Category Archives: Technology tools

Winter Weather Impacts Teaching and Learning

The winter has already been disruptive this semester with the potential for more disruption in the semester! The following is a brief explanation of a few centrally supported University services you can use as you are trying to recover from classes missed during campus closings and delays. Links are provided to tutorials for each service when available. The Faculty Center instructional designers are available for consultation and assistance with these services, or can connect you to the relevant University support.


ANGEL is the most commonly used learning technology at Penn State. However, most faculty are not using ANGEL to teach courses completely online, so they may not be familiar with using the complete set of tools available. ANGEL makes it easy for instructors to post course materials online, facilitate class communication and teamwork, collect student work, gauge student progress, manage a gradebook, and extend learning beyond the classroom. Some online options include posting instructional videos or other files, quizzing, using dropboxes for students to submit assignments electronically, connecting with students via Live Chat, and monitoring attendance through online participation such as discussion forums.

Sites at Penn State 

Sites at Penn State, powered by WordPress, can be used to post media files and other educational resources. This web publishing platform will replace the current Blogs at Penn State service. ITS provides technical and pedagogical support of these features through a series of how-to guides, hands-on sessions, and recorded training sessions available from their Support section.

Web Conferencing

Adobe Connect is a web conferencing tool that can be used to create and distribute lectures and presentations. Connect supports audio, video, slide presentations, screen sharing, and whiteboard activities, as well as chat and polling. Live sessions can be recorded for later viewing by those who were not able to attend the session. In addition to live presentations, Adobe Connect can be used to create prerecorded lectures that students can watch at any time. Getting Started information, Best Practices, training information, and support resources are provided at the Meeting@PennState site.


Podcasts are simply audio and video content to which you can subscribe. iTunesU makes it very easy for people to find and access this rich educational content. Visit the iTunesU Dashboard instructions for more information. The Podcasts team ( provide the front line support for the iTunesU service. Nick Smerker, our Media Commons consultant, is the best contact for assistance in creating podcasts.

Pre-recorded Lectures

Faculty who are comfortable recording their lecture material ahead of time have several options. They can create audio or video recordings and make them available to their students through ITunes U. Faculty who would like to sync audio with PowerPoint slides can use Adobe Presenter on Windows or Keynote on a Macintosh. Adobe Presenter is available for purchase through Software at Penn State. Another option is our One Button Studio located in Harrisburg’s library. Additional software options include Jing, QuickTime, and Camtasia.


Turnitin is a web-based writing assessment tool with options for online grading and commenting, creation of peer review assignments and reports for determining assignment originality.


VoiceThread makes it easy to create and interact with online presentations. VoiceThread is a web-based application that allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of an asynchronous conversation. A VoiceThread allows people to have conversations and to make comments using any mix of text, a microphone, a web cam, a telephone, or uploaded audio file. Faculty are using VoiceThread to create new forms of conversations online. Visit VoiceThread to access a variety of “Getting Started” resources.

Yammer – Similar to Facebook, Yammer is a social media tool that allows classes to communicate and collaborate anytime, anywhere.  Instructors can instantly upload handouts and assignments, chat, post discussion questions, or direct their students to any alternative classroom experience, all from their laptop, tablet or smartphone.  For more information, please review some Yammer use cases.

Lynda Tutorials

Learning on the go, features over 2,300 courses, compiled of over 110,000 video tutorials. Lynda is an excellent resource for students, faculty, and staff to learn software, creative techniques, and business skills at their own pace. Vetted instructors walk the user through tutorials that are segmented into easily digestible videos, available anytime on their desktop or mobile device. You can assign specific tutorials for a project or course work, and/or provide tutorials to supplement a course.

NBC Learn

NBC Learn was originally developed for use in K-12, but has since been adapted for Higher Education. Through a licensing arrangement, Penn State instructors and students can access the NBC Learn archives of high-quality archival video of historical events and documentary shorts. The vast archives of educational content  includes history/politics, science, the arts, social issues, business/economics, and more.  Students can access historic footage in order to gain additional perspectives into recent historical and political events. The archival footage can also serve as a point of departure for a discussion of mainstream media coverage of current events, including changes in coverage over time. In addition, the video format can provide an optimal way to present images to students, which can enhance comprehension of many topics.  (There’s even some brand new content on the Science and Engineering of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Games – including The Science of Ice and the Science of Snow.)


Blog vs. ePortfolio Consideration

During the past year, I’ve had several opportunities to work with faculty on integrating a blog and/or ePortfolio project into their courses. I’ve also been able to work with their students during a computer lab session to help them get started. Most recently, I worked with the faculty in the elementary education program to encourage the use of blogs within the ePortfolio space within the entire program.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure to work with a wonderful group of students who will be sharing quite a bit of their classwork online this semester. Thanks to a question from one of the students, we all pondered whether the semester-long project was best suited for the blog, which was our initial intent, or a webpage. Because we had been so focused on the blog initiative within the ePortfolio space, we really hadn’t considered this alternative solution. The conversation involved the students, the instructor, and me, so the students really had ownership in the final decision which was to create a new page within their ePortfolio rather than doing blog entries.

So, what considerations were taken into account? This assignment really wasn’t a reflective activity as much as a reading log, providing information about the children’s literature they are reviewing this semester. The instructor has provided the students with a template to use which they can fill in, save, and upload for each assignment, and then link to it from within their webpage. It keeps this specific coursework on a webpage separate from their other coursework, making it easy to point someone directly to it. At the end of the semester, this project will be over, so then it becomes an artifact of their undergraduate education. Perhaps they will want to “clean up” the webpage to preserve only those reading logs that represent their best work, or that best represent their learning during the course of the semester. Perhaps they will only want to preserve their best example from each genre. These pages will be easy to gather for assessment purposes using the tag provided by the instructor.

In reflecting on how I could have missed the need for this conversation, I realized that I was concentrating on learning the tool and hadn’t paid attention to the process. In the blog/ePortfolio workshop, the focus has been on the tool and how to use it. We haven’t discussed with students or faculty how to look at the ePortfolio holistically and make decisions about its overall design and placement of artifacts. We also haven’t discussed specifically how to incorporate students’ work into the assessment process, especially those efforts towards accreditation. There’s definitely more work to be done!

I appreciate the work of Dr. Mary Napoli and her EDUC 421 students to help me highlight some considerations for those working with blogs and ePortfolios!