Archive for the ‘Cool Tools for Teaching’ Category

Google hangouts for teaching – some links

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Google Plus is available to all Monash staff and students.  The main reason to opt in is for Google Hangouts (desktop video conferencing, screen sharing and file sharing).  If you are a Monash person you can opt in by following this link

We need to put some thought into the whole posting to YouTube idea, and the use of ‘Air’ for public broadcasts.  There are copyright and IP issues we need to clarify we we go down that road.  For now I’d avoid both options.

CamStudio is probably the best free way to record a hangout for reuse later.  It’s on the ‘Get Programs list’ – if you can’t see it you can request it via the eSolutions help desk.  If you’re a Monash person and want help with the settings let me know.

Linking Lectures theatres via desktop video – Google Hangouts

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Forget the previous posts on linking lecture theatres, Google Hangout is the new winner.

We shifted to ‘Google’ a couple years ago so all our staff and students have access to Gmail, Docs, Drive, Sites and Calendar .

We now have Google+ available as an ‘opt in’.  Like many I’m not totally convinced by the social networking bit, but Hangouts are another story.

It handles eight video locations at once (soon to be fourteen), plus file sharing, text chat and screen sharing (vision not control), all on a platform that all our staff and students immediate access to.

google hangout

Me and all my friends

This is also a winner for cross campus student consults and research supervision.

The video quality is acceptable, (perhaps not as sharp as the previous winner Polycom).  We did have some performance problems soon after we went live with it but it seems OK now.  That might be something to watch out for.

The only additional thing I’d like to see is the ability to record, which is important if academics want to re-purpose a session. The public hangouts (Hangouts on Air) are recordable, but not the private ones.  I know there are recording programs like Camstudio, but when it comes to academic adoption every additional hurdle is  another reason to not go ahead.

Overall it seems to do pretty much everything I want.

One step closer to a robot teacher.

Monday, April 16th, 2012

My teaching side is battling with my geek side over this.

Is this a reflection of advancements in Artificial Intelligence or the inadequacies of our production line assessment processes.

“can a machine that cannot draw out meaning, and cares nothing for creativity or truth, really match the work of a human reader.

In the quantitative sense: yes, according to a study released Wednesday by researchers at the University of Akron.”


“The Akron education dean acknowledges that AES software has not yet been able to replicate human intuition when it comes to identifying creativity. But while fostering original, nuanced expression is a good goal for a creative writing instructor, many instructors might settle for an easier way to make sure their students know how to write direct, effective sentences and paragraphs.

“If you go to a business school or an engineering school, they’re not looking for creative writers,” Shermis says. “They’re looking for people who can communicate ideas. And that’s what the technology is best at” evaluating.”

Linking lecture theatres via desktop video – Skype

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

We had some administrative problems with getting Polycom loaded onto our lab PCs, so while we were waiting for the coming of the UberTech I decided to have a look at Skype, which now has a desktop sharing function.  It also allows text chat and multi-point video conferencing, although the desktop sharing only works with point to point video.

skype desktop share

I have used Skype to support interstate and international staff recruitment interviews, with reasonable success.   The audio has been pretty reliable but video on international calls can be patchy.  Normally this would have been enough to rule out Skype, but given the way Skype manages load I figured that point to point video over the same network in the same physical location was likely to be more reliable.

The video was quality was good but there was a very slight audio lag.  The desktop sharing was also very clear but again there was a slight lag.

A good option if you want something simple and don’t have Polycom in your organisation, or if text chat is a must have option.

If you want a simple option for bringing in an external presenter via video I would probably try this first, but it  would  be wise to have a backup plan in case the video drops out.

You do need to take some precautions when using Skype.  Check the university position statement before using it.

Linking lecture theatres via desktop video – EVO

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

The next option we looked at in our quest to link our simulation labs was EVO.  EVO is a multi-point PC video conferencing platform that has been set up to support researchers and educators in Australian Higher Ed.

It supports desktop sharing (viewing and remote control) and has a shared whiteboard.   The video quality is good and it is actively supported by our eResearch Centre.


It’s quite powerful but perhaps a bit complicated for the average academic on the run.  Everytime you use it you have to download the client software and set up a virtual room for the meeting to take place.

Check the Monash EVO page for more info and video tutorials

If you need to collaborate in real time with multiple people or need remote desktop control, and you’re comfortable around computers this is good option.

But alas it was not for us.

Linking lecture theatres via desktop video – Google Chat

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

One of our clever academics wants to link our 2 simlulation labs, so we are looking at the options.

He wants the students in the other room to see his face and his presentation slides, and he wants to see the students.  The lecturer in the other room will help translate any questions if the audio isn’t up to it.

The first thing we looked at was Google Chat.  It doesn’t have desktop sharing but all our staff have Gmail so this was the most accessible and easy to test.

Plug in your web cam and open Gmail.   Got to the Gmail settings.

gmail chat

…….gmail setting1




Click on Chat and in the Video Chat section click on learn more.

gmail setting 2

Click on Install voice and video chat.

gmail install vid chat

Go into Labs to make sure Video enhancements are enabled.

gmail labs

Have a look at your Chat contacts and if the other person has their video set up you will see a green video icon.  Click on it.

Click on the box with a box icon in the top left hand corner to go to full screen.

The video and audio quality was good and if you use Gmail, and just want point to point video, this is the way to go.

But it doesn’t show the desktop and jerry rigging a stand to point the webcam at the computer screen seemed a bit pointless.  So we kept looking.

Facebook decides for you Again!! Try Yammer, or Diaspora (coming soon)

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Facebook’s Greatest Hits – five years of saying sorry

Read more:

Yet another resaon to jump to (the eagerly awaited and slightly overdue) Diaspora when it becomes available

There are few Monash people playing with Yammer.  I’m still playing with it so I can’t recommend it yet, but if you are looking for a Facebook style site that only allows access to people from your work  (based on email e.g. then have a look at Yammer.

“Yammer is revolutionizing internal corporate communications by bringing together all of a company’s employees inside a private and secure enterprise social network. Although Yammer is as easy to use as consumer products like Facebook or Twitter, it is enterprise-class software built from the ground up to drive business objectives.

Yammer is free for your whole company, enabling users to communicate, collaborate, and share more easily and efficiently than ever before. It reduces the need for meetings, increases communication across silos, surfaces pockets of expertise and connects remote workers.”

Best bang for the buck – Note taking vs note availability

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

I’m starting a new occasional theme on the blog focusing on simple and viable ways to improve our teaching outcomes.  The Best Bang for the Buck.

It’s easy to moan about the perceived underlying faults of the system and come up with grand solutions (usually prefaced with the statement “What they should do is..”).  It’s much harder to accept the practical realities of our situation and come up with flexible long term plans made up of losely connected little actions, and more than an occasional compromise.  Anyway, here is the first offering.

I think it would be useful to have lecture notes wikis attached to units.  Students could post up lecture notes and chapter summaries.  Students could provide a range of approaches to understanding difficult concepts.  The notes would build up over time and be added to or edited.  The lecturer could add a comment here and there to redirect wayward interpretations.  Most students won’t make an entry but that doesn’t matter, the good students will.  It would be good for there to be some kind of recognition for contributors (any ideas?  ‘Best Team Player’ trophy?).

We could dump the dodgey hybred powerpoint/lecture note slides which don’t adequately achieve either purpose.  There wouldn’t be the same pressure on academics to get the required quota of words out their mouths in a lecture.  The lecture could be based on issues, and cases, and real world application of principles.  There would be more time for group discusion and interaction.  Students could relax a little and not worry about missing a key point and getting lost in the lecture. 

On the other hand there is a bit of research around that shows that note taking improves the retention of information. I have a few problems with that.  

  • – Not all students take notes and there is no way to make them
  • – Retention of information and knowing how to apply it are different things. 
  • – Most students don’t read the entire text book  and certainly don’t summarize it.

What about attendance I hear you cry.  If your lecture is just another summary of the text book, then why should students show up.  Where is the value-add.  On the other hand if your time is freed up to deal with relevant, real world (and perhaps fun) applications of the information then you are likely to see an increase in attendance (regardless of wiki notes and lecture recordings).

I can think of half a dozen other advantages, not the least being there is no significant overhead.

Why not try it, what have you got lose.

QR Codes

Friday, July 9th, 2010

I’m having a play with QR codes.  As far as I can tell they’re mainly used for treasure hunts and sending messages to the Geekoraty.


Scan it and let me know.

Hooray for us!

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Those who know me, know I am quick to grumble about perceived pedagogical failures in Higher Education. 
Well, here is a win for the home team, they have put their money where their mouth is and built a number of protype teaching spaces. 
One of them on the Caulfield campus has recieved a Commendation at the 2010 Interior Design Awards.

N2 Teaching Space

The others are pretty flash too and worth a look.  The fine folks in the eEducation Centre can give you some more info