Wednesday, September 20, 2017

CPU #4: The Real World

The problem: I often talk about techniques and "real-world" practices in class, but we don't often have (i.e. I don't often make) time to go into details.
Yes, and…

Clips Power Use (CPU) #4:

Use a video to let students access the hidden world! I've spent the last week (or so) in class describing an experimental technique in genetics, but I can't (unfortunately) invite all 75 of my students in my lab to participate in, or even watch, this type of experiment. So, I used a video to bring the experiment to them! I used my phone to record video of me performing the experiment, then edited out the "fluff." I edited the resulting video segments into my photo library, and then imported into Apple's Clips app. I added Posters and animated icons, and had a great and fulfilling time doing it all!
As always, a key benefit of creating videos is not only having an engaging element to share with students, but I can use this video in the future. For example, when I bring students into my research group on campus, I'll ask them to watch this before we proceed with training in how to perform this technique!
As I've suggested before, I branded this new series of videos with an intro bumper that I can use in every video I create - and the video and audio will be exactly the same.
Have fun with your videos!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

CPU #3: Jigsaw + Clips = Engagement

Classroom issues opportunities
1) There is only one of me (instructor)
2) There are about 75 of them (students) - which can equate to disengagement

Classroom resources
1) A large, auditorium-style classroom
2) We all have mobile, internet-enabled devices

In our campus' 1:1 tablet program (platform agnostic: we have Apple, Windows, and Android devices) that is pretty steadily moving toward a BYOD (bring your own device) program, we faculty have been making a significant push toward ensuring that we focus on the pedagogy, leveraging mobile technology when appropriate. We often refer to the SAMR model, and hope not simply to Substitute electronic processes for paper processes, but to hit the Redefinition end of the course augmentation with technology spectrum. Here, one hopes to leverage technology to do something that one could only do with that technology.

This past weekend, I was struck with the idea that I should do something physically active in my class. Not just "active learning" in the sense that students are talking with each other and participating in applying knowledge to problems during class. In my 75-minute class, I realized that I needed students actually up and moving about! So, I tried Modifying the jigsaw approach. In a jigsaw exercise, small groups of students are formed. Then, each student is tasked with becoming an "expert" in one of a few topics necessary to solve a bigger problem. The students must then come together, after that initial learning experience, and share their new knowledge with each other. Then, the group works to solve the problem. This amplifies my reach, and engages the students, especially in large class sections. It helps them by allowing them to interact with each other, and to leverage each other as resources to help understand sometimes complex concepts.

I've heard a lot about jigsaws before, but I've never run a jigsaw in a class before. So, of course, I thought I'd take two steps at once. I'd use Clips to create the content that would provide each group member their own tidbit of expertise.

So, in a couple of hours, I developed some graphics to use as part of those videos, and I created three Clips that introduced three related topics relevant to DNA fingerprinting and the genetic differences between ethnic groups. This is the material that individual group members will access to become content experts. Here is one of those clips:
Note that I followed my previous advice and used Posters as transition elements: to summarize points and to inform the viewer of what topic is coming up next. I also used the animated icons to highlight specific elements of the video.
The next question I considered was: how to execute the jigsaw. I settled on the following pre-class set-up:
1) upload the three content Clips to YouTube
2) generate a QR code for each Clip
3) print those QR codes on paper and physically post them in different parts of my classroom

Then, during class, I had students:
1) form groups of 3
2) each member used a QR code scanner app on their mobile device to watch a different Clip:
3) each group member had a set period of time to watch the Clip by him/herself:
4) additional time was allocated for the members to share the main points of their Clips with their other group members:
5) the groups were presented with questions, requiring application of the Clips content to solve

Benefits and Outcomes
I liked this approach, because it was an easy way to deliver content to different sets of students. More importantly, my objective was realized! Students were up and moving about, for a couple of reasons.
1) they had to get up to get to the printouts of the QR codes they needed to scan to access the Clips
2) you might have noticed: many students had headphones with them, and used them to listen to the audio associated with the Clips. However, I had told the students that they could also leave the classroom to watch the videos, in case it got too loud in our classroom. Most of the students exercised this option!
The enthusiasm of the students for this approach was outstanding! Without instruction, students then rearranged desks (the ones that were not fixed to the floor, anyway) to share information with each other:

and even adopted new technologies (e.g. paper) to share information with each other:

Final Reflections
As the photos and videos above reveal, many students were very engaged with the material and with each other during this exercise, which took about 40 minutes (a few minutes to form groups, 10 minutes to scan QR codes and watch the videos, 10 minutes to share knowledge with each other, and about 20 minutes to solve the problem(s)). That felt absolutely fantastic on its own!

After the jigsaw, when we came together as a class to discuss the group answers to the questions that were posed, it seemed to me that the students were better prepared than normal, and asked more questions (and more poignant questions) than usual!

One key reason to use Clips for a jigsaw: live captioning! As I mentioned above, having students watch (and listen to) videos in class could be a complete and abject failure, especially if students don't leave the classroom and/or don't have headphones. But, with the live captions, it was very easy for me to create those expert-creating Clips, and students can read the captions when they can't hear the audio because of environmental noise!

I will definitely use this approach again: a jigsaw exercise improves student engagement. Although using Clips to disseminate content to different group members is, by the SAMR model, mainly Substitution (perhaps Augmentation), now all of my students can access all of the videos (not just the one they watched) for study resources. I can use the same Clips in future semesters, too! Jigsaw + Clips is a win-win.

As a result of a comment on an earlier version of this post elsewhere, I also came to realize that one could also flip the jigsaw when using short videos to produce "content expert" students. If you have stable student groups, or form groups the class session prior to the jigsaw exercise, then assign those Clips videos to watch before class. Then, during class, you can jump right into the peer instruction and problem-solving!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Clips Power Use (CPU) #2: Higher Ed ≠ Starched & Stuff

As I've bemoaned in prior posts, as a college prof, I was worried that I wouldn't find a place for Clips - being aimed at social media production and its attendant glitz like emojis and *gasp* Disney-themed Posters - in my courses.

Fortunately, time (as usual) solved that dilemma. In fact, it was last week's #ADEchat (thanks for hosting, Jon Smith @theipodteacher!) that brought me around. Thanks to Jon, I was forced outside of my comfort zone, where we know no real learning takes place. He tasked us, during the Twitter chat, to create a #clipmercial (a short video) to advertise our class to our students.

Now, I already felt out of place, because many of the chat prompts didn't seem to apply to me. For example: introduce students to your classroom. First, I didn't have pictures of my classroom on hand to use in a Clip. Second, unlike many of my fellow ADEs, who are in K-12, I don't have a classroom - certainly not one that I decorate. I have a lecture hall that I use for fifty minutes, three days a week, which is much less inspiring. Yes, and…so I felt it reasonable to give myself a little leeway in creating a #clipmercial that didn't quite meet the "requirements."

Here it is:

After hastily (and with some technical difficulty) posting my clipmercial on Twitter soon after the #ADEchat ended, I realized that there is certainly value for Clips in higher ed. I've written about this already, and will continue to do so. But for now, here's the spin on short videos in education: they're great for teachers to make themselves human (and hopefully approachable) to their students. Although I didn't use any of the Disney Posters, I did use several animated icons, some humorous photos, and incorporated a potentially recognizable TV commercial for a fast-food chain that has the meats.

We can (should!) use Clips to introduce ourselves and to show our students we're not stiff academics! Many students have an impression, accurate or not, of faculty being out-of-touch brainiacs. Most (all?) of us have a lighter side - I challenge you to create a short video to show it off!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Clips Power Use (CPU) #1: Feedback

One thing I like about teaching: helping students learn!
One thing I don't like about teaching: repeating myself.
One thing I love about technology: it helps me do the former and avoid the latter!

Use short videos to provide feedback to all of your students on commonly-asked questions! Here's how:

At the end of (almost) each class period, I ask students to provide me feedback with an electronic Socrative poll, asking students about the "muddiest point" ("What topic(s) do you feel like you understand least well and want more information about or practice on?"). I do two things with this information: address student mindset and provide feedback.


Because I like to foster an environment in my classes where question-asking is comfortable, I take as many opportunities as I can to demonstrate to students how they're never alone when they have a question; that others usually have the same question that no one is willing to speak up about! And that's one of the reasons I get really excited about teaching classes where students use mobile devices to engage with me: I can provide them anonymous opportunities to provide real-time formative assessment information to me. So, I like to aggregate their results by summarizing their "muddiest point" feedback using a word cloud (e.g. using Wordle) and displaying it at the start of the next class period. This allows students to identify the most common responses (and, of course, it gives me information about what I need to reinforce, as well!) They see that they're not alone in their feelings about what material they want more information about.
Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 7.44.43 PM.png
Last Thursday, one of the larger words was "consensus." I scrolled through all 72 of my student responses and saw that many of them were curious about various aspects of how to solve a problem I had posed to them during class using a Google Sheet-based interactive exercise (related to creating a "consensus DNA sequence").
I had realized at the ADE Academy this year that one of the great uses for video could be providing quick bits of feedback to students about their work. Because I have so many students in my class, I rarely get an opportunity to give all of them feedback on an exercise. So, now I use Clips, once I've identified those "muddiest points," to record video responses to supplement the materials students have to learn and to get feedback from me on their understanding. I post these on YouTube and distribute the URL to the students, so that they can access the information before the next class meeting.

Because I had found that "consensus" was a common request for more information, I felt it was worth the investment of the half hour or so it took me to make the clip above. Not only can I point all of my students to it, but now I have it for use in future classes, and I've already incorporated it into my digital class manual.
The biggest potential "con" to this approach is that immediate feedback is always more useful to students, so it does take our commitment as teachers to look at and process student work, and then respond with a Clips video, as soon as is reasonable (for me, before our next class meeting).

I used Explain Everything in the video clip above to demonstrate, with animation, how to "align" the DNA sequences by sliding them left-right relative to each other. That video, exported from Explain Everything, was then incorporated into the clip.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Teasing with Trailers (aka Clipmercials for your Classes)

As I've written previously, because I'm not in a 1:1 iPad program, my perspective on using Clips has been to consider how use of Clips by the instructor alone might improve learning. In this case, I have a suggestion for how we can motivate students to attend class (maybe a problem more specific to higher ed) and/or to make class material relevant to the student. These are critical to help students engage with the material, and multimedia is a great mechanism to grab and hold student attention!

Class Trailers

You know what a trailer is: a commercial for a movie - a short "teaser" video that hopefully grabs your attention and interest and induces you to spend big bucks at the box office. After the 2017 ADE Academy, I decided that I would create a trailer for my 23 class meetings that are dedicated to learning/practicing new material and concepts.
I wanted my Clips-produced trailers to:
  • have a consistent look
  • be brief (so that students will watch them - mine range from thirty seconds to exactly one minute)
  • do one thing and do it well: present one piece of information and then pose a related thought question that would, hopefully, stump the students and provoke their sense of curiosity about how the living world works

For example:

Trailer Structure

As you've seen from the example above, my Clips only have three parts:
  • an intro Bumper
  • an Observation
  • a related Question

Trailer Production

The intro Bumper is based off of screen capture of a 3-D model of a DNA double-helix. I recorded the animation of the rotation and zooming of the DNA molecule using my iPad via QuickTime on my laptop. I imported that video into my Photos library and then imported it into Clips.

For each trailer, I found one still or video image related to the Observation that I described to the students. 

For accessibility (i.e. the deaf but also those of us who want to access the content of the video with the volume turned off), I captioned the Observation.

For that consistent look, I opted to use the same animated icon (the thought bubble) to hold a very brief summary (in text) of the live-captioned audio description I gave of the Question that we would discuss and attempt to answer.

I also used the same soundtrack for each Clip. With the amount of consistency I incorporated, my trailers are now pretty heavily "branded."

Trailer Distribution

Because I have produced a course manual that all my students download before the first day of class and use throughout the semester, I decided to embed all of the trailers on the front page of each chapter (one chapter = one class meeting). The students are required to read each chapter before class, so they watch the trailer before coming to the class meeting where we discuss the content. Caveat: embedding Clips can greatly increase the size of an epub/multitouch book/etc. Use embedded video sparingly! Most of my 75 students were clamoring for a leaner manual by the end of the first week of the term, so I made a second version with no embedded movies but links to YouTube, where I've created a playlist with all of my trailers. You can find them here:

This playlist does begin with a few Clips that are not trailers, but are other videos I distributed at the start of the term to help orient students to other aspects of my class. I'll cover some of these in future blog posts.


Using the workflow described above is useful in at least a few ways:
  • Student engagement. My students are coming to class prepared to have very interactive discussions about the topics
  • Relevance. By watching the trailer before reading assigned textbook material as well as other microlecture videos I've created, students have at least one mental "hook" that they can use to sift through all of that material and identify components that are directly relevant to the Question posed in the trailer
  • Assessment. We love to know if what we invest time doing for our students is making an impact! Embedded trailers didn't give me as much feedback as having YouTube-hosted movies. Using the Analytics tools built into YouTube, I can tell, for example, that in the last week, 4,443 minutes of my videos have been watched!
  • Production. A simple and short structure makes it easy to create 23 trailers practically on a whim. The part that took longest was deciding what topic I would focus on during each class meeting. After that, assembling visual media and creating the Clips was very efficient.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Designing Effective Clips

I just finished a two-week project making what was ultimately a 20:30 Clip on my philosophy and workflow when producing a 1:08 Clip for my students. I'm glad I finished just in time to share this information before tonight's Twitter #adechat on Clips! (Join us at 6 pm PST).
This is a long movie, but it is not just for experts or to learn Clips in-depth. In fact, some of the Clips from others on how to use Clips are better for this purpose! My Clip fits a particular niche, in that it describes some best practices, and also limitations, for using Clips. After watching, you'll not just have seen the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of how to use Clips, but also:
  • be inspired about how to design an effective Clip
  • learn about some common pitfalls and how to avoid them
I recommend watching this Clip particularly if you want:
  • to see an example of how to structure a Clip for learning
  • to get an idea of what is possible with Clips
  • tutorials on:
    • using Clips
    • creating screen capture video from an iPad
  • an idea of how best to collect and manage media from multiple sources for video production in Clips
Some key points from the Clip:
  • Collect media from various sources into the Photos library, including video files from small Clips, to maintain a consistent look throughout various video projects
  • Use appropriate apps to create different types of video (including QuickTime and Explain Everything)
  • To be able to insert Posters inside of long videos, import those videos into Clips as shorter videos
  • Use Posters as guideposts to give viewers ideas of what they're about to watch and then to summarize what they just watched
n.b. This Clip was created entirely using Clips. Before that, the video content was created using the Camera app (iPhone), QuickTime (MacBook), ExplainEverything (iPad), and Clips itself. iMovie and Final Cut were not used during production of this movie.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Clips shortcomings. Yes, and…best practices!

In my previous post, I showed an example microlecture video I created using Clips to introduce basic speadsheet functionality to my students. I've since made two more, with the goal (as many of us have) of creating a series. While producing "Average, Sum, and Autofill" and "Chi-square analysis," along with other Clips, I've developed:
  • some tips for making a Clips series
  • a short list of abilities I wish Clips had (Feature Requests) and
  • ways to address some of those (Workarounds)

Clips series

Length: I've found a new use for the acronym KISS (you know: Keep It Simple, Stupid) - Keep It Short & Sweet! I do not always succeed, but Clips isn't built for making long and/or complicated videos (I should know - I'll be posting soon on an 18+ minute Clip I just finished developing over about a week), so you save yourself a world of hurt if you KISS! Your viewers will appreciate videos where you make one concise point with the panache that Clips affords.

Branding: a consistent look and feel will help you produce a professional series. In Clips, this means having common design elements, like employing the same animated icons and posters for similar uses in separate Clips. For example, you might add the thought bubble animated icon every time you ask a question you want students to think about and bring answers to class for. You might use the graph paper Poster every time you have presented students with a new type of equation. I create a "cheat sheet" for myself that shows me which icons and posters I use for different circumstances. The use of the same soundtrack and of the same Live Captions style in all Clips in your series also helps develop a high quality series. Likewise, my best idea is to develop a Clip that you will use at the start of every Clip in your series, and one for the end of every Clip that you produce. Keep these in your Photos library, so that you can easily add them to each Clip you make.

Feature requests

  1. It would be great to be able to change font sizes, colors and styles…but we're not there yet. Yes, and…sometimes less is more!
  2. I would really like to see the ability to duplicate media components of a Clip (e.g. a Poster) so that it could be reused, after brief editing, more than once in the same Clip without having to re-add the Poster. Likewise, it would be great to be able to move component media between Clips projects.
  3. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to apply different soundtracks to different parts of your Clip?
  4. Although Clips can Live Caption, it doesn't offer the ability to export a text transcript - which might be nice on occasion
  5. It would be great if the components of a Clip (the videos and Posters) could be locked to prevent accidentally reordering them, and/or to be able to group components together or at least to be able to name or label those components. I was, just now, in a distracted moment, making a quick edit to a Clip project, when I accidentally drag-and-dropped one of the components on the timeline. It took me about 15 minutes to figure out which component I had moved and to find the place it had just been in. If I had the ability to group, lock or name (e.g. numerically) all of my component media, then it wouldn't have been as big a problem. Oh, or: Undo would be nice…
  6. Did you know: that you have to have a network connection to use Live Captioning? I wonder why that is. I discovered this on a shopping trip. It was one of those situations where my wife went to a store I wasn't particularly interested in, so I brought "homework" (my non-cellular iPad), and discovered I couldn't do my Live Captioning voiceover in my sound studio (aka my car) when parked in the mall parking lot.


  1. There isn't one, that I know of.
  2. This one has a fairly easy solution - it is only barely less efficient than having this functionality in Clips itself. You create the media component you want to reuse as its own Clip, then share that video file (which exports it to the Photos library), and then you can access that media from any other Clips project. The main drawback is that, as a video file, it cannot be further edited when re-imported into Clips (e.g. you can't change the Live Caption style)
  3. You can do this. As above, it involves making Clips that you then import into other Clips. I suspect that, if I asked, the Apple Clips team would tell me that Clips isn't built for advanced video editing, and that I should be using a different product (and they would be correct!)
  4. You can copy-paste from the transcript editing window to compile your own text transcript of an entire clip comprising multiple components. It would be tedious. And it wouldn't be time-stamped, which is what some of us expect of a caption transcript.
  5. Again, I bet the official response would be: Clips isn't designed for that. And, again, I think they'd be right! If I was making a KISS Clip, I wouldn't have so many components in the first place.
  6. Yes, I could have used my iPhone to make a wifi hotspot to connect my iPad to. No, I didn't think of that at the time.


You can see how I applied many of these principles and approaches (KISS and maintaining a consistent style, including using the same intro and outro video in each Clip in a series) in my YouTube playlist of "trailer" videos I produced after the ADE Academy and before this term started. Briefly, this summer I created a course manual e-pub that has one chapter per class meeting. For each chapter, I created what I call a class "trailer" (like a move trailer, giving you a short and hopefully compelling preview of the content of each upcoming class). I require my students to watch each before coming to class, with the goal of stimulating their understanding of the relevance of the course material as well as giving them a question to think about for class. I shamelessly stole this idea from one of the Clips we saw at Academy - I don't remember which of you made it, but it was the Clip about how a tree moves water all the way up its trunk. Thanks - that was obviously inspirational!

Up next on my Clips blog series: a Clip of how to make Clips - describing, in detail, all of the steps in the workflow I used to produce all of the Clips linked above.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Effective Course Augmentation with Technology

Given that Fresno State's first day of the semester was yesterday, and instruction begins next week, this seems an appropriate time to summarize, and expand upon, some musings about effective Course Augmentation with Technology (CAT). Before you finish the spit-shine on your syllabus and course schedule and send them out to your new students, here are a few key points to consider that should help your courses run more smoothly and be more effective:

Focus on Pedagogy and Outcomes

CAT is never "technology for the sake of technology." Promote the use of technology when it enriches the learning experience.


I use Google Classroom to facilitate obtaining formative feedback from students, during class. The objectives here are:

  • Get real-time data on student understanding so that I can modify lesson plans according to student needs
  • Provide anonymous feedback to students on their understanding

In brief, I distribute a PDF file of a class exercise to all students through Google Classroom during class. They use their devices to annotate the PDF (often drawing responses to prompts) and then return those documents to me through Google Classroom. I can then display them immediately on my tablet (anonymously, if I want - which I usually do) and provide feedback on quality and extent of understanding.

Student Access

I only require mobile device use when I know my students all have relatively equal access to such technology. Because we have laptop and tablet loaner programs, I usually feel comfortable doing so. If this isn't true where you teach, it is often possible to form student groups including at least one student per group who does have the technology.

It is also a really good idea to ask students to use apps that are available for free on any mobile device (smartphone; tablet; laptop). Not many apps do this, but it keeps the playing field level and makes tech support easier on the faculty (and/or campus staff).

Faculty Buy-In

I can report from personal experience that students can tell when faculty interest in and/or use of technology wanes over the semester. I have plenty of evidence from student course evaluations in the first semesters when I began CAT. The solution is to make one or a few small changes per term that you have every expectation you will be able to sustain throughout the term.

Faculty Boldness

Fear of failure is an often-cited reason why many of my colleagues don't want to pursue active learning with technology, or other tech-enhanced teaching strategies. They don't want to have tech problems during class, so they never try. Or, they tried once, failed, and gave up. Please remember three important things:

  • FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning. Practice makes perfect; things can always go "wrong" in class - regardless of what technology you use (projector lamps can go out even if you're projecting from a laptop; your dry erase marker can run out of ink…). Choose to enter your class with a growth mindset
  • Students need to see you model how one has to leave their comfort zone to learn and to grow. Honestly, nothing worth doing ever came easily; the same is true for effective instruction. Students prize (again, I have course evaluation evidence) instructors who make it clear that they are pushing the envelope to benefit their students. Sometimes the best pedagogical innovations come from having to make on-the-spot adjustments to class plans.
  • Build a support group. Have peers (like me) to discuss issues both before and after class. In other words, discuss intended approaches beforehand and practice what you might do (as back-up plans); then discuss successes and failures. You'll find, not surprisingly, that we all have good and bad days in the classroom, with or without technology.

Student Buy-In (the most important component)

When my students show up on the first day of class (I assume yours are similar), they expect more of the same: lecture. Sitting passively, maybe occasionally not paying attention, listening to lecture. At the end of each semester, I always distribute my own course evaluation survey, in which I solicit student feedback on a number of CAT-related questions. I regularly hear from students (although usually a minority of them) that they prefer the lecture-only experience.

So, more and more, I have been dedicating time during the entire first week of instruction (and repeatedly throughout the term) explaining to students (and later reminding them) why I have designed the class the way I have. I try to make it very clear why the use of the flipped classroom approach, active learning, and CAT, will help them with future coursework and, afterward, in a career. I've included much of this material in pages 8-10 (including a video linked from page 8) in the following Introduction chapter of a course manual I just wrote for my genetics class. Please download this chapter for examples of how I justify the course design to students and try to make it obvious to them why their participation in class is critical:

Support for CAT

If you are at Fresno State, you have several resources to draw on. I'll highlight two here. First, the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) - our instructional designers and associated faculty liaisons, including DISCOVERe (tablet-based instruction) experts Mary Paul and Martin Shapiro, are fantastic to work with if you need to brainstorm, practice, troubleshoot, and/or be inspired with new ideas and solutions to problems you present to them.

Second, I am always willing to meet to accomplish the same: to give you feedback on effective pedagogical ways to accomplish your goals with your courses. I am always happy to meet, and particularly to visit one of your class sessions to give friendly feedback on ways you might consider Course Augmentation with Technology to enhance your class. E-mail me at! I'll be part of your support group team.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Clips: Spreadsheet Basics

The problem

Quantitative reasoning (the basis of evidence-based decision-making) is a skill that benefits every person. Scientist educators strive to develop this in their students. "Number sense" is notoriously difficult to develop, perhaps in part because of student math anxiety and a fixed mindset ("math is hard," "I'm not mathematically inclined," etc.).

So, I've been working to incorporate mathematical analysis exercises in my classes. The way I see it, the best way to do this is to use spreadsheets. They're relatively easy to use (compared to command-line programs like R or GUI-ish Mathematica or SPSS), free (e.g. Google Sheets, Apple's Numbers) or nearly free to students (e.g. Microsoft Excel).

I grew up using Excel, and can't imagine life without it. Heck, I use it to understand how quickly my Thanksgiving turkeys cook so that, given the mass of this year's turkey, I can predict when to put the stuffing and roast potatoes in the oven and have everything come out perfectly done at the same time:

Evidence of the extent of my nerd cred.

Of course, I had to learn to use Excel somewhere. When I entered college, I had a pretty good grasp. As I recall, I knew how to enter calculations, fill-down calculations, format cells, and so forth. I don't recall where I picked this up…probably from a high school science class. But, of course, not everybody gets this exposure in high school. In college, my fantastic honors general chemistry lab instructor, a well-known and recognized (and non-tenure-track) instructor, invested huge amounts of time teaching us analytical skills using Excel (significant figures, error propagation; the whole nine yards). And then I took an "Advanced Excel" class offered by the business school.

And so, about twenty years on, it has been a shock to me, when I teach upper-division biology, that students don't already inherently know how to use a spreadsheet. That's my myopia.

What to do about it?

Apple's Clips app. This semester, I will intentionally involve students, during class, in more spreadsheet-based data analysis than I have undertaken before. And I need to scaffold instruction in using spreadsheets along with their use.

Having just been through (very little, but intense) training and exploration in using Clips at the Apple Distinguished Educator academy, I thought, "Here is a great tool for making a series of microlectures on using Google Sheets." I started with the basics: the structure of a spreadsheet, the types of information spreadsheets can contain, and how to perform simple calculations.


I plan to follow this up with additional Clips, to produce a video microlecture series. Sure, these tutorials exist elsewhere - and they are probably more professionally done. But, I think (and students tell me) that there is tremendous value in their teacher having made the videos - that makes them tailored to the particular scenarios and case studies employed in the specific class. It also indicates our dedication to the class and to the education of the students.

Basic Clips Workflow and Best Practices

Here's a brief overview of how I made the above 2:30 Clip.

Record a screencast of using Google Sheets. I plugged my iPad into my MacBook using the charging cable, and used Quicktime Player (File: New Movie Recording, and then choose your iPad, or even iPhone, as the video source) to record me (without audio) as I navigated my iPad to launch Google Sheets and then perform several tasks in Sheets. I saved the video on my laptop and imported it into my Photos reel so that it would be available on my mobile devices.

The next step was voiceover. I used Apple's Clips app: this plays the video as it imports into Clips. While importing (in real time), I used Clips to record a voiceover annotation of what I was doing through the entire video. I recorded the voiceovers in sections to produce a series of short "clips" that comprise the entire video above. Here I can highlight one of Clips' key features: live captioning. Clips uses the Siri voice recognition engine to process your voice as you speak and translate it into captions: on the fly! Of course, no voice recognition is perfect, so I use Clips' built-in transcript editing tool to make small changes (usually the addition of punctuation marks) to perfect my captions.

Having made this series of short, individual video clips, I interspersed (again, using Clips) the still, text frames (called "Posters") in between each clip. I use these to summarize information from the previous video and/or to introducing upcoming information.

Then, onto the various clips (videos and posters), I added some animated graphics (emojis, arrowheads, etc.) to emphasize particular parts of each video component.

Finally, I added a background soundtrack (just for fun). I exported the movie (to my camera roll, where I exported it to my laptop as a .mov file) and then uploaded it to YouTube to share with the world (i.e. my class).

At the end of the clip (as is my wont during classes), I added an "extension" piece, so that students who cruise through the video and quickly grasp the content have a new exercise to work on before our next class meeting.


That's one way to use Clips to help your students learn skills that can help them become more effective quantitative reasoners.

Next up

I'll be recording Clips for chi-square analysis and for graphing using Sheets.

Monday, August 14, 2017

This project e-Clips-ed my summer

Call me a lunatic, but once again I've allowed a "side project" to eclipse my summer! Of course, it is only because I enjoy working on such projects, and I see tremendous value in them, that I let this happen. I spent the better part of my "free time" assembling a class manual, curating the digital materials I have developed for genetics (BIOL 102) over my many semesters of course augmentation with technology. In the waning days of summer, I sit down for the first time in a long time to update you on my perspectives and progress.


Related to my side project, I was recognized this year with the honor of becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE). This was much to my surprise, because, although I am an Apple advocate, Fresno State's 1:1 tablet program is not an Apple program. More on that soon…

To become an ADE, one has to participate in a summer academy - which I just recently completed. Each academy has a project that the participants focus much of their attention on; this year, that focus was placed squarely on the use of one of Apple's newest apps, called Clips, in education. Our task, in short, was to develop best practices for using Clips in education (K-12 and higher ed).

Although this post, like many, is couched in a discipline-specific context (and this time, necessarily, a device-specific context), I'm still striving to distill course-, grade-, and technology-agnostic principles for you to use. Please read on with an open mind!


Clips is a mobile-device-friendly (i.e. low-frills, low CPU-usage, low-memory usage) program. Its main role is as a video editing and social-media-posting app. A brief summary of its utility: with Clips, you can capture new still images and video using a phone or tablet camera. You can also import stills and video from the device's camera roll. Clips allows simple editing, like:

  • ordering various media items into a specified order
  • adding animated icons and text "posters" in between those media
  • adding a soundtrack

Most notably to many of us, one of the most novel (powerful?) aspects of Clips is its "Live Captions" function. In essence, when using Clips, the device uses speech recognition to perform on-the-fly captioning of videos. This is, as an understatement, HUGE in improving video accessibility without having to undergo a separate process of captioning videos.

For example, here is the Clips video I produced during the ADE summer academy:

Please watch the Clip in the link above so that you can tell me what you think I did wrong in my first Clip!

Clips in Education

My colleagues and I have brainstormed potential classroom uses of Clips, and here are a summary of potential pros and cons:

  • This seems an ideal app for students to use to summarize content and to provide instructors with feedback or reflections
  • We might have some fear about the glitz and "social media-ness" that Clips provides - will this seem to "sophomoric" for higher ed?
  • It isn't equitable to ask students to use Clips if not all students have Apple products (this is perhaps the biggest issue; perhaps solvable by having students work in groups containing at least one iPhone or iPad)
  • Clips isn't the only video-recording app, especially on the iPhone/iPad; we wondered: "What are the Apple-independent principles of the use of short videos by students and/or by faculty?"

To see more examples of the use of Clips for higher education, search Twitter with #classroomclips

Probable Best Practices for using Clips (or any video app)

  • Student use is probably more powerful than faculty use
  • Clips should be just that: clips. Not full-length feature films. This is, probably not arguably, one of my missteps in my first Clip (URL above): a 3:17 video, although relatively short, is probably too long to make the point it makes. How short should a Clip be? It is certainly up to you. How long do you think a student will watch? I'll guess a minute, maximum. Thirty seconds would be better.

My approach for using Clips

This summer, as I was producing my course manual, I decided that I would produce a "trailer" (a movie trailer: a preview) of the topic for each class meeting. Not counting the first day of class, or review sessions or exam days, I will have 23 class meetings this coming semester. So, I have created 23 brief trailers, "A Genetics Class Trailer" (or AGCT - for you geneticists and others in-the-know), for the semester. I have embedded these videos at the start of each "Chapter" of my course manual (one chapter per class meeting). Here is a YouTube playlist of all 23 of these trailers, the longest of which is exactly one minute long:

Why trailers?

My intentions with these Clips, to be rolled out one week from today, when I begin fall semester instruction, are to:

  • Introduce content in bite-size packages
  • Stimulate student interest
  • Demonstrate relevance of content to be covered each class
  • Give students a "hook" that will help make pre-class reading/video content more meaningful

Given the amount of effort I put into developing these Clips and my course manual, I'm very much looking forward to reporting back to you, at the end of this semester! I will let you know:

  • what the student response has been
  • revisions to best practices
  • whether the effort is worth it!

I'm sure my answer to the latter will be, "Yes!" As always, innovating in education has kept me engaged and enthused, and that might be the most important and engaging result!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A new blog is born!

Even though this blog is called Tablet Pedagogy, my ruminations about effective pedagogy have grown beyond technology-based innovations. To try to keep lines of communication clear, I've just today launched an additional blog to cater to readers who have teaching-related interests outside of the realm of mobile technology in the classroom.

I will continue posting tech-based information here at Tablet Pedagogy, and I will be posting other educational content at:

(link to if you like)

Although I will use my @rossbiology (professional) Twitter account to continue promoting Tablet Pedagogy, I have also launched a new Twitter handle to accompany the new blog: @eduproffer

Twitter users: please follow me @eduproffer - thanks!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Just Joe's" Top Tips for Fantastic Flips

I just completed day one of the California State University system's Course Redesign with Technology summer institute, where I was happy to be able to present three different times on augmenting university classes with technology to enhance student engagement:

Ross guiding CSU faculty through strategies for student active learning
By the way: at past institutes, I introduced myself as Bio(logy) Joe from Fresno. This year, I realize the value of not promoting that I am a biologist, because everything I do as a faculty professional developer is to try to make my practices discipline-agnostic. My goal is to develop and disseminate information that faculty from any discipline can use. Yesterday, one of my colleagues suggested that I be "Just Joe" – hence my new moniker.

Yesterday, while I was presenting, and listening to other CSU experts, I distilled three great tips for those of us who teach classes in a blended learning ("flipped") format. I'll couch these tips in the context of two questions and complaints I often hear from faculty who have tried this approach:

1. For videos that students watch before coming to class, what types of content should I present, and how long should be videos be?

Yesterday, my colleague Ji Son gave a great description of how to divide course content and practice between pre-class and in-class: think of Bloom's taxonomy. Give students the factual (lower Bloom's) information in brief (three to five minute) videos. Spend class time doing the higher Bloom's levels: tackling employing knowledge in new circumstances, evaluating information, etc. in that classroom setting, where students have you (and peers) as a support structure! This is critically important for students who have fixed mindsets.

2. Students aren't engaging in my exercises during our in-class time

Two main challenges might explain this reluctance

a. First, I've heard many stories from faculty of how they started out with so many great new techniques and approaches, but their time (and enthusiasm) to support those changes tapered off over the semester. This is often sensed by students as faculty getting "lazy."

The best answer to this: be as conscious as you can as you're designing how you will integrate new pedagogies. Think sustainably: just make one change each term, and make it a small change, so that you can be sure you have enough time all semester long to support your innovation. Students prefer consistent energy across the semester.

b. Another perspective that students sometimes have about faculty is that using a flipped classroom approach is a "lazy teacher" approach, especially when we spend most of our in-class time answering student questions and facilitating small group work.

I have three recommendations

a. The most important: do everything you can (see below) to onboard students into the value of your class augmentation/enrichment/redesign strategy. Describe/provide to the students:

  • how what you are doing is probably going to be new to them
  • how you know that your changes have been shown to be effective (i.e. that you're not necessarily testing unproven strategies on them as "guinea pigs")
  • how their participation and regular preparation for a flipped class is absolutely critical and essential for the class to work and help every student succeed

Do this as early in the semester as possible. Some places to do this: in your course syllabus and during the very first day of class. I now spend about a half-hour of class on each of my first few days of class giving students structured exercises and time to learn all new technologies/workflows. This can include providing online resources (videos, tutorials) for using those technologies. At the same time, I reinforce how all of these approaches help improve their ability to succeed in my course.

b. It can also be very valuable, in the first days of class, to survey your students to try to learn about their attitudes and perceptions on your pedagogical approach. This way, if you have any concerns coming into the semester about whether students will appreciate what you're doing, you will find out what sort of concerns you will need to explicitly address on this first days. Some example survey questions might include (for a flipped classroom approach):

  • How much do you like being able to ask questions during class? (a little, some, a lot)
  • What percent of class time do you prefer be spent on lecture? (0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, 75-100%)
  • How much time do you expect to spend outside of class preparing for class?
This process can be very eye-opening about the gap between your expectations for student activity/involvement and their own expectations. Only with these data can you be effective in helping the students understand the value of their adapting their schedules/expectations/activities to conform with your pedagogical approach.

c. I have had a lot of difficulty (spanning multiple semesters) figuring out how to get students to prepare to ask questions and engage in group work during class. In other words: preparing students to realize that their homework has two components:

  • read/watch the material for class
  • prepare questions, based on thoughtful reflection, to ask in class

To help prime students, one of the things I prefer to do is to assign students a "homework question" to try to complete by the next class meeting. I do this at one or both of the following ways:

  • at the end of the current class meeting and/or
  • in the video I am asking the students to watch by next class

Such a question that I pose to students will always be a tough question that, at its core, requires the students to use the pre-class video and/or reading material. However, that question usually has one final part that will be difficult (to nearly impossible) for students to complete. The goal of this is to force students to consider how the information/topic engages higher Bloom's levels before class. Then, when they come to class, you should be fairly confident that a number of your students will have FAILed to answer that question (where the acronym FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning - that's not my invention, but I'm not sure who to attribute this acronym to). This approach ensures that, at the very least, students should come to class expecting to work on figuring out how to appropriately answer that question.

A final thought about helping students prepare for the in-class portion of a flipped class

Be very explicit with your students about how students can go about developing appropriate/useful questions to bring to class. This might take the form of providing students with a flowchart of prompts to help them pinpoint where they encountered difficulties:

  • Where in the process of answering the question did you get stuck?
  • What were the questions racing through your head when you gave up? Write those down and bring them to class. Examples include:
    • "Do I need this piece of information?"
    • "How do I incorporate this information in my answer?"
    • "Why is this information provided in the question?"
    • "What does this term mean?"
    • "I had multiple possible options of how to proceed at this point - which one should I choose?"
    • "How do I know what to do next? I don't know what options exist for how to proceed."

Do you have other methods you use to help students develop questions to ask during class? Please let me know by e-mail or as a comment!