Succession Plots

In December 2016, Environmental Studies major Rachel Marklyn asked us to produce an aerial view of the succession plots, on the environmental preserve. The succession plots are designated areas of a field that receive different treatments— mowing, tilling, and goat grazing— at different intervals, in order to study the long-range effect of those treatments on forest growth.

For Rachel’s senior project, she was creating a series of information signs for the preserve, one of which was about the succession plots. The wintertime photo was not very colorful, but the borders of the different plots were clear.

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Towers and Gargoyles

One of the big reasons that ACS acquired a drone was to support the work of Prof. Andrew Tallon, who wished to make videos and photos of the out-of-reach aspects of gothic cathedrals. In order to learn about and get practice with flying close to buildings, we made several flights around the tower of Main Library. To focus our efforts, we specifically targeted the 8 gargoyles that reside near the top of the tower. (We eventually photographed all of the library’s gargoyles– there are 36 of them!– though most were photographed without the drone.)

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Streaming Copyrighted Films


copyright-white[ The following are the thoughts of ACS staff and should not be interpreted as the legal opinion of Vassar College. ]

Vassar College has the technology that will allow instructors to stream videos for their students’ viewing. But instructors must first determine that doing so does not violate copyright law.

Most film and audio recordings are protected by copyright law, meaning that you can’t make copies and/or distribute copies unless certain exemptions exist. It is incumbent upon you, the instructor, to determine if any particular material can be copied and shared in any particular situation.

Ideal Scenarios
If the work is in the public domain, due to its age or because it was produced with federal funding, or simply because the creator waived copyright, you’re free to copy it. If you’ve gotten explicit permission from the copyright holder or acquired a license to that effect, you’re free to copy it. If, after a reasonable and earnest effort, you’ve been unable to contact the copyright holder to request permission, you may copy it.

TEACH Act
Under the TEACH act, you’re allowed to copy a non-dramatic work (i.e. a documentary)  and post it online for members of your class, as long as it is required for the class, and as long as it is directly related to issues that the class will be discussing during class meetings. The copying and posting should be done yourself, not by an institutional unit. For dramatic works, the TEACH Act only supports posting small portions of the work.

Fair Use Exemptions
Copyright law does allow for making copies of a work without the copyright holder’s permission, if “fair use” will be made of the copy. In determining whether or not a particular situation is fair use, you should take these four factors into consideration:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of copyrighted work. (Creative work is protected by copyright, but facts and ideas are not.);
  3. Amount and substantiality; (The smaller the portion of the work that you use, the more likely the use will be considered fair.);
  4. Effect upon the work’s value. (Copying a work is less fair if it is used as a substitute for a product on the marketplace, depriving the copyright holder of potential income.)

There is no exact formula for determining fair use; you must consider all four factors and base a conclusion on the aggregate of all four. The American Library Association makes available this tool for helping you make a determination about the fairness of a use that you are considering:

Fair Use Evaluator

If you’ve determined that your intended use cannot be strongly defended by the fair use guidelines, or any of the other exemptions, then you should consider other ways of providing your students with access to the work, such as scheduling a screening or leaving a copy of the material on reserve. Many films are also now available inexpensively, for online rental to individuals; Google the film title and the results may show that Amazon Video, YouTube, or iTunes may stream the video to individuals for $2.99 each.

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Bring a Scanner on Your Next Research Trip

ACS has a portable scanner that’s available for Vassar faculty members to borrow. It’s ideal for bringing to an archive to scan documents (if allowed) for later study. While it’s true that you can save an image of a document page with your phone/camera, a scan will give you a much more consistent and high-quality result.

Most scanners are too bulky and heavy to consider traveling with, but not this one. The Canon Canoscan LiDE 700F is essentially the size of a laptop computer. It’s less than 2 inches high, with a footprint of 11.5 x 16 inches. It weighs only 4.6 pounds. It can scan a letter-size document (8.5″ x 11″) with a resolution of up to 4800×4800 dpi. It fits snugly in a 12″ x 17″ 2.5″ padded carrying case.

71hM38-aSVL._SL1500_

 

Contact your ACS liaison if you’re interested in borrowing it.

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Remote Learning at a Residential College

by Steve Taylor

Since shortly after the web was developed, colleges and universities have used it for conducting distance education programs. Leaders in the practice included public institutions, whose mission included serving a wide geographical area of non-traditional students; large universities, who were challenged to provide alternatives to courses taught in huge lecture halls; and professional schools and trade schools, whose focus was on procedural skills. The emergence of MOOCs in 2012 brought more attention to the practice. It has not been obvious, however, how distance learning technologies could benefit small, private, residential, liberal arts colleges like Vassar. Many have doubted— reasonably so—  that an online course could offer a better learning experience than a face-to-face course with a small student/faculty ratio. At Vassar this summer, we identified a use for distance learning technologies that borders on the ironic: a residential college connecting with its students when they’re not in residence; an institution known for small class sizes interacting with a student cohort of 700. We used Moodle to enhance our summer common reading program for incoming students.

Vassar College has administered a common reading program for first-year students every summer since 2006. The Dean of Freshmen’s office mails a copy of the chosen book (this year’s was Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoire, Fun Home), along with other orientation materials, to each admitted student’s home address. The students are instructed to read the book, but there have been no other requirements. For the summer of 2014, Dean Susan Zlotnick wanted to enhance the common reading experience with some online interaction, using Moodle. Over the course of several weeks, ACS produced three short videos, each with a different faculty member speaking about an aspect of the book, and inviting students to respond to one of several discussion prompts. Student participation was high, for an activity that had no penalty for non-participation. 427 of the 670 students (64%) posted responses, most of them substantial in length.

The goals of the common reading program are to give incoming students a preview of what classes at Vassar might be like, and to give them an opportunity to have a common intellectual experience with each other before courses begin. By all accounts, that was successful. This experience raises an interesting question: what other aspects of Vassar life might be enhanced by having an online space for shared information and social interaction?

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Recording Video or Audio Directly Into Moodle

Vassar’s Moodle system has a new tool, with the possibly too cutesy name of “PoodLL.” PoodLL provides a bridge between Moodle and the camera and/or microphone on a person’s computer. There are two main ways it can be used:

1. An instructor can record a video or audio message directly onto the main page of a Moodle course, or into the instructions of a discussion forum, or even into the description field associated with a file. Previously you would have to use some other software to make the recording, then upload it into Moodle; now no other software is necessary.

Are there things that come across better when seen or heard than when read? A poem or a foreign language passage? A view of a physical object or action? Here’s how to use PoodLL to make the recording:

2. You can create an assignment (or a quiz) in which students reply by recording themselves. Many instructors use Moodle’s Assignment activity to collect files (like research papers or homework exercises) from students. Now the Assignment activity can also be used to collect video or audio recordings from students.

One of the most obvious uses of this is to ask foreign language students to record themselves speaking in the target language, but be creative! A lab instructor could ask students to make a brief video showing the results of their procedure. Drama students could record a dramatic reading. Here’s how to create an assignment that lets students record their responses:

If you’re not yet feeling muddled by Moodle’s PoodLL, you might try noodling with an audio or fiddling with a video. There’s also a whiteboard function, so you could doodle in Moodle’s PoodLL. More on that in a separate post.

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New Moodle Feature: Annotating Student Papers

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.44.32 PMWith the recent upgrade to Moodle 2.6, instructors have a new function available: If a student uploads an assignment in the form of a PDF file, the instructor can make various types of annotations to the file directly within Moodle. Previously, they would have to download the file, use some program that provided annotation functions, then upload that revised version to Moodle, for the student to download. Now that can be done within Moodle.

Annotation functions include highlighting, circling, drawing, stamping an available graphic (like a checkmark or an X), and writing Post-It-type notes.

Here’s a quick demo:

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Flipping the Classroom

arrowsA hot topic in Higher Ed circles is known as “Flipping the Classroom.” The idea is to take the standard, traditional structure of student work in and out of the classroom and flip them— move the lecture out of the classroom and move the “homework” into the classroom. Typically, the lecture is moved out by making a recording of it available to students online.

The idea is for the mostly one-directional transmission of information to happen out of class, so that the in-class time can take maximum advantage of everyone being together.

Of course, this oversimplifies a lot of diverse practices. In reality, a lot of classes— especially humanities and social science classes at small colleges— already place the bulk of their “information transmission” (in the form of reading) outside of class and use class time for discussion. And “homework” may be an inadequate label for what happens in many flipped classrooms. Often, class time is used for what has been called “active learning,” which might include small-group problem-solving or project development.

Benefits
The biggest benefit of flipping is that the most valuable time— the time when everyone in a course is together in one place— is used to its best advantage. If your class time— or even just a portion of it— is used for mostly non-interactive lecturing, why does everyone need to be together?

group_work

[Image from http://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/sac/]

Another benefit of moving the lecture outside of class is that students can pause a recording, replay it, take careful notes, then continue it. This can be helpful for all students, but especially for those for whom English is not a first language or for students with learning disabilities.

Challenges

[From http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/feb/19/]

[From http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/feb/19/]

The biggest challenge with flipping is probably the time and effort required by the instructor— both to produce the lecture recordings and to develop meaningful in-class activities. And some students react negatively to the flipped design— either because they prefer to be passive in the classroom or because they feel that their tuition payment entitles them to a “live performance.”

Interested in flipping, but not sure it’s right for you? You don’t have to flip everything. You can try just flipping two or three class sessions or just portions of a class. Your ACS liaison can help you with the recording.

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Prezi

by Steve Taylor

Prezi is a tool for creating presentations, just as Powerpoint and Keynote are, but with some interesting differences. Since its creation in 2009, it’s been seen more and more in conferences.

Metaphors
One way in which Prezi differs from earlier presentation tools is its metaphor. Both Powerpoint and Keynote use the metaphor of a series of individual slides that can be shown in a predetermined sequence, just as 35mm slides would be shown with a carousel projector.

In Prezi’s metaphor, the creator arranges materials on an infinitely large canvas and— as I think of it— uses a video camera to pan and zoom through those materials. That can be done on the fly or the creator can pre-record a series of pans and zooms. The resulting presentation maintains the spatial relationships among the various materials.

It’s On the Web
Although they can be downloaded, “Prezis” are assembled on the web, through your browser, and can be presented via your browser as well. They can be shared with the general public or with a select group of colleagues (or members of a class.) You can even collaborate with others on the creation of your Prezi, which makes it a great vehicle for group projects.

Good and Bad Uses
I’ve seen great uses of Prezi and uses that make no sense at all— unfortunately, quite a few of the latter. If your presentation materials consist of a series of bullet-point lists, quotations, graphics, etc. that have no particular spatial relationship to each other, then there’s no particular reason to lay them out side by side and pan from one to another. But if there are spatial relationships— such as in a complex chart, diagram or map— then Prezi may be the perfect tool.

Here are a few examples of great uses for Prezi. You can pan and zoom on your own, or click the Play button to step through a pre-recorded tour.

“Classification of Organisms,” created by Robert Kappus, will lead you systematically through a complex chart. The chart is circular, and the zoomed-in labels and graphics are aligned along radii of the circle, but that poses no problem, as the pre-recorded tour can not only pan and zoom, but rotate the view as well.
The “Physical Features of Africa Quiz” Prezi, created by Emily Thompson, will give you a tour through the major mountain ranges of Africa. Maps tend to be difficult things to project in a classroom, because the amount of detail means that labels often are too small to see from a distance. Prezi is a great vehicle for showing detailed maps, because of the extreme levels of zooming it can support.
One of my favorite uses of Prezi is to explore different details of a complex work of art. Here’s one that I created, providing a tour through some of the details of the painting Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch. An instructor can present a series of details from a work like this, without losing the context of each detail.
A number of people have realized that Prezi can be a good tool for creating a concept map— a diagram that shows relationships among various concepts. Here’s an example of a Globalization concept map, created by Dennis Carnduff.

Go to the Prezi website to explore other materials that various people have made public, to get more ideas on how it can be used.

Licensing
Prezi offers three levels of licensing:

  • Public, which is free, provides you with 100 MB of storage, but requires you to make your creations public.
  • Enjoy, which costs $59/year, provides 500 MB storage and allows you to make your creations private.
  • Pro, which costs $159/year, provides 2GB storage.

However, students and teachers— anyone with an “edu” email address— can get the Enjoy level of license for free.

Prezi U
The website also provides a gateway to “Prezi U,” a community of educators who share ideas about using Prezi in their teaching.

 

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