Education Event in AZ: TechTalks 2017 at SCC

Todd and I have attended this, and he actually gave a legendary talk there on the topic of “Easy” which included Gallagher-inspired splatter. This year Jared and I are going, and if you decide a day in the valley with all kinds of Maricopa teachers and designers sounds like fun, please register and let us know if you want to car pool


Scottsdale Community College’s TechTalks 2017 is an event where people interested in educational technology can gather to enjoy a series of live, 18-minute presentations about technology and the learning/teaching process. The end result is a morning of inspiring, entertaining, and touching stories with the power to change student success outcomes.

TechTalks 2017 will be held in a format similar to the highly acclaimed TED Talks. It promises to be an intense day of talking, listening, sharing, learning and networking. You won’t want to miss it!

Friday, January 27, 2016, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Scottsdale Community College Performing Arts Center
9000 E. Chaparral Rd., Scottsdale

Making the Most of Images by Using Alt-Text

Adding images to your course content can make it more visually-appealing, engaging to visual learners and allow you to represent information in other ways.

Sample Canvas Course Front Page

What is important to remember is that if you use images, that two best practices are followed:

  1. Add alternate text (Alt-Text) to describe images as briefly as possible. If the image is purely used as a decoration, no Alt-Text is needed.
  2. If important information is communicated using images, provide a text description or explanation to enforce learning, make the content universally accessible (UDL Principle 1)

Add Alternate Text in Canvas

Adding Alt-Text to images is a somewhat simple process in Canvas, whether you are adding it to existing images or new ones. Alt-Text is important because if the user is using any type of text-to-speech tool or a screen reader, the necessary information will be there to understand and navigate content.

In edit mode, click on the image to select it and then click on the Embed Image icon in the Rich Text Editor to open the Attributes Window.

Canvas embed image icon in the Rich Text Editor

By default, Canvas enters the image name, for example, “course banner.jpg”. Replace the image name and extension (jpg, jpeg, png, gif, etc.) with a brief description of the image. This is especially important if there are words in the image, then they should be part of the description. Once edited, click on the Update button to save changes.

Image attributes window

Add Alternate Text in MS Office Documents

There are a few short steps to add Alt-Text to images in MS Office. The process is very similar in both PC and Mac environments.

  • On any image in a Word, PowerPoint, or Excel documents, right-click or (Control-click on Mac) to open the context menu.
  • In the Windows environment, select Size and Position then the Alt-Text section. Depending whether the image is a picture or a shape, the window that opens will have a heading of Format Picture or Format Shape.image-context-menu-pc        alt-text-in-ms-office-pc
  • In the Mac environment, select Format Picture, then the Alt-Text sectionimage-context-menu       alt-text-image-option-in-ms-office

Alt-Text in Google Docs

You can also add Alt-Text in Google Docs via the short process:

  • Select the image
  • Click on the Help menu and search for Alt. Click on Alt text…

  • Enter the short description and click OK

Blog Post, Session 10

How can curriculum mapping assist you?  Do you have one?  Does your school/district curriculum map?  Where would/will you start in creating a useful curriculum map for your classroom? 

 I would love to do curriculum mapping, but we don't have that as part of our school. As I said on the webinar last week, as a student I got a lot out of my History/Literature curriculum map as a Junior. It truly makes sense for a Junior English class to blend with a U.S. History course as the crux of Junior English is based on American Literature. (I guess since Arizona dropped AIMS, it's no longer required but I still do it.) When I taught at AAEC, I tried to get the U.S. History teacher to curriculum-map with me and it didn't go well --he wasn't remotely interested in working with me, probably because he didn't want to have to adjust his curriculum to work in a team. It was kind of a bad experience so I've been a little gun-shy about asking at a new school, but it's something to look forward to.

Another subject I've been thinking about working with is the science department: they have been requiring essays recently and my students have been asking me to proofread for them. I don't mind doing this, of course, but many of the questions center around MLA8, so I've been thinking about setting up a Moodle page just to have MLA resources available to all teachers who may use that citation method. This would help all Humanities courses, of course, but if the science teachers accept MLA rather than APA (as I understand they do at our school), this would help cut back on many of the questions they field so they can focus more on answering questions with regard to critical thinking. That's the plan --now to have the time to work on it ;)

9x9x25: Reflection

I'm busy.

This is usually a line used to decline an invitation. To be honest, it was a line I was tempted to use when I started the 9x9x25 challenge.

"I'm busy" is not a subjective term in my case:
-I'm a full-time high school English teacher at Tri-City Prep, which means I regularly clock 50 hours a week between the clubs I advise (Denobis/Creative Writing, Pep Club, Mock Trial), grading essays, and any extracurricular activities (field trips, science symposia, music concerts, etc.).
-I'm a creative writing adjunct at YC.
-I'm the co-municipal liaison for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), which hosts workshops in November.
-I'm in a writing group that meets at Method Coffee.
-I co-lead a small group at Heights Church.
-I've been auditing Master Chorale to sing in The Messiah for the Christmas concert.
-I'm a full-time student with Rio Salado finishing my teaching certificate for K-12.
-I'm a part-time student with YC working on an Associates in Administration of Justice (classes I started to lend believability and authenticity to my detective novel).
-Somewhere in there I'm working on several novels and short stories.

Can I also just say I hate telling people all the things I do? I heard a quote once to the effect of "Don't tell everyone what a hard worker are: let the evidence of your work be your testimony." I try to live by that rule as much as possible. I suppose this translates into yes-tourettes: I have a hard time saying no, because I have a harder time saying, "I can't because I'm so busy blah blah blah understand my struggle, say nice things because you pity my over-commitment blah blah blah."

Here is how September went for me:
Curtis: You have a blog, right?
Me: A neglected one, yes.
Curtis: Have you heard about the 9x9x25?
Me: Ummm....
Curtis: [Explains the program.] And we give you prizes --like Ben&Jerry's.
Me: Ben&Jerry's, eh?
Curtis: You should do it!
Me: I'll think about it. Maybe.

That said, here is what I have learned about 9x9x25. I've learned that like Nanowrimo, budgeting time for me is a great outlet. I'll be honest: my Nanowrimo hasn't done so hot this year (I'll still catch up. It'll be okay. I think.), and it's nice to at least have something like 9x9x25 with weekly accountability and on-campus conversations about how the blogging is going. Because the thing that both of these writing hobbies shows me is that I need to budget time for me, too, and while it's easy to budget TV down time where I crochet and go brain-dead for as long as that episode lasts, it's also nice to nourish myself intellectually through the written word. (All of you more linear thinkers who see writing as a chore is probably scoffing, but it's true! Writing is my relaxation!)

Anyway, so here's to the 9x9x25 challenge! Woo hoo! Season complete, lessons learned, blog effectively uses as a venting tool, and I hope next year is as nourishing and inspiring.

Are Things Getting Better? Are they really?

At first I ran alongside him with my hands steadying the cold metal bars.  But, all too soon, I realized he was ready for me just to let go, so I did.  Whoosh!  He flew past me and out on his own in one desperate grab at independence.  My five-year-old had learned to ride a bike.

We were proud of him.  He flew all around the empty church parking lot for about an hour until his little legs were tired and we had to load up the bike and head home.  He pedaled so hard for so long, not really getting the hang of stopping yet, that he had cramps that night.  He was thrilled about his new ability and he told everyone he came across for the next week or so.  However, in those ensuing weeks, suddenly I realized that my son wasn’t jumping back on the bike.  I pressed him about it.

“Hey, muchacho, how come you’re not riding your bike anymore?”

“I forgot how to” he said.

“Really?  You did so great on it the last time.”

“I know, but I can’t do it anymore.  I tried and I always fall off.”

This seemed strange to me.  I braced myself for another trip over to the church parking lot and another training session, not a thought I relished, but I was willing to do it in order to allow my son to feel the thrill of the wind in his face again.  So, I grabbed his bike and made preparations.  However, as I did, I noticed something strange.  His bike seat was raised up way too high.  Probably a product of his older brother trying to ride his bike.  I knew that with the seat up that high, my son would have a hard time reaching the pedals and getting on and off the bike.  I lowered the seat to the proper height and had my son give it a whirl in our tiny driveway.  Just like before, he took off without any problems.

My son didn’t need more training on his bike.  He knew what to do.  What was the issue then?  His problem was his equipment.  In education, often we want to solve all of our students’ problems with better training and/or teaching.  “If I just teach them this principle better, they’ll get it.  Or, if I just teach them how to navigate the course better, they won’t have so many questions about what’s due all the time.  They’ll get it.”  We tell ourselves these things all the time, but we seldom stop to think that maybe the seat is just too high for them.  Our students don’t need more training, they just need better equipment.  For example, they need a more intuitive Canvas interface.  Or, maybe they need a better textbook, or workbook.  Or maybe they just need a better way to access the resources that are already made available to them.  How much better might our students perform, not if we teach better, but if our courses were just designed a little bit better or our Canvas shells were set up a little more intuitively?  Maybe there’s no problem with our teaching at all, but there’s an inherent problem with the sequencing, pacing, or sheer amount of content in the course?

Often, today, we change the design of products and practices that work well, just to be ever-changing and never anachronistic.  However, these changes for change sake often adversely affect performance and efficiency.  We constantly dilute ourselves into thinking that things are ever “getting better,” but are they?  Often “improved versions” of textbooks insert multiple images and graphics that really serve to split a students’ attention and provide enough seductive details to distract the student from the learning target.  Are we really getting better and better, or just more and more “fancy looking”?

Maybe I’m just trying to justify the fact that I’m getting older and that I can’t keep up with tech changes, but I don’t think so.  Take our new email client for example.  The UI is riddled with problems.  Well, I should preface this with the fact that I now reluctantly use the web interface instead of the Outlook computer program that comes standard on our YC machines.  Why?  Because when I boot up the program, all of my folders from the older version are gone.  Why?  No idea, but they are.  However, I boot up the web version, all of my folder that I’ve painstaking created and organized and winnowed down over the course of 9 years are all there as they should be, so, I use the web interface.  Multiple problems there though.

  • The “like” button—Seriously? There’s a “like” button for email?  Isn’t that an oxymoron.  (Except for what Leslie sends me, those are actually pretty funny).
  • “Reply All” is the default—This has led to many many replies to a group that probably shouldn’t have been replied to as a group (Al, I’m looking at you).
  • “BBC”—This is really hard to find and very small, yet we use it often, very poor design.
  • Weblinks—When you add a link, it creates this weird image/preview thing that you have to cancel. It disrupts the flow of the email and is totally superfluous.  An attempt to look fancy but with zero real functionality.

I could go much further, but suffice it to say, the new UI is poorly designed indeed.  How much further could we go in what we do here at YC if we had better design?  Would we suffer less attrition if our courses were designed in a more intuitive way?  What if Canvas were inherently more user friendly and easier for us to design with?  For example, how many of you truly understand the difference between the “front page” and the “home page” and how to set them?  Do we truly know what our students are seeing when we update grades, announcements, assignments and what notifications they have access to?  Canvas is fancy and has lots of features, but unless we truly understand what features are standard, mandatory, optional from our end and from the viewer’s end, are these feature then useful?  Or, even, are they impediments?


A book that every Canvas user should read is titled, The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman.  The book talks about design as our one competitive evolutionary edge in the universe and that with smarter design, nothing can stop us.  He lists tons and tons of examples of how we deal with poor design every single day.  He highlights the fact, most frequently, that all good designs are intuitive and not superfluous.  The classic example of non-intuitive and very superfluous design is today’s television remote.  We should be able to do all that we need and want to do without the use of a hefty instruction manual.  Yet, I’m willing to bet that nearly all of us have a TV remote control that is filled with buttons that we’ve never used, nor do we know how to use them—superfluous and not intuitive.  Bad design.  Canvas is the same way—there are lots of features that we don’t know how to use and that we don’t know how students are using.

tv-remoteThe iPhone was so very popular from the beginning because of how well it was designed.  The very young and the very old could pick it up and immediately know what to do.  We knew how to use it intuitively because it screamed at us to tap buttons and more buttons and then more buttons to find what we were looking for.  That’s good design.

Canvas has some amazing features, and much of the interface is amazing, certainly an improvement over Blackboard, but it does fall more heavily into the category of superfluous features, perhaps, than Blackboard, even if it is more intuitive.

I guess my point is, just because it’s newer and fancier looking, it might not be “better” as they would lead you to believe.  I think that MS Vista is the huge case in point on that one.  Another example:  I’ve been very frustrated with my new projector in the room I teach in most often.  The PTSS folks came and installed it and promised “much greater fidelity”.  Great!  I guess that’s nice, didn’t ask for greater fidelity, things were okay, but sure, if the picture is clearer, I won’t turn that away.  However, if I knew all the other features that I would be sacrificing for a little sharper picture, I would have begged them to keep the old projector.  I used to use the projector and doc camera “freeze” button extensively.  This would allow me to freeze the document camera and then pull up something on the computer screen for use directly after the doc camera.  I also will freeze the screen and access Class Dojo which allows me to give class participation points for groups and individuals who are doing excellent work.  Well, with the new projector, all of the “freeze” functionality and multi-tasking that had become essential to my way of conducting class is now “not available”.  When I asked “why?  Can’t this new laser projector do it?  The old cheap LCD projector could”.  The answer came, “I think it can do it, but because that feature has not been widely asked for, we haven’t taken the time to figure out how to activate it on all machines across the board.”

Sweet!  So I have a slightly sharper picture (which I didn’t ask for) and four features (which I did ask for) that I’d like to have, but are now gone because I’m the only one wanting them.  Sounds like a fair trade off to me.

Projectors, email, LM systems, are they getting better?  I’m not sure.  Every “solution” is someone else’s problem.  I’m aware of that, I guess a lot of solutions lately are proving problematic to me, but I can’t help but think that great design could be a solution for everyone.

If you like this post, I’ll send it to you in an email where you can now “like” it.  Thank you.

Thoughts from the Train

I am writing this blog somewhere between Barstow and Needles, CA while sitting in an Amtrak train. (I'm actually writing this on my phone, as the WiFi on the train doesn't seem very reliable. ) I've spent the last four and a half days with the Prescott Student Leadership Team at the Circle of Change Leadership Conference at Cal State Dominguez Hills.  It's been an incredibly wonderful and exhausting experience!

Nonetheless, Olympic size reflection, here we go!

1.  What did I learn?
   *That my colleagues have some really great thoughts (no surprise there).
   *That this kind of reflection is good for me!

2.  Was it tough?
   Yes and no.  Certainly making time to write was a challenge.  But once I got started, it seemed to flow.  For those passionate about teaching and learning, how could it not?

3.  Who inspired me?
   *The TELS team.  Thanks, Thatcher and Curtis!
   *My awesome co-bloggers!
   *My students.  They got excited about what I was writing and always had insightful input.
   *The Student Leadership Council, who each accepted the challenge to contribute a "student's perspective" to this event.  I'm proud of you!

4.  How will I change based on my experiences of the last 9 weeks.
   *I have recommitted to be more reflective about my teaching--and my life in general.
   *I am recommitted to writing more--more of what I am passionate about.
   *I want to continue these important conversations, with a view to seeking the improvement of my/our instruction.

5.  What was frustrating or delightful?
   *Frustrating that I couldn't find time to respond to ALL of the amazing posts!
   *Everything else was delightful!!  Let's do it again next year!  Or even next semester!! 😆

Week 9 – So Good We Can’t Be Ignored

So good that we can’t be ignored

I want to start by thanking the college for being so invested in the development of our staff that they are willing to spend some serious cash to give instructors the means to improve.  Amazing.  After just one day at the AMAYTC conference, I learned about integration of study skills into our dev ed classes, applied problems to enhance pre-service teacher teaching, the difference between mathematical modelling and modelling with mathematics (there is a difference people!) but the most amazing and trans-formative talk was given to the entire group of 1200 of us.  And here is the trick – at 3:30 in the afternoon after we had been sitting for hours listening to various sessions, she engaged us.  Nearly every one of us.  I am in awe of Maria Andersen.  She was the keynote at the AMATYC conference.  She modeled what her classroom would look like (if she still had one).  After some internet stalking of my new math education crush, I learned of her career trajectory: teacher first, Canvas (Infastructure) creative genius, and now educational consultant and full time convocation speaker.  I will forgive her for no longer being in the classroom, because this allows her to spread her message…

Now onto the important stuff – what exactly did she say to get this kind of adulation from me?  Well, first one more background piece.  My best friend lost her job about a month ago and so her and I have had a few conversations about following our passion.  I love teaching at YC, but am I following my passion?  To answer this question, I picked up the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and I see Maria reflected in each word of this book.  I see her blogs, her ideas, her research, and I am inspired to try harder.  Constructively try harder to make my classroom bolder, more innovative, and most importantly the one where they actually (actually!) retain something.  Anyway, back to the keynote.

She started with background – her mother had a tumor at 35 and lost her ability to learn and perform simple tasks, so Maria became obsessed with learning and brain research.  Grabbed us, right?

Now that she had our attention, she illustrated the three main components to actual learning.  What we tend to do in math is fill the brain with knowledge, then practice until the skill is “learned”.  But not retained.  So the challenge was to figure out how to get the students to learn how to struggle, overcome the struggle, thereby making the brain connections to the material.  Finding rich tasks that force students to struggle (and understand that the struggle is going to lead to good things and not bad) is difficult. One of the studies that she referenced – (wish I had a link to the study) – showed the interactions in a group of classrooms at a four year; they found on average only 4 or 5 people per class with multiple interactions.  One of the people, obviously, was the instructor.  So her challenge was to create an environment where students were interacting with each other, the teacher, and the material in a way that is not just telling them and letting them take notes over the material.  And I’ve heard over and over again that engagement is the key to student success, but I was mistakenly thinking that my classroom was full of interactions, but it really isn’t.  Draw straws and call on an unsuspecting individual forces everyone to pay attention, so that is doing the trick right?  Uhhh…no!!  Put them up to the board to work on problems together; this is great if you haven’t already told them all the steps to solve the problem.  Where is the struggle in that?  Having the students write their own definition for something does the trick, right?  Until I see furious writing when I post the definition as they have just been waiting for me to save them.   Practice until you can re-gurge the exponent rules – works great for that semester until I see the same students two semesters later asking them to apply those rules to logarithms and they act as though they haven’t learned the exponent rules (shame on me because they haven’t)

Do I have moments of sunshine in this wasteland of (lack of) interaction?  I can think of a few activities I do throughout the year that really force the students to think, communicate their thinking, and apply their knowledge in a way that will create these pathways.  But it is not enough.

My current read tells me that following your passion is bull.  When you follow your passion, you end up jumping from career to career, thinking what you are doing can’t really be enough.  The author found data to support the happiest employees are those that have been in their profession for a long time, developing the skills and know-how to be an expert in what they do.  In essence, being so good they can’t ignore you, and even better, being so good that you feel good and accomplished in what you do.  You have invested so much in being who you are in work, that you are confident or at least can act confident in your pursuits.

So now I must wrap up this rambling musing and get to a point.  Can I walk away from this experience and actually sit down with some research, materials, and dedicate time to making my classroom a place that students deepen their understanding and gain long term learning?  Can I balance my time to be able to create a classroom I can honestly say is my best?  Now that I know how far short I am falling, can I rise to the occasion?  Most importantly, what am I going to do to extend this to my online students so I can get them involved in their learning?  I ask you all to make me accountable and help me become so good that I can no longer be ignored….


AMATYC Keynote Notes: Interaction and Impasse


Why do professors like to teach?

You know how we as consumers can always use a little more cash?  Well, I too fall into this category and because of it, have had the opportunity to take on extra responsibilities at the college.  Now this seems as though it might have a negative twist to it, but it doesn’t.  The extra responsibility that I have taken on is within the realm of TeLS (Teaching and eLearning Support).  Turns out that I love it!  I recently found myself in the TeLS office on the Verde campus burrowing my way through the intricacies of settings and assignments in Canvas when I had Barb (Interim Associate Dean) enter my office.  She started by explaining some big event that we were to have on campus to celebrate our college, our campus and our veterans.  It all sounded so awesome up until the point where she said, ” … and we want you to make a video that showcases our instructors.”  I was a little taken back by the exact magnitude of the project.  I shot back with many clarifying questions and tried to soak up her responses as best as I could.  Time passed and I acquired a decent video camera (learned that), transferred video clips into a video editing software (learned that), exported the video to various sizes and formats for YouTube and other media sources (learned some there too) and finally determined the best mode for presentation on the equipment to be used (learning there too), it was set!  What a project!  At least it was a project for me, a rather green/new-comer to this sort of thing.  I found that although the technology is important, is is merely a vehicle for the content.  The things that the professorate shared in this video was personal, sincere and important; so much so, that I wanted to share it with you.  So here you go!

What do you love about teaching?