I struggle with textbooks, yet I need a form of context that students understand intuitively. In my rejection of traditional texts, I have been exploring both the new online pathways-though-text offered by publishers like Cengage and Pearson. My experiment with Pearson went badly, and reminded me that the answer is still open resources, free if possible.

Right now all my classes have these elements:

  • Textbook or context reading, sometimes with quiz questions (about 15% of student time)
  • Lectures I’ve written and recorded, with quiz questions I wrote (about 20% of student time)
  • Primary sources inside those lecture, and that used to be in my printed workbook (about 10% if they read them)
  • Constructivist primary source collection creation and writing (about 40%)
  • Writing on those collected primary sources (about 15%)

The main challenge is how to balance the textbook reading, and any accountability via quizzes, with the rest of the workload, particularly the primary sources inside the lecture.

US History II

Open Education Resources include history textbooks, but there are very few. OpenStax_US-History_700x906After much searching, I have discovered one I like for US History II, even though it is left-leaning (a whole chapter on the New Deal? really?) and needs some reorganizing. Unlike most of the OER history texts, it has review questions, is written and peer-reviewed by historians, and comes out of a respected university (Rice). It even looks like a textbook. OpenStax’s system allows a somewhat cumbersome but handy way to reorganized the sections and chapters. I can even rename them. After about 24 hours, it creates a solid PDF version of the book, with a table of contents, repaging and automatic transferring of questions and terms to the appropriate section. While it will take time to extract the questions for quizzes, I think it’s worth it given the quality of the text. I will likely lose the focus on the primary sources inside the lecture – the textbook is too large. But since my US students tend to be at a lower level than my other classes, they likely need both the security of an ordinary-looking textbook and the information it provides. I am testing chapters this semester in all three online sections, even without quiz questions.

But US is it. There are no similar quality resources available for Western Civ, World History, History of England, or History of Technology (my new class!).

History of Technology

BookCreatorSo for Western Civ I tried to create a book from Wikpedia articles, using Wikipedia’s Book Creator. This has not gone well. Wikipedia is for the most part fine from a factual perspective for common areas of history, but some sections are written in too much detail by total fanatics of that particular era or subject. I have spend many hours trying to make it work. For History of Technology, however, I might just need a basic Western Civ overview as background – all else would be articles and primary sources, in addition to lectures. I have created a book from a single overview article. I can add my own stuff with PDF using Preview, perhaps, or just have it online.

Western Civ

103bookFrustrated with the Wikipedia book, I began copying Wikipedia text of the sections I liked into a Word document, and editing. For Western Civ I, I have finished. I have a complete textbook of Wikipedia text edited carefully by me, with main terms in bold, the primary source documents from within the lecture included at the end of every chapter, and quiz questions I wrote from the resulting book. I am using it for the first time this semester in both the online and on-site sections of the class.

It will take time, but it looks like I’ll be doing the same for Western Civ II.

History of England

It is the only class with a published item students much purchase. I wrote my own quiz questions out of it. When they stop publishing The Penguin Illustrated History of England and Ireland, I’m in trouble.


I have had to take open resources in hand myself – I have found nothing that can be adopted wholesale, like a traditional texts. But traditional texts have their own problems, of coverage, rigidity, poor supplements, bad quiz questions, etc. And history texts are costing over $100 now, which wouldn’t be so bad except they aren’t good enough for that kind of money. And my own texts I can edit, re-edit – they can evolve over time at no cost to the student except for printing if they’d like to print.

I’d like to share all this. The Wikipedia books aren’t mine – I’ve done the editing but only written some of the text, and adding documents I have been using for years, most of which have passed copyright clearance on more than one occasion when custom published in previous book efforts. If I do construct quiz banks out of the OpenStax chapters, I’d like them to be available for others to use (my created book already is, inside the OpenStax CNX system). OER should be, well, O.

But it looks like it’s not enough to do OER. Looks like you have to create Build-Your-Own OER.

Embed is the new Save As

As you know, I’ve been mourning the disappearance of two key technologies: the slidecast function in Slideshare (which could sync an audio file to a slidestack) and the annotation function in Flickr (which enabled mouseover notes on an image).

Then Alan Levine posted that he’d found a slidecast working in an embedded version.


At first I had trouble finding a Slidecast I’d embedded somewhere. Then I looked at some of my slideshows in Slideshare and peered at the truncated URLs of where they’d been embedded. Most were in other people’s LMSs (kind of ironic, actually) but some referred back to sites I control.


lisamlane.blogspot? I have a Blogspot blog? So I typed into my browser, and … oh!  I didn’t find my slidecast, but I did find my annotated Flickr image of a medieval manor.

Imagine my excitement! No, wait, imagine me up several late nights for hours with Dreamweaver and 33 tabs open trying desperately to figure out how to create hotspots and make an imitation of my annotated Flicker image of a medieval manor, when I didn’t keep a copy of my notes. NOW imagine my excitement!

So I posted and Alan, being his wonderful self, figured out that Mbedr was doing the heavy lifting, and he posted about his found treasures. (Mbedr is a utility I discovered and played with in 2010, thanks to – guess who – Alan – and yes, that image still has its notes too!) And because Alan had talked about View Source in another tweet about Slideshare, I viewed the source and found my notes in the code, so I can recreate the image at 2 in the morning once I figure out the hotspots. I have my text!


Then I remembered that I had embedded a whole class of history lecture slidecasts, one at a time, onto web pages, so I could couple them with their audio transcriptions. Sixteen lectures saved!

So embedding preserved our goodies. When Flickr combined the image and the notes, and when a slidecast got embedded in a blog or page, it created something more permanent. It doesn’t solve all our problems, of course – we still can’t get these artifacts out in their original form. But access to anything we embedded seems to be restored!


Following those comments

Since the demise of CoComment and co.mments, it’s been as difficult as it used to be to follow comments on blogs.

Fact is, if people don’t put a subscribe or email followup button on their blog, it’s impossible.

The only solution I’ve found, especially for the POT Cert Class where we have many blogs and lots of commenting, is to make a Google Reader feed bundle out of the comment feeds.

Each WordPress and Blogger blog has a separate feed for all the comments. You can find them by adding “/comments/feed” to a or Edublog URL, or “/?feed=comments-rss2″ to a URL, or “/feeds/comments/default/” to a Blogger URL.

It wasn’t all fun and glory. Typepad, unfortunately, only has comment feeds for individual posts, not for the whole blog. Also, these feeds pull in all comments from the blog, not just the ones related to the “potcert” tag (anyone know how to change that?)

I added each participants’ feed into Google Reader and made a bundle, available here.

Although I appreciate Google’s ability to do this, I don’t like reading anything as a bundle or in their Reader. I much prefer Netvibes. So I took the RSS feed from the bundle, and put it into Netvibes:

Not ideal, but at least I can see what’s up on the blogs!

Pinterest for lecture? Not so much.

I do lecture in class. (Read on when you’re done moaning. I’m not addicted to lecturing. I can stop any time I want…)

Although I have used slides many times, I do not appreciate the linearity of a slideshow. In addition to reminding me of film strips from the 1960s, slideshows force a particular order. Either that or you have to find the slide. If I’m talking about slide 2, and a student asks a question about something that will come up on slide 13, I want to bring up slide 13. Now. Not after paging through 11 slides or zooming out or changing to creator mode to find the damn thing.

Over the years, I’ve tried a few things other than slideshows. Prezi is OK, but it takes a while to create, and I can’t use a path or it messes up the whole idea. So I have to zoom out in between slides to see where I am. I like cooliris, but it requires a process where you either run it locally with local slides (that I have to carry on a thumb drive or load into a location accessible from my classroom computer) or be able to code it into your site, which is a bitch.

Last night I was playing with Pinterest as a possible way to store artworks or have students post primary sources (I am always seeking a step away from the LMS). This morning I decided to try it with my Roman Empire lecture.

The first issue was that it puts your images in by reverse order, so I had to load them all, then open a new Pinterest board, then repin them all to get the right order. No big deal, although it does imply a necessary order. But that’s OK – it’s still not a list – I can see about a dozen items without scrolling. Unfortunately, some of them came in duplicated. And when I brought up an image during my lecture, two things happened.

The first was that it didn’t fill the screen (unlike Prezi or cooliris, which open images to full screen automatically).

The second was when I was done with the slide, I had to click to get back to the board – I couldn’t just close it.

The image quality was not as good as it should have been, even when I linked to larger res images, but it was OK.

So today’s experiment was pretty much a fail. But the historian who follows me in the same classroom, Josh Lieser, pointed out that the students must like it that I do all these experiments. I hope so.

Workaround for some LMS insanity

It has been a horrible first two days of the semester. Last Thursday (!) our college connected the already poorly-designed enrollment system automatically into Moodle.

Everything has gone wrong. The courses couldn’t open till Thursday afternoon, so no trouble-shooting was really possible. The log-in links on every page linked to the old wrong log-in page, so students thought they were locked out. Then we discovered Moodle won’t log itself out so students can’t log in from another location without getting an IP warning. And now many students cannot get in at all because they are automatically being added to a Suspended Student role (for dropped students), so Moodle thinks they have two roles and will only let them in as Guest, and not them post or work on anything.

Class started yesterday, and one of the worst things that can happen in an online class is happening: the system is screwing up so badly that students are getting lost and frustrated. Several have dropped.

Desperate to help students not get horribly behind, I remembered that only the interactive stuff (quizzes and forums) have to be done inside Moodle. All my lectures, readings and presentations are linked out of the system, because I know better than to enter much into a system that might go down. The information pages for my classes are on the open web anyway. So I added links to the readings to these pages, but did it in a visual way that might help them once they can get into Moodle. Click on the image to see one live:


  • Go to Moodle site, change to student view, and take screenshot of first three weeks’ work.
  • Open in image program and change to Grayscale 256. Save.
  •  Change back to Color and put blue boxes around areas I can link out to, with big note at the top in the same color.
  • Save and add to page in Dreamweaver, then make Image Map hotspots for all linked areas and link out to those pages.
  • Post and email all students.

I really hope it helps.

Remaking a slideshow

For my US history class, I want a slideshow, with music and narration, of art during the 1920s, a subject textbooks cover very poorly. I’m into modernism anyway (see my new photos) and I want students to see the historical connections.

So waaaaay back in 2002, I created a slideshow to be embedded (hand-coded html, you know) into my lecture on the 1920s.

[ Javascript required to view QuickTime movie, please turn it on and refresh this page ]

I didn’t have a microphone headset in 2002, so I recorded it in the bathroom and it sounds like it. I added the music using SoundStudio, the only audio program I had and which I had paid for. Then I saved it all as a Quicktime movie, having to record several versions until I got the file size down (2.7 MB) that it could play on students’ computers. I had to use QuickTime Pro to get it right. That also cost money.

When I watch it now, it seems so old-fashioned technologically, so I remade it using PowerPoint (I could have used Libre Office) uploaded into Slideshare, with voice rerecorded into Audacity with a track for the music, then exported as mp3 and uploaded into Slideshare to make a slidecast.

So much better, I think.

I have other older things like this that are harder to duplicate; for example, I have another I made in 2005 using LiveSlideShow, which has better focus capabilities and now costs $69 (it was less then). I did upload it to Vimeo for easier embedding, which lost a smidge of quality.


If it’s important for my pedagogy to do a presentation, I make one. And if it’s worth making, I should remake it as the technology gets better. Remaking this one would be tougher, but some really are worth the update.