in OIT.


A substantial bibliography of literature on clickers can be found on Derek Bruff’s Vanderbilt Center for Teaching website.

In particular, I’d point out a 10 year study on clickers and teaching by Eric Mazur and Catherine Crouch and Eric Mazur of the Harvard Department of Physics originally published in the American Journal of Physics in 2001.

For an example of a site that serves as a repository for clicker questions, try the Journal of Chemical Education.

My own paper on clickers that was presented at the Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group in University and College Computing can be found here.

Creating Teaching Tools: GeoShear

Aside from the penthouse suite*, company car*, and three-hour lunch breaks*, the best part of my job is working with people to create new technology tools for teaching, learning, and research. These projects generally start with a small problem to be solved, and grow into a more general, powerful tool. A great example of this process is the creation of the GeoShear application. more...

Professor Karabinos of the Geology department teaches rock deformation and analysis in GEOS 301. He had a stack of cards with drawings on the side which could be deformed by shifting the stack, and a series of computer images which could be flipped through. He felt there had to be a better way. He contacted OIT and got together with the project development team to figure out what could be done. In discussion, it became clear that animating images for demonstration in a lecture was just the beginning.

The idea quickly evolved into an application that students could load onto their own computers and play with to see how various deformations occur. From there we added some analysis pieces (numbers and charts) to show not only what a deformation looks like, but also how it relates to the underlying data. The next leap was the realization that with the analysis piece in place, this tool could be useful for research… if data from real, deformed rocks could be entered. So, we added ways to load in images of rock cross-sections, and trace out relevant parts of those images.

After all this (plus some back-and-forth to refine the user interface), we have a technology that not only illustrates rock deformation, but also allows students to explore the ideas further on their own, and even opens up research possibilities by making some kinds of data analysis much faster and easier. Professor Karabinos has demonstrated and shared GeoShear at national conferences as well as within the Williams community. GeoShear, and some other software we’ve released publicly, is available on the OIT site.

* exists only in my imagination

Geoshear: before and after

Geoshear cards
Geoshear screnshot