Making & Reaching Your Goals

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Over the years I have tried to reach some goals. Often the goal was quite easy like, “Get the lawn mowed before dark,” or “Don’t waste time on social media today,” or “Write more regularly in your blog.” These are worthy goals, but not life goals or even long-term goals. You will notice that this is a little longer than most my blog posts and not specifically about technology. That is because there is a lot behind the use of technology. This continues the thinking in my previous blog and relates to other former blog posts.

The other day a quote by Katherine Miracle caught my attention:

Your mindset will lead you to what you desire, if you are willing to work for what you dream of.

This is more of an inspiration than a goal, but it still relates to the process of achievement. Katherine Miracle knows about achievement. I was inspired by her work ethic several years ago when she was a senior in my class trying to graduate. You can read about her achievements in her book, Discovering Your Dawn. And she started her own company that has become nationally recognized. Truly she is one who has a mindset and a willingness to work.

Soon after I read that quote, I saw an interesting report telling about combining psychology and typography in order to help in education. I found that quite interesting. This cooperative research and experiential learning project resulted in a new font that helps people to better remember what they read. Their research as they developed it showed a significant memory increase for those using this new font (see the details at Sans Forgetica).

The psychology of it, oversimplified, is that this font makes the reader fill in gaps and work harder than typical or traditional fonts. I knew of the concept of “perceptual completion” in nonverbal communication or “illusory contours” and even taught these concepts to my students. We complete what we don’t see by filling in what we typically see or expect to see – we complete the unfamiliar with what is familiar in order to understand it or make sense of it. The common fonts, those we have seen so many times in everything we read, are so common and familiar to us, we need less effort or thought to understand the words. Our brains are lazy, it seems. Similarly, you may have seen the memes that jumble letters in a sentence to show we don’t need fully accurate spelling to understand words, as long as the first and last letters are in place. (It is explained briefly at LifeHack, and the “original” research is attributed to Graham Rawlinston.)

up to meI do know that we have become lazy. Or, perhaps more fairly put, we have developed so many things to help us or make our lives easier that we have become less likely to work at things to get what we want. We don’t always have to. Take memory for instance. Know a phone number? We don’t have to because our phone saves it for us. More simply, remember anything? We don’t have to because we can look it up, or “Google it.” It began with the pencil and paper being readily available to us – we could write it down instead of remembering it – whatever “it” was.

Another popular discussion related to this is the concept of “grit” explained in a TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth. This, quite briefly, is the idea that it doesn’t matter how smart you are or your IQ as long as you have the “passion and perseverance for very long term goals,” or stamina, or sticking with your goals – the desire to keep trying. This goes for success in any category – school, work, sports, arts, etc.

So why don’t we have more of this (grit, effort, work, desire)? How do we get it? Perhaps more important for me as a teacher is, “How can I get it into my students?” I want them to learn. I want them to succeed. I know they need to work at it. Science has not come to an answer to this question yet.

So I try many things to spark that in my students. Sometimes it may be an encouraging comment that helps a student through a difficult semester and find their dawn, like Katherine Miracle. Or it may be grading tough, expecting the best so a student realizes that an A- is not good enough and works toward being the best, then goes on to win Emmy’s in a major market, like Michelle Molnar. Or it could be showing my love for the field and teaching that inspires a student to go on for a PhD and also enjoy teaching, like Anthony Esposito. Other times I am not sure what it is, but some students make a point to tell me that I helped them, like Micheal Fath and Paul Liberman. Or like many others that have been kind enough to mention it to me.

And there are the negative comments from students, too, usually on the anonymous course evaluations. I read them all. They tell me how I am bad. And I consider them. I try to figure them out so I can make it not so bad. I keep thinking about it, and technology usually comes into my plan.

Because I am still trying to reach that goal . . .

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Helping Students Understand

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During my career the past 30+ years, I’ve realized something important: I cannot teach. And I find that odd because that is what I am supposed to do. That is what they pay me for. I’ve even won awards for doing it.

So what’s happening? I realize that I am only a helper. If students want to learn, then I can help. But I cannot teach them if they do not want to learn.

I try to present information in an understandable, sometimes entertaining way – at least not boring. I show students how this information can be used, how it could help them in their life and career, and what things I find interesting in all this and how they may find it interesting, too.

Then, of course, there is the external motivators. I set up the assignments and grading to force them to practice the things they need to do with the information and skills I am presenting to them. Since most of my classes are online, I am not using attendance as a motivator – in other words, no grade for attendance or penalty to their grade for not attending.

Since I am still teaching digital storytelling as I have before, I continue to present examples for my students. This time, it is another infographic:

Class Costs

This infographic displays the costs of each individual class meeting for a senior at The University of Akron in 2018. I specify a senior because there are fewer fees than other undergraduates, so I thought it would be simpler data to show, and because my students are seniors in class this time, making it more relevant to them.

I used Canva. I find it quite easy to use, and it has a free version that is limited but complete enough for most designs.

Does this help motivate them to learn? I think it should, but that is me, the teacher, the parent, the worker, the bill payer, not me the student – and I do remember that even though it was several years ago.

For example, I do remember a course I took that I didn’t care about too  much; you know, one of those required classes. I did what I had to and didn’t study as much as I could or should. Then the final exam came. It was exceptional – a wonderful example of applying what we were supposed to learn and showing how well we learned it. I was frozen, thinking, “What a great exam! I’m going to fail it, but what a great exam!”

That stuck with me, but it did not mature as an idea until a few years ago – when I realized I cannot teach.

I do not know what my cost per class was back then. I do know I had college loans to pay off for several years after I graduated. But my degree did get me into my career, so it was a great investment. I love what I do – even though I am not sure I can do it.

I cannot teach, but I will do whatever I can to help students learn. Sometimes it is part of my course content, and sometimes it is a part of life in “the real world” I need to share.

Video Lectures – Here’s Two Options

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As I incorporate video into my classes (online and supplemental in my face-to-face classes) I find that there are many new “tricks” and “techniques” that are pushed for producers to use – in education as well as the many business applications for video.

One thing I like is to have me visible at times as well as the other visual content. I feel this helps keep my students engaged and watching/listening to the video more than if it was simply one or the other: just me as a “talking head” or just the information without a person or face with it. Mind you, there is probably research out there to confirm this feeling, but I’m not quoting it here now.

 

Video-selfI know whatever visual changes we make helps keep our limited attention span connected to the message, and eye contact in communication provides “immediacy” (or: Cognitive Valence Theory– section on Verbal and Nonverbal Communication) which helps the listener stay engaged.

 

 

I found a couple tools I can use to put face and information together in my video. Each has some advantages and disadvantages. Let me explain my perspective and experience with them.

Panopto is relatively simple . . .

One is incorporated into the LMS we use at my university and is possibly available to you as well: Panopto. Panopto is relatively simple to use to capture you via your computer’s web cam as you go through your PowerPoint or Keynote slides. Once recorded, I wait for it to render and then I can download the video podcast in one of several formats: primary video only (me); secondary video only (my slides); picture-in-picture (with me small in the lower right corner); side-by-side; or tile all streams (which ends up being the same as side-by-side for me since I only have the two streams).Video-small

The picture-in-picture and side-by-side are my favorites. But sometimes I want to change views during the video instead of maintaining the same view throughout. In order to do that with Panopto videos, I have to download the different views I want and edit them together (I use either iMovie or Premier.) I try not to take the additional time for that extra step.

Whichever way I use the video, I can embed it into my course or web page.

Soapbox is simple and flexible . . .

My other approach is using Soapbox. Soapbox is simple and flexible to learn and to use. This is a Crome add-on, so I have to use that instead of my usual Safari or Firefox, but that is really not a deal-breaker for me. Wistia allows you to use Soapbox for free, but there are limitations, of course.

To record, you have your presentation open, make sure your computer web cam is aimed properly, and begin. To use the recording, you can leave it as it is with a split screen showing you and your presentation side-by-side, or you can edit it. The editing allows you to clip the beginning and end points, and let’s you choose between the side-by-side, the presentation alone, and you alone. This variety can help emphasize the presentation information or bring you in front of your audience for that personal communication touch. This is an easier way to add variety to the video.Video-side-by-side

The limitation of the free version is that you cannot download the video or embed it into your course or web page. You have to provide the viewer with a link to Soapbox/Wistia for them to watch the video. This may not seem like a big deal, but I like to keep my students in my class as much as possible. Opening another window is like opening a window. I mean, it is one more distraction from the class itself.

With enough money, none of this would be a problem – one could hire the production staff and let them worry about it!

For me, I still go between the two trying to decide.

Sisyphus Revisited – Animation Example

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I did one more for my Digital Storytelling class examples. This is stop-motion animation. And let me say right up front – it is not a professional production, I know that!

I took a slightly different look at the story of Sisyphus. After writing my original idea for the story and planning for it, I realized I had to simplify – primarily due to my time constraints, and secondarily due to my lack of motivation. Stop-motion takes work, a lot of work, and an extreme amount of work to make it look good. I did not work that hard. (OK, I admit, I didn’t WANT to work that hard over my spring break for an example animation.)

I used Stop Motion animation app on my iPad. It is simple and easy to use. It allows the end product to be downloaded as an MP4. So I did that, and did the final editing in iMovie.

Here is the final result.

The steps in making this included: writing a script (rough in my head mainly since the story is familiar), sketching the character, rock and mountain, cutting out the poses for all, animating it, recording sounds, editing a final video all together.

piecesNot being an artist, I had to find images to copy from. I think I did a fine job for an amateur, and if I were to produce something else I would probably hire an artist, of course. Drawing and then redrawing each image onto card stock and cutting them out took about an hour. After a test run on the app to see how it produced a video, I then jumped into my real production. As you see, I did not use a tripod. The hand-held part was for time and expense since I had little time to create some version of a tripod and did not have the funds to purchase a tripod to hold my iPad. The results make me sea sick – I’m sorry if it does the same to you. But, then again, this is only an example for my storytelling class (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it).

Shooting the scenes took 1-2 hours. Recording sounds only took about 5 minutes – I did a hint of boulders rolling since I did not have one around. Final editing took about an hour also, including finding a nice music track to use. I did a quick listen to music on Free Music Archives and found “Epic Song” (I thought appropriate to Sisyphus) by BoxCat Games. It has a Creative Commons Attribution license to allow use in the video here.

After trying to make a stop-motion animation, it increases your admiration for those who make them professionally – especially feature-length movies. It takes a true love of the art.

My class was assigned to create a story using animation (any type, not only stop-motion) that is at least 30 seconds but not longer than 3 minutes. I’m looking forward to seeing their creativity. You can tell me what you think of mine if you like.

Animation Exercise

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As I was working on my second example of an animated story for my Digital Storytelling class, I came across a project that I did with the help of my daughter when she was in about 6th grade. She drew the monkey and I added the sound and edited it for an event in the School of Communication. I lost the final version in one of my many hard drive crashes, but still have the original drawings.

So I decided to use the same drawings but add new audio to create a new animation. The total project (not including the time it took my daughter to draw the monkeys) was about an hour. This includes recording and editing my voice, editing the stills to fit the words being said, matching the voice-to-image, searching for background music, and editing the background music to get this final product.

For the sound editing I used Audacity. I’ve always found it easy to use, and I am still discovering the many editing tools. For this project, I adjusted my voice with the “Change Speed” effect. I also had to adjust the tempo to help fit the images. Both steps were rather simple – and I admit were not necessary, but made the final version more fun than a “regular” voice. After exporting the voice recording as an MP3, I imported it into iMovie.

The background music came from Free Music Archive. I simply played a few files to find something upbeat that could work. I had nothing in particular in mind beyond that. I found “Panther” by Qusic, and made sure it was licensed so I could use it – it has a Creative Commons license for Attribution-Share Alike. Perfect! (Thank you, Qusic!) After downloading the file, I imported it into iMovie and chose a few seconds to fit the short video. I had to split the clip so I could limit the volume under the voice – no problem.

With iMove, one is limited in what can be done, but for a simple, “unprofessional” video like this it worked fine.

So, how do you like Monkey Mocha (the name my daughter gave her monkey sketches)?

Animation Story – Example

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The next project I am having my students complete is to tell a story using animation. There are so many varieties of animation or styles that I am going to try to give more than one example. This is my first example.

I created this brief story and animation for one of my Akron Experience classes to help introduce them to the office of Off Campus Student Services (I am not sure if we still have that office now). There were other student services that I did similar story introductions for, also, but I like this one best. It has a conflict or obstacle, some rising action, a climax and falling action. There is meaningful movement.

I used GoAnimate to create this. I like the variety and flexibility it offers. It is very easy to learn and use. At the time it was free, but now there is a charge (but there is a 14-day free trial). Although not expensive, I still have not started an account for myself to create more.

For the dialogue I used both recorded voice and typing in text – thanks, Maggie, “Worried Student.” You can choose a variety of male and female voices with many accents (US, English, Australian, etc.). Overall, I would recommend recording the voices because you never know how the computer will pace the talking, let alone how it will pronounce the words you type in.

This story is only about 23 seconds long. I want my students to have their stories at least 30 seconds long and no more than three minutes. If a story were animated by stop-motion, the product process would take longer and a briefer story would work better. If using this program or one similar, a longer story would be rather simple to complete – this took me about 20 minutes total.

We’ll see what my students come up with!

Relationship Stages – Infographic Example

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This assignment for my students was to “tell a story” using an infographic. Again, we are using a broad definition of “story” to fit it into this mode of delivery. I am trying to emphasize the importance of details, data, and supporting information in conveying ideas, while still limiting the amount of such supporting information. An infographic also involves visual cues to help support or emphasize the information, so we have to consider and plan those aspects.

Again, I put together one myself as an example. I also wanted to be sure I realized the amount of work, time and effort it takes for the assignment – you know, to help keep it real (or practical, or so my expectations of my students are aimed properly).

This is my infographic:

stages

I used easel.ly which is an infographic builder with a free version (or, of course, an upgrade, but actually a very reasonable cost per year). This is the first time I used this software. It was not too difficult to learn. I’m sure there are details I could have used. There are several templates set up and ready to use, but I did not see what I wanted for this information.

After deciding on a topic to tell, I gathered my information and decided how much I could leave out while still getting a full understanding across. I hope I reached that goal – not only for this assignment example, but also because I teach this information in one of my classes.

My next step was to find an image that helped or fit with the information. There is no shortness of mountain pictures, images or drawings. Finding a single mountain limits the number a little, but still . . .

I found good photos, and it came down to one of Mt. Fuji, a

green mountain (I think from Ireland), a mountain trail used by the Incas in Peru, and the one I used from Iceland.

I did not put each of the mountain photos in the background to decide, I just used the simplest image since it was figurative or supportive and not the main point of information.

stages2

I could have edited the stair image better, but this is just for an example.

The model of relationship stages is typically called the step model – stepping up and stepping down – so I looked for images of stairs to use. It was not as easy to find photos or drawings of stairs that would work in this situation. (But there are some extremely nice stairways out there!) And I did not want to draw or create the stair image myself, though some may create what they want. The stairs do make the image simpler, and some may say that the text is easier to read using the plain, white background instead of the mountain. But, I did not think stairs looked as nice as a mountain, so I went with the more aesthetically pleasing image.

I had some difficulty getting the arrows, shapes and lettering all lined up. And I am not fully pleased with the final results. However, I did make the decision to have the letting and arrows consistent for each side. The default is black, but I wanted to make the “Coming Together” distinct from the “Coming Apart.” I do think that worked out well.

This is a nice summary of the information, and I will probably use it in my class next time I cover this topic (especially since I did so much work on it).

Well, you can also let me know what you think. I’d appreciate any feedback. (thanks!)

That Happened – podcast example

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This storytelling project is more straightforward as storytelling goes. It is to tell a story using only audio – a podcast. The challenge is not only to gain the listener’s attention, go through the story arc (building interest, and come to some conclusion) but to do all that with only the sound of your voice. I did, however, allow them to use sound effects if needed, and I mentioned if they really want to take the time (if they had it) that they could use music (we discussed copyright!) but that would probably be too much at this stage. I also required them to read/tell the story themselves – not have someone else read it.

The students are to tell a story by doing a podcast of 1-3 minutes, so I am providing this example:

 

The example is a good story: it has a problem, other complicating situations that hinder a simple solution, and then a climax that solves the problem. I also tried to wrap the story in light of a central point or thought: how do we explain some things that are beyond simple explanation? I think that came across well (you can tell me your perception of this if you like).

I wrote it, and then I rewrote it a couple times. I think I only had to do a few drafts because I had the story bouncing around in my head for quite a while. I did have to practice reading it out loud. Even with the practice, I had to record it three times. One reason was because my dog interrupted, then the phone interrupted (working at home instead of a nice sound booth). The recording was simple on my digital audio recorder ZoomH2(Zoom H2 – newer versions available now). Then I did a little editing with Audacity. I combined parts of the different recordings, but only a little. Most of my editing was to get it under 3 minutes. I cut some interesting but unnecessary information. Instead of re-recording it, I simply cut the phrases and sentences that were not needed. A couple edits were to put a phrase or sentence from one version into my final because I thought I read it better one way instead of the other – that’s mainly a matter of taste, but sometimes it conveyed the message differently with the various vocal inflections and pace.

So, the only thing I may change now is to add some intro or theme music. (Maybe when I go pro and make a series of podcasts.)

Single Image Project – Example

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Another digital storytelling project is more challenging – trying to use only one image.

This requires that we allow a broad definition of “storytelling.” You can’t really get a full story – all the details, the full explanation – in one still image. But you can show that something is happening, something is or was going on. You can pique the interest of the viewer and stir the imagination.

There are so many ways to do this. Those who study photography are still at work doing this. For us amateurs, we have to try harder (and usually take several more photos to find one that works).

So, I will show a few examples, each a different approach or style. None “professional” of course – these are my own.

First: Stitches

stichesI thought this picture stirred the imagination. There are a few different stories that could come from this or lead up to this image.

Depending on which direction you let your imagination run, I could be a clumsy dope who had an accident, a jerk who got in a fight, a victim of a jerk who attacked me, or, actually, this image is the result of an operation – I had skin cancer.

Unlike many images that tell a story, this one is an extreme close up. Most images that are used to tell a story are a broader view and typically show some action or event.

Second: Graduation

DT K gradThis shot is one like many take at events to “record” it, to keep it as a memory. And many images like this do tell a part of a story. This image is simple, and there really isn’t much more to the story than what you see: I graduated from kindergarten.

Is it an interesting story? Well, to me and my family, yes, of course. But is it interesting to others? Maybe, at best, but probably not (other than I am a really cute kid). It is a bit different from other graduation photos because I am so young, and most people graduate when older like from high school or from college. So that is what I thought may have been the hook to catch the viewer’s interest.

And: Friends Reading

Friends ReadingThis image is one that brings the viewer into the scene. The attention of the people in the picture is focused on the book, so the viewer would wonder what are they reading? What is the relationship – probably grandmother and granddaughter, but it is not certain.

It is simple, it shares a moment, and it stirs the imagination.

I like it and the story it tells.

Multiple Image Storytelling Project – 3

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One of the first digital storytelling projects is a  to use 4-7 images to tell a story. I allowed students to either use images without words or with some text, like a comic strip. The exercise is to be relatively simple, but to work on using images more than text to convey the story. How do you show emotion, the obstacle and the resolution, or tension in images? How can you create a connection to the characters? How do you do this without words? The goal is to get a complete story down to the basic or only the necessary details.

As I explained before, here is an example I had fun with.

Third Example

I like donuts. I love Krispy Kreme donuts! I have the calendar that gives coupons every month. What a good story to tell! And here is my story:

“Saving a Morning”

Donut Story

This is a simpler story than my previous example. I don’t think any words are needed. Can you relate to it? Most probably can – some mornings we feel dull, uninspired, or tired and a simple thing can make our day. Besides, what is better than a warm Krispy Kreme donut hot off the baking rack?!

Overall, this story was simple to put together. First, I had to think up the story. I got hungry one morning and thought it was a good idea. Second, I had to get the “talent” involved, so I called my daughter. We often go get donuts together anyway, so it did not take too much convincing (especially since I was buying). Third, I had to plan the steps that conveyed the story – giving enough info to make a complete story and eliminating unnecessary information.

I got a few shots of each step and chose the one that looked the best and got the idea of that phase of the story across. I put it together by inserting images in MSWord. I used a table and put one image in each cell except for the last image. I wanted the last image to be emphasized a little more, so I combined two cells. This also solved the problem of an uneven number of images forced into a table with equal rows and columns. A little formatting to get the images centered in their cell helped the overall look. However, using a table is not required.

So, another example of digital storytelling. I look forward to your reaction. And feel free to share your stories!

Update:

After discussing this example with my class, I wanted to share some of their ideas about how improve my donut story. They brought out ideas to show more conflict or obstacles such as showing an empty fridge or an empty wallet. The ideas were to make the story more interesting and engaging – they had good ideas, and I look forward to seeing their stories.

We talked about the logistics of planning and photographing a story, an how my hurry limited the quality of the story.