Monday, November 19, 2012

Advice from an EEJ ambassador

photo of Becca Mortensen
Becca Mortensen
The EEJ college of Education and Human Services is lucky to have a group of dedicated ambassadors. When we hold recruiting events, they're out encouraging students from all backgrounds to receive their education from us. Today Becca Mortensen reveals her answers to some of the most-asked questions. She is the ambassador from the Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education department.

Take it away, Becca!
The Utah State open houses for high school students are a riot of fun!  The students attending them are more ready than ever before to grow into adults through an exciting academic experience at Utah State University.  These young adults are full of fears, uncertainty, and excitement about the future.  Our job is to put to rest those fears and help them find a major that will satisfy their interests and help them reach their potential.

young adults, crouching
Our ambassadors, ready to jump into the new year. Photos courtesy of Amy Wilberg.
One of the most exciting questions for us to answer is “What do you like about Utah State?"....or, "Why did you choose Utah State?”  We come to Utah State to have fun and make friends with diverse groups of people and find out who we are.  We come for the cozy and comfortable campus; the fantastic faculty that give us hands-on research experiences; for the well rounded and liberal education found here.

ambassadors captured in mid-jump

Another common question is, “What are the requirements to get into my program?”  It’s fantastic that as ambassadors we’ve all been in our programs for several years.  It’s fresh in our minds what we had to do as undergrads, freshman, and sophomores to get ahead.  Some of the things we did to prepare included taking writing tests, keeping our grades up and getting some experience in our fields.  
A lot of the questions we receive as ambassadors are about of three of the most popular majors: psychology, elementary education, and physical therapy/pre-med.  Psychology can be fascinating to students who are just coming out of the teenage years and have experienced many changes.  Elementary education at Utah State is definitely one of the best in the country, and highly sought after.  Lastly, pre-med and physical therapy is available for so many out there who wish to save lives.  
Lastly, we are asked, “What should I do to prepare for my major?”
”Meet with a counselor,” we say, “hands down!”

We have some highly knowledgeable counselors here at Utah State who are up on the requirements at the University and in the field. And if they aren’t sure about something, they will figure it out.  Meeting with your advisor will keep you on track to graduate in 4 years or less with all the requirements you need.  They will also let you know how to get extra help if needed, for any one of your classes or major requirements.  
Our favorite thing to tell students is that they can be whoever they want to be in college.  They can be a better student, a better friend, more involved or whatever they dream of being.  You don’t have to be how you were in high school.  College is a new start.  And you get to learn all about how to do that at the Utah State open houses.

Here are the remaining open houses for this semester:

Nov. 27, 2012: St. George, Dixie Center, 1835 S. Convention Center Drive, 6 to 8 p.m.
Nov. 28, 2012: Las Vegas, Cashman Center, 850 Las Vegas Blvd North, 6 to 8 p.m.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kids and social media: USU researcher's work featured nationwide

photo of Dr. Fields
Dr. Deborah Fields
What do we know about children's use of social media?

Not enough, according to Dr. Deborah Fields of USU's Instructional Technology and Learning Services Department. She teamed up with fellow researcher Sara Grimes of the Information School at the University of Toronto to report on children and how they use social media.

Here's an excerpt from their post on the Joan Gantz Cooney Center blog:

... [C]hildren tend to be ignored in the big survey research that documents who is going online, how often, and what they are doing. This is partly because children present a challenging audience to reach—what kind of survey can researchers use to talk to children about what they do online (they usually go to parents and it's just easier to talk to teens and young adults). Another factor is that although there's lots of anecdotal and qualitative evidence that kids are using popular social media such as Facebook, legal Terms of Use and regulatory policies like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act often mean that children are not supposed to be there at all. Another important finding was that large-scale surveys and other research on social networking often overlook the kinds of social networking forums that children tend most to populate. Virtual worlds, console videogames (did you know kids can share creations and chat through videogame consoles?), and project-sharing sites where children share everything from written stories to art to computer-programmed animations are rarely discussed in comparison to social networking sites like Facebook.
The study is featured in the Huffington Post, The Digital ShiftedSurge news, Kidzania Journal. It also appears in the Barking Robot, KQED's Mind Shift and Education Week's Digital Education blogs.

The report was produced for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, an independent, non-profit research center, with the support of Cisco Systems and the Digital Media and Learning Hub at the University of California. You can read the full text on the Cooney Center website.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Teaching: a tool for world peace

a row of teachers sit at computers
Earlier this month, 22 teachers from around the world returned to their countries after a six-week collaboration with Utah State University. Their time together was made possible by the US Department of State.

The Teaching Excellence and Achievement program brought them together and enabled them to share ideas. “These are some of the best teachers from their countries,” said Dr. Steven Camicia,  an associate professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership here at the college. Dr. Camicia headed up this year’s program, along with Dr. Karin Dejonge-Kannan, co-director of the Master of Second Language Teaching Program.

“Really, the experience was amazing as the environment in my country is completely different,” wrote Naglaa Radwan in an email reflecting on her time in the program at USU. She came here from Egypt.

“We’re all coming to this place to learn,” said Dr. Camicia. “I’m learning from them and they’re learning from me.” The program is structured so that one person cannot dominate the conversation. “Bringing all of these different perspectives together, we have more to choose from as a group when we go into our classrooms.”

The schedule was exhausting, packed with a number of general and specialized workshops. Part of the group’s experience included some classroom time in Cache Valley schools.

Radwan went to In Tech High School for her internship. “I was impressed to teach students something about my country and some of our celebrations, and I managed to make a connection between one of these celebrations and Halloween.”

“It’s kind of an effort toward world peace,” Dr. Camicia said. “The impressions that they get here and take back to their countries is very important.”

There is no doubt that the international teachers left a lasting impression on the people who worked with them here at CEHS. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s been a very life-changing experience for me, too,” said Nathan Smith, director of the collge’s Adele and Dale Young Education and Technology Center.

Nathan Smith teaches a workshop
Adele and Dale Young Education and Technology Center Director Nathan Smith  teaches a workshop to the group.

Smith has been involved with the program for two years and worked with two groups of teachers, doing workshops with the group and accompanying them on activities. “I’ve been able to make lifelong, close personal friends with 43 people.”

Dr. Camicia agreed. “There are these deep connections that people make. It’s really very beautiful.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Getting the most from distance education

Photo of Chad Bingham
Chad Bingham
Chad Bingham, a lecturer in the Communication Disorders and Deaf Education department, was recently named a Teaching Fellow by Distance Education at Utah State University. He will share some of his expertise in a free webinar on November 13 (details at the bottom of this post).

Here's his advice to students and faculty who want to get and give the most in an online environment:

Q: What can students do to gain the most from their online education?

I think the best way for students to get the most from their online education is to connect in some meaningful way with their professors. This is extremely difficult to do in the online medium, but as an instructor, I appreciate knowing who my students are, what challenges they are facing, and how I can best support their learning in my courses. It also makes it much easier to write a more personalized letter of recommendation for these students if I have come to know them as more than just a number or name.

Q: Is there a guiding principle for faculty members who want to give their online students a quality experience?

Make sure your course is set up in a way that leaves the student with clear expectations and as little confusion as possible. This includes making sure that your course is updated often. The difficulty in teaching an online course is the individual nature on the students' end. One mistake made by a professor in a traditional course may be identified by one student, and a solution can be provided to the group at one time. In the online environment, you may get 20+ emails from students with the same question. Make sure your course is organized so that questions regarding assignments and expectations can be minimized.

Another thing that instructors of online courses can do is utilize the technology for collaboration that is built into Canvas. Taking the time to provide real-time chats with the students makes you more of a real person instead of a talking head. Students appreciate "meeting" their instructors and engaging in a dialogue rather than trying to have all of their questions answered through email correspondence.

Want more information? Bingham offers a free webinar entitled "More than a Number: Effectively Teaching Large Online Courses" on Tuesday, November 13, at 3 p.m. To attend, sign in at the teaching fellows connect page at the webinar's starting time. You can enter as a guest if you don't have a login.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The new WAVE tool improves website accessibility. For free.

graphic for WAVE 5.0 beta
Image courtesy of the Center for Persons with Disabilities
If you would like to make your website accessible and don't know how, we have good news for you.

If you already use WebAIM's free WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation) tool, we still have good news for you.

WAVE allows developers to see at a glance where their pages might need some tweaking in order to be readable to everyone. It even helps bloggers who may be a little less code-savvy to fix errors. (My most common mistake is failing to add alternative text to photos. The tool shows me right where the errors are, so fixing them is much easier.)

Currently the team at WebAIM--an initiative of the College's Center for Persons with Disabiltiies--is working on a beta version of WAVE 5. And while I liked version 4, I like 5 better. It's more helpful to bloggers like me--people with good intentions but limited coding skills.

Here's more about it from the CPD's website:

For people with disabilities, surfing the Web can result in the online equivalent of a riptide or wipeout. Even assistive technology such as screen readers won’t help if the building blocks of a website—its HTML code—are not accessible.

To help web developers and designers create content that’s available to everyone, Web Accessibility In Mind, (WebAIM) at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities has developed a free web site evaluation tool called WAVE.

Users simply type in a URL, upload a file or paste in a piece of HTML code, and WAVE processes the code and looks for access or compliance issues. Users can also download a free toolbar within the Firefox web browser.

...The WAVE5 beta is much easier to use, because a new sidebar offers a color-coded, icon-laden summary of errors and alerts. With just a few mouse clicks, users can see the details of each error and alert, as well as a documentation box that lists the error, what it means, why it matters and how to fix it. Users can learn more about web accessibility as they are using the WAVE tool...

For a quick list of WAVE 5 features, visit the WebAIM blog.