Tag Archives: technology

Voicethread for enhanced student learning

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Submitted by Cathrin Green

For my technology assignment, I decided to look into the potential of using Voicethread as a tool in my classes. Voicethread is a system that allows multisensory collaboration between faculty and students. This tool can promote learning engagement and allows all types of multimedia to be uploaded, including video, pictures, and presentations. Voicethread allows for a range of assignments. Instructors could require students to view content uploaded by the instructor, such as lectures. Instructors could also require students to upload their own content and have other students engage in a dialogue about this content. The neat thing about this tool is that it allows students to comment and respond directly to others’ posts in the form of a video, audio, or text message. In my opinion, this increases the intimacy of class discussion, especially in larger classes, and particularly more than a typical Blackboard discussion board that some instructors use. This is especially beneficial in larger classes where students might not be able to discuss course topics in small groups during class due to space, time, or other limitations. With Voicethread, the instructor is also able to create group assignments and assign students to subgroups without students having to physically be together to complete their work.

Perhaps one of the best parts about this system is that at VCU, instructors can sync this tool with their already existing class Blackboard page. Instructors would just create a Voicethread instance link within Blackboard. Therefore, the class roster will automatically be integrated into Voicethread and students would not have to create a separate account or sign up for a new service. Within this service, instructors are also able to upload grading rubrics and grade assignments. These grades are automatically posted into the instructor’s Blackboard gradebook. In conclusion, Voicethread appears to be an innovative and convenient way for students to be creatively and actively involved in the learning experience.

Caveat: There does seems to be a slight learning curve when using this tool for both instructors and students. If instructors would like to use it, I would suggest taking sometime in class to explain Voicethread to the students and demonstrating how they are to use it to complete assignments. Additionally, VCU has an amazing resource center to help instructors and students create a Voicethread and troubleshoot any problems that might arise.

VCU Blackboard Link: https://ts.vcu.edu/askit/teaching-and-learning/blackboard-elearning/courseorganization-management-/facultyleader/add-courseorganization-content/content-area-buttons/build-content/create/voicethread/

Top Hat for Lectures, Assignments, Tests, Textbooks, AND MORE!

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Submitted by Katrina Markowicz

For my online teaching skill, I decided to create a Top Hat account and learn how to incorporate the teaching tool into future courses that I may teach. I became aware of Top Hat while I was completing a teaching observation. Overall, Top Hat is a really neat tool which essentially would allow a professor to completely place their entire course on the Top Hat site. For example, you can take attendance, upload your lecture slides, choose an associated online textbook, upload and create exams, and create assignments. If a professor only uses Top Hat for free textbooks and course materials (i.e., Top Hat Textbook), as well as the “Top Hat Assignment” feature, students pay nothing. However, there is a fee for students if a professor were to adopt more features. For example, if the professor were to also use Top Hat Classroom, Top Hat Test, and premium textbooks/materials, the fee for students would be no more than $26 for one semester. Professors always sign up for free.

Top Hat Classroom (not free to students): When students interact with Top Hat Classroom, they can use their computers or mobile devices (i.e., mobile app or text) depending on the feature being implemented. For example, one feature that stood out to me was using Top Hat as a lecturing tool. You can easily drag and drop pre-made PowerPoint slides and use the Top Hat website to give the lecture. A benefit to this is that, if you allow it, you can allow students to follow along to the lecture on their computers. You can also annotate slides to circle key words or draw arrows pointing to specific figures. The downside is that when I uploaded some demo slides, my slides came out a little blurry. The classroom feature also allows you to take attendance for your class.

Top Hat Classroom – questions (not free to students): Another feature I enjoyed was being able to create “test-of-knowledge” questions that you can score for participation, correctness, or neither. Examples of question formats include word choice, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, matching, sorting, and click on the target (i.e., “click which part of the picture defines this word”). These questions can be implemented in the middle of your lecture (i.e., “real-time feedback”) or assigned to the student to complete as homework. When you complete these questions during lecture, it allows you to show the students the correct answer after answering, provide feedback after answering, and set a time limit. One feature I thought was neat was while in presentation mode, is that you can set a count-down for “last minute submissions” to close submission. After students answer the question, you can show the frequency or percent of responses across answers (e.g., for multiple-choice type questions), and then show the correct answer. Some types of questions (i.e., multiple-choice) allows the student to answer on their computer, mobile app, or text, but others require the use of their computer or mobile app. The mobile app should be supported by most phones and across iPhone and Android, but if a student has an older phone, no phone, or a different type of phone, these features could be problematic.

Top Hat Assignment (free to students): You can also assign these questions for homework. Similar to presenting these in lecture, you can set it so they can see the correct answer, provide feedback, and a time limit. As homework, you set a start and due date. These questions can be assigned to the whole class or some of the class. When you assign the question for homework, it send the students a notification to complete it.

Top Hat Textbook (Sometimes free to students): The textbook feature allows professors to choose a text book and other course materials that their students can access. These can be found in the marketplace. There were 12 “premium textbooks” and 12 “free textbooks” under “Psychology,” which is pretty limiting. There are also course notes, slide decks, and question packs available. I could not explore this content further because my account needed to be verified as “professor.”

Top Hat Test (Not free to students): The type of test questions you can implement are similar to the questions you can assign for homework or administer in lecture. A professor types in correct answers to score, and these are scored automatically. There is not a feature to test the student’s knowledge on classroom material through short (1-paragrah) and long essay questions. Though, if a professor is able to change points for specific questions, using the “word answer” question, the student could type in a longer paragraph. That is, the professor could set the correct answer to “SCORE ME” and then change the score based on correctness. Though, as a student, it is possible that they may not be able to see their answer as a whole written out as the words disappear as one types. Overall, I feel like unless this feature allows you to change certain points, it is also difficult to assign partial credit. A benefit of this is that the test feature tracks a student’s use of their computer so if they were to “look up answers” the professor would see that they left the test screen to view online content. Though, the interpretation of what the report presents is limited and could potentially make a professor have to report more students for cheating than during a pen-and-paper test.

For more information, I highly encourage anyone to visit: https://tophat.com. You can also request a demo or create your own account!


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Submitted by Samantha Mladen

I created a Diigo account with a number of useful links, including therapy videos, descriptions of disorders developed by the NIMH, and resources for students interested in a career in psychology. Creating this resource will be helpful for any future classes that I teach, but was also a useful exercise in thinking about the tone that I'd like to set in class. For instance, do I want to show tape of therapy sessions (a more applied approach) or do I want to have a more theoretical approach? Future students may also benefit from considering how the resources that they choose to prepare for lecture will set the tone for their course.


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Submitted by Mattie Hedgebeth

In undergrad, I found YouTube to be a very useful tool in studying and learning class material. For my technology assignment, I compiled useful videos from the YouTube channel "CrashCourse" which give a short and fun explanation of educational subjects, in this case, subjects pertaining to social psychology. I have also added a few videos that are in a similar format and would be useful to students that may just need something explained in a different way or just want to quickly review material for a test or quiz. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCLUk397vKEZflM11NApNrA?view_as=subscriber

Microsoft Sway

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Submitted by Jesse Wingate

I had not heard of the new Microsoft application Sway until reading about it on a teaching technology blog. For some time I’ve been searching for alternatives to PowerPoint and Prezi. I use PowerPoint often when giving workshops or preparing for class presentations, and have always wished that I had more time to be creative. After reading a brief description, I figured that I’d give Sway a try.

Microsoft touts Sway as a “digital storytelling app,” and yet another addition to the Microsoft Office Package (for those Windows users out there). While Sway is an app that is included in newer Windows packages, it’s also a tool that can be used online (without a download). Many of the newer Microsoft Office applications are cloud-based services which makes life convenient for those of us that use anywhere from 3 to 27 different computers or gadgets in our day-to-day. One of the more appealing features for Windows users is that Sway provides seamless use among different apps. For example, if you write article summaries or lecture notes using the Microsoft OneNote feature, Sway provides an easy-to-use import feature that pops up on the left-hand side when creating presentations.

Another added feature of this app is that you can VERY quickly create an aesthetically pleasing storyline from an existing Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or .PDF document using the Sway Import feature. I logged in using an existing Microsoft email address and got started by taking an old PowerPoint presentation and importing it into the Sway app. My first go at creating/updating my existing slides was somewhat difficult. I found that some of my content had imported onto different slides and some content did not import at all. This was a bit frustrating.

After awhile, I decided to take an outline of an existing presentation without slides and try my hand at creating something new. This was a far better option and a strategy that I recommend to new users. The import feature is convenient, but it ends up being a bigger hassle than a benefit in my opinion.

What I thought was most appealing is that there is an image search feature (searching not only your files, but also images with Creative Commons licenses) built into the app. After copying and pasting the content from my outline into “cards” (which are like “slides” in PowerPoint) into Sway, I noticed that the app automatically offered search terms in the top left-hand corner. When selecting the search terms — the app conducts an internet image search for that term! If you’re like me and have ever spent 45-minutes searching for just the right image for your slides, then this feature alone provides reason to become excited.

While it took me about 30-45 minutes to finally get the hang of all the features, I have to say that I am quite impressed. I’ve decided to summarize some of the key benefits that might be appealing to folks reading this (see below).


  • Built-in image search feature based on text within presentation
  • Built-in content search (with an easy “drag and drop” feature) using popular sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter
  • Seamless integration with other Microsoft Office products
  • Online or downloadable app with cloud-based auto save feature
  • Fairly user-friendly with only four tabs at the top providing you with several options for which direction your cards shift in your presentation (left and right versus up and down).
  • Quick and easy alternative to PowerPoint and Word
  • Tutorials are free and easy to access (top right-hand corner)
  • Aesthetically pleasing “storyline” options for varying types of presentations
  • Share feature for collaborative presentations (add authors/editors)


  • Not as intuitive as other Microsoft products (takes getting used to)
  • Image search is great, but can be slow (not 56K dial-up modem slow, but slower than a Google image search)
  • Import feature from Microsoft PowerPoint doesn’t work well if you have images in your slides
  • The “remix” button is not for the faint of heart. If you spend a lot of time working out the formatting of your Sway, don’t select this button (as tempting as it may be). Jest aside, the remix button offers a randomized formatting every time you select this button. I really saw this as more of a con mostly because I didn’t see the benefit of such a feature.

Using Jing to Supplement SPSS Instruction

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Submitted by Ariella T


In this post, I am going to be discussing applications of Jing specifically as a supplementary tool for teaching SPSS in statistics courses and labs. Jing is a pretty neat tool for what it is: a free, no-frills way to do screen captures with and without voice recording. For purposes of making videos demonstrating SPSS processes based on my lectures and interactive activities, this is more than enough to minimize student confusion after lab.

Like I said before, the first thing about Jing is that it’s pretty uncomplicated. The U.I. is very easy to understand—which is important for TAs whose capacity to learn new things are compromised by the rest of the grad school gauntlet.

A caveat of the program is that there is a five-minute hard limit on recording time, but I haven’t really needed anything near that length. Chaining multiple short screen casts can also be an exercise in brevity, and who doesn’t like the opportunity to practice public speaking? This brings me to another limitation of the program: there’s no rewind. Make an error? Do it over. So, it’s important to make sure any distractors are silenced and program pop-ups don’t occur (students don’t need to know who is Skyping you or that Steam has an update). This detracts a bit from usability, especially if you’re a perfectionist about cursor movements. Otherwise, it’s not a huge issue if the screencasts aren’t too lengthy.

Another nice feature is that it can record sound (if you have a mic). I didn’t use this tool very much since speech is another thing I’d end up being a perfectionist about. However, it is an option. I’ve been thinking of leaving the mic on with background music, which is another sound option (by playing your music with the mic on–Jing doesn’t come with any music loops for the aspiring dubstep statistician).

For now, I’ve kept it as the native Flash file and link that is produced by default after saving a screencast. For the more tech savvy, you can bypass this and export the media file if you’d like to edit or upload it on other programs.

I’ve gotten good feedback from students about using it. It’s also nice to be able to direct questions to the links, instead of writing out steps in email, and is good for troubleshooting exactly where student or SPSS user confusion stems from. Overall, I’m pleased with it. Instructors needing the ability to edit or to do lengthier or more nuanced videos should look for its paid counterparts.

For now, I’ve kept it as the native Flash file and link that is produced by default after saving a screencast. For the more tech savvy, you can bypass this and export the media file if you’d like to edit or upload it on other programs.

I’ve gotten good feedback from students about using it. It’s also nice to be able to direct questions to the links, instead of writing out steps in email, and is good for troubleshooting exactly where student or SPSS user confusion stems from. Overall, I’m pleased with it. Instructors needing the ability to edit or to do lengthier or more nuanced videos should look for its paid counterparts.

Turning Technology Clicker

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Submitted by Melanie Paige Moore

Turning Technology Clicker Overview: The Psychology 101 class that I’m a Teaching Assistant for has been using clickers since the beginning of the year. There are three main features you can use with the turning technologies clickers: PowerPoint polling, anywhere polling, and self-paced polling. With the PowerPoint polling feature you can set up your presentation so that the polling software opens up automatically when you advance the PowerPoint presentation to a slide that has questions on it. With self-paced polling you can create actual paper tests in which students use their clickers to give answers.

Anywhere Polling Feature: This is the feature I’ve found most useful. Anywhere polling allows you to ask questions at any time during class. It does not require that you have a PowerPoint application open or that you have questions pre-embedded within the PowerPoint slides, as the PowerPoint polling feature requires. For example, if you have 10 questions within your PowerPoint presentation you want to ask but decide mid-way through the presentation you want to add a question not previously included, anywhere polling will allow you to do so immediately. PowerPoint polling or self-paced polling will not.

Other Cool Features and Things to Know: There is a timer that appears with each question you ask so that students know how long they have to answer a question. Once all responses are collected at the end of the lecture, you can easily assign the number of participation points you want each question to be worth. It takes less than 1 minute to transfer all participation points earned in class to Blackboard. There is also a results manager feature that gives you stats on how well the class did in answering the clicker questions. The software is easy to learn and available for free along with a step by step guide at the Technologies Services center in the library if you are a Teaching Assistant. At the Center for Teaching Excellence there is a contact person you can use as a resource should you have any questions about the software (listed below). Student Feedback: Students have expressed that the enjoy using the clickers. They especially enjoy the opinion questions because they get to share their thoughts while simultaneously seeing how their opinions relate to the class as a whole.

For Clicker Help at VCU contact: Stan Anamuah-Mensah, Instructional Technologist

Email: sanamuahmens@vcu.edu

Turning Technologies website: http://www.turningtechnologies.com/higher-education


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Submitted by Courtney Simpson

For this assignment, I created an account on Diigo. Diigo stands for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups, and Other stuff.” It is a website that allows you to bookmark, tag, and annotate other webpages and save them for future reference. Basically, you can create a personal library of information available on the web. Furthermore, it has a social component that allows you to share information with and get information from others. You can follow people and build friend lists that allow you to find resources from people that you know, and you can build different “groups” of people that you want to share resources with. In a group, each member can add, browse, and search the content. Additionally, group members can interact with on-the-page annotations. This element of Diigo could be very beneficial for a class – you could create a group for all the students in a class and provide a library of useful tools and resources they can use to further their learning. You can highlight and annotate parts of the text you think are important so the students know what to focus on. Moreover, the class could all read the same article and comment and discuss the article right on the page. Group sticky notes and group forums are available that allow people to interact with one another and discuss their ideas about the information. This component could facilitate students learning from one anothe.


The annotation component of Diigo is quite extensive, and this is very beneficial if you are someone like me who likes to use lots of highlighters and mark up text. My favorite feature is that you are able to highlight in four different colors! Additionally, you can add sticky notes to webpages or articles, and they can be either tied to a highlight or freely positioned. Furthermore, you can take a screenshot and capture part of a page. This feature allows you to work with it visually as an image, and you can mark it up with colorful text, arrows, and shapes. The image is saved and linked back to the original article, and you can add a description and tags. Diigo archives all the webpages you save so you do not lose content if something is deleted.


Overall, Diigo appears to be an awesome tool that would not only be helpful to teaching, but for personal organization as well. It is available in an app, so you are able to access all your information and resources on your phone or iPad. The one downside of Diigo is that the free version does not allow you to store or annotate PDFs. To do so, you must pay $5-6 per month. You can, however, save links to PDFs. While this is unfortunate, it is nice to be able to highlight and mark up different webpages and save them for future reference. I currently have a mess of bookmarks, and think I will start using Diigo to organize information I come across online.

Classroom Blogs

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Submitted by Stephen Molitor

For my technology assingment, I decided to explore the potential of using blogs as part of a course. Although you could encourage each student to make their own blog as part of a major assignment, I decided to practice building a single blog that the entire class could use. For this assignment, I took advantage of the “rampages” website that VCU has purchase; rampages is essentially a premium version of WordPress, so you have access to some extra bells and whistles. I learned several important lessons when attmpting to construct my practice blog, some of them were positive and some of them… were valuable learning experiences.

I first attempted to simply dive into a blog using all of the default settings. This was an extremely poor choice. I wasn’t happy with the default settings, tried to change my general blog theme, and messed up the format of the blog so much that I start the process over. If you plan on using blogs in your own courses and are not familiar with mechanics of WordPress, I cannot emphasize enough how valuable the introductory tutorials are. They provide you with some great information, like “play with different blog themes before adding any substantial detail to your blog.”

Once I had my theme nailed down, building the structure of the blog was actually pretty quick. I decided to make a practice blog for a history of psychology class because I felt it lent itself pretty easily to a blog format. I built several pages to my blog, treating each one like an individual assignment page where students could supply their own posts. For example, the first page I built was a biography page where students could submit summaries of different psychologists. One nice feature of the rampages setup is that you can allow your students to have varying levels of control over the blog, from simply reading and commenting on posts to submitting their own content. While intially creating your blog takes some finesse and patience, putting together a blog post is pretty straighforward. You could have student’s submit a practice post to make sure they understand the process, but you likely won’t need to devote much instruction time on the ins-and-outs of posting. I would recommend encouraging students to include photos, videos, or external links into their posts. It keeps the blog from simply becoming a wall of words and can connect students to other online resources.

I think there is some great potential for blogs as a component of a psychology course, especially for courses that tend to be a little heavier on surface-level content like introductory courses. Students can build a blog through individual and group assigments, and the amount of information added to the blog can turn it into a great review tool when it comes time for an exam. I also liked the idea that the folks from the ALT lab brought up to make the blog avaialable even after the course is done. It can be a quality resource for students as they complete other courses, and it can be clear and explorable evidence of an instructor’s incorporation of technology into the classroom.

Here’s the link to the practice blog I made: http://rampages.us/molitorsj/

Remind Smartphone App

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Submitted by Chelsea Hughes

The Remind smartphone app is a FREE classroom technology that’s used to allow teachers to communicate safely and effectively with students and, for younger age groups, their parents. The app begins with the teacher, who creates a unique code for their class. Then, using that code, students can sign up. Features of the app include the following:

– Text-based communication: Teachers can send mass messages to the class, and the app can be synced to either your email or your standard texting. It does not share your phone number. I really like this aspect, since so many students don’t check their emails regularly! Messages are also stored and easily accessed as a full message history.

– Stamps: Stamps allow you to receive feedback on your communications. Remind will even organize the output data for you. This would be a great way to conduct smaller evaluations, or launch mini quizzes for class. Stamps also track when individuals have seen the message.

-Scheduling: Because the app has a built-in calendar, you can schedule tasks for your students to see (exam due dates, etc.) . You can also schedule messages to be sent at specific times. I think this would be particularly helpful for out-of-class tasks that the students have to do. If, for example, they are supposed to attend a presentation that is outside of normal class hours, you could schedule a reminder message to be sent out.

-Attachments & Voice Clips: The app doesn’t just limit you to text. You can attach pictures, PDFs, record voice clips, and more. And, just like the messages, you can keep track of who has seen and interacted with the attachments.

Overall, I think this app is an excellent way to facilitate communication between students and teachers. I think this would be most helpful in smaller classes, or perhaps practicum-based or service-learning classes (in which consistent communication is important). Like many other classroom technologies, I think it does well to consolidate information and provide convenient access and storage of that information. Because of its multiple functions and versatility, it seems like every class could use Remind’s features to some extent. In the future, I’d like to utilize this tool for a class I’m teaching!


Available on iOS, Android, Tablets, and Computers.