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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Learning Activities

Suggested Techniques

Almost any activity can be designed to be carried out in some way or another for a classroom based, hybrid or online course. Most important consideration is that the instructor set up the activity with all the supporting and explanatory documentation necessary for the students to understand fully what they are to do, when, where in the course they are to do it, what is expected specifically, and how they will be evaluated. In hybrid and online course areas in the online portions of the course must be designed and set up in advance by the instructor to account for and accommodate, explain, model, and evaluate each activity.

The following is a list of learning activities that can assist you in thinking about what is possible and how. Click on the technique titles for more information.


This is a technique for generating new, useful ideas, and promoting creative thinking. It can be a very useful to help generate ideas for projects, encourage shy or reluctant students or solve problems. This can be conducted online as a small group discussion activity or with the class as a whole.

Build consensus

Students are expected to look for key themes of a given topic and post their position. Next students read others messages, look for an ideal framework and post a message supporting more than one position. In the following stage, students also post a message supporting more than one position. Finally, there is a debriefing, discussion and final evaluation. A specific example is the Jigsaw method. It is a useful for encouraging cooperation. In this technique students are arranged in “expert” groups, responsible for developing an approach to solving part of the problem. Students are then rearranged in “home” groups with one person from each of the expert groups and are expected to find an overall solution. This is then brought together by the instructor by having each group report their overall solution. This can be organized as an online activity using small groups. Careful planning, explanation, and course document set up is necessary to have this flow well and in a timely way. Tip: As an online activity, the best results are when the instructor assigns members to groups and assigns roles within the groups in advance, rather than letting student self select into groups, and workout roles.

Buzz groups

A group is divided into sub-groups of from 3 to 6 persons each for a brief period of time, to discuss an assigned topic or to solve a problem. A representative is sometimes selected from each sub-group to report the findings to the entire group. It allows for total participation by group members through small clusters of participants, followed by discussion of the entire group. It is used as a technique to get participation from every individual in the group. This activity is implemented online via small group discussion activities.

Case Histories

Case teaching presents authentic, concrete teaching problems for students to analyze. Teaching cases have long been a cornerstone of professional training in schools of business, law, and medicine. It provides models of how to think professionally about problems. Online case studies or histories can be set up as activities for individual or small group work.

Chain story, poem, article

The teacher begins e.g., ‘One morning Ben got up & went to work.’ A student is invited to continue with another sentence & so on round the class. You provide the linkers – ‘and then’, ‘so’, ‘next’, ….’ finally’; good for conditionals. Each person adds to what the previous person told, ending on a cliff-hanger phrase such as, “but suddenly…” or “but when he opened the door he saw…” and so on — the trick being to work the word in so that it fits the story. This works for poems, articles, and dialogue, too. This can be set up as an online activity either as a discussion with the class as a whole or in small groups. Every time a new person logs in to the course they add to the story…

Chain math or science problem

The instructor or a student poses a multistage problem which one student after another offers one step in its solution. This is done in small groups. Variation: students are given a list of solutions, and asked to create the problem to which it is the answer. The instructor gives guidance on what type of problem the solution is to. This can be set up as an online activity either as a written assignment with the “save for class” option and including the class as a whole or in small groups. Every time a new person logs in to the course they add a step to the solution or problem. The first person to save their response gets the credit for that level. Duplicate or concurrent respondents have to redo their response at a different level.


They can be used in a variety of ways in all disciplines, sometimes instructors- , other times student-generated to cover a vast array of topics. Closely related is the Categorizing Grid. Charts can be created using various software programs and attached to assignment documents for the instructor, for the class, or in small groups; both as stand alone documents or as supportive materials to a presentation or paper.

Some tools worth investigating are:

  • amCharts is a beta  cloud solution that generates flash based column & bar, line & area, pie & doughnut, scatter & bubble and radar & polar charts that can be embedded into web pages. Tutorials and support for amCharts and amMaps can be found at
  • ChartsBin – An online tool to create your own interactive map instantly with no installation or coding needed, and you can embed the map in website or blog easily too.
  • is a fun tool to create your Infographics with drag and drop features and a simple interface. You can easily create and share visual ideas online, supported by ‘vhemes’ or visual themes that help you get started from the preset Infograpic style. Drag and drop a ‘vheme’ onto your canvas to turn your idea into a full infographic.
  • – is a simple way to create static and interactive infographics. Import raw data to, and the site’s online tool will help you turn that data into a nice looking chart or full-blown infographic in minutes.
  • Many Eyes – an experiment by IBM Research and the IBM Cognos software group with a simple belief: ‘Finding the right way to view your data is as much an art as a science’. Many Eyes provides a range of visualizations from the ordinary to the experimental, where each can be put together with a click. (Please keep in mind that the usage statement notes that IBM retains rights to all data uploaded to the site.)
  • Piktochart – With Piktochart, you get to create an innovative Infographic using a combination of different types of visualizations: themes, icons, vectors, images and chart exporter. Drag-and-drop and click your way through color schemes, shapes and fonts, then export the materials as static or html to easily embed it for use at your site.
  • StatSilk – offers web-based and desktop software to create interactive data visualization and maps.
  • Tableau Public – A free application for your Windows computer that helps you create interactive data visualizations. You can create and share interactive charts and graphs, maps and live dashboards with a minimal amount of effort.
  • Venngage – an online infographics tool that helps you create and publish custom infographics, and at the same time, engage viewers and track results. Venngage allows you to create infographics for blogs and websites.
  • – helps you customize infographics in seconds, and no, you don’t have to be an analyst or designer to make infographics with Visually Create. allows you to also discover infographics and favorites from other users. (What is from visually on Vimeo.)


Teachers or students use these to outline, summarize, and highlight concepts and information. Online these can be created in PowerPoint or other graphics programs and attached as files to assignment documents. There are also tools that can be used synchronously online specifically for this purpose that may include capture and playback options as a feature.

Class created annotated bibliography

A glossary of various types of resources for any discipline. Using the Shared References Area and form students can be directed to regularly contribute a certain number of shared references to the class. As a directed learning activity the instructor can evaluate the student on the quantity of submissions, and require that the student include a summary of the resource as well as an evaluation of the resource. There are fields on the shared references form for summary and evaluation notes and to document the type of resource.

Conduct an interview

A formal interview consists of a series of well-chosen questions (and often a set of tasks or problems) which are designed to elicit a portrait of a student’s understanding about a concept or set of related concepts. The interview may be conducted as an offline activity and videotaped or audio taped for later analysis, or online asynchronously. Online course assignments and activities can be designed to prepare interview questions either as individual or small group activities.

Conduct a survey

The instructor or students devise a survey instrument to use in or outside class. One example of a instructor-created survey is the attitude survey of students which provides valuable information on student perceptions of their course experience, or as a mechanism to poll students on a particular course-related topic. Students can also work in small groups to design instruments that they then implement offline and return to the group or class to report on. The following are a few tools that would assist in designing this type of activity.

Poll Everywhere is a browser-based application that allows for votes and feedback to be solicited from individuals via text messaging and/or Twitter. Results are displayed on the web or within a presentation (PowerPoint slide) in real time.

The instructor needs to have a Polleverywhere account. Students will need access to a wireless enabled device (cellphone, laptop, etc) to participate.

The free Higher Education account has a response limit of 40 unique participants. Other membership options are available for a fee, but the free account will likely be enough to get you on your way. There does not appear to be a limit on the number of polls that can be created with a free account, though some other features such as customized keywords, controlling posting participation, and reports require an account upgrade.

While the polls are active as long as they have been started and are receiving votes, if the poll has been inactive for 30 days the system will automatically stop the poll. For more information, go to

Note: Polleverywhere is currently distributing beta versions of live results slides for Keynote and PowerPoint for Mac.

Creating a Free Polleverywhere Account

  1. Go to
  2. Under Higher Ed Free, click Sign Up.ed signup form
  3. Complete the form.
  4. Click Sign Up at the bottom of the form to create your account.

Poll Everywhere and Powerpoint for the PC

Downloading the PowerPoint Slides (PC Only)

Upon successfully creating a poll, the browser page will present the webpage created for your poll. If you’ve logged out of Polleverywhere, you can access your polls from My Polls when you log in.

  1. From the Views menu, select Live Text Wall or Live Chart.
  2. Review and modify Ways People Can Respond as appropriate.
  3. Click Download as Slide.Note: There are also options for Mac applications, but they are in beta and may not function as expected.
  4. When prompted, rename and save the Polleverywhere PowerPoint.

Note: The filename provided by Polleverywhere is randomly generated. It is highly recommended that the file be renamed.

Inserting Polleverywhere Slide into PowerPoint (PC Only)

  1. Open your presentation.
  2. Select the slide after which the inserted slides should appear.
  3. Select New Slide >Reuse Slides from the Home Ribbon.
  4. In the Reuse Slides window, browse for this presentation.
  5. From the slide list, select the slide(s) you wish to insert.
  6. Repeat 2 – 5 for each poll to be added to the presentation.

Note: The slides will appear in your PowerPoint. However, depending upon the design of your PowerPoint, the formatting of the slides may be altered.


Listen to the faculty and students from the University of Colorado explain why they use clickers and what they think about clickers as a tool for student engagement.

Goal of Using Clickers

Overwhelmingly, the research states that using Clickers strictly as a means for taking attendance in class results in student resistance to the tool. The other reason for student resistance often comes about when the students are unclear as to why the clickers are being used and what the WIFM (what’s in it for me) is for the student. As such it is important to clearly explain to the students the goal(s) of the clicker and how they can benefit from participation.

The following is a list of potential goals for implementing clickers in the classroom.

  1. Engage students in active learning through
    • Applying ideas, skills, and problem-solving in class
    • Predicting outcomes
    • Reason in new contexts
    • Draw connections between ideas
  2. Promote student to student discussion
    • Create a collaborative spirit for supporting learning
    • Practice justifying a position/responding to arguments
    • Practice monitoring their own thinking
    • Aid their learning of technical terminology by using it in discussions
  3. Provide feedback to the instructor about students understanding.
  4. Provide feedback to the students about there own understanding, both through seeing the histogram of responses and in follow up discussion by the instructor.
  5. Use as formative assessment to guide teaching: e.g. probe prior knowledge, current thinking, or uncover student misconceptions.
  6. Listen to students’ ideas as they discuss and reason about the material.
  7. Give students a voice in how the class proceeds, how they want to learn, etc.
  8. Facilitate student accountability for being prepared for class.
  9. Model the process of critical thinking through asking questions and figuring out answers in order to promote this practice by the students themselves.
  10. Ensure instructors have not lost touch with what students are understanding and that the pace of the class is appropriate.
  11. Get students to commit to an answer.
  12. Reaffirm learning.
  13. Survey students’ background.
  14. Send a message that the instructor’s priority is on student learning.

Note: This list and other useful information on the effective use of clickers in teaching can be found in the Clicker Resource Guide.

What makes a good clicker question

The quality of the questions asked of students using clickers has a profound effect on the overall value of the experience. This video presents the thoughts of faculty and students at the University of Colorado on the role that good clicker questions play in the learning experience.

Creating good clicker questions often requires having clearly defined learning goals or objectives for the lecture. The clicker question should support those goals. The tactic chosen for the implementation of the clickers defines the type of question you choose to use. The table below aligns the question design goals with the tactics for those questions as outlined by Beatty et al., 2006.

Question design goals Question Tactics
Direct attention/raise awareness
  • Remove non-essentials
  • Compare and contrast
  • Extend the context
  • Resuse familiar question situations
  • Review (oops-go-back)
Promote articulation/discussion
  • Qualitative questions
  • Analysis and reasoning questions
  • Multiple defensible answers
  • Require unstated assumptions
  • Trap unjustified assumptions
  • Deliverate ambiguity
  • Trolling for misconceptions
Stimulate cognitive processes
  • Interpret representations
  • Compare and contrast
  • Extend the context
  • Identify a set
  • Rank variants
  • Reveal a better way
  • Strategize
  • Include extraneous information
  • Omit necessary information
Formative use of response data
  • Answer choices reveal likely difficulties
  • Use “None of the above”

Note: An expanded version of this table and more information about designing clicker questions can be found in the Clicker Resource Guide.


There are a variety of resources available online and in professional journals on the implementation of clickers into teaching and learning practice in higher education. This resource pulled primarily from two resources.

Digital Storytelling

This technique generally requires the production of two-to-five-minute personal essays or memoirs narrated by the writer, the writing in these narratives can be incredibly powerful. They may be composed in a movie editor such as iMovie, or in presentation software such as Power Point using still photos or artwork for visuals. In Hawaii, the Department of Education has, for last three years, sponsored a digital-storytelling contest in which learners demonstrate creative writing and content knowledge (Hayes, 2005).

Resources and samples:

  • Digitales – digital storytelling resource site –
  • Digital Clubhouse Network – community based story telling project that is looking for individuals from all age groups and walks of life to share their stories. They offer all of the tools for free to those who what to participate in the community.
  • Telling their stories: Oral history archives project – site contains a collection of digital interviews conducted by high school students.


  • AjaxWrite – Web based word processing program.
  • Photostory by microsoft – easy to use free software download from Microsoft. Works on PCs only.
  • Voicethread – “A VoiceThread is an online media album that can hold essentially any type of media (images, documents and videos) and allows people to make comments in 5 different ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam) – and share them with anyone they wish. They can even be exported to an Archival Movie for offline use on a DVD or video-enabled MP3 player. A VoiceThread allows group conversations to be collected and shared in one place, from anywhere in the world.” The company provides a limited free version and fee based professional version (~$60.00 a year) – read the pricing page for details.


Informal debates encourage students to think critically about an issue or issues presented in class and allow for interactive class discussion. It is implemented by dividing students into two groups and assigning each a point of view to debate based on controversial material that had been presented in class. It is a pro-and-con discussion of a controversial issue. The objective is to convince the class (audience), rather than display skill in attacking the opponent. This can be done using the small group for preparation of the strategy of each side, and discussion areas for the actual presentation of the debate in the online course.


Instructor or students demonstrate a concept, procedure, or technique. This can be an online or offline activity. Online, it might be presented as a discussion with supporting documents or graphics. Offline, it might be video or audio taped to be turned into the instructor, with a section in the online course for reflections on the process. Or, a video or audio tape sent to the students by the instructor, with a section in the online course for reflections on the process.

Direct an observation

observations may include written field notes with detailed accounts of an event, objects or people observed. They run the gamut of disciplines from artistic to scientific observations. The observation is conducted as an offline activity (See related, Field Trip). Online course assignments and activities can be designed to prepare observation instruments either as individual or small group activities.


Lively online discussion fosters democratic participation and enhances learning. It emphasize participation, dialogue, and two-way communication. The discussion method is one in which the instructor and a group of students consider a topic, issue, theory, or problem and exchange information, experiences, ideas, opinions, reactions, and conclusions with one another. Teaching by online discussion can be an extremely effective means of helping students apply abstract ideas and think critically about what they are learning and how to use and evaluate online and other resources to support their positions. Variation: student – led online discussions. Online discussion questions work best that are open ended and provocative. Instructors need to make sure students understand what is expected and how they will be evaluated. Students must be clear on how to take a position and support it. See related, Questions and Answers. 

Online Discussions

“Expert tutors often do not help very much. They hang back letting the student manage as much as possible. And when things go awry, rather than help directly they raise questions: ‘Could you explain this step again? How did you… ?” ~ Mark Lepper Stanford Psychologist

Discussion forums can serve as a learning tool that fosters in-depth, academic discussion, an arena in which students work collaboratively or conduct peer analysis, or simply a place where they can virtually communicate with each other. Discussion forums used well can be an effective learning tool that encourages students to engage in higher order thinking activities.


Before adding online discussions to your courses you might want to consider how important discussions are and what role they should have in the learning experience. If an online discussion is integral to your course objectives, you should clearly communicate participation requirements and allocate a representative portion of the course grade to discussion participation. We also recommend Providing a set of clear, explicit guidelines. Include things like:

  • How frequently you will read and respond to postings.
  • If you will read all postings or only a representative sample.
  • What should and should-not be included in postings (e.g. Use email instead of the discussion board for private conversations, pick a central theme in this week’s readings and note why it is important – support your position, etc.)
  • When posting should be made (e.g. initial postings should be made “x” day of the week, respond to at least two of your peers’ postings by “x”, etc.)
  • Size and style of the postings (e.g. ‘make your point in your posting, not in an attachment’, ‘proper source citations are required’, use formal or conversational language in the posts, etc.)

Also keep in mind that some students that are new to online discussions in an academic setting prefer to “lurk”, or be non-contributory browsers. These students may be learning, but just doing it quietly. At the beginning of a course you need to ensure that there are a variety of activities for students to do that encourage active engagement. Having low risk “ice breaker” activities (i.e., introductions topic where students add a brief bio and photo, games like “Three truths and a Lie’ or the “Name Game”) will help the “lurkers” find their online voice and teach the students how to use the discussion tool.

Creating Questions

Creating good questions is one of the most important factors in designing successful discussion forums. The following are some question possibilities.

  • The open-ended question: Ask for the how’s and the why’s instead of the what’s.
  • The controversial question: That the unpopular stand and get your students riled up.
  • The “naiveté” question: Ask the “dumb” question to get your students talking.
  • The “synthesizer” question: Draw from related reading materials, asking your students to determine what “person A” would have to say about “Person B” because of “C”.
  • The peer facilitator question: Have the students sign up for a facilitation week and give each student responsibility for addressing a major point/topical question, soliciting input from their peers, and posting a summary of the discussion at the end of the week.

In general, encourage students to talk to each other by creating challenging discussion topic in which the sharing of their ideas, experiences, knowledge and skills is useful.

Another important factor is keeping the discussions on topic. The following suggestions can assist in accomplishing this goal.

  1. Creating well-designed questions that keep students topic focused (see question possibilities noted above.)
    •  Create assignments, activities, or projects that permit students to “actively construct” knowledge when interacting with the information from the course.
    • Create discussion threads that incorporate hypothetical scenarios, case studies, or theoretical conflicts to fuel discussions.
    • Create a discussion forum that allows students to openly discuss topics of interest to them. For example encourage them to discuss things like popular music, bands, and movies online. Allow them the freedom to participate and encourage them to do so. This has two side effects: one, it necessitates that they use the course site to participate and two, it encourages them to meet one another online.
  1. Provide a new discussion forum for each week or topic. If one forum is used for the entire term the threads may get rather long. And provide parameters or guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable response.
  2. Revise threaded discussion questions when responses are off-target. If a question is not working well and students are confused, change it immediately and send out an email to students regarding the change, and post a new thread with the revised question and associated questions.
  3. Bring a tread to closure by summarizing the issues presented and resolved in the discussion; pinpoint especially interesting and informative responses by your students. This summary can be emailed to the students, posted to the end of the threaded discussion, or posted in the weekly announcements of the course site.
  4. Give clear detailed directions to your students on what you want in their responses at the beginning of each thread.
  5. Provide an informal threaded discussion elsewhere in the course. This can be a good place for students to post non-content related questions or to socialize online.
  6. When appropriate post reminders that students stay on topic. If students begin to stray from the topic, post an item to the discussion pushing everyone back in the right direction. If the direction the students have strayed is a good one, reinforce it and allow the discussion to focus on the new topic.
  7. Provide incentives for students to participate in the online discussions by attributing a discernable percentage of the grade to this activity (can be tied to the rubric noted in item 2.)
  8. The answer to a question asked by one student might be relevant to many, so post answers to a student accessible FAQ course page or forum. This type of resource could quickly build into a valuable resource for current and future students.
  9. Privately reprimand and give constructive feedback to students who make off-topic postings or fail to meet posting requirements.
    • Send email messages to those who are falling behind in discussions, or who are reading but not writing.
    • Encourage meta-communication about the process of online discussions and offer suggestions for improving the experience for all the participants.
  1. Delete/hide threaded discussion postings by those students who refuse to play by the rules and then deny them access to the threads and lower their class participation grade.

Suggested Activities

“A free exchange of ideas, opinions, and feelings is the lifeblood of collaborative learning.” – J. McKinley

Student Centered

  • Have students synthesize the prior week’s discussion postings
  • Have students generate discussion or review questions, Students can submit questions to you via email or moderated discussion forum. Select a few of the questions and post them to an open discussion forum. You could even have the students who submitted the question be the moderator for the question.
  • Assign a group to be the experts on a topic or section. Have them post a question for that week’s discussion and lead the discussion. Toward the end of the posting period, have the discussion leaders summarize and combine points for their peers.
  • Have a student start the discussion on a topic or chapter.
  • Have the student read an article that offers multiple perspectives on a course-relate topic. They then write a brief synopsis of the article to explain a perspective they support and why. This summary is posted to the discussion forum. Students then read the posting of at least two other students and respond in a collegial manner, with additional evidence from the article that supports or challenges the other students’ interpretations. If a student receives a challenge to a summary they should be able to defend their position, or concede their position. (Gaarrison, 2008) It is recommended that a clearly defined assessment rubric be used to grade this type of discussion.

Promoting Interaction

  • Have students take sides on an issue and defend their position. Poll students in class or online on a particular question or issue. Then have students support their positions in the discussion forum.
  • Post a number of questions relating to a chapter or unit of study. Have students work in small groups on these questions. Each group will then post their final responses to the discussion forum.
  • Post a sample exam and have student collaborate on answering the questions.

Supporting Student Learning

  • Post a weekly discussion question related to course readings prior to a class session. Use the comments from the online discussion to generate class discussion.
  • Provide a discussion forum for readings and assignments. Encourage students to post their questions “x” number of days before the next session. Use the student postings to develop lecture materials and resources.
  • Post preview or review questions or concepts in a discussion forum. Have students submit a response in their own words. This allows you to assess the students level of understanding.
  • Have students create reflective discussion summaries or “discussion audits” by posing one or more of the following questions: (Brookfield & Preskill, 2005)
    • What are the two most important ideas that emerged from this week’s discussion?
    • What remains unresolved or contentious about this topic?
    • What do you understand better as a result of this week’s discussion?
    • What key words or concept best captures our discussion this week?
    • What are some resources (e.g., websites, articles, books) that could be used to find further information/ideas about this topic?
  • For individual assignments, have students review postings from the discussion forum and outline the points and themes that were discussed. Select a few good examples and post these for the class.
  • Post a model answer to the discussion as a conclusion to your discussion thread.

Field Trips

This strategy increases motivation and highlights the application of classroom material to the real world. It is an excellent opportunity to facilitate learning outside of the online classroom in an interesting and purposeful way. Field notes, reports, inventories, and treasure hunt lists, can be developed in the online course individually or in small groups and then used in the field trip. Students can then return to the course to report on their experiences to the class or in small groups. Variation: Students can also videotape the field trip and turn it into the instructor. See related, Direct an Observation. 


As an offline activity for an online course, these visual tools help build background for particular topics or motivate student reaction and analysis. They encourage the use and development of communication skills and can be used to establish a social context for English as a second language, or to provide visual “texts” for deaf students. Film/Video/Audio etc. can be developed by the instructor and sent out to students, or in some cases students can be directed to find a particular resource at the local library or online repository.

Video Problem Solving Activity

Because of learners’ familiarity with video, applying video technology in an online environment will easily allow learners to create their own understanding of the video learning environment. Learners are familiar with the syntax and semantics of TV, and the way that ideas are conceived, organized, and presented. Video can be used to convey an interesting problem that learners need to solve. The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt University created and tested video-based instruction that is designed to help learners to reason, think, and solve problems. In solving the problems presented in the video, learners need to write persuasive essays based on factual research. All of the information needed to solve the problem is embedded in the video. The learners need to search the video in order to find the needed information after they have determined what they need to know. Learners who work on meaningful tasks in complex problem-based learning context better understand and transfer what they learn to new situations. Therefore, they apply new learning to their previous experiences.


The following suggested techniques can engage students in higher order thinking skills through video.

Activity 1: First level stimulus exercise

Play a short newsreel clip without sound (it doesn’t have to be current). Have the students consider the following questions while watching the clip:

  1. Where is it taking place?
  2. Where might it have occurred?
  3. Who is involved?
  4. What is happening?

Then have small group discussions on the question set. Then play the clip again without sound to check impressions.

Next have students report out then play the clip with audio.

Activity 2: 10 frame exercise

Any type of video can be used for this activity. 

  • Have students select 10 frames from a video to support one of four hypothesis provided by you for a given question.
  • Then have the students support the hypothesis by working in groups.
  • Then have them defend their selections by:
    1. Choosing 10 images that support the hypothesis
    2. Upload the images to a tool like voicethread
    3. Have a group discussion around the hypothesis and supporting images

Activity 3: Predict, Observe & Evaluate (POE)

  • Provide a video clip then ask the students to predict what is happening in the clip.
    • Example 1: Predict how you would demolish a building without causing serious damage to the surrounding buildings.
    • Example 2: Predict which of these 6 prototype helicopters would actually fly — provide students with 6 short clips edited together and have them make a decision.  
  • After students have discussed the clips provide them with the remainder of the clip that meets the correct solution.

Activity 4: Inquiry and Problem Solving

  • What is happening here ans how could we find out?
    • Example: Provide a short video of a plane crash that doesn’t show the actual crash happening and doesn’t provide a clear indication of where the plane is, then ask the question “where dd this plane crash and when?”
    • Have the students determine how they would find the answer to the question that you posed.

For this activity it would be best to give students some type of clip that is rather generic ans then have the students think about is deeply and conduct research to locate the answer.

Tools & Resources to Get Started With

Integrating Oral Materials

Sources of Ready Made Podcasts

Here is a list of directories to educational podcasts. Educational podcasts range from university classes, to elementary school news, and from pay-per-download ebooks to free DIY (do it yourself) tutorials. All of these are worth checking out.

  • Learn Out Loud – Includes a lot of pay-per-download audio books mixed in with the free stuff — made it somewhat confusing to me; Designed for general public interest.
  • Podcast Directory for Educators, Schools and Colleges – More educator and school-oriented (all levels) than the those above, though also includes professional training and learning about podcasting.
  • The Education Podcast Network – Podcasts are listed by academic discipline so they can be used in classrooms and for home schooling. This one is the most school-oriented of these four directories.
  • Open Culture: University Podcast Collection – A listing of links to university websites where podcasts can be found, with some comments on what is available.
  • Educate – podcast directory for educators, schools, and colleges.
  • Educational Feeds Directory
  • Spoken Word – place to find and share audio and video recordings of spoken-word events and programs. is a directory and search engine of programs published elsewhere on the Web and submitted to our database by site users.


They can be used to teach everything from art to zoology and are only limited by the imagination. Online or offline games can be used. Students can work individually or in small groups.

Group activity

There is a nearly endless list of group and collaborative activities you can do in the online classroom. The group discussion, for example, provides an opportunity for pooling of ideas, experience, and knowledge.

Collaborative Authorship

This is one method of supporting social co-construction of knowledge through collaborative communication. For example learners can read a novel that doesn’t have a complete ending, then write a final chapter, and post their submissions to a class blog for others to read and respond. Collaborating with other learners (authors) enhances their reading experience. This simple activity will help learners to think deeply about the book and about writing. It will also encourage them to write with a purpose, to think critically about what they write, to read what others have produced, and to compare their own work with the work of others. It is worth noting that having learners post their work on the Web inspires many of them to take their work more seriously by reflecting on what they are about to let many individuals read. (Jonassen, 1999)

Guest speaker

Instructors can bring additional expertise into the “classroom” in the form of virtual guest speakers. The instructor sets up a module or section in the course for the guest speaker, sets up the activity, introduces the guest speaker, requests web access for the guest speaker, and creates the kick off document for the guest speaker to use to start the discussion or presentation. The Guest then interacts in the course via the web.

Interactive online tools

This method engages learners in experiences that challenge hypotheses and encourage discussion. Interactive tools also allow learners to engage multiple learning styles in the completion of individual or group activities. Some examples of interactive online tools are:

If you’d prefer, you can visit the main site from which the above activities originated and select one or more activities, at:

Keep a journal

Journal entries provide students an opportunity to make observations and reflect on their learning or development of a skill. This can be saved privately by the student and then periodically turned in to the instructor or submitted to the instructor on more regular intervals. Journaling activities can also be done in pairs or small groups with peer review intervals.


This is where students apply what they have learned. Labs can be set up as online experiments using simulation web sites, or software, or off line as actual experiments that the students conduct and then return to the class to report their findings. Lab packets can be sent to students including anything from seeds to sprout to a dead cat for dissection… Set up for this activity is rigorous and essential.

Learning Teams

This group method encourages full participation from students in the learning process, provides shared support among students and promotes individual preparation prior to class. This can be accomplished online using the small group areas. Variation see, Study Groups. 


Concept maps, diagrams, maps to are used to explain concepts. They can be student- or teacher-generated. They can be created in spreadsheets or other graphics software programs and attached as files to assignment documents, imported into the course for display or posted on the Internet.

Concept Maps

Concept maps are drawings or diagrams showing the mental connections that students make between a major concept the instructor focuses on and other concepts they have learned.


  • Concept Maps reflect research in cognitive psychology by directing instructor and student attention to the “mental maps” used to organize what we learn.
  • Because it calls for a graphic response, this technique favors students with strong visual learning skills. These same students are often at a disadvantage in verbal assessment.
  • It prompts students to consider how their own ideas ans concepts are related, as well as to realize that those associations are changeable.
  • Concept Maps can serve students as prewriting and note-taking devices, in addition to being powerful self-assessment techniques.


  • Comparisons among student responses can be difficult to make unless the instructor restricts responses to choices from a closed list of terms. Such restrictions, however, will diminish student creativity and the variability of responses.
  • Students with well-honed verbal skills but less developed graphic skills may find this assessment frustrating ans question its value.


This technique provides an observable ans assessable record of the students’ conceptual schemata — the patterns of associations they make in relation to a given focal concept. Concept Maps allow the instructor to discover the web or relationships that students bring to the task at hand — the students’ starting points. This assessment technique also helps the instructor assess the degree of “fit” between the students’ understanding of relevant conceptual relations and the instructor’s map and/or course objectives. With such information in hand, the instructor can go on to assess changes ans growth in the students’ conceptual understandings that result from instruction.

By literally drawing the connections they make among concepts, students gain more control over their connection making. The Concept Map allows them to scrutinize their conceptual networks, compare their maps with those of peers and experts, and make explicit changes.

Related Teaching Goals

  • Develop ability to draw reasonable inferences from observations
  • Develop ability to synthesize ans integrate information and ideas
  • Develop ability to think holistically: to see the whole as well as the parts
  • Develop appropriate study skills, strategies, and habits
  • Learn to understand perspectives and values of the subject


The Concept Teaching instructional strategy involves the learning of specific concepts, the nature of concepts, and the development of logical reasoning and critical thinking. When designing units they may be deductive (rule to example) or inductive (example to rule).

Concept teaching should proceed through four primary phases:

  1. Clarify goals and conditions.
  2. Illustrate examples and non-examples.
  3. Students provide examples and non-examples to demonstrate attainment of concept.
  4. Guide students to think about their own thinking (examine their decisions, consequences of choices, how concept fits in with bigger picture).

Suggested Uses

While students are likely to have some trouble identifying levels of association, they may have even more difficulty identifying the types of relationships among concepts. By going over a parallel example, you can clarify exactly what is expected of the student.

This technique is useful in any course that requires conceptual learning. In courses with a high theoretical content, Concept Maps provide insights into the connections students are making among theories ans concepts. At the same time, Concept Maps can be used to assess the connections students make between theories or concepts and information. In courses where students must learn large numbers of facts and principles, Concept Maps can help faculty see how and how well students are organizing those details into correct and memorable conceptual networks.

Before beginning instruction on a given concept or theory, instructors can use Concept Maps to discover what preconceptions ans prior knowledge structures students bring to the task. This information can help instructors make decisions about when ans how to introduce a new topic — as well as discover misconceptions that may cause later difficulties. During and after a unit, they can use Concept Maps to assess changes in the students’ conceptual representations. An ideal use of this technique is to employ it before, during, and after units on critical concepts.


Mashups are the integration of several data sources into a single resource. Mashing data is very common on the Internet today, and new authoring tools are being developed that will enable non-technical users to create sophisticated products without programming. As tools like these become more robust, we will see increasing use of data mashups in teaching and learning. Faculty will create custom mashups to illustrate concepts as they teach; students will include them in reports and assignments. Already new forms of visualizing data and relationships are changing the way we think about information.

The power of mashups for education lies in the way they help us reach new conclusions or discern new relationships by uniting large amounts of data in a manageable way. Web-based tools for manipulating data are easy to use, usually free, and widely available. Research can be displayed on interactive graphs, charts, or maps that make the concepts clear.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Creative mashups have educational applications as well, in teaching and learning as well as in creative expression. Mashups made from pop culture sources can demonstrate mastery of subject matter, understanding of cinematic and literary themes, social awareness, and more. Creative mashups and remixes are themselves an art form- but they can also be an effective presentation tool.

A sampling of applications of data mashups across disciplines includes the following:

  • Criminal Justice. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, a criminal justice course integrates local criminal statistics, population data and census data using GIS mapping software, graphing data and statistical analysis tools to study and attempt to better understand the problem of violence and homicide in the city of Rochester, New York.
  • Education. A research project at the University of Oregon has created a tool that allows users to collect data about objects in the virtual world of Second Life and export it to a website. The tool is designed to be used to catalog educational objects that can be found in the virtual world (see for a video overview).
  • Library Services. Libraries—including those at the University of Calgary, Baylor College, McMaster University, and public systems in Topeka and Chicago, among others—have begun integrating a MeeboMe mashup that lets patrons send instant messages to a live librarian while using the library’s online services (catalog search, reservations, etc).
  • Public Policy. At the University of Oregon, a freshman seminar on investigating natural disasters and the response of governments, nonprofits and individuals to them uses the Havaria Information Services Alerts Map mashup (see below) to monitor current natural events as they develop.

What are educational uses of Mashups?

  • Enhance instructional content
  • Engage with the material on a deeper level
  • Explore and uncover previously unsuspected aspects of the data
  • Provide additional venues to discuss, debate ans share insights and sources of information
  • Develop analytical skills
  • Connect to real-world situations
  • Make connections between instructional content and learning outcomes
  • Encourage self-directed exploration
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Allow students to learn by doing

Integrating Mashups

Integrating Mashups into the curriculum can:

  • enhance instructional content
  • assist the students in engaging with course materials on a deeper level
  • assist with the exploration and uncovering of previously unsuspected aspects of the data
  • open up new worlds to learners through new ways of seeing familiar things
  • allow for the discussion, debate and sharing of insights and sources of information
  • assist students with the development of analytical skills
  • enhance students computer skills

Some project design considerations are:

  • Results are only as good as the data collected
  • Resources can be outdated, incomplete and/or inaccurate….
  • Develop and explore multiple working hypotheses for project questions

The following cultural considerations should be assessed:

  • Be aware of potential bias in the way that resources are combined
  • Be aware of the underlying assumptions used in selected resources
  • Gender and cultural spin in articles and journals
  • Ways of sharing data and information can vary from culture to culture

Steps for Making a Video Mashup

1. Look at sample mashups for inspiration, and come up with an idea of your own

Many mashup videos are humorous movie trailer parodies. You may also want to consider mashing up a music video, political message, news story, instructional video, or product advertisement. You can even incorporate original footage that you shoot yourself. Look at examples for content as well as for technical ideas. Some examples are listed below:

A Fair(y) Use Tale Martin Scorcese’s Sesame Street Sleepless in Seattle
Who Owns John Henry? Bush Blair Endless Love Vote Different

2. Find the existing content you want to mashup

  • Select the movie(s) or other video content that you want to mashup.
  • Use the Library Video Catalog, YouTube or other video sources to collect your materials. You can look at local video rental stores like Video Library, Blockbuster, and of course online services like Netflix. You can use TV footage taped on a VCR. A Reference Librarian may be able to help you locate hard-to-find films.
  • You can shoot your own footage with a videocamera. The Vitale Digital Media Lab lends videocameras. You can use also use many cell-phones and point-and-shoot cameras to record video and sound.

3. Collect and digitize the segments you want to work with

  • Preview the movies first and note the time stamps of the clips you want to use. Don’t import an entire film. You will save yourself a lot of editing time (and hard drive space!) if you import only the clips you plan to use in your final video.
  • Digitize your clips from DVD or VHS.
  • Download YouTube content and add it to your video. Please note that YouTube video is low resolution. Some of the websites listed below will offer higher resolution material.

4. Edit your mashup video

  • Popular video-editing tools are iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Final Cut Pro, and Vegas
  • iMovie (Mac only) and Windows Movie Maker (Windows only) are significantly easier to learn and use than the other two examples, and chances are that one of them is already installed on your personal computer.
  • Once you have digitized your content, you can edit the video on your personal laptop or on a lab computer.
  • The Faculty Technology Center offers workshops on video topics. You can also find self-guided tutorials on Windows Movie Maker in the Tools area of this site and on Youtube.
  • Choose and arrange your clips, and remove sections that you don’t need .

5. Add music, effects and titles

  • Digitize and convert music from various formats.
  • iTunes and MP3 clips can be added to your video and edited using Audacity or GarageBand.
  • Editing and adding audio can also be done on your personal laptop or on a lab computer. In the Faculty Technology Center lab, all PCs and Macs have Audacity and all Macs have GarageBand.
  • Don’t forget the credits! Opening and closing credits, not to mention captions in the middle of a film, can greatly add to your video’s impact. List in the credits music and video you used that is not your own, just as you would in the bibliography of a term paper.

6. Tips and Advice

  • Editing video is not a quick process. It can require a lot of time and planning, and it will probably require more than one sitting to complete. Be sure to leave yourself as much time as possible for the task, and don’t wait until the last minute. (don’t say we didn’t warn you!)
  • Your video won’t fit on a USB flash drive. Buy a portable hard drive. They’ve become cheaper than many text books, and they’ll last you for a number of years.
  • Websites with examples, raw material and ideas:
Creative Commons Internet Video Archive Cuts – Rifftrax
Recutting Room Floor Total Recut Political Remix
NPR article with content links Trailers from Apple Movie Database


There are a variety of memory techniques that students can devise, learn about, and practice as online and off line activities. In an online course that requires memorization, the self-test is a useful study tool to help students self assess.


Teaching and learning models add dimension to the learning environment even when they are abstract. In an online classroom, models can be used as examples to clarify what is expected from the student in terms of behavior, responses, quality of work, etc.

News Articles

Topical news stories are a great source of teaching material. They can raise the level of involvement and participation that the students have in the lesson. In an online class, topical news stories can be used to bring in current events or to target learning to the individual interests of students, or to target learning to timely topics. To do this in an online course where everything must be created prior to the first day of class, the structure of the course is designed in advance to explain, and accommodate timely topical new, e.g., place holder documents are created in the course in a Module called “the news room” where topical news based activities will appear as they happen in the news. Variation: Students pick a news story, item, trend, issue and follow it and post assignments related to their topic designed build expertise in the student on that topic, e.g., student becomes an expert related to the economics of South Africa, by reviewing an assigned list of periodicals for a certain period of time and completing a series of assignments designed to probe the topic, leading a small group discussion , and writing a paper to synthesize a report on the topic.

Object/Object Lessons

Activities specifically developed to target the nature of science concepts serve as object lessons that can enhance online discussions.

Open-ended research project

Open-ended learner-directed research projects are an excellent way for the learners to access the Internet’s vast information in order to produce original work using their new knowledge. Open-ended means the learner is in control of what they learn instead of simply finding answers to specific questions. learner-directed means learners are in charge of their search strategies, choosing which sites are most relevant, and so on. Based on the right project, learners will be constructive because they are required to articulate the nature of the problem and then reflect on their importance.


An online discussion among a selected group of students with an assigned leader, in front of the class that joins in later. It is used as a technique to stimulate interest and thinking, and to provoke better discussion. With set up and explanation this can be done online using online discussion. Students are broken into Groups/Panels, given a topic, a leader is assigned. The discussion in each group is restricted to group members but members from other groups are assigned to pick other panels to follow and then at a specific time are invited to pose questions to the panel and participate in the discussion.


It helps students move beyond either/or toward both/and thinking. A paradox presented online to a student, a small group , or to the class can be a very effective discussion starter, written assignment or small group activity to problem solve. See related, Puzzles.

Peer Review

Student peer review is often used to increase the amount of feedback students receive on their writing and speaking assignments, but it can be applied to a variety of activities. Variation: Peer observations are different from the peer review. You aren’t asked to review, rank, or evaluate your peers, but provide formative information, to help a person improve, change, and grow as a writer. Online this can be done in assigned pairs or in small groups.

Picture Studies

Use of pictures & diagrams in the classroom. Graphics files can be imported or attached to documents in an online course by the instructor of the student to illustrate, support, document, or demonstrate.

Pop a quiz

These quizzes can be used as “curve busters,” opportunities for students to earn extra points and improve their grades by answering questions correctly. Pop quizzes are unannounced and can be inserted at any time into any course module. A pop quiz section to each module with an explanatory document can alert students that a pop quiz might occur at any time. Information on the pop quiz aspect of the course should be clearly detailed in the course in formation documents of the course and in the module at a glance areas of module in which they are likely to occur.

Problem Solving

Online, students solve given or self-generated problems individually or in groups.


These can be done individually, in pairs or groups, student- or teacher designed. They can be online or offline activities. They can be posted online, to the instructor, to the class, to a small group, for evaluation, review or discussion. Or sent in to the instructor for evaluation, e.g., a sculpture, a video demonstrating a skill, an audio tape of a conversation in a foreign language, etc.


These cover all disciplines and may be verbal(written), mathematical, conceptual or concrete. A puzzle presented online to a student, a small group , or to the class can be a very effective discussion starter, written assignment ,or small group activity to problem solve. See related, Paradox. 

Questions and Answers

A variation on the ancient Socratic method. This as an online activity can be done with the entire class or in pairs or groups. Student and teacher may reverse roles. See related, Discussion. 

Quiz or self-test

Questions may be short essay, multipart, matching, multiple choice, short answer, true/false, etc.


An online report may occur in a variety of formats and may be delivered individually or as a group effort, to the entire class or to small groups, or to the instructor. The instructor must set up the location in the course for reports and clearly document, how, when, and where reports are expected.


An online review may have various resources as its object such as a book, article, a performance, etc. Variation: Students can peer review each other’s work.

Role Playing

The spontaneous acting out of a situation or an incident by selected members of the group. It may be used as the basis of developing clearer insights into the feelings of people and the forces in a situation which facilitate or block good human relations. Online a role-play has documented and assigned roles, scenarios that set up the situation or incident and can be carried out in small groups. The instructor must provide very clear definition of roles, role assignment, activity set up, explanations, etc. A role play must be carefully planned and executed in an online course for it to work. See related,Simulation. 

Student led discussion

Often associated with ‘idea circles.’ These are peer-led, small group or whole class discussions of concepts fueled by single or multiple text sources. Students work together with a student leader to build abstract understandings from the facts, data, and details provided by a variety of resources. Variations include students assuming the role of the professor, asking guiding questions, & facilitating the discussion.

Student summaries

single sentence or paragraph. This simple technique challenges students to answer the questions “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” (represented by the letters WDWWWWHW) about a given topic, and then to synthesize those answers into a simple informative, grammatical, and long summary sentence. Can be used as a pop quiz. See below.


Skit writing can easily be incorporated into an online classroom including science and math to make concepts and ideas come alive. A skit can also be carried out in an online classroom as an offline activity that is video taped and turned into the instructor for review and evaluation. A report /description of the skit can be submitted by the student online to the class to incorporate it as part of the online course.


(1) Provide a way of creating a rich communicative environment (a representation of reality) where students actively become a part of some real- world system and function according to predetermined roles as members of that group. Some examples include the Analytic Memo, In Basket (Manager’s Box); Committee Hearing; management lab (corporate business); treasure hunt; web quest; Sam’s Café (philosophical perspectives); Point Counter Point; U.N Council Meeting; Let’s Do Business!, etc. Rigorous set up for this type of activity is required on the part of the instructor. Definition of roles, role assignment, activity set up, explanations, etc., must be carefully planned and executed in an online course for this to work. See related, Role Play. 

(2) Multimedia simulations can be added to an online course to illustrate, explain, deconstruct a process, function, system, etc. Simulations can be distributed to students on CDs as accompanying materials to the course, added as objects or links to a course as presentation material, be incorporated into a course as a component of test or quiz, etc.

Study Groups

Students can be assigned to pairs or small groups to help each other out in the course for the entire duration of the course, or to rotate with time or change in topic. Variation see, Learning Teams. 


An ancient Greek instructional technique. It is a discussion in which the topic is broken into its various phases; each part is presented by an expert or person well-informed on that particular phase, in a brief, concise speech. Online, students can perfect their phase individually or in small groups with discussion and assignments designed by the instructor or the students to perfect their brief concise “speech,” and then be directed to present it to the entire class.

Take a poll

This is a quick technique that can be used to take the pulse of the class, highlight differences of opinion or interpretation, and surface assumptions. Instructors can use the test/self-test or multipart written assignment forms to create their online polls.


Personal testimonies bring life to any learning environment. Online self disclosure can be easier for some with an aspect or illusion of anonymity because of the lack of face to face presence. Ground rules need to be set up to establish expectations for confidentiality, online courteous behavior, and respect for each other.


There are a variety of resources available to learn how to use Twitter in teaching.

Note: You may or may not need to click Guest Login to access the course.

Online Journals

Blog Posts

Please keep in mind that there is enormous potential for Web 2.0/3.0 technologies to help your course(s) be more student centered and to assist students in enhancing their technical skills. “In fact, the appropriate use of the right Web 2.0/3.0 tool can ensure better access, strengthen interactions, increase learning, and improve satisfaction (all in a generally cost-effective manner!).  However, once you’ve chosen a particular class of Web 2.0/3.0 technology (i.e. content creation tools,  communication tools, social networking tools…) making a selection from among several seemingly similar Web 2.0/3.0 tools in that class can often be challenging and time-consuming.”(Sloan-C)

We suggest that you evaluate your possible tool choices using these criteria developed by Sloan-C to eliminate poor choices quickly.  Then, do more extensive testing to find that ‘perfect’ Web 2.0 technology. (Click here to view the full article.)

Criteria 1: Access

  • Is the tool accessible by Windows and Mac users?
  • Is the tool / product of tool viewable in a variety of web browsers?
  • Does the tool work well for those with dial-up connections?
  • Does the tool provide options that support ADA compliance? Is the tool free?
  • Will the tool be around for a while?

Criteria 2: Usability

  • Do you have to create an account to use the tool?
  • Is the tool easy to use?
  • Does the tool have a robust and easy to use Help section?
  • Does anything have to be downloaded and installed on the computer to use the tool?

Criteria 3: Privacy & Intellectual Property

  • Does the tool allow you to restrict access of your work/your students’ work?
  • Does the tool protect your personal data (e.g. email address given when account created)?
  • Does the tool allow you / your students to retain sole IP rights to the content you create?
  • Does the tool allow you to determine the copyright status of the content you’ve created?
  • Can you save a copy of the product to your desktop for archival purposes?

Criteria 4: Workload & Time Management

  • Does the tool make it easy to track student work (for grading purposes).
  • Does the tool support private and public commenting (for individual and group feedback)?
  • Does the tool provide for an RSS feed to track work via email or an RSS reader?
  • Is it possible to embed the tool into the LCMS you’re using?

Criteria 5: Fun Factor

  • Does the tool allow you to be creative during the learning process?
  • Does the tool allow you to demonstrate creativity in the learning product?
  • Does the tool provide opportunities for different types of interaction (visual, verbal, written)?
  • Does the tool increase the perception of connectedness? Does the tool encourage collaboration?

This unit contains a series of veted tools that you may want to take into consideration. Another place that you may want to look for resources is Go2Web20.

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