Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Title: Navigating the Controversy: AI in the Classroom - Challenges, Cheating, and Benefits

AI grapic - Looks like meteor with AI on it.
If there's one topic that's been buzzing around the teacher's lounge lately, it's the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in our classrooms. As we stand at the intersection of tradition and innovation, let's dive into the exciting yet somewhat controversial world of AI in education. Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on the concerns about cheating, along with the incredible ways AI can be a game-changer for us in K-12 and higher education.

The Cheating Conundrum: Addressing the Elephant in the Room

First things first. I get it. The thought of AI potentially leading to more cheating and academic dishonesty is unsettling. We've all worked tirelessly to cultivate a fair and honest learning environment. The idea of students exploiting AI to ace tests or assignments is worrisome. But here's the thing – technology isn't the villain; it's all about how we guide its use.

Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, let's proactively set up guidelines and ethics that show students the value of genuine effort and learning. It's our chance to shift the focus from rote memorization to meaningful understanding. By encouraging critical thinking and problem-solving skills, we're making cheating less tempting and helping students develop the skills they'll truly need in life.

AI: From Worry to Wow for Educators

Now, let's flip the script and talk about the exciting side of AI in education. Brace yourselves; this is where it gets interesting. AI isn't just a buzzword; it's a tool that can transform the way we teach and interact with our students.

Picture this: personalized learning pathways that cater to each student's strengths and needs. With AI, we can dive deep into analyzing how our students learn best and serve up lessons that match their unique learning styles. It's like having a teaching assistant who knows your students inside out, making your lessons more effective than ever.

And speaking of assistants, how about getting some help with those time-consuming administrative tasks? I'm talking about AI-powered grading tools that free up your precious time. This means more one-on-one interactions, more time for creativity, and more of what drew us into teaching in the first place – connecting with students.

Let's not forget about those learners who might need a little extra support. AI can be a game-changer for students with disabilities, offering real-time captions, translations, and other tools that level the playing field. It's all about creating an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.

Striking Gold: Balancing Tradition and Innovation

So, what's the bottom line here? Yes, the AI debate is real, and yes, cheating is a concern. But as educators, we've always been champions of balance. We're used to finding the sweet spot between old-school wisdom and new-age technology.

As we navigate this journey, let's keep our hearts open to the possibilities. Let's be proactive in teaching our students about the responsible use of AI, helping them see it as a tool for growth rather than a shortcut to success. And hey, let's stay curious – let's embrace training and professional development opportunities that keep us at the forefront of this ever-evolving landscape.

In the end, AI in the classroom isn't just about algorithms and data. It's about us, the educators, guiding its potential to empower our students and reshape education for the better. So, let's take that leap, blend tradition with innovation, and lead the way into a future where technology and teaching go hand in hand.

BTW, This posting was written almost completely by ChatGPT.  I made some modifications, but they were minimal. I have posted it as an experiment. I want to find out what reaction there might be to it and I want to see how I will react to using it.   Will write about these in the near future.


Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Sometimes Educators can be their OWN Worst Enemies.

Abstract Picture of a Book
I am an associate professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Northern Iowa. 

One of the classes I teach is an educator preparation course where we prepare future teachers to use technology to support learning in their classrooms. This course is provided in a T-Th 50-minute session format. 

A couple of years ago, we changed our class into a blended format. We provided the weekly lectures online so we only needed to meet for 2 days to work in our labs.  The learning strategy was that our students would read, watch, or listen to the foundational material for the week and then watch the video lecture which was between 20 - 40 minutes long. On Tuesdays, the students would break into their working groups of 3-4 individuals and discuss what they learned in preparation for this class session. 

At the beginning of the semester, this worked well. Most of my 35 students followed the learning strategy and came to our Tuesday class prepared to discuss the topic at hand.  It might be Global Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Systematic Instructional Design, Classroom Computing, or any of a large selection of topics. 

Today's Discovery
Today, I noticed the discussions seemed strained and asked how many of my students had read the material and watched the lecture. Only 6 students raised their hands. I asked why, and they told me that they did read and watched the content after our Tuesday class. They learned a great deal in the lecture/discussion I held on Tuesday so they could use that knowledge as background for their learning.

I examined how I had run the Tuesday classes.  Instead of asking my students to provide the content for the discussions, I was providing an overview of the content in a slideshow.  This provided a source for content other than the aforementioned resources . This meant that I was completely undermining the classroom discussion pedagogy because my students were not coming prepared.  

Having realized the problem, I discussed the situation with my students.  I made it quite clear that I was not criticizing them or blaming them for the situation.  I pointed out that this was an example of a teacher working against themselves. They needed to pay attention to situations like this when they have their own classrooms and are organizing their learning environments. 

From Here Forward
One of the things that my students liked was discussing content with their group. I pointed out that if they didn't prepare for the discussion properly, they wouldn't have anything to discuss. I didn't want to deprive them of their discussion.
Before we moved on to the rest of the class, I told the students that I would be changing my teaching strategies for the rest of the semester. I would no longer present the content material but rather discuss the content with them after they had had a chance to discuss it with their group members. 

I look forward to next Tuesday to see how the discussion goes and whether or not their quiz scores have increased.   Will keep you informed.

                                                                                image: pxfuel


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Dr. Z Shares his Research on Building Student-Teacher Connections on the Teaching-in-10 Podcast

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Dr. Sarah Montgomery for her Teaching in 10 Podcast.  This podcast is designed to allow higher education faculty to share teaching strategies and stories about how they engage students and support student success and well-being.  

In my session, I discussed how I have been using an Opening Question Activity in my classes (both on-line and in-person) to build connections with my undergrad students.

I begin each class session by asking each student the question for the day.  These questions might be "What are your hidden talents" or "If you could have a super power, what would it be?"  Taking the time to ask each individual provides them a chance to share something about themselves and for me to learn more about them.  The most important part is that it builds a connection between me and my students.  It makes a BIG difference.

We discuss the research I have been doing on using these questions to start a class. You may remember that I discussed this earlier in Dr. Z Reflects (Connecting with Students through Opening Questions).  We even discussed the additional research that I did at the same time about Why Students Turn Off their Online Cameras which I also shared on this blog.

Please give it a listen and give me some feedback about what you have experienced using icebreaker questions or other methods for connecting with your students.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Mind-Up for Life with FlipGrid

I just partook in an interesting FlipGrid Live Event called "Build Your Mental Fitness with Goldie Hawn and Dido Balla."  This was part of a FlipGrid Live Event series that I had not previously attended.  Great event. 

Dido Balla was the main presenter.  Goldie joined us through some pre-recorded videos but she was informative.  Dido shared the intricacies of the mind and how mindfulness can help you get the most out of our noggin. His website identifies him as a "brain trainer."  

My favorite parts were where Dido explained the intricacies of the mind using simple metaphors. He described the problem of test anxiety using his fist. The premise was that people can have problems with tests even though they know the material completely.  Unfortunately, the emotions in the brain cloud the cognitive function.  The knowledge was represented by the thumb and the emotions were the four fingers covering it.  The pathway toward success is to find a way to "open the fingers" so they can free the "thumb" to share the knowledge.  

Dr. Z and Dido Balla
His answer to this problem was to "Seize Today." Spend some time being mindful. Deep breathing and centering your consciousness can bring you to the present. He said that we have to ask ourselves, "Is my  mind where my body is?"  Ignoring the past and future can provide us with what we need to use to have success today. 

I reviewed Balla's blog and it is filled with videos and postings that discuss dealing with emotions, memories, happiness, optimism, and much more.  I know that I will be spending my evenings learning from this blog. 

An interesting benefit of this event was my discovering the MindUP Brain Break.  This is a 3-minute video where Dido Balla leads you in mindful breathing.  I plan to use this with my students to show them how they can engage in mindfulness.

Have you had an opportunity to explore Mind-Up or engage in mindful learning?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Friday, November 05, 2021


You have used Zoom but want to GO BEYOND THE BASICS.
Doug Shaw and I have been leading educators beyond the basics of Zoom for the past 18 months. It has been a wonderful journey working with motivated educators.

I have asked the OK Zoomer, Doug Shaw, to share our journey:

It seems like an eternity ago, but it has been less than two years since we teachers experienced a global pandemic and associated quarantine. Take a moment to reflect on that – less than two years. 

Fortunately, plenty of basic “how to zoom” resources appeared. Blog posts, videos, and even workshops. And then more basic “how to zoom” resources. And even more. All covering the same things.

In the meantime, in the professional facilitation world, people were creating new techniques to use in business contexts. I remember being part of that process – it was so exciting. I’d be on for two hours in the afternoon (for one part of the world) and then two hours after midnight (for another part of the world) – sharing ideas, talking, but mostly playing around. We took ordinary features of zoom and tried to break them – or at least use them in ways that they weren’t intended. And we facilitators from all over the world came up with exciting, wonderful techniques, but nobody was telling the teachers . . .

Doug Shaw
Dr. Doug Shaw
And thus OK Zoomer came to be . . .

This is an exciting, fun, but most importantly intermediate workshop aimed specifically at teachers who were now remote teachers. Word of mouth was amazing, and after the first 100 participants came the first thousand, then the second thousand, and it kept growing. The United States became the US and Canada, and soon Dr. Z and I had officially taught over 3000 teachers from over 20 countries.

People love this workshop. We have dozens and dozens of testimonials, but I think I want to share this one, that I don’t even think Dr. Z has seen, and it really encapsulates a lot:

"I loved the extreme density of useful information in this presentation. So many of these pedagogy webinars (and I've been to quite a few at this point, some by very expensive and famous people) end up padding out 2-3 minutes of semi-useful insight with 60-90 minutes worth of time-wasting filler and restatement. 

By contrast, every single minute in this workshop felt well-used and packed with genuinely new ideas. That has literally never happened to me before in any professional-development training and, gotta be honest, it was pretty refreshing to the soul. I also appreciated the psychological insight underlying a lot of the techniques we learned: rather than just focusing on cool tech tricks, this presentation felt as though it proceeded from a genuine understanding of how learners relate emotionally and cognitively to the Zoom experience. … 

 I appreciated the opportunity to see how an experienced, charismatic performer would handle a lot of the techniques we discussed in the session. Finally, I appreciated that this session also achieved what it proposed to teach: it delivered an "engaging and lively Zoom experience" where I felt genuinely "seen" as a participant and felt myself forming active connections to the other learners present. Having had that experience is going to make it a lot easier to understand my students' perspectives as I work to build the same kind of rapport in my own classes this fall."

Speaking of Dr. Z . . .
the Q and A portion of the OK Zoomer experience is not to be missed! As a reader of this blog, you are probably impressed at not just the depth of his insight, but also its breadth. During the Q and A, the entire contents of his creative and knowledgeable mind are open to the participants, and I’ve never seen him leave a session without answering every question people have, often sharing information for further brainstorming.

If you would like to know more, please email me at!

Monday, October 11, 2021

The ENTER key is LAVA!: a Massively Multiplayer Participation Technique

Enter Key is Lava
Enter Key is Lava
Dr. Doug Shaw Shares:

Hello. Don’t you hate it when you look up a recipe online and you have to wade through paragraphs of introductory text about someone’s grandmother before you get to the ingredient list? I’m going to share an amazing technique with you, and then if you like, you can stick around and read why it is so awesome.

Technique name: The ENTER key is LAVA

This technique enables students in an online synchronous class to share their opinions on a prompt or their answers to a question and to then engage with each other’s thoughts.

Time:  About 8 minutes, but this will vary.


Step one: Tell the students, “I’m going to ask you a question. Please type your answer in the chat window, but do NOT hit ENTER! The ENTER key is LAVA! Just type your answer in the window.”

Step two: Ask your question. Type your question in the chat room as well in case they didn't hear it. Follow by typing, “You have [x] minutes. Remember: The ENTER key is LAVA!” I’ve found that two minutes usually works for me and my students, but it really depends on your topic and your class.

Step three: While the students are working, I like to play some low-volume music in through zoom. You can do this by clicking “share screen”, the “advanced” tab, then select the box at the bottom of the window that says “share computer audio.” Now cue music on your favorite music player. (I’ll tell you why at the end)

Step four: After the time has elapsed, stop the music, and say, “Okay, we hit ENTER on three! One! Two! Three! PUNCH IT!” Observe the huge stream of comments.

Step five: Explain to the students that their next task is to read all the comments, find one that resonates with them, and type a response in the chat window. But DON'T HIT ENTER. As they do this, cue music and type the instructions in the chat: “You have [y] minutes. Read, respond, and the ENTER key is LAVA again!” The amount of time you give them will depend on how many people are in the class.

Steps six and seven: Again, stop the music, “One! Two! Three!” and their final task is to take [z] minutes to read these new comments.


Equity: The problem with the Zoom Chat window is that it is modeled after our familiar texting apps. This means that the place where you type is right below the place where you read responses. For thoughtful students, this means that they see other students have “finished” with a question before they’ve had a chance to really think it through. And for easily distracted students (and Zoom has made many people, including me, easily distracted) it becomes difficult to focus on their own answer as they see others’ answers cascading in their field of vision. Both of these issues are even worse for neurodiverse students. “The ENTER key is LAVA” technique removes those problems. Every student gets the same [x] minutes to write, the same [y] minutes to read and respond, and the same [z] minutes to read.

Encouraging contributions: By designating time for students to read as well as write, “The ENTER key is LAVA” technique demonstrates that both activities are equally important. This message is also reinforced by the music cues – they get music when they are writing, reading, and responding, implicitly signaling that these three actions are all part of the same process. If we want our students to consistently contribute in classes, it is important to make it obvious that their participation is valued.

Generality: Because this technique works for a variety of types of prompts, after students go through it once, you will be able to use it effortlessly throughout the semester. It will go from a novelty to “this is how our class works.” You will be able to get large amounts of participation and engagement with little work. You will even be able to use it spontaneously, based on what is happening in your class at the moment!

This technique was adapted from a workshop by Aneta Key from the Applied Improvisation Network.

Dr. Doug Shaw is a Guest Blogger. He is a Math Professor at the University of Northern Iowa. He originated the OK Zoomer online workshops in August 2020.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Cherish Their Dots

A picture of the cover of the book, The Dot

The Dot by Peter Reynolds is one of my favorite books. This picture book is a reflection on how to nurture creativity in people. It is simple. It is beautiful. It is insightful.

The story begins with a boy in an art class.  He sits with a blank piece of paper in front of him. He is frustrated because he “can’t draw.” His art teacher asks him to make a mark on the paper. The boy slams his pencil onto the paper and makes a dot. “There!”, he says. The teacher admires the dot and says “Now sign it?” The boy is surprised, but he signs it and leaves. 

The next week, he returns to art class to see his autographed dot framed and mounted above his teacher’s desk. Astonished, the boy looks at the dot and says “I can make a better dot THAT!” He proceeds to create red dots, purple dots, little dots, big dots, on and on. His dot creation is so profuse that he holds an art show to share his creations with the world. 

What happens at the exhibit is wonderful. I won’t share it with you here, but it is well worth getting the book to find out.


The message of this book is that everyone must begin somewhere. It takes a great deal of bravery to stick our toes in the world of drawing or painting or writing or cooking or whatever. Making this initial venture can be scary, and whether or not a person continues will lie greatly on how the public reacts to their work. 

This is where The Dot demonstrates the importance of that reaction.  We MUST cherish new ventures. Every venture is better than the vacant space that would be present if nothing was tried. Every venture needs to have a supporter who cherishes the bravery and fortitude necessary to begin this experiment. 

When our children/students/friends "make a dot", we must support them. We must ask them to sign the dot and cherish what they have created.  This can nurture the strength it requires to do it again. 

We MUST Cherish their Dots!

Sunday, September 19, 2021

ARGH!!! Today Be "Talk Like a Pirate Day!"

"Shiver Me Timbers, Matey."

TODAY, September 19 is 

"International Talk Like a Pirate Day." 

This is the day where you can enjoy being crazy.  You can dress like a pirate or just throw some "Args" and "Mateys" and "Ahoys" into your discussions with friends.

What Can You Do on "Talk Like a Pirate Day?"

Whatever you do, have a fun time being who want to be and doing it with your friends!


Translated into Pirate Lingo . . .

"Shiver Me Timbers, Matey."

TODAY, September 19 be "International Natter Like a Pirate Day." 

'Tis the day where ye can enjoy bein' crazy.  Ye can dress like a pirate or jus' throw some "Args" 'n "Mateys" 'n "Ahoys" into yer discussions wit' scallywags.

Wha' Can Ye Do on "Natter Like a Pirate Day?"

  • Dress like a pirate. 
  • Translate yer writings into Pirate Natter. 
  • Gather yer mateys t' 'ave a Pirate Party. 
  • free printables, a pirate-themed cake, or hold a "best pirate costume" contest.
  • Get Free Booty at Long John Silver's - Free FishTell Pirate Jokes
  • Go on a pirate scavenger hunt

Whatever ye do, 'ave a fun time bein' who wants t' be 'n doin' it wit' yer mateys!


Sunday, August 29, 2021

The EASY Way to "Share Your Screen" Smoothly in Zoom

Sharing your screen in Zoom is not difficult, doing it SMOOTHLY can be challenging at times.   

The key is using Keyboard Commands. 

It is easy enough to just click on the Green Box at the bottom of the screen, but I find it much faster on my MacBook Air to just use Command-Shift-S (Alt-S for Windows.) 

I just finished hosting a Zoom Service for our Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalists today. Using two monitors, I had the slideshow on my separate screen and the Zoom controls on my laptop. 

Making smooth transitions from pastor to slideshow and back again is important. Looking for a quick way to make the change, I referred to my Dr. Z's Zoom Keyboard Shortcuts page and found the keyboard commands for making this happen. Funny thing was that I had never used the keyboard to share my screen but it worked BEAUTIFULLY!

How do you use Keyboard Shortcuts when you use Zoom?  You don't?  Check my shortcuts chart and tell us which ones you use or will likely find useful.


Monday, July 12, 2021

How Does Watching/Listening Faster Affect My Learning?

OK, having read my previous posting, Learn Faster by Watching Faster, and asked "How does faster watching/listening affect learning?" How can my brain comprehend content that is faster than the typical human speaking pace?  

Good Question.  The answer is - It all Depends!  Some research supports accelerated watching/listening.  Some research found that students do poorly on tests after watching/listening to videos 2x times the regular speed. The problem with these studies is that they approach it as an either/or situation.  They have students listen to content at 2x and then test them.  

Success with this process is a personal outcome. It depends upon:

  • Content of the video/audio. 
  • Your ability to understand the audio language. 
  • How much attention you are paying to the audio track. 

People typically speak English at about 150 words per minute (wpm).  (I would assume that this applies to other languages as well, but I didn't find any research on that.) Our maximum rate for comprehension is about 450 wpm.  This means that we might be able to triple (3x) the speed of discourse and still understand it. 

What Will Work for You?

I must admit that I usually keep my listening at a 1.5x or 1.75x rate. I have tried 2x but don't find that comfortable. Your choice must be based upon what works for you . . . but what is that magic speed?

The Oxford Online English center suggests a short test to identify which speed works best for you. 
Oxford Online English - How to Understand Fast Speech.

Begin by finding an audio track (maybe on a video) containing the type of information you typically need to learn.  Wouldn't make sense to listen to a highly-technical medical video if you will be listening to lectures for typical education videos.  It will work best if you have a transcript of the piece, but not necessary.

  1. Warm up by listening to a few sentences in the video.  Try to remember what they said.
  2. Listen to another sentence.
  3. Try to type/write out the sentence exactly.
  4. Repeat this for 2 more sentences. 
  5. Compare what you typed/wrote to the transcript (or listen to it again.)
  6. How many mistakes did you make?  Every missing, wrong, or forgotten word is a mistake. 
  7. You are only allowed 1 mistake.  Any more, then you need to slow down your speed and try again.
  8. If you got them all right, try it again at a faster speed. Continue until you find the speed you want to use.
What worked for you?  I had a couple of errors at 1.75x - but I plan to get better.

Pay Attention!

The most important part of understanding rapid speech is to PAY ATTENTION!  It's too easy for us to try to multitask while watching a video.  The problem is that we often don't remember what we just heard because our minds had drifted to something else. That means that we have to listen to watch/listen to it again. 

You have to pay careful attention if you are speeding up your videos. If you speed up a 12-minute video to 1.5x, you will be able to watch it in 2/3 of the time, or 8 minutes.  If you try to multitask while listening, you may have to watch it again and extend it to 24 minutes - it's YOUR CHOICE.

Watching/Listening Faster

Watching faster can mean a big difference in how much you can learn in a short period.  This can be a great boon to your students' learning as well. Chances are that many of them are doing this already, but they may think it is cheating.  Let them in on this secret.  Try doing it in class so they can see how it works. 

Introduce your students (and yourself) to another way in which you can understand the world.

Have you been speeding up your watching/listening?  Leave a comment about what you have accomplished.


BTW, Speeding up podcasts to make listening more efficient is called PodFasting.  It's a great way to catch up on the podcasts that you missed. Check it out.

Inouye, M. (2016) Can We Speed Listen and Still Understand?

Friday, July 09, 2021

Learn Faster by Watching Faster

Videos can be informative but they can take a great deal of time as well. Interestingly enough, you can speed up videos and still understand them. This 1:44 video shows you how to increase the watching speed of YouTube videos. (Try watching it in less than 1:44 😉 )

I watch most informative videos at 1.5x or faster. Obviously, this distorts some of the cinematic aspects of the video but I am interested in the information, not the cinematography.


Wondering how this can affect your understanding, visit my How Does Watching/Listening Faster Affect Learning? post.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Why Students Turn Off their Cameras in Online Classes

Screen with 25 photos of Dr. Z I HATE it when my students turn off their cameras in class!

I didn't select teaching as my role in life to talk to a bunch of boxes on the screen.  I want to talk to my students and see their responses as we venture into new ideas and experiences.

Unfortunately, when we had to move our classes online, educators met with a number of students who didn't turn on their cameras. I have spent the past year presenting OK Zoomer webinars for Higher-Ed and K-12 teachers.  The #1 question they have is "How can I get my students to turn on their cameras?"

Good question.  There are a plethora of solutions. Some answer that question by mandating students to keep their cameras active. This may be unfair because it is an invasion of their privacy.  Other educators build empathy with their students by sharing important it is for them to have the opportunity to have eye contact with their students.  Some instructors give extra credit points to students who show themselves.  

I have been interested in learning about why students turn off their cameras.  This Spring semester, I taught 100 students in three sections through Zoom. At the end of the semester, I asked them to share their reasons for turning off their cameras. I presented them with a list of 14 options and then provided a place where they could provide other reasons. They could select as many reasons as they wanted.

Reasons Why Students Turn Off Their Cameras*

The results were quite interesting.  Out of my 100 students, 69 of them answered the survey. Here are the results of this survey (n=69): 

Survey Results: Why Students Turn Off their Cameras

I have broken these results into 6 groups: Self-Conscious, Technical, Considering Others, Status Quo, Other Activity, and Privacy:

Self-Conscious: Two of the top 3 reasons given indicated that the students are Self-conscious. They didn't want others to see them and they didn't like seeing themselves. They were concerned about being judged. 

Other Activity: They wanted to engage in an activity other than class. Thirty-nine percent of them turned them off because they were eating. That was considerate (especially in my 8:00 class). You will note that the last two reasons involved them getting involved in something else. 

Technical: Technology tends to fail. Almost 1/3 of them had internet problems. Some had webcam problems. The interesting part of this is that I had students contact me apologizing about how they couldn't use their cameras because of technical problems. 

Consider Others: Surprisingly, about 1/5 of the students turned them off because they were concerned that they would distract their classmates or their professor.  The funny thing is that I enjoyed seeing my students and turning them off distracted me.

Status Quo: Everyone else had turned theirs off, so why shouldn't I?  Why did they feel that it should be the status quo?  Did the teacher say it was OK?  Was the class delivered at one-way communication so it didn't seem like they needed to be part of the discussion?  Did the students get together and decide to keep their cameras off?  Don't know.

Privacy: Should students be required to share their surroundings? One-quarter of them didn't want to show other people and 1/5 didn't want to show their surroundings.  These are significant concerns that could be considered.

How Can We Use These Results?

A preliminary analysis indicates that the most popular reasons that our students turn off their cameras have to do with them being Self-Conscious. While it is understandable that students are concerned about how they look and what others think about them, we need to make their learning environment safe and inviting to reduce their anxiety.

The Other Activity reasons were interesting. It is fully understandable for students to turn off their cameras when they are eating. Finding the "not paying attention" reason at the bottom of the pile was a surprise. While that reason is high on my list when I turn off my camera, it wasn't the case with these students. These ratings may indicate that they were learning in an interactive environment. 

Technical problems are everywhere. They have little to do with attitude and everything to do with happenstance. While some situations are unavoidable (e.g., poor web access in the rural areas), other reasons may just be computer problems that can be corrected. (I wrote another posting about Strategies to Optimize Your Zoom Bandwidth earlier.)

Considering Others' distractions is unique. This may indicate an empathy that has developed in a positive community. 

The Status Quo has to do with expectations. The teacher must share their vision for the learning environment with students so they will know how to perform. There is great debate about whether an educator can REQUIRE students to turn on their cameras. Looking into students' homes may be an invasion of privacy. Some teachers encourage their students to share their cameras by: having theme or color days where they dress accordingly; encouraging students to create virtual backgrounds to support the course content; or having interactive discussions that encourage face-to-face interaction. 

Privacy was a big concern when students were forced into online learning. We must pay attention to situations where students don't want to share their home life or companions. It leads us to the problem with requiring students to show their faces. Educators would be more effective if they worked with the student to remedy the situation (e.g., broadcast from the library) than forcing embarassment.

This is Only the Beginning

I am sharing these results with you because it is one of the most often asked questions on educators' minds. I will be analyzing this deeper and submitting it to a refereed journal. Please leave your comments about the research design, my comments, or how these relate to your experiences.

I NEED Your Help Higher Education Educators!!

I am interested in expanding this research to explore students' reactions in other classes.   I am looking for 10 higher education educators who would like to join me.  It may be as simple as having your students complete the survey or we can discuss how this would best address your needs.

Please contact me at Dr. Z with your subject and teaching situation. Put Camera Research in the subject line. 

Have a Great Week!


* This article was edited on 9/16/21 to add the Privacy category.  This was suggested by some readers and it was a valid suggestion.  The numbers were not changed, only the category.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Connecting with Students through Opening Questions

The first 5 minutes are the most important part of a class or meeting. The closer students feel to their teacher and learning environment, the more engaged they can be in their learning experience. 

Engaging students while meeting through Zoom can be difficult. the teacher-student separation is widened by the teleconferencing chasm/. It is up to the teacher to create an environment that supports their students' interest in learning.

I have found that the key to connecting with students is to engage them in discussion at the beginning of class.  At first, I would ask them "How are you?" or "What is exciting you this week?"  This was useful for the first few weeks, but I realized that this was a prime opportunity to build community.   

The tough part was developing new questions. My well of creativity quickly ran dry so I Googled "icebreaker questions" and found a fountain of phrases.  I didn't want to ask questions that were too personal but still interesting.  This could be the perfect opportunity to begin class with some Bell Ringers.  Asking a question relevant to what we would be discussing would be an effective way to get things started.

These are the questions I have used throughout this semester.  They are in chronological order. Most of them came from Amber at Learn Grow Blossom.  
  • If you were to write a book, What would be the topic?
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
  • What class do you wish we offered at UNI? Why?
  • How do you help others?
  • Where would you like to travel?
  • What is one thing you could do all day long without stopping?
  • What do you think is your hidden talent?
  • What is your favorite type of music?
  • What is the hardest part about being a kid?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What are 3 things you cannot live without?
  • What Bugs You?
  • When are you MOST creative?
  • What would YOU ask a teacher?
  • What do you like to do outside?
  • If you could travel back in time 3 years and visit your younger self, What advice would you give yourself?
  • Which country would you like your class to collaborate with? What would you like them to do? (preceded a discussion on Global Collaboration)
  • Have you ever used QR codes? How could you use QR codes with your students? (set the stage for our QR Codes lesson.)
  • If you could select a nickname, what would it be?
  • What is your favorite card, board, or computer game?

Do Opening Questions Make a Difference?

While I don't have any survey data yet, I have felt a closer connection with my students this semester than in the past. Review the questions that I have asked.  These are questions that unveil interesting information about each student but they don't pry into personal secrets.  My students have told me that they feel a personal connection with me. Mind you, I have never met most of these students in person but we have a connection. Some of them say that they feel closer to me than any of their other professors.

Yes, they DO make a difference!

How are you opening your classes?  What has been your students' reactions to your opening activities?
Share your ideas in the Comment section below.


NOTE: I completed some research where I asked my students about their reaction to this Opening Question Activity.  It will be shared in a future posting and ultimately in an educational research journal.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Take Attendance through your Zoom Chat Room


 Taking attendance can be difficult through Zoom.  Your students are on multiple gallery screens and you don't have the time to flip back and forth between screens while you check them off in your grade book.

Taking attendance doesn't need to be difficult.  It can even be fun!

Use your Zoom Chat Room

Use your Chat Room to take attendance. Have your students type "I'm Here" into the chat room and, Viola!, your attendance has been stored in the archives.


Save your Zoom Chat Room

An important part of this process is to save the Chat Room to a file so you can see it later.  

Click the ... box at the bottom right corner of your Chat column (see illustration). Select Save Chat and it will save your chat comments to the Zoom folder that Zoom created on your computer when you started Zooming a year ago. 

Other Ways to Take Attendance

If you are interested in other options, you will find some other postings in Dr. Z Reflects with suggestions:

How do you take attendance?


Thursday, March 04, 2021

How to Update Your Zoom Client Version

I have had many educators and students ask how to update their Zoom client version so that they can use some of the more recent functions like moving between Breakout Rooms. 

This video is for you:

BTW: If your updating fails, you will see "Automatic Update is disabled for Zoom. Ask your IT administrator for Help."  You can contact your IT person or you can try reinstalling Zoom to your computer.  

Monday, February 15, 2021

Dr. Z Loses Power in Zoom Class


Even though I have made a reputation for teaching other educators how to use Zoom; regardless of the fact that I have been teaching synchronous online classes from my basement for the past 11 months; In spite of the fact that I have been teaching online for over 2 decades; I want you to know that sometimes things go wrong in online classes for me too.

Today, I was just beginning to teach my Ed Tech and Design course through Zoom. I had EVERYTHING prepared. My screen was shared so we could review our schedule and the requirements for the upcoming assignment. I had already spoken with each of my 36 students by asking them the question of the day. Each of my students had already renamed themselves by putting their group numbers at the beginning of their names to make it easier to break them up for their group work later.

Suddenly, my MacBook Air's screen WENT BLANK . . .

My lifeless computer stared back at me as I tried to make sense of the situation. My students were gone and my computer wasn't working. I was cut off from my class. I hadn't checked to ensure that my laptop was charged and it died. My students were left leaderless in my Zoom classroom.

I immediately phoned my Graduate Assistant, Lindsey. She answered quickly My computer connection was cut so I needed to reconnect another way. Lindsey affirmed that they had noticed that I had disappeared. I had not yet made her co-host so hosting had been passed to a student . . . How embarrassing! When Lindsey discovered the host, they asked the new "chief of the class" to make them host.

My computer was busy recharging so I hung up from Lindsey, and signed into Zoom with my phone. This allowed me to address the class to start them with their class activities. The next activity was Breakout Room group work. Lindsey placed them all in groups and sent them on their way to collaboration.

My computer soon regained consciousness. I was able to sign back into Zoom to regain control of my class. Things went well after that.

This was embarrassing, but it was a learning experience as well.

Here are some of my Lessons Learned:
  1. Remember to have your laptop plugged in before you begin class.
  2. Have your laptop charged before class.
  3. Add this plugged in/charged reminder to your checklist. (You may remember that last week I posted my checklist in prep for a Zoom class. You will notice that I have since added this to the list - near the top.)
  4. ALWAYS assign your assistant as Co-Host before class.

John Dewey once said:

"Failure is Instructive.
The person who REALLY THINKS, learns quite as much from their failures as from their successes."

Hopefully, I will REALLY THINK and learn from this in the future.

What about you? Have you ever had this happen to you?

Monday, February 08, 2021

My Educator's Checklist for Successful Zoom Sessions

I have had a number of educators ask me how I prepare for teaching through Zoom.  

Aside from outlining my class session, I have a number of items that I want to remember to ensure a successful class.  Remember that these are what I like to use.  I would be fascinated to hear about the items on your checklist as you move into a Zoom session.

Checklists are incredibly important for presenting an effective session.  Most of us have them in our heads, but it wasn't until I created a written version and hung it on my wall that the checklist really improved the quality of my sessions. This is what I use:

Before Your Zoom Session:

  • Restart Computer (?) - Since most of us are teaching on laptops, it's easy to keep your computer on ALL THE TIME.  Sure, you might put it in Sleep mode every night, but as we work various programs and tabs and ???, it is easy to fill your computer's memory with useless RAM-ivorous memory gobblers. These gobblers can get in the way of your computer running efficiently so it is best to rid your system of them at least once a week. You don't have to restart before each class but reboot your computer at least once a week.
  • Laptop is Plugged-in or Fully Charged - Your computer can die on you in the middle of class. This can lead to your students disappearing from your screen and you disappearing from their Zoom class. This may sound obvious, but I began a class running on my MacBook's battery and it died in the middle of class. I returned in a timely fashion but it was embarassing and interfered with their learning.
  • Close the Door - I am an active teacher who believes that laughing and interacting with my students is an essential part of a good learning situation. This means that I need to close the door so as not to interfere with other people in my house.
  • Fill my Water Glass - You need to be comfortable when you teach so identify the "creature comfort necessities" that you need and ensure that you have them all at hand.
  • Pad of Paper and Pen - I use Notes and Google Keep for notes, but I still seem to need to have a pad of paper for quick notes. Using a couple of notebooks which are each divided into 5 parts, I can organize my notes by topic.  It's always good to have a couple of pens available.
  • Check the Mic and Camera - I use the camera on my laptop, but I always try to clean the lens using an eyeglass cleaning cloth before class.  I have an external mic so I check the USB connection and test the quality of my recording.  If you are running multiple cameras, plug them all into your computer.
  • Check for Host/Cohost - Usually, when you begin your Zoom session, you are the host by default. Don't Assume ANYTHING! Today, 10 minutes into class, I found that I wasn't hosting.  NO ONE was host. I don't remember how, but I had to sign-in again to claim Hostdom.
  • Add your Assistant as Cohost - My Graduate Assistant, Lindsey, is a valuable support person. Your support people should be your cohost.  ALERT: If your assistant is going to organize your breakout rooms, they MUST be made the HOST and you take on the role of CO-HOST.
  • Label the Breakout Rooms - It is easier if you already have the breakout rooms labeled if you are going to be manually putting students in breakout rooms or you will allow them to enter their own.
  • Turn Off Breakout Rooms Timer - Zoom's capability to time a breakout room meeting is useful. Unfortunately, it has caused some of my Breakouts to end prematurely. I have had 15-minute meetings end in 8 minutes because the timer had been set to 8 minutes and I hadn't changed it.  The WORSE PART of this is that there is no way to change the time setting once the meeting has started. PLEASE FIX THIS ZOOM. Until then, I try to just turn off the timer.
  • Test Sharing Your Screen - Test your processes like Sharing Screens before class. It is too easy for this to be a problem and roadblock in the class.
  • Test your Presentation - If you are using a slide show to supplement/guide your class, you MUST test this before class begins.  Thoughtfully go through your presentation as a presentation to ensure that all of the videos work and the animation provides the effect that you planned.
  • Preload Links into Tabs - Linking to other websites is an important function of my slides.  Often it takes a long time to load.  This causes an unwanted delay. Preloading these sites to various Chrome tabs is a good way to reduce potential delays.
In Session:
  • Start Recording - I usually ask a student or my Graduate Assistant to help me remember to record each class session, but there are times when that doesn't work either.  Keep it on your checklist.

After Session:
  • Save your Chat - Chats hold important information.  It is possible to set your settings so that your class's chats are saved automatically, but ALWAYS save your chats.
  • Convert your Recording - You have to quit Zoom to convert your class session recording, but it is best if you do this immediately after your class. I don't know what the formula is to compute how long it will take to convert your recording, but my hour-long sessions usually take about 15 minutes to convert.  
  • Save your Converted Recording to Google Drive - I save my recordings to my computer and then copy them to Google Drive so that students can access them. Last week, I realized that I can tell Zoom where to save the converted file.  Turns out that I can direct it specifically to my Google Drive. This saves a lot of time because I don't have to do it separately after it is save on my computer harddrive.
  • Include a Link from my LMS folder to a Recording - Making a recording of your class sessions is not useful unless you have a link for your students to follow it.  I have a specific place in my LMS system where my students can go to find the link.