Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Quick Look at Quick Look

If you use a Mac, you have no doubt upgraded through the various breeds of cat-named operating systems over the years and either praised or cursed the myriad of menu tweaks and interface changes that come bundled with each new version.

There is one particular built-in, time-saving feature I use constantly that I find many often overlook. Called the "Quick Look," this method of displaying documents was actually introduced in Mac OS X Leopard (Version 10.5) back in 2007. Although it does not work for every type of document out there, Quick Look lets you view the contents of a large variety of files instantly and without having to open a memory-sapping application such as Adobe Photoshop. If you have a particularly slow machine, Quick Look will hold even more value. With the icon of the file you want to view selected, all it takes is a press of the spacebar to read a PDF, view a PowerPoint, scan over a spreadsheet, or listen to an MP3 file without launching any program. Clicking on any other icons with the Quick Look window open will display that file as well, letting you rapidly view documents. Pressing the spacebar again closes the window. It really is a quick and efficient way to scan through the contents of multiple files without having icons bouncing in your Dock or the entire Adobe Creative Suite slowing down your machine. There are also a number of free downloadable plug-ins that can expand the capabilities of the Quick Look feature such as including more file types, adding support for animated GIFs, and viewing the contents of a ZIP file while it remains compressed.

For Windows 7 users, in Windows Explorer it is possible to use the Alt+P keyboard combination to preview the contents of some files in an embedded panel within the interface. However, this preview option does not support quite as many filetypes as Quick Look and does not have the window resizing and paging capabilities. Fortunately, there are a number of freeware Windows applications you can install to approximate some aspects of the Quick Look feature such as Foxit PDF Reader and Picasa Photo Viewer.

In my duties as an instructional designer, I find that I use Quick Look on a daily basis. I usually have the Mac and Windows operating systems running simultaneously via Parallels software. In addition, I may have a number of programs open at once such as Groupwise, Safari or Firefox (with multiple tabs), Articulate Storyline, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Flash, and Acrobat. Quick Look lets me zip through a list of Microsoft Word documents or view a series of Quicktime videos while leaving all of the previously mentioned applications open and not launching any new programs. I have found it to be a real time-saver and would highly recommend that Mac-based instructional designers take a second look at Quick Look.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Simple Games

I'd like to introduce you to a product called Twine.

Twine is a product that lets you build an interactive story. As you're making the story, you can put in choices for the reader. As you get more advanced, you can even hide text from readers unless they made particular previous choices.

Twine is a free download, super simple to start using, but robust enough to grow into something more.

You can download Twine here.

You can watch a video on how to build a simple story with Twine below:

And if you'd like to learn about some more advanced options (like tracking "whether the player's visited a certain place or how many stones of power she's collected") then you'll want to read "How to Make Games with Twine" at

Can you think of ways to use Twine for your course?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

San Jose State University and Udacity

There is breaking news in the evolving world of the MOOC startup, as several news outlets are covering a new deal between San Jose State and Udacity. The Verge and The New York Times are reporting that Udacity will offer remedial Algebra, among other courses, to San Jose State students. Part of the motivation on the part of the university is reported to be that less than fifty percent of California incoming freshmen meet basic aptitudes in core subjects. Class sizes will reportedly be limited to 300 students per course.

This is a fascinating, rapidly changing topic to track. I foresee with my crystal ball, a flood of dissertations on optimal online class size in the coming years.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Joy of Rubrics

Creating rubrics can be a daunting task. Whether you're new to the task or experiences, the hardest part is just getting past the bank page. Not knowing exactly where to start, you might begin by creating a table for all your criteria and performance levels. Great! You have a nice matrix form. But now you have to fill in the criteria and performance levels on the chart. Ugh.

OK, let's start with the easy stuff — performance levels. So you might enter something like:
  • Poor | Fair | Good | Exemplary
  • Unacceptable | Approaches expectations | Meets expectations | Exceeds expectations
  • F | D | C | B | A
Or you might just stick to point values, a la:
  • 0-25 points | 26-45 points | 46-65 points | 65-85 points | 86-100 points

Whew! That part's done!

Now, on to the criteria. This is harder and is, of course, more dependent on the subject. You may have a couple things ready to write down, but I've found that it helps to see how others do these things. So I recommend going to

This site will allow you to construct a matrix style rubric using some preconstructed options. It's free, and you will be able to download whatever rubric you construct as an Excel spreadsheet.

You don't have to log in to use this site. Scroll down to "Create a Rubric" and choose a topic. All the choices will appear when you do, as you'll see. Click on any of them.

At this stage you have to enter something in the blanks First Name and Last Name can be just initials if you want. Give your rubric a name, then enter your zip code. You won't need to store this rubric online, so leave the drop down menu asking "Demonstration Rubric?" as it is.

Finally you get to a blank matrix style rubric form. The numbers 4, 3, 2, 1 are default performance levels, but you can change them later if you want.

In the Category column you'll see some pull-down menus. Click the first one to see your grading criteria options. At this point you should be feeling relief and happiness. Pick a criteria and see what happens. (The sight of the performance descriptions being filled may cause you to feel downright euphoric). Continue down the category column and pick the rest of your of grading criteria.

A word about these performance descriptions

These Rubistar rubrics were designed for K-12, and these performance descriptions will not be exactly what you need for higher education. So, you can edit them right there on the screen, or you can wait and edit them after you've downloaded the Excel version of this rubric. I recommend waiting until you download because then you have a hard copy and will be less likely to lose your work.

After you have the whole rubric filled in, click the "Submit" arrow button at the bottom of the page. Skip the instructions at the top of the next page and just go straight to the bottom to find the "Print or Download" button. Click it. Then choose "Download Excel Spreadsheet" from the options provided.

Open your downloaded rubric in Excel and edit to your heart's content.

(You may want to go back and explore the other rubric options you didn't use. I've been known to pull criteria out of one and apply it to another. E.g., if the assignment is a group Research Report, you might want to add a criteria or two from the Collaborative Work Skills option).

To continue your journey into rubric fun, see how you can speed up grading time for online assignments and discussions in your online course. Download this Help Sheet to see how to apply your rubric directly to an assignment on eCampus.

Sample rubrics on the Internet are plentiful, so explore and get some ideas from others. Here's a list from the University of Wisconsin Stout that are specifically for online assessments:

Explore! And have fun making your next rubric!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Radio Daze

While attending the 4th Annual Quality Matters Program Conference in Tucson, AZ  in the Fall of 2012, I was pleased to discover a free, interactive web-based resource that would assist users in creating measurable learning objectives. When the tool was shown in a session I attended, the interestingly named Radio James Learning Objectives Builder, and its tutorial, elicited gasps of joy from the QM audience. The builder assisted with choosing appropriate verbs to convey the expected level of student learning necessary to achieve desired outcomes. It also used Bloom's Taxonomy to organize objectives according to comprehension level, which could then be copied and pasted into a document such as a lesson plan.  

Finally, there was a free, easily accessible tool that could help individuals who may be less familiar with writing quality objectives start on the ground floor and be guided through the process of creating well-written outcomes for student learning. It could potentially aid instructional designers, teachers, educators, and anyone who needed to craft objectives to be met by learners.

However, it seems some things are too good to be true. Sometime in late 2012, the Radio James Learning Objectives Builder was taken offline for reasons unknown. Who is Radio James? Why are we no longer able to access his valuable tool? One can only speculate, but that can lead to false assumptions. Most of my internet searches have resulted only in broken links and Tweets from educators lamenting the tool's disappearance. Hopefully, Radio James will make a triumphant return to the world of online education so that we may all share his unique objectives builder.

If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of the Radio James Learning Objectives Builder or any potential alternatives, please leave a comment on this post.