Friday, June 30, 2006

Your computer may be proctoring you...

Every semester, I'm asked about issues related to student authentication in online courses -- particularly in terms of how to verify that the person who signed up for a class is the one taking tests, writing papers and doing other class work and in terms of how to verify that no cheating occurs during test taking.

My usual response in terms of verification is to say that one could ask the same questions about most F2F classes but that people don't seem to worry about this nearly as much. Student logins and passwords are the online equivalent of the student ID card used to access brick-and-mortar classes, and -- while there are sometimes valid reasons to go to extraordinary lengths to prove identity and proctor student tests and work -- it's usually not necessary or efficient to do more than this kind of casual verification for an online class unless one would go to significant lengths to verify identity for the same kind of activity in the F2F world.

Proctoring test to keep students from cheating is another issue entirely. In general, I advise developers who are concerned about this issue to design assessment activities that make cheating unlikely and impractical -- e.g., avoiding simple objective testing methods and tests of rote learning, designing situated assessment activities that require a unique response, etc. However, I also do recognize that there are situations in which a more standardized objective testing approach is the most practical, cost-effective, and efficient way to conduct assessment activities.

While there are ways to have teachers proctor distance learners during test taking, most of these approaches are difficult to set up and administer -- particularly if an institution really wants to allow students to take tests at any time and from any location. There just isn't an efficient way to have teachers "virtually" stand over the distance student's shoulder and watch them work.

Until recently, that is.

This article from Inside Higher Ed describes Troy University's attempts to develop a remote "electronic proctor." This device, which would hook into the USB port and could be used by multiple students, sits next to a computer and includes a fingerprint reader, a camera with 360-degree-view capabilities, and a microphone.

The device -- which is expected to cost about $200 each -- would take and record real-time audio and video of the test taker’s environment, allowing instructors to choose whether to observe students taking the test or to review the recording. Unusual activity (e.g., a voice speaking or another person walking into the room) would cause the device to send a red-flag message to the instructor.

I find this fascinating, though a bit creepy -- and I really have to wonder how effective it will be. I'm sure there will be dozens of ways to "beat" the device once it's officially in use, and I know that I'm barely able to keep up with reviewing homework assignments and maintaining communications with my students... I can't imaging myself or any other online instructors having the time or inclination to sit through dozens of tedious videos of students taking online tests...

(link via the DEOS-L list)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Flickr User Model

I love informational graphics... and this diagram from Soldier Ant showing the Flickr user model does a nice job of visually connecting the key concepts.

(link via information aesthetics)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Making your desktop look like your desk top

Computer "desktops" rarely resemble real-life workspaces -- at least, assuming that most people's actual desktops have more in common with the mess I see in front of me than they do with the tidy little icons on my screen.

The BumpTop 3D desktop prototype attempts to extend the desktop metaphor by focusing on "piling instead of filing" -- allowing files to be loosely arranged, piled, sorted, and tossed around the way they are in the physical world.

The idea is to allow users to access information from their "piles" at a glance and to eschew rigid categorization and filing schemes in favor of supporting the more casual organization methods used in the real world.

A paper on the prototype is available here (in PDF). There's also video to look at if you don't have the patience to read the paper -- and if you don't have the patience to view the full 7-minute video , you can even check out the 20-second Hip-Hop version.

(Link via elearningpost)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Jumpcut -- Online movie making

Online video keeps getting easier... Jumpcut is another great new online media application that allows you to create movies from stills and clips - or to remix the movies of others - through an easy-to-use browser interface.

Monday, June 19, 2006

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

The latest issue, Vol. 7, No. 1, of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning ( <> ) is now online. Articles of note in this issue:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Your Brain on Alzheimer's

What happens in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease? This site contains an interactive tour from the Alzheimer's Association explaining how the brain works and presenting an overview of the effects of the disease.

Though mostly a slide show with rollovers for key terms that show graphics of different structures, the site is nicely organized and has a good level of detail for an introduction to this topic.

Cool Stuff for your blog's sidebar

Is your blog's sidebar a bit blah? Check out this Listible page for some resources you can include

(Link via the e-Learning Centre)

Math on your iPod

MathTutor offers video tutorials, with diagnostics, summary text and exercises via DVDs or iPod downloads.

From the MathTutor web site:
Never understood Pythagoras's Theorem? Baffled by sines and cosines? Now you can get better grades (and impress your friends) by learning on your video iPod!


Tabblo is an interesting application for digital storytelling, online albums, and word/picture portfolios.

AAfter being created using a template and a set of online editing tools, the final product can be shared, printed as posters or prints, or published to blogs or websites.

(link via e-Literate)

Teaching and online resources

One interesting reflection on how online resources can affect the classroom interaction

(link via Abject Learning)

Unintended online resumes

Be careful of what you publish on your MySpace, Facebook, or Friendster account... a potential employer might just be checking up on you, according to this Times article, which cites a trend of employers checking out applicants' social network pages.

It's easy for online users to forget that they're in a public place when they post personal information meant for family and friends. (And many don't know that even pages that are cited as "restricted" to friends and fellow students aren't necessarily "private")

In general, it's a good idea for anything posted online that might be Googled under your name or otherwise might track back to you -- email, blogs, web sites, social software applications, etc. -- to be treated as public and kept SFW (safe for work).

Friday, June 09, 2006

Zoho Web 2.0 Applications

Zoho has an impressive array of online tools -- many of them great for collaboration with peers or groups of students. I've tested about half of these and am pretty impressed so far.
  • Zoho Writer: Networked word processing program with a nice WYSIWYG interface. You can import and opt to share documents in the online environment, or you can"export" the documents to your own computer in a number of formats, including .doc and PDF formats.
  • Zoho Planner: Another online "to do" list program, though much easier to use than some similar applications
  • Zoho Challenge: Online tests (primarily designed for testing job candidates)
  • Zoho Chat: Chat program (with archive)
  • Zoho Sheet: Spreadsheets
  • Zoho Creator: Create your own customized, networked web application either based on one of their existing templates or from your own data
  • Zoho CRM: A range of related Customer Relations Management tools that also includes a world clock and calculator in the main interface.
  • Zoho Virtual Office: Networked groupware for collaboration
The free online registration for these couldn't be easier. Most are also 100% free to use, but the CRM and Virtual Office applications have a limit on users for the free version.

(link via Designed to Inspire)

Monday, June 05, 2006

June-July 06 issue of Innovate

The June-July '06 issue of Innovate is out. Articles I found to be of particular interest:

Sunday, June 04, 2006

10x10 - Current news at a glance

Every hour, 10x10 presents a snapshot and interactive exploration of the words and pictures that "define the time."

After performing a weighted linguistic analysis of the text in the RSS feeds of news sources, the program selects the 100 key words and corresponding images deemed most important and presents them as a sort of mosaic postcard.

Moving your mouse around the grid highlights the terms corresponding to each image, and clicking on an image brings up a window with links to the corresponding news headlines. Clicking the image again presents a larger view. You can also view results from previous hours or view the top words for a single day, month, or year.

Sources for 10x10 are the international news feeds from Reuters, BBC, and the NY Times ... and while this is a fascinating way to explore current events, I can't help wondering how different the end result might look if a more diverse group of sources were utilized for the feeds.

(link via The Learned Man)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Podzinger: Audio and Video Search

As the use of audio and video continue to grow online, there's also been a growing need for online tools to search and use these media appropriately. One big problem has always been the inability to index most recordings -- forcing users to wade through an entire linear recording or to skip around hoping to chance across the particular snippet they're looking for.

Podzinger looks like a step in the right direction...

This search engine creates a text index of the audio data from audio and video files using speech-to-text technology to enable search within a podcast, not just within the metadata or text label. The program not only finds podcasts relevant to the search term, but also highlights the segment of the audio in which they occurred.

If you're using the right browser and media players, clicking on a key word in the results will make the audio begin to play just where you clicked. You can also back up, pause, forward, or download the entire podcast.

The speech-to-text translater isn't perfect -- making for some interesting results sometimes -- but this is definitely a promising advance for online media.