jump to navigation

Enriching Scholarship 2014 – Google Apps in CTools June 4, 2014

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Enriching Scholarship is “a week of free workshops, discussions, and seminars… for instructional faculty and staff” at the University of Michigan. On Thursday I attended a session on using Google Drive and Calendar in CTools. I am also part of the pilot. Members of the Astronomy Department can check it out on the ASTRO 000 sandbox site. 

Currently, these tools are in Pilot mode, but they expect to release them in fall. If you want to see them (or anything else on the site) the way your students see them, creating a friend account and adding it to your site is highly recommended.

CTools should be a hub for students and faculty to access and organize their tools and materials. To that end, the developers have started trying to bring other tools, like Google Calendar and Drive, into CTools. They chose these tools as priorities because when students were polled about what they wanted, they overwhelmingly asked for Google Calendar.

Google Calendar

Please note that putting both the Google Calendar and the Schedule tool on a single site is not recommended.

If you add the calendar to your site, your students should automatically have access to it in their Google Calendar under the Other Calendars section. If they hide it from their list, they can get it back in the calendar settings. Also, it can’t be hidden from CTools, so they view it there. They (and you) can also control the notifications under the settings, but don’t forget that the general settings are over-ridden by event specific settings. You may want to save the reminders for important events, like exams, and let them set their own homework reminders.

The calendar should show up in your list under “My Calendars.” Just like your students, you can use settings to change whether or not it is displayed, set default notifications, etc. You will always have access to it through CTools.

You can only have one calendar per site, and there are no group-level permissions (so no group-specific deadlines). Also, be aware that at this time, friend accounts cannot actually open the event and get the details.

Currently, it works with the Assignments tool, so when you create an assignment, you can check “Add due date to schedule” and it will put the deadline on the calendar. They are also working on integrating it with the sign-up tool (currently in stealth mode.) Test Center is likely to be the next priority after that, but probably not in time for fall. You can of course manually add events to the calendar too.

Students should be able to “invite” the calendar to an event, so you can use it . You control the settings for what the calendar does with the invitation, which could include setting the calendar to auto-decline all invitations.

You can export/import events from one calendar to another, just like a regular Google Calendar.


As with Calendar, you get one root folder, and there are no group level permissions. Anything put in the Drive folder for your CTools site is automatically shared with everyone on the site. Sharing permissions are at the folder level only, not document level, so be aware that if you give edit permission to the folder, that means the students can edit every document in that folder!

The big advantage of course is that you can access it from your Drive, including your desktop application, so you can write an assignment on the bus, save it in your drive folder, and it will automatically be added to the CTools site when you get an internet connection. No need to revise it locally, then log in to CTools and up lead the new version!

Since it is tied to Drive, each document has a URL, so you can attach it to something in Assignments or Test Center (just remember, it’s there for the students to see!)


That brings to an end all my notes from this year’s Enriching Scholarship! I hope you found them useful.

Enriching Scholarship 2014 – Kickstart your ePortfolio May 21, 2014

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Enriching Scholarship is “a week of free workshops, discussions, and seminars… for instructional faculty and staff” at the University of Michigan. On Friday I co-hosted a session on ePortfolios. 

Most of the session was spent brainstorming what should go into an ePortfolio and planning it out. The end of the presentation has tips for using Google Sites.


Enriching Scholarship 2014 – CTools Hidden Treasures II May 20, 2014

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Enriching Scholarship is “a week of free workshops, discussions, and seminars… for instructional faculty and staff” at the University of Michigan. On Wednesday I attended a session on CTools new and underused tools by Jeff Zeigler. CTools in the U-M implementation of the Sakai learning management system (LMS). If that’s gibberish to you, this post probably isn’t useful.

 Joinable link

If you have a project site that is joinable, you can create a link to invite users to join your site. Simply take the orignal site url and add /join in the middle. The original url looks something like https://ctools.umich.edu/portal/site/<siteid&gt;. The joinable link looks like https://ctools.umich.edu/join/portal/site/<siteid&gt;. 

Note that only users with uniqnames or friend accounts that already exist in CTools will be able to use this link. They are working on an “invitation” that would create a friend account if it doesn’t exist.

To make the site joinable: In Site Info, under Manage Access, choose “Allow anyone to join the site with valid login id.”

Sharing materials across sites

If you use the same materials on several sites, you can place it under Resources in My Workspace. The best practice is to create a public folder in your resources folder, and make sure it is shared with the world.

Add a Site Icon

The site Icon is at the top of the navigation menu on the left side. You can change this to something to make your site easily identifiable to the users. An image size of 120×80 is optimal. Place the image either in the Site Resources, or in the Public folder in Resources under My Workspace. From the Actions drop-down menu for the image, choose Edit Details. Click “Select URL (for copying)” next to Web address (URL) under the File Details section to copy the URL of the image. Go to Site Info, Edit site information, paste url into the box  labeled “Icon URL.”


Some documents can be printed directly from CTools. From the Actions drop-down menu for the image, choose Print. It doesn’t work with all documents types. ALso, it’s a new feature, and still has a few bugs.

Special templates

Site templates are useful if you repeatedly create the same basic sites. Templates contain a basic set of tools and resources. There are a few special templates too. The Listserve project only displays home and help. User can receive emails from the site without having their email address revealed. However, it does reveal the sender’s address if users send to the site or reply to a message. You don’t need the email archive enabled to send & receive email from the site. The HIPAA template is a compliant site that can be audited at any time.


In the polls tool, responses are always anonymous. The user data, including the reference number, is not stored. Because of that, multiple answers are possible.

Embedding YouTube videos

YouTube changes the embed code regularly. This is the best method to use as of May 2014.

Find the video you want to use on YouTube. Below the video, click Share, then click Embed. A box will open with a code snippet. Copy that embed code.

Go to the CTools site you want to embed int in,  or to My Workspace. In Resources, under the Add dropdown menu for the folder you want to place the video in, select Create HTML page. In the upper left corner of the WYSIWYG editor, click Source to switch to the source code view. Paste the embed code here and save. You now have a page within CTools with the video embedded in it. To use the video elsewhere (e.g. in a test or on the homepage), Select Edit Details from the Actions dropdown menu, then copy the URL. You can now paste the URL into the Web Content tool, into the Worksite Information box on the site homepage, or into the attachments field in Test Center or Assignments.

Images and Video in Test Center

To hide an image or video, create the HTML page in My Workspace instead of in the Site Resources and share it to test from there. Students won’t be able to browse to it. Just to make sure, test it using a friend account.

Lesson Builder

This is an powerful and big tool, deserving of its own separate post.


This is still in stealth mode, so it must be requested. It lets you post anything you can put in an Excel CSV. The first column of the CSV needs to be the uniqname. The rest of the columns can be anything else: grades, comments on a project, group assignments, etc.

Comming Soon

The following tools are currently in stealth mode, but should are available soon.


Aggregates sites into your MyWorkspace in a more intuitive way. Allows push notification.

Sign-up tool

Allow students to sign up for things like office hours

Page order tool

Available on project sites now. Use with caution – students learn the names and order of the tools so changes can result in confusion.  This allows the site owner to reorder pages, change their name, or hide tools.

Enriching Scholarship 2014 – Large class engagement May 13, 2014

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Enriching Scholarship is “a week of free workshops, discussions, and seminars… for instructional faculty and staff” at the University of Michigan. On Wednesday I attended a session on best practices for large lectures sponsored by the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (CRLT). The CRLT formed Faculty Learning communities centered around large courses, focused on improving the classes and engaging students. Part of the goal is to find a way to engage the students not only during lecture, but also outside of class.

Michaela Zint

Michaela Zint uses Piazza as an exam study tool. She put study questions into Piazza about a week before the exam, and assigns a couple of questions to teams of  2-3 students. The teams post solutions, then review another group’s solution to a different questions. She also reviewed answers, up-voting good ones and commenting on incomplete or erroneous ones. Student’s exam scores improved some, but their participation improved significantly, and carried through into lecture. However, there were a few important things she has found about using Piazza.

If the faculty doesn’t use piazza, it isn’t useful to the students, and they hate it. If the prof. is active, they love it (how you use the tool is more important than the existence of the tool). Allowing students to post anonymously makes it a safe-to-fail environment, but faculty can still see who participated, so participation credit can still be assessed. Without credit, it doesn’t get used much, so low stakes assessment is needed to ensure participation. For exam prep, she found it was better to include some points for accuracy of answers too. Participation is additionally increased by a “bargin” where she agrees to help the students based in part on how much work they put in.

There is a significant added load in the week before exams (especially since she needs to assess the essay-type answers to make it truly valuable) BUT it significantly reduces the repeated “when is the exam” type of email, so on average it actually reduces her load (note to achieve this reduction, it is important to make sure students are using piazza, not email). Additionally, she sets a time limit after which she is done for the day and won’t answer any more questions.

One other note: although piazza is incorporated into CTools, ITS and 4-help are not very familiar with it. The piazza support people are really great though, and they can handle most questions.

Jim Morrow

Jim Morrow was looking for a way of increasing engagement outside the course, and giving them practice with analytical reading skills. He wants them to be able to analyze current events on their own.

For class, he has them write papers, and gives essay questions on the exam. He uses Lesson Builder in CTools to give them practice doing an “annotated news story.” The assignments are practice only, not for credit. However, he talks about why it’s useful in class, and the GSIs review the stories in discussion, so it is clear that it is important.

In Lesson Builder, they get a story with a writing prompt. After reading the story with the prompt in mind, they can look at an annotated version to check their answers. After they open the answer, the next question becomes available, then the next answer, etc. He is working on ideas for actually grading the activities.

Doug Richstone

Doug was looking for ways to address 3 vexing issues: limited engagement in the subject,  shallow comprehension despite good factual knowledge, and Friday class/low attendance. The things he tried: lots of low stakes assessment, including frequent quizzes, harder homework with optional/bonus questions that were even more difficult, think-pair-share and clickers, and bonus points on Friday.

The one thing that worked unquestionably were the bonus points on Friday – much better attendance.

During the class, students did a lot of struggling to keep up, but there was a larger “A” group (20% instead of 5 – 10%) than in past semesters. He also had a larger early attrition rate than in the past. Maybe this was an unusual year though, because there seemed to be a lot of people with flu, or it could have been a quicker wake-up call to get rid of students who  wouldn’t have done well and would have dropped latter. The few late drops he did talk to thought they couldn’t achieve the grade they wanted, so better clarity of grading is important. Many did not realize that the optional assignments could raise their grade by one full letter!


After the presentations, there was a lot of time for discussion, including suggestions for participants.

In a class on archeology and pseudoscience, the prof. shows a youtube video, then has class discuss it. She also gives candy and stickers for participation (which the students seem to love and it frees her from having to track points).

To track in-class work, she uses a Google form instead of clickers so she can collect better responses than a multiple choice question. If multiple choice is useful, she  can use  a”select from list” type of question, but mostly she uses the text box. Several other people use  google forms for minute papers. HOWEVER, if it’s required and requires a device, equity is a problem. Not every student can afford a laptop!

Clickers are cheap, so everyone can afford them, and they are purchased with books, so financial aid covers them. Clicker questions break up lecture, give a quick check of how students are doing and frees the instructor to move around the room. However, you MUST have tough questions. Students don’t like it if it’s only for attendance, and it’s not really useful that way.

Other alternatives to the laptop: hand in work on paper; don’t require laptop based work (e.g. no credit for Lecture Tools); use whiteboards and group work; texting (faculty are less likely to have this than students); or arrange for students to borrow a laptop from ISS. Whatever you do, decide what you want to achieve first, then look for the tools that will do that.

One of the participants teaches a medical course where attendance is a problem. The lectures are streamed online, so students can watch from anywhere. Lecture gives them the information, but then they have to do something with that. Students who watch video do much worse than those who always come to class – Why is a current research project, though most students watch the video at increased speed, he thinks that’s why they do worse.

To break up the information delivery, you have to develop your own style – e.g. wear a t-shirt relevant to today’s topic. Look for teachable moments – spice drops are just sweet (not spicy) if you plug nose before eating them. Find something to do to illustrate difficult concepts to make it worthwhile to come to the live lecture. Skeletal pots may be helpful to increase attendance and get people to engage in good note taking (not transcription). In other words, do something to make coming to lecture really worthwhile.

Another participant uses a “TA of the day“. Once during semester each student is assigned to work a problem before class, then help peers with problem during class. That student is also required to report back on misconceptions and problems.

How to deal with lecture hall space: block off some seats to ensure you have aisles; ask some students to leave the room while they work on something in small groups; do something that requires them to move around the room, like changing partners or structured activities.

How to handle learning disabilities? Do not single the person out (it’s hard to deal with 300 students filing past if you get extra time – you might prefer to take a hit to your grade over being an example). ASK THE STUDENT what they want. Talk to services for students with disabilities. Require them to bring the form to you outside of class (e.g. office hours), and talk to them when they bring the form in. The test accommodation center is a hassle to use (and not very friendy to instructors), but it IS a quiet place with assistive technology. Be aware that things like rooms can be a problem because it takes a long time to compose and run a message through spell check, so you really need to have an alternative for things like office hours.