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Podcast Mini Tools (Teaching Resources)

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For several years I've been using a couple of (free) tools to quickly create targeted content for students in my courses. While this is not a unique approach, for anyone looking to reach your students with a slightly less impersonal touch, a Podcast Mini Tool (PMT) might just be the ticket.

Let me answer some basic questions, then provide the links to the tools I use and let you try them out for yourself!
  1. Who is the Target Audience?
  2. What is the Purpose?
  3. When is it Appropriate?
  4. How to…

To begin with, this technique came about as a result of necessity more than anything else. I found when grading essays, quizzes, online discussion responses and other assignments there were often two or more common issues or errors noted. Sometimes it was the result of less specific guidance and other times it was the result of inaccurate interpretation of the guidance for the assignment.

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Depending on the class size, commenting on shortfalls individually could take several hours. One way to address shortfalls is to make a blanket statement and attach it to everyone’s assignment. However, regardless how well crafted, it still felt impersonal. An off-shoot of this low tech solution was to prepare a blanket comment, then parse the appropriate areas for each student’s assignment and send it off. Less impersonal, a bit more effective, but a little time consuming.

In using the PMT you actually comment along as you go. For individual essays, reports or other writing assignments, you provide a wealth of valuable feedback specific to the student needs. More on that later.

Target Audience:

The target audience is the individual student. Feedback comes in three basic forms:
Constructive - tells the individual how to make something better or do something better; 
Corrective - tells the individual how to fix what was wrong or make something right; and
Praise - validates the individual and the work they performed
If you follow this order student responses to your assessments will improve.


The primary purpose of the PMT is to quickly and effectively provide guidance and feedback response on students’ work effort. A secondary purpose is to reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation or misunderstanding of intent. To be effective the student must interpret the written explanation in the manner you intended, or it loses its impact. Unless you have built a strong academic relationship with the student, your intended message in your written text is subject to distortion.

Appropriately Applied:

A good thing about the PMT is that you aren’t required to use it all the time, or for every student assignment. For example, if you’ve assessed multiple choice / True-False quiz, there may be little use in preparing a PM. Conversely, if you’re grading an essay style exam where more critical thinking and application of logical reasoning is required, a PM will better Construct, Correct, or Praise in terms of feedback than would the traditional text response.

Lastly, when the content that is being assessed is detailed or complex, or you have students at a geographic distance, the PMT is a good way to bridge the distance and encourage multilevel engagement.

Movenote This PMT allows you to record audio/video and display the assignment on-screen as you assess it. A strength in this PMT is that the recordings can be saved as MP4, uploaded to YouTube, or the Movenote host site. The recording can be imbedded into the learning management/course management system, or simply sent as a link to the individual student or the class as a whole. Regardless of what device they access the internet with, they will be able to view the content.

Screencast-o-matic This PMT actually captures your screen and records audio/video. In some instances you may want to do more than point out errors in an assignment; you may want to provide another example. Since this PMT captures the screen, essentially anything you can replicate on screen will be recorded and made available to the student or the class. Recordings can be saved as MP4, AVI, and FLV formats.

The caveat to both of these PMT’s is that the free versions are limited to 15 minutes. The reasons why that is not a problem are 1) You can make unlimited recordings i.e., Pt 1 of 4; and 2) Anecdotal evidence suggests attention waivers after 15 minutes of watching a computer or cellphone screen.

Go Ninja…Academically
To get sort of Ninja while reading and assessing assignments, prepare a script with common errors or issues you noticed after each assignment assessment. Then as a summative explanation, prepare a blanket Podcast Mini outlining the common points of interest for the class as a whole and submit it to the class as a whole.

There is a strong likelihood that other educators have used other tools with varying degrees of success, so I don’t purport that the PMT is the only solution. What I can say is that it has been effective for me, and has helped reduce my grading/assessment of written assignments and increase my student interaction.

Check it out and see where PMTs will take you!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any manner with either of these products, beyond being a free user.

Achieve Academic Success in College; And Still Have a Life!

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So, there you are...your first full week of classes, and homework assignments. How are you ever going to get through it all and still have time to socialize with your friends, or make friends, or just hang out?

There are lots of solutions that will have varying degrees of success including the:
"Dorm Hermit" This solution involves you only leaving the dorms for meals and class, with the bulk of your time spent studying and completing assignments.
1. Is it an effective use of your time? Absolutely!
2. Is it an efficient use of your time? Without a doubt!
3. Is it the best use of your time? Probably not so much.

Another solution is to become:
"Too Cool for School" This solution encourages you to enroll in the minimum classes required, ensure that the classes require minimal effort, then blow them off when something more interesting comes along.
1. Is it an effective use of your time? If your goal is to ease through the semester them probably yes.
2. Is it an efficient use of your time? If you want to complete a 4yr degree in 4yrs, then probably not?
3. Is it the best use of your time? If you're goal is to be the social center then absolutely!

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While these two solutions represent the extremes, it is interesting to note how often students feel they are trapped between one choice or the other when a win/win solution is just a strategic plan away! The first thing you need is a calendar. Whether paper-based or digital is not as important as actually disciplining yourself to use it.

College classes are unique in that you receive a syllabus at the beginning of class which lets you know when significant events are due; quizzes, exams, assignments, etc.

Using the syllabus simply note in the calendar tool what activity and when it is due. Next estimate when you would need to begin working on the project in order to have it turned in on time, if you only worked on it for 15 -20 minutes per day. Here is where your smartphone becomes your smart

 Study SmarterThis is where the Distributed Practice of studying comes into play. Rather than cram for a test, or pull an all nighter for a project/assignment, distribute the assignment over the course of the week. Normally 15-20 minutes per day is sufficient to complete most assignments over the course of a week. Of course more detailed assignments including readings or research may take more time, but you can judge your progress as you go.

After you've expended your allotted time on a particular assignment, take a 10 -15 minute break, get up, move around and breathe. Then return and start in on your next assignment for the next class. Setting an alarm on your mobile device is a great way to coach yourself.

With regard to still having a life - if you follow the tact of identifying when assignments are due and adding the distributed practice of studying to your calendar, then when your friends are planning a social event, you'll know what you need to accomplish before you can participate. No guilt, no worries, just a strategic plan!

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The simple strategy is to "do a little over the long haul" rather than trying to do it all in one setting.

A frequently asked question is, "do cram sessions work?" Unfortunately there have been inconsistent and mixed results. However, distributed practice has earned its place in the pool methods for improving student learning, has sound research results to support it, and is quickly developing a proven track record in academia.

If you truly want to achieve academic success and still have a life in college, the best solution is to apply this, or some other similar form of distributed practice for studying.

After all, there is more to college than the classroom and the dorms.
Dr. Eugene Matthews

Formula for Measuring Excellence!

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When it comes to determining the possibility of excellence from an individual, a simple formula can be applied to predict their future contributions. The three elements are:

The aphorism "past performance predicts future behaviors" has been used so often it's sometimes dismissed as cliche'. However, when each of the elements above are align correctly, the formula reveals a simple truth and clarity:
Performance = Effort + Passion
Effort can be deconstructed, categorized an easily assessed based on the degree of exertion, energy, work, labor, power, muscle, toil, or strain applied to the task.

Passion can more easily be determined by the degree of preference, partiality, or emotional investment associated with the task.

Performance is simply a culmination of effort and passion, which has been demonstrated to contribute to ability. Simply put "It is what it is" (Tweet this) 
Dr. Eugene Matthews

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