Soundings: Best Practices in Teaching and Technology

Teaching with Technology at The University of Texas Arlington

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First Day Workshop: Please post at this blog:

March 21st, 2014 · Uncategorized

Hi! If you are looking for the blog to post for the First Day Workshop, it has been moved here:

Please click on the above link to post in advance of the First Day Workshop! Thanks for your contributions!

Peggy and Lana

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Resurrecting the Soundings Blog

March 15th, 2012 · Uncategorized

This blog is alive and well! Let’s share ideas collaboratively about how we integrate technology into teaching, and more importantly, student learning. How are you using technology to engage students in digital ways? Do you use technology to transform teaching, learning, and thinking?

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Thoughts on a Wednesday morning before classes commence

September 23rd, 2010 · Uncategorized

Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 7:49 AM


Getting away from lectures, even with 500+ students – why, and how so?

“Less is more.” “Well, they need to know it all.” “How much do they really know when they ‘learn it all,’ and in what ways do they ‘know’ it?”

Active Learning: when depth, and when breadth? For we cannot know it all, nor can we know it in all ways, in 15 weeks, 4 years, or 12 years.

Students “taking something of value” away with them

Taking learning to another level: Internalizing

Taking remembering to another level: understanding

Taking external knowledge to another level: integrating

Taking all our knowledge to another level: action


What is in short term memory, what in long? And what do students do with what is in long-term memory? Does it sit there? Is it integrated into their own system of knowing and understanding, into their own system of truth? Is it applied? Is it connected to reality of mind or physical space? Is it judged? Is it dialogued with? Is it argued for and against? Is it interwoven into the reality that all is connected? Is it valued? Is it devalued as necessary? Is it applied to integrity, morality, and wisdom? Is it applied to honesty? Is it deeply probed? Is the question ‘why’ asked? Is the question ‘in what context’ asked? Is it applied to action, memory, philosophy? Is it connected to ego or to goals of peace or to understanding? Does it answer the question, “Why are we here?” – as teachers, as students, as living organisms, as human beings? Does it give students more than the five-minute university of Father Guido Sarducci from “Saturday Night Live,” now available on Youtube? If not, what has to change? Does it go beyond education as a commodity and actually address quality of life? Freedom? Community? Quality of life for all – people, plants, animals, the ozone layer, the air, soil, and water? Isn’t it all connected, interwoven? And if so, in what ways are we helping our students explore that, and in what ways are we using our research, scholarship, and creativity to advance this? What is the bedrock, the foundation, the underlying philosophy which drives our enterprise? Which drives our thought? Our action? Our relationships with our students? Our essence? Our truth?

What is it of true value that our students and we, too, acknowledge as true value, that our students will take away with them and that will not only stay with them, but which they will continue to explore, understand in new ways, have varying perspectives on? From poetry to electrical engineering, from philosophy to music, from physics to nanotechnology, in what ways do we go beyond “vocational school” and beyond “getting a job” to “advancing the quality of life of humans, animals, the planet,” and “ getting along?”

We as a campus are not separate from one another. As all life and ideas are intertwined, so too are we. Yes, Electrical Engineering and German do indeed have something in common, have mutual interests and understandings as well as divergent themes and goals. We are a community of seekers of truth. We are a community. We are seekers. We are here to serve – not our egos, but “truth,” even though we know truth is not a concrete static entity. Perhaps more than truth, it is our purest, humblest honesty we are here to serve. We are here to serve understanding, and we are here to serve compassion and action to the greater good, even when it is difficult to do so.  Our scholarship, research, creativity, teaching, and student learning, our action and thought, our students’ action and thought – all of this is one and the same endeavor in various manifestations.

We are community and individuality, the self and other, the individual and society, and our endeavors – no matter what they are – happen within a social and cultural context, and within goals that are complicated, mixed, and sometimes both for better and for worse. We are called upon by the greater good and the need and the truth as we see it in our most honest and purest form/selves/depths to understand, to act selflessly and with integrity, as much as possible, and to help our students, our metropolitan area, and the world to do the same. Whether Confucius said it or not, “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” (Which of course is very culturally loaded as well, since light is not all good and darkness not all bad. Just as too much light will kill us, so too will too much darkness. Balance. And certainly humans have egos and anxieties, … but balance.)

The questions I have posed are in a way “universal” questions, and while in a way they have “universal” answers, yet each person’s exploration, answers, and resulting actions are individual manifestations of those themes. What we do here at the University is a symphony, and each of us produces variations on a theme, not by Mozart, but by us. So while my answer is not your answer, and no true answers are truly alike, yet we are playing the symphony, the symphony by us, each and every moment of the day, and at night in our dreams as well.

And a caveat: we must always remember that “language is the semblance of communication,” whether dealing with our research, scholarship, and creativity, each other, our students, international negotiations, or something else. If we keep that in mind, perhaps we will not kill each other so easily. (That caveat was the didactic part of this essay.)

So, then, in what ways does all of the above intersect, interact, communicate with those forces that have been put into play, also for better and for worse, which ask us to think about students’ modes of thinking, about outcomes, about assessment which is not grading but can use the same means, about active learning, about lecturing, about large classes, about small classes, about the use of technology as a tool to do what pencils, pens, and books cannot? I believe if we forget to constantly address all the above questions – and maybe you can think of more – we are not doing our ecstatic duty to ourselves and to others. Our highest calling is our purest, deepest honesty, that space within us which seems truly wise, that space where our fears and anxieties do not reside, where insight and the aha moment preside. And it is not eradicating ego; rather, it is going beyond ego to another space, in which we allow ourselves to feel safe – and dare I say happy, so that we can get on with our truest calling that does not monitor ourselves and others, but, like the meteor, is on its own trajectory, going where it will go.

So what does all of this have to do with best practices in teaching with technology? Most probably, everything.

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Learning with the Web

September 14th, 2010 · Uncategorized

You are right, Matt, that the web is the place/space for much learning to take place. In modern languages, for example, there is nothing in our classrooms and hardcover books that can replace some of what the web can do. Conversely, some of what is done in hardcover, physical books and in our classrooms cannot be found elsewhere. The task is to be clear on what’s what – on what the web allows us and our students to do/explore/learn/think about that we could not in any other way in the past and what the “older” tools and materials and spaces allow us to do as well.

The web has fulfilled the thirst and yearning of some language teaching professionals for access – access to languages and their cultures and subcultures and regional and national and extra-national cultures, to the sounds and sites of those cultures, to the public and private spaces in those cultures to which we have access through the web, to ancient parchments and old architectural sites, to manuscripts and books and pictures of the authors and their families and friends and spaces and penmanship and so forth and so on, to the ways in which current generations of human beings are accessing those ancient to current communications and verbal interactions and responding to and speaking with them – through print, online print, visuals, video, sound, and talk, translation and interpretation. The web provides all human beings access to worlds of cultures, if they only know 1) how to access them and 2) how to interpret them in effective and productive ways.

The web provides context. It provides food for our ears, eyes. Two of the senses are stimulated, as is the cognitive sphere, and perhaps the emotional as well. Maybe even the physical, as body changes occur depending on our emotional states. It does not provide taste, touch, or smell – yet (:-)?). It is not exactly like “being there.” On the other hand, it is breadth – lots of possibilities for accessing things and people that “are there.”

For modern language students it can – and it is coming – be the portal for getting to know people from the places where the language is spoken, for speaking face-to-face with those people, for developing networks with those people – for personal satisfaction and also for positive change – groups working together across the world on sustainability, for example.

If used well, the web can help us do simple, yet profound, things. Take, for example the images sites on search engines. If you plug into a search engine in other cultures and languages, type in a word or phrase in that language, you will see what visual concepts the native speakers in those cultures have in their heads. You will see what comes to mind. Take, for example, sitzen (‘to sit’). If you go to and click on Bilder (‘Images’), you will see how German speakers visualize sitzen, and in what contexts they publicize those ways of seeing the concept. You can see nuances that are culture-specific in the German word for ‘youth,’ Jugend. You can type in a word or phrase in the regular web search portal and find out how that word or phrase is used in written, maybe even spoken discourse, at least some of the time. You can hear how real native speakers use the language in various regions and various contexts.

And that is only a small bit of what students can do. What we need to teach them is how to navigate, and to be sensitive to possible intention and how to interpret that on the web – just as we do when we teach them to analyze older or newer language, literature, texts of other sorts, etc.

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For the One Millionth Time, This is NOT Online Learning…

June 21st, 2010 · Distance Education

The Chronicle boldly proclaimed today that “Online Learning May Slightly Hurt Student Performance.” How do they know this? A “study found that students who watched lectures online instead of attending in-person classes performed slightly worse in the course over all.”

That sound you hear is the collective world of EduGeeks around the world firmly planting their palm to their fore head. Online lectures are ten times as boring as the face-to-face version, so no wonder they performed so bad.

(that last statement is based on the results of my scientific study of the volume of snores originating from a few online lecture video based courses I know of)

One of the authors even had this to say: “It’s limited evidence, but I think it’s the highest-quality evidence that’s available.”

Sorry, but it is not anywhere near as good as the other evidence out there.  The previous analysis of online learning by the U.S. Department of Education (that this article mentions) actually looked at many different actual forms of online learning. Not the wanna-be online learning beast called video lectures.

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The Best Place To Learn IS On The Web

June 11th, 2010 · Distance Education

Much has been said recently about how the Web is making us more stupid. I blame Bing really – they said that humans are basically so dumb that we go on search overload if we can’t figure out a simple page of links.  I don’t feel “stupider” than I did before the Internet :)   Maybe I am just so ignorant that I don’t realize how dumb I am.

Finally, however, the New York Times brings some reality… and some actual science… into the debate with “The Defense of Computers, the Internet and Our Brains.”  My two favorite quotes:

“Critics of new media sometimes use science itself to press their case, citing research that shows how ‘experience can change the brain.’ But cognitive neuroscientists roll their eyes at such talk.”


“It could be argued that the Web, which is the ultimate library of words, video, images, interactivity, sharing and conversation, is the quintessential place to learn.”

And thousands of EduGeek around the world then said… “amen”…

Edit: made some changes, just in case people didn’t get my use of humor with the word “stupider.”

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HP Lets You Add Any Site to Augmented Reality

May 18th, 2010 · Active Learning

Thanks in no small part to the iPhone 3GS, Augmented Reality is starting to grow in leaps and bounds.  Google and others are also helping this growth in many ways.  As I have blogged about in past posts (and many others around the web have also mentioned), the lines between the online world and the offline world are blurring.  Enter into this mix Gloe from HP.

Gloe is a new service that, among other things, allows you to connect any website to a particular location in real life.  When you are at a physical site, your mobile device can then pull up websites that were voted most relevant for that location.  Of course, all of the regular “social” buzz-functions are there – tagging, FaceBook connections, etc. Gloe is still pretty new in some areas, but as this article on ReadWriteWeb points out, even if some function doesn’t work that great – at least the idea behind the function is really interesting.

We may have to wait a good ten years before any educational site or LMS catches on to this, but I like the possibilities of using this for education. I am sure there are more than a few EduPunks that are already using this (if you know of some, please post in the comments).  I love thinking about how one could transfer learning from a desk at home to a mobile device in the real world.  Maybe you could send your students on a scavenger hunt for a place in your city that best relates to your topic, and then they use a mobile blog app to complete an assignment? Or maybe they have to search the tags in the city and find something that relates to the week’s topic? Art students could go paint somewhere, snap a photo of the picture, upload it to a blog, and then tag that blog post to the location.  Humanities students could interview people or take surveys, then post the results online, and then connect the results page to the location where they collected it.  Students could begin connecting research results to locations and maybe even map differences between neighborhoods.

Many possibilities… depending on where the technology takes us.

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More Fun Bashing the LMS

May 10th, 2010 · Learning Management Systems

Clark Quinn has some great thoughts on “Why Bash the LMS“.  While the article is a bit more balanced than it might sound from the title, I still like that he calls out what needs to change:

“On principle, I want the best tool for each task.  The analogy is to the tradeoffs between a Swiss Army knife and a tool kit.  There will be orgs for which an all-singing all-dancing system make sense, as they can manage it, they can budget for it.  In general, however, I’d want the best tool for each job and a way to knit them together.  So I’d be inclined to couple an LMS with other tools, not assume I can get one that’s best in all it’s capabilities.”

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Will The Internet Start Looking More Like the World, or the World Like the Internet?

May 4th, 2010 · Active Learning, Distance Education

I was pondering future trends last week while watching the evening weather forecast.  Forecasting while watching a forecast?  Anyways… We were in for a possible round of severe weather that week. The news anchor put up a map of “storm spotters” – a network of people that would call in from their homes and tell what is happening in their area.

In other words, forecasting the weather is starting to incorporate crowd sourcing.

We have seen a giant push to get websites to work intuitively… and to even start thinking for us.  So on one hand – the Internet is starting to look more like the real world.  But I think even more often we are starting to see the world around us looking more and more like the Internet.  The powers that be are starting to see that there is power in crowd sourcing and social networking.  I wonder what real-life social networks we will see spring up next?

The real question for us is – can we use these ideas in education?  What if we took this weather stations ideas and applied them to a class? What if, instead of one large class, we broke that class down into smaller units based on geographic location.  Each smaller group forms a study group of sorts that watches issues related to the class subject in their area.  The small groups are loosely tied to one another in a way to share what they are learning about the subject.  The small groups would study local events or places. In this situation, the LMS would become more like the newscast – aggregating all of the input in one spot for everyone to benefit.

What if time and location became irrelevant for synchronous classes? What if you were grouped with a small group of people that lived near you when you sign up for a class, and then that group decided what day and time to meet for class?  The instructor would then send out assignments each week or maybe record a video for the group to work through. Maybe the instructor even met with each group.  then the groups send in their work to the class and the instructor aggregates all of the information coming in from each group and summarizes them for the entire class (which would essentially include all small groups no matter where they meet in the world).

Potentially, you could ave hundreds of students all meeting in a synchronous fashion, but all still in a way that fits their schedule.  This is, of course, another area where there is technology to do this… but we need one that is more specifically geared for educators.

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Digital Institute Spring 2010

May 3rd, 2010 · Active Learning, Distance Education, Multimedia, Resources, Workshops

This semester for Digital Institute, the Center for Distance Education was pleased to sponsor two presenters on themes of great interest to our group:  Joan Hughes (University of Texas at Austin) spoke on “Diffusion of Transformative Technology Integration: What is transformative technology integration and how can I (meaning you!) support it at UT Arlington?“, and Peggy Semingson (University of Texas, Arlington) shared her research with  ”Online Mentoring: Findings from a Case Study“.


In a first for this event, Digital Institute Spring 2010 took place entirely online, via Adobe Connect, under the watchful direction of Scott Massey and Erika Beljaars-Harris.  With their preparation and troubleshooting, the event was a splendid success!


You can view a recording of this event online as well.  Please do learn from our speakers and discussions from this past event, and we look forward to including even more of the UTA community at a future Digital Institute!

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