Using free online videos for teaching and learning

Here is a good article about how a number of higher education instructors are using freely available online video to enhance the learning experience for their students:

Instructional Video for the Budget-Constrained Classroom

I have similarly employed online videos that I didn’t produce myself into my own courses. Not mentioned in the article is a special educator’s video site dedicated to teachers, called TeacherTube. Although a lot of it is aimed more at K-12 teachers than higher education, you should check it out as well. Yet another source for inspirational and faith-based videos is GodTube (also known as Another useful site is Vimeo, although you may need to search a little harder to find what you might be interested in.

For example, here is a clever video on Vimeo, created by a high school senior as part of his class assignment, to encourage other students to take Calculus. Enjoy!

Calculus Video from Brian Sewell on Vimeo.

From the student author: “At the end of my senior year in high school, our Calculus class had nothing more to do after we had taken our AP exams, so our teacher tried to fill the time with a small “busy work” project. She wanted us to make something practical to help teach Calculus to other students. Lots of people just made posters with a definition on it, others worked a little harder and made a board game… Justin Hendricks and I made a rap. We recorded it and played it for the class before the thing was due, but we weren’t finished yet. We decided to make a video accompanied by a music video portion to show the class. Since we graduated, our video has been played every semester in everyone’s Calculus classes. Gotta love it.”

Useful webinars from Elluminate!

Today I discovered a wonderful list of available, prerecorded, free webinars on a variety of topics, many of which pertain to teaching and instruction in higher education. They are provided by Elluminate, a very useful platform for providing multipoint platform for communications. With Elluminate you can have a virtual live discussion with a group of students.

Many of the available webinars are about technology used in teaching, so I thought you might like to link to them from here so you can enjoy them, too.

Here is the link:

A Virtual Space Observatory

Microsoft has created yet another stunning tool for learning, called the Worldwide Telescope project. It provides a seamless, scalable view into the heavens and the cosmos that I think is outstanding. This is yet another free resource that should be invaluable for students studying astronomy, cosmology and origins, and other sciences.

Be sure and check out the Microsoft Worldwide Telescope project.

Here is an excerpt from their website:


WorldWide Telescope

Immerse yourself in a seamless beautiful environment.

WorldWide Telescope (WWT) enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world. Experience narrated guided tours from astronomers and educators featuring interesting places in the sky.
A web-based version of WorldWide Telescope is also now available. This version enables seamless, guided explorations of the universe from within a web browser on PC and Intel Mac OS X by using the power of Microsoft Silverlight 3.0.

eBooks as an option for course textbooks

You may have missed a recent article in the Tulsa World that discussed the high cost of college textbooks. One promising option mentioned was digital (electronic) textbooks, often referred to as eBooks. I would encourage you to consider these as you choose textbooks for your next course offering, especially if you are creating or updating an online course. Read the Tulsa World article for this interesting discussion.

The most common option becoming available from many publishers is for them to create and make available to students a digital version of a full textbook. These may be available in multiple forms. The most common is a .PDF file that the student may download to a computer and read on the screen. Most also allow printing a copy by the student on their own printer. Another option is to use an online reader, where the student reads the textbook in an application online, and usually they can also print selected pages, if not the whole book. A big advantage to this approach is that these eBooks command a lower price — often less than half the cost of the same book in print form. An obvious difference is that there is no used book to resell when the student finishes the course, but the net price paid for “renting” the text (that is, the price of a new book minus the buyback price from the bookstore) is often still less, perhaps much less, for the student.

A sort of meta-publishing site now exists for finding, selecting, and buying textbooks, called CourseSmart, at A number of major publishers now make their eBooks available through this one-stop-shopping site for textbooks. You can select one or more textbooks for your course, and notify your students where to obtain it.

There is another option that I think has even more promise for faculty and students, especially for courses that have multiple required/recommended textbooks, and perhaps custom materials developed by the instructor. I have worked with publishers to create a custom eBook compilation for two online courses I have built. The publisher allows you to choose selected parts of multiple textbooks and compile them into a custom textbook. You can, for example, choose only the nine chapters of a 14-chapter book that you want to use, then four case studies out of a companion readings text, and four chapters from a related book. You then specify the order you want them in your course text. Finally, you can have a custom electronic cover created for your custom text. The result is just the material that you really want to cover in the course, all in one less expensive digital product.

In a recent custom text I created, I did just this. I compiled the necessary parts of three books that I found relevant to my course. The physical textbooks would have cost the student over $400 to buy as new books in the bookstore. They were able to buy my custom electronic version for $57. Wow! what a savings for the students!

A second critical benefit I discovered from this approach is that this custom eBook is now “mine” forever. I don’t actually own the copyright, but I control its lifespan. It has its own ISBN number from the publisher. And it never goes out of print or becomes a victim of edition-creep. Even if the underlying textbook(s) move to a new edition or even go out of print, the custom eBook remains available to me and my students until I decide to change the content. This is especially important to creators of online courses because of the huge investment of time it takes to create an engaging, interactive course that may be highly dependent on the text and associated materials.

The source I used to create my custom eBooks is Primis Online, a division of McGraw-Hill Publishing.

Do consider eBooks for your next textbook selection!

Quality standards for online courses

I recently attended the annual FUSION conference for users of the Desire2Learn learning management system. One of the gems I discovered is the Southern Regional Education Board. I picked up a really useful pamphlet entitled “Standards for Quality Online Courses.” It is a very succinct yet comprehensive framework for assessing online course quality.

You can download a .pdf version of the pamphlet at

I encourage you to download and review it!

Bloom’s Rose: A tool for creating practical assignments at a different levels of learning

I discovered an entry on Wikipedia for Bloom’s taxonomy, called Bloom’s Rose. It was created by John M. Kennedy. The original version had a number of typos and was somewhat hard to follow. So I created an alternative version of it using Mindjet Mindmanager.

It provides, for each of the levels of learning described by Bloom:

  1. a list of verbs that might be appropriate to formulate assignments at that level
  2. a list of types of assignments that might be appropriate for that level of learning

The PDF file is available for download at Enjoy!

“Chunking” your online course content

In an earlier post I introduced the notion of “chunking” your course content. What this means in a practical sense is that you should think of your course materials in terms of bite-size segments that your students can digest easily. For example, if you’re using a typical textbook, the chapters are probably subdivided by subheadings into sets of information that “hang together” for the learner to consider.

When preparing your content, you should consider how to create your content “chunks” in the same manner. Rather than thinking in terms of a monolithic classroom lecture (e.g., “I have to cover one and a half chapters of the textbook in this 1 hour, 50 minute course meeting”), think about smaller segments that can more or less stand on their own, or be sequenced in a meaningful way.

This is especially important when creating video content for your course, using tools like Camtasia Studio. When creating video segments of, say, a PowerPoint presentation, I like to limit the individual pieces to no more than ten or fifteen minutes, and then provide some type of table of contents or other structure to guide the students through the material in a logical fashion.

The latest version of Camtasia Studio provides some help with creating and managing your “chunks” of course materials. We have a limited number of licenses at ORU, so please contact me if you’d like to use it. You can download a fully-functional, 30-day evaluation copy at

For some ideas about how to create educational “chunks” using Camtasia Studio, check out the long list of tutrial videos at this link:

To see another component of Camtasia Studio, the Camtasia Theater, for arranging the set of “chunks” with a useful interactive table of contents and navigation structure, please see this tutorial video: Camtasia Theater.

Think “chunking”!

Pictures as communication tools

I recently read a very interesting blog post about illustrations as communications devices. Some research cited found that integrating text ON pictures instead of UNDER pictures as captions was found to be much more effective for information presentation.Common practice used to be to include illustrations as supplemental information to the text of a presentation or document. What recent practice has shown to be even more effective is reversing these roles: The illustration becomes the primary vehicle of information transfer, with any related text being view as supplemental. Quite a change in mindset for many of us traditional teachers and authors of learning materials.

Here is a quote from the article:
“In previous generations, graphics were generally illustrations, accompanying the text and providing elucidation. For today’s Games Generation, the relationship is almost completely reversed: the role of text is to elucidate something that was first experienced as an image.” He goes on to say, “They find it much more natural than their predecessors to begin with visuals and to mix text and graphics in a richly meaningful way.”

This research could have a lot of relevance for those of us who create educational materials.

Read more at the Creating Passionate Users blog.

Mobile Learning in Higher Education

I just read a very interesting article by Ruth Reynard on the Campus Technology website. It talks about how the new generation of learners is no longer satisfied with the linear approach to learning that many of us grew up with, and still practice to a large degree when teaching our students. Today’s young students are highly connected and interconnected by technology. They manage multiple connections with “relevant others” in their life and their space, both their physical space and their virtual space.

Today’s learners are continually looking to increase their connectedness, and to maximize their perceived value of those connections. Education is part of this managed space to them. As the article states, teachers are no longer the “sage on the stage,” nor even a leaning coach and facilitator. Rather, the best instructors are now viewed as part of a learner’s many connections, in what the author calls a collection of multipoint mobile connections, or MMCs.

Quoting the article: “…when students receive course content in meaningful ways, they are also more likely to understand it. When students are finding information “bites” and hyperlinked information everywhere, it is hard to understand why some faculty still try to “control” the information flow to students in pre-set blocks of lock-stepped content. Rather, while the faculty expert must know how the information is relevant and how it should be worked and used, the students should be able to access the content in whatever form they find best for them – customization. This is an essential characteristic of an MMC. Mobile technology users do not take well to hyper control of their usage and likewise, this generation of learners should not be subjected to control of input in a course of study. Rather than see this as an unnecessary accommodation of the part of the faculty teacher, it is more to the point to realize how much further this takes the learning potential towards the realm of learner autonomy which has always been the goal of higher education.”

Interesting reading! You can read the whole article at

Join the Desire2Learn Community

Desire2Learn has a very active user community that is accessible by all ORU faculty and staff. There is lots of information about new product initiatives, extensive discussion groups by hundreds of other people using Desire2Learn, and loads of documentation. You just need to go to the site and request a login, using your ORU email address. They will verify your eligibility and send login information, usually within 24 hours and often within the same day.

Check out to get your account set up.