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.

Paying it forward for extra credit

Yes, of course I offer my students some things to do for extra credit. But near the end of the semester, the last thing I want are more things to grade.

So I do things like Glogster poster assignments, or a speed quiz. But this semester I did something different. I asked them to make a video clip answering the question, “What’s one tip you would give to a new student in a MiraCosta online class?” Then I put a few of them together to help future students:

I didn’t announce it. I just put a link called “Extra Credit – Short video” in a Moodle forum. The exact wording of the assignment was:

For up to 3% extra credit, create a video of yourself answering the question “What’s one tip you would give to a new student in a MiraCosta online class?” I will be creating a MCC version of a video like this one. Your video should be about 15 seconds long.

Post your video to YouTube and embed it in this forum (do not attach a media file).

Privacy issues:  

  • If you don’t want to appear on camera, you can do a paper slide video instead.
  • Do not use your name in the video unless you want it made public.
  • If you need your video to remain private, put the setting as private in YouTube, give me permission ( to view it, and put the URL here.

Important: to get extra credit, you must indicate in your post whether or not I have your permission to use the video in public, because I plan to put these together for next semester’s students.

Grading criteria:

3 –  one great tip, articulate, good production values (video and audio), filmed on Oceanside or San Elijo campus, includes statement of permission to use

2 – one very good tip, articulate, OK video and audio, filmed outside anywhere, includes statement of permission to use

1 – one good tip, fair video and audio, filmed inside

I came up with it because I was looking around for a cool video for students new to online classes, one that preferably had students in it instead of some prof telling students what’s what. And I found very, very few (including the one I used here as an example for them). So I decided they could help me do it.

It took very little time for me. They did the video work, obviously. There were a few too many phone videos, and not as much emphasis on quality as I would have liked, but since I made it an option in all five of my online classes, there were plenty of clips (over 20) to choose from. I didn’t by any means use all the good ones – just some. I liked the result so much I wrote the students saying I hoped to use this as an example to other teachers and on my blog as well as a resource for students, and to let me know if that wasn’t OK. Everyone was cool.

Technology: I downloaded from YouTube using a Firefox plugin. I took the ones with low sound and used Quicktime to extract the audio, then Audacity to boost it and do some noise control. Then I dropped the resulting QT files into iMovie.

I highly recommend this!

3 comments to Paying it forward for extra credit

  • It’s really effective to see and hear other students, especially for an online course where you don’t normally have that contact.

    That was part our last activity for ds106 at UMW (was the idea of Martha Burtis when we co taught in 2012). Ours was actually required as part of their final project summary. In essence asking them to advise future students is a slightly divergent way of having them do as self assessment. And it becomes part of the orientation for the next course.

    For an outside observer I enjoyed just getting a sense of who your students are. What % did the extra credit?

    • Hi Alan! It varied widely from class to class – one section of Western Civ only 3 of 36 did it, while in a section of US 11 of 38 submitted one. For the most part, the sections with the greatest number of struggling students did it, which would make sense with extra credit, but I like that because those who struggled had the best advice anyway. This made it even more worth doing, as usually with extra credit it’s the best students doing the best job.

  • Oooooh, this is fun – for years I’ve had a blog where students can leave comments for future students (anonymous or not, their choice, either way is fine), and I’ve gotten so much good stuff that way; sharing and re-sharing (and re-sharing again) those comments with new students in the opening weeks of each class is so useful. But now… Lisa has got me thinking about something more creative. I’m not really into video, but creating memes and quote graphics and posters is very much a part of the class (since I am a meme and poster fiend myself), so I am thinking extra credit for an actual graphic contribution, in addition to the text comment at the blog, could be super. Thank you, Lisa!!!

Another voice for history

To take students through the text of a historical document, I downloaded a sample UK voice called Peter from Infovox (free for 30 days, then $20 for the one voice). It works through my Mac’s Universal Access system. It’s quite awkward to have it read just text, since even at high-threshold settings it wants to read aloud all the computer commands and window changes. By putting the Magna Carta into a TextEdit document and recording with Snapz Pro, I did this:

I also tried a UK male voice at Cepstral but I couldn’t get it to behave properly.

This approach might be more effective with bouncing ball or highlighting, but I’m not sure.

Making the Past Speak

The past, of course, isn’t even past, and in my case, it’s often the present.

One of the problems with teaching history to undergraduates is helping them understand primary sources, particularly documents written awhile ago. For this reason, I have recorded my own voice reading primary sources, at least those written by American women, since that is my voice. I have also asked friends occasionally to record them for me. But it’s difficult to impose on friends for things like documents that should be read by British males, and frankly not everyone can do a good reading.

With all the technologies out there, this should be easier, and I shouldn’t need to impose on anyone.

Here is my next effort, following the resounding response to my Plotagon Gilgamesh.

First, I tried GoAnimate. I’ve been searching for British male text-to-speech, and here it was! But the characters aren’t exactly what I’m looking for, even though I can upload a background. It came out like this:

Then, I went to Blabberize, so I could use an image of Edmund Burke himself instead of an anime teen. But Blabberize wants you to do the speaking, and although I can’t be sure, I’m pretty convinced that I sound nothing whatsoever like Edmund Burke.

So using Snapz Pro X, I recorded the audio from the GoAnimate. Then I converted it to mp3 in Audacity, and uploaded it to Blabberize. Here’s the result:

Still working on it…

Addendum! My online colleague Keith Brennan has gently reminded me that Burke was Irish, not British, and despite my error Keith has offered to record a document. I also discovered that according to the Economist Burke would have retained his Irish accent. This oversight is particularly embarrassing since I’m a big fan of the scene in The Man Who Never Was, where the Scottish father of the body (which the military wants to use as a ruse against the Nazis) is assumed to be doing it “for England” and the father replies something abou the English always saying England when they mean Britain. Here that error is even bigger!

5 comments to Making the Past Speak

  • Your recent work in giving voice to historical text resonates for me. Unfortunately, I’m not able to listen to Mr. Burke at work or on my iDevice at the moment – will have to wait until I get home this evening.

    One suggestion would be to also include a link to the mp3 file if you have some place to store it. Certainly the iDevices would be able to play the mp3 as a clickable link.

    Would you mind if I were to feature what you’re doing here on an upcoming BluePhase?

    And if you ever need a North American male voice for a reading, feel free to hit up your new old radio friend: scottlo.

    • Oh, yes, thanks! – that Flash/iWhatever incompatibility rears its ugly head again. I suppose I could screen record these and upload to YouTube or something.

      Sure, feature away – let me know if you need anything from me. 🙂

      • I was finally able to watch the Gilgamesh and Burke animations you made. I find myself captivated by this experiment you are sharing and feel there must be all sorts of imaginative possibilities.

        I’ve just spent the past hour trying to put together a GoAnimate bit to along with the Dr. Nakatsu story arc on the BluePhase show. Unfortunately, the speaker’s mouth only moved in one of the four scenes of the 28 second clip. Clearly, I don’t know what i’m doing here.

        I also downloaded the 1GB Plotagon application which you used to make the Gilgamesh scene. I haven’t yet installed it as I’m trying to pull things together for today’s BluePhase. But I hope to be able play with it in the days ahead.

        Wonder if you’d be able to join me on Skype on an upcoming Friday morning (your time) to discuss on #ds106radio some of the implications of these experiments.

        Once again, thanks for the inspiration.

        • Ah yes, GoAnimate. It’s hard to use some of these “freemium” things – as sson as I see the “plans and pricing” link I know it isn’t going to be quite what I need!

          Yes, I’d love talking with you on radio ds106, always keeping in mind that I have no idea what I’m doing here! Not available the 8th, but other Friday mornings are fine. 🙂

Plotagon and Gilgamesh

I have no idea whether this was worth doing, but what the heck.


The software is Plotagon, which is free and in beta. It was shared with me by Tom Hodgers, a member of the POT Cert class, because I was looking for a replacement for the now defunct Xtranormal. I ran it on Mac OS 10.6 even though it requires 10.7. Then I uploaded to Vimeo, until I realized they (still) don’t have captions. So I uploaded to YouTube, put in the script for the new transcribing service, and then used a special embed code (cc_load_policy=1) to force the captions to show.

OK, so pedagogy. Students have trouble understanding the old poems and epics, unless translated in a way that makes them distinctly unpoetic. For one of my major topics in early Western Civilzation, heroic narratives, they need to encounter Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and Beowulf (so they can work on – like last week’s class, epics like Star Wars, Shrek, and Forrest Gump – yes, that’s what they chose).

Short of spending weeks in Second Life, I don’t have an easy way to create characters in settings that would portray the text, and I’m not sure I want that. There’s something more pure about a reading rather than a performance for these epics, which were, after all, in the oral tradition. In this program I can create a “reading” instead of a show, like one might see at the reading of a play. No costumes, sets or production values. This imitates that, and I confess I came at all this backward after playing with the program, which I could not at first find a use for. So now all the people who will say, “That’s not pedagogy first! That’s technology first!” will feel vindicated. And I should probably double-post to ds106.

1 comment to Plotagon and Gilgamesh

Blogging with students graphic

Using Moodle to link from an interactive syllabus


Presentation on presentations

This is the exported audio and my slides, a 10-minute excerpt of our Collaborate synchronous session of October 13. This program, called Plick, is another alternative to Slideshare, and it works the same way synching audio to slides.

Moving Out: Taking Your Web Stuff to a Hosted Space

How to tag blog posts for Pedagogy First class Fall 2011


1 comment to How to tag blog posts for Pedagogy First class Fall 2011