Working with Open Source – Inkscape

I’m currently exploring a variety of open source software. My intention is to familiarize myself with a wide variety of software, so that I may use them appropriately in various situations. I’m sure many of them will have a place in the classroom.

This post is a log of my experience learning to use Inkscape.

Inkscape is a game of shortcuts (I recorded most of them in this log for future reference), but they have been user friendly for the most part, and I’ve been enjoying my experience so far. I have added entries of my progress every 15-30 minutes below.

(~15 minutes)

I went straight to Inkscape’s tutorial webpage and chose to start with the Basic tutorial. The user can access the tutorials directly from the program!
I have learned how to move the canvas around and create some basic shapes, as well as how to modify them. I also learned the hot keys for “undo” (Ctrl+Z) and “redo” (Shift+Ctrl+Z).

(~15 minutes)

I have learned how to select objects, scale them, rotate them and skew them.
There are a lot of keyboard shortcuts to this program, which I am not very used to, so I am only recording those I am most likely to use.

  • Alt+arrows will move objects by 1 pixel.
  • Using Shift and selecting shapes will group them together.
  • Grouping and ungrouping objects can be done with Ctrl+G and Ctrl+U, or by going to the Object menu.
  • Colors can easily be changed with the Dropper tool (F7).

(~15 minutes)

Duplicating an object is done with Ctrl+D, and duplicates can be aligned and distributed with the align & Distribute tool (Shift+Ctrl+A).
Clicking Alt and then clicking on overlapping objects will make the cursor cycle through the objects.
The stacking order of objects can be changed with Home (to raise) and End (to lower).
Most tools are accessible by their initial, but it will be hard to remember what combination of Shift, Ctrl and Alt to press before using them. The distribution tool gives rise to some interesting images. I will now move on to the Shapes tutorial.

(~30 minutes)

I played around with shapes in the basic tutorial; here are some more tips and tricks.

  • Clicking Ctrl while drawing a shape will lock in useful ratios (1:1, 2:1, 3:1).
  • Clicking Shift while drawing a shape will draw the shape around the center instead of the corner.
  • Shapes will acquire the color that is clicked immediately after creating the shape.

At this point it has become evident that hitting Shift, Ctrl or Alt before an action will change its parameters- and it will usually preserve the shape in some form, be it ratio, edges, rotation, etc. There are so many actions to test in this program- it’s very interesting! While playing around with the shapes, I became used to many of the shortcuts.

Image: Shapes made with Inkscape.

Image: Shapes made with Inkscape.

(~15 minutes)

I moved on to the Advanced tutorial. I was so happy to see there is a freehand tool, because drawing shapes with the mouse takes a long time; freehanding is faster. I plugged in my tablet and tested it out. Sadly, the program isn’t very responsive to tablets, I experienced a slight delay from tablet to screen. The lines are also shakier than in other programs.

(~15 minutes)

I wandered over to the Calligraphy tutorial, and found out how to configure the tablet for use in Inkscape! The settings are found in the File>Input Devices menu. Now my handwriting looks better. Additionally, each stroke of the pen becomes an individual object.

(~15 minutes)

I have just learned about the difference between objects and paths.
The appearance (outline, fill, shape, randomness) of objects can be modified, but when they are converted to paths, they become lines that can be edited via nodes.

  • Objects can be converted to paths with Shift+Ctrl+C.
  • Paths can be combined with Ctrl+K, and separated with Shift+Ctrl+K.
  • There is a simplify command, Ctrl+L, that reduces the number of nodes in a path, thus making the lines appear smoother.
  • All of these tools can be found under the Path menu as well.

(~30 minutes)

I am now testing the text tools. There are so many options for colors, fonts, bold/italics, alignment, kerning, rotation, everything! Using Alt+Up or Down will move letters vertically, and text can be easily turned into a path- again, with Shift+Ctrl+C.

After writing some text, I continued with the next tutorial- Interpolate. Interpolation fills in the gap between two objects with a morphing sequence. It only works for paths, not objects. Interpolation is an extension, and takes a lot of memory- the program crashed on me once. After following the tutorial, I came up with the following image.

Image: Interpolation between two paths.

Image: Interpolation between two paths.

(~15 minutes)

Images can be imported and then auto-traced in Path>Trace Bitmap; below is an example of the resulting traces after modifying the parameters a few times.

Image: Tracing a bowl of strawberries. Original image is public domain.

Image: Tracing a bowl of strawberries. Original image is public domain.

(~20 minutes)

I was interested in learning about using Inkscape for lineart. I would draw a lot more if inking and cleaning lineart didn’t take an inordinate amount of time. I followed these two tutorials for vectorizing lineart:
I started out with a drawing I made a year ago. I imported the image, then went to the auto-trace tool in Path>Trace Bitmap. I some time tweaking the settings to obtain a smooth version of my lineart. I then exported it as a high-resolution image. You can see the comparison below; the lines become much smoother, and of course, they are infinitely scalable. Inkscape can be really useful in transforming small images into larger images without losing quality.

Image: Comparison of inked lineart and vectorized lineart.

Image: Comparison of inked lineart and vectorized lineart.

(~40 minutes)

I decided to try creating an “urban design” as described in this tutorial. I began by creating a variety of concentric circle designs, and arranging them into a composition.

(~30 minutes)

I learned about layers thanks to this tutorial. They are very easy to use in this program; I created a layer for every element of the design with no problems.
Next, the tutorial instructs to use the Bezier curve tool to create swirls. It was very difficult for me to do it, which is why I set off to look for a video tutorial. The video found here  helped me practice my Bezier curves, but it still took me a long time to get the hang of it!

(~1 hour)

I arranged the swirls, changed colors, applied effects and moved layers around. As an important note, filters and extensions are very taxing on Inkscape and often cause the program to crash… exporting images is also problematic if the user wants them in high resolution. In any case, my final product is below!

Image: Inkscape circle design.

Image: Inkscape circle design.

Practicing vodcasts

In which I give a short definition of herd immunity:

Watch Herd immunity.

Research in education

As a scientist with experience in biological research, I find it curious that educational research is not rooted in fixed knowledge and standard methods; rather, theories come in and out of fashion and there is no single best methodology. It’s true that scientific knowledge changes as we discover new things, but teaching and learning is much more complex, with many external factors influencing instructor and student success. Some of these factors include social and ethnic background, age, gender, personality, location, etc. Through the process of writing a literature review, I learned that there are research niches that explore these factors, and re-frame the issues to create different perspectives.

Researcher at the National Archives. Image source:

Researcher at the National Archives. Image source:

After class discussions, I’ve come to realize how political education can be. It is a field where the elite few can influence policy and opinion, and reject research findings when they conflict with their personal views. Because of this, I believe it’s important for educational professionals to not only file away research for their personal knowledge base, but also to be able to talk about educational issues, methods and results to promote understanding and innovation.

There exists a disconnect between research and implementation, and education professionals should be more aware of current research to minimize this disconnect. Research can take different forms, depending on the context and the audience. Different methodologies are more useful to some professionals than others; for example, a large scale study using quantitative methods may be more useful for a policy-maker to see the big picture, identify trends and adjust educational policy accordingly. Small qualitative studies may be more useful to instructors, who could creatively experiment with new techniques in their classrooms. Research is important because it gives us access to different types of data.

My plan is to use research to learn about new ways to teach and how well they work in specific contexts; in my case, the context would be a community college science classroom full of diverse learners. Even though I have to adhere to policy, research can help me identify specific, concrete ways to improve my practice and be prepared for the needs of the next generation. Research makes me feel confident in my pedagogy and allows me to talk about my practice with my colleagues.

Futures of education

I love that so many different technologies are finally being considered for use in education.

First, let us look at Thin Clients and Blade PCs. If you go to any school today, they more than likely will have computers on a network. Thin clients make up a different kind of network: the computers don’t need extra software or hardware and don’t require lots of energy or maintenance because they connect to a server that has everything they need to run. Given the low costs, schools shouldn’t have a problem implementing this technology. Instead of having to purchase new hardware and/or software for every single computer every few years, schools would primarily replace the server. I think we will see this happening very soon.

Thin client. Image source: Thin client. Image source:

Next, we have virtualization. From what I understood, it simply means to keep your main operating system intact and then run everything else on a separate virtual or physical compartment. For example, you can have your Windows OS in one partition, and then have all your downloads and documents in a separate partition, or keep your data on a different computer altogether that you can access virtually, similar to cloud computing. You can even run different operating systems on the same computer. I believe this would only be beneficial for certain disciplines. For example, Macs are the industry standard for graphic design, but design students may also need to use Microsoft’s Office suite for work: virtualization could be the answer.

To be honest, I don’t think these IT innovations will impact my classroom directly. They will certainly make it easier for students to use computers for learning, but they are not necessary. College students usually use their own devices, set them up the way they want to, and know to back up their data in multiple ways.

Let us move on to innovations that affect education more directly. First, we have gesture-based learning. This is computing based on physical gestures such as tapping, swiping, touching or simply moving. This is much more intuitive than using a mouse or typing. The article from ZDNet explains that gesture-based learning can be used to “promote activities that improve social skills, involves team work, and allows users to solve problems through collaboration” (Osborne, 2012). For example, the Kinect software can be used to make learning more interactive by having student avatars go on a virtual field trip or do math calculations on the fly, as explained by Johnny Kissco in this video. I doubt K-12 schools would implement this anytime soon, but perhaps more specialized professions might (for example, medical students could practice surgical procedures).

Student using Kinect software on a computer for skeleton tracking. Image source: Student using Kinect software on a computer for skeleton tracking. Image source:

Finally, we have learning analytics. Students are not adequately evaluated just by tests; we need to take into account their backgrounds, personalities, and learning styles. Learning analytics can theoretically double student achievement because we can collect and use all that data to give frequent formative assessments, identify problem areas and in general tailor our instruction to the students’ needs. The University of Phoenix has used learning analytics, and one of the biggest problems they encountered was figuring out what data was actually usable and what time frames to use. The process can become easier by putting all the data online to facilitate sorting and retrieval so that instructors can review the most pertinent information. I really like learning analytics in theory, but revamping the curriculum to allow for individualized instruction would be a herculean labor. It also feels somewhat intrusive; I’m not sure I want to know everything about every single one of my students. As long as analytics are restricted to academics, they’re a technology I can get behind.


Osborne, C. (2012, March 10). Gesture-based tech: A future in education?. ZDNet, Retrieved from

Week 9: Hybrid learning resources


Merlot’s section for Science and Technology offers thousands of resources such as simulations, virtual laboratories, and tutorials. Each listing has links to the resource, a description, and information about the primary audience, technological requirements, cost and copyright (in general, they are free to use for educational purposes). Merlot is the first place I’d stop by to look for a digital component to add to my classroom. Using the resources found in Merlot model digital age work and learning (NETS-T 3) because instructors exhibit fluency in the technology, collaborate with peers (Merlot allows users to upload instructional materials), and communicate content to students via digital formats.


Moodle is perfect for any educator wanting to have an online component in their classroom. Moodle is open source, so it’s available for anyone to use for free. Its features allow intructors to use it as a virtual classroom, with the ability to build lessons, host discussion forums, and ask students to work collaboratively in wikis and databases. I’ve taken a class on how to build Moodle sites, so I have good ideas on how to use it effectively to deliver content to students. A blended classroom is designed to promote student learning via a digital tool, so it covers NETS-T 2 (a). The environment uses collaborative ways to  promote student reflection, so it is also part of NETS-T 1, facilitating and inspiring student learning. Constructing a user-friendly Moodle site demonstrates the fluency of the instructor in the use of technology systems, and the site allows collaboration and communication digitally (NETS-T 3).


This complements the use of Moodle. In order to use all the tools offered by Moodle, they need to be on a website hosted on a web server. If your institution won’t allow it or doesn’t have the capabilities to do so, you can build your own Moodle site at Gnomio. Instructors get their own web address at and are able to allow access to their students only. Once again, when teachers exhibit fluency in the use of technology, they are modeling digital age work and learning (NETS-T 3); and we are incorporating digital resources in a technology-rich environment to reach NETS-T 2, “design and develop digital age learning and assessments”.


Jing is a free program that can be used to capture images and video from your own computer screen (a “screencast”). This tool is wonderful for making video lectures for a blended classroom. I have used it before with a powerpoint that I played on my computer as I recorded my voice via microphone. If you use it to capture images, you can easily label them with arrows and text. The only problem is that Jing videos only last 5 minutes unless you purchase the full version, known as Snagit. However, I find that breaking down the information into 5 minute segments makes it very manageable. Using this tool models digital age work and learning (NETS-T 3) because it’s used for communication and shows technological fluency. It can be part of a digital age learning experience if it’s incorporated into the classroom to support student learning (NETS-T 2 (a)).


Another option for a blended classroom is to create podcasts. It is easy to upload files to iTunes and have students download them so they can listen to, for example, a pre-lecture on their way to class. Audacity is a free tool that records audio, which can be saved in many formats. Audio files can be uploaded to a Moodle site as well, where mp3 files can be played directly. Once again, if this tool is incorporated into the classroom it can be part of a digital age learning experience (NETS-T 2 (a)), and shows the technological fluency of the instructor when it’s used for communicating information and ideas (NETS T-3 (a) and (c)).


This tool can be used to make presentations. The usual tool seems to be Microsoft’s PowerPoint, but those files can take up a lot of space. Prezi presentations are more dynamic, “freeform” and lightweight. Prezi can use images, video, and animations, and put them together in a  3-D environment. Students can go through slides at their own pace. The Prezi environment encourages creativity and inventiveness as suggested by NETS-T 1 (a). The learning experience incorporates a fun digital tool (NETS-T 2 (a)) as the instructor demonstrates technological fluency (NETS-T 3 (a)). Both students and instructor can communicate using this digital format (NETS-T 3 (d)).

Online exhibits at Koshland Science Museum

Particularly, the infectious disease webquest and the inherited disease activity. They are interactive, interesting, and up-to-date with the latest scientific research. I could use either of these activities after covering basic content and before a hands-on laboratory, or to replace a hands-on lab completely. This resource is particularly appropriate for distance learning. The museum even includes a teaching guide with worksheets, suggestions for critical thinking questions and group activities. The resources in this website facilitate and inspire student learning because they promote innovative thinking, engage students in exploring real-world issues, and proposes collaborative activities to further their understanding of the topic (NETS-T 1). In a blended environment, we are incorporating digital resources that promote student learning, helping us fulfill NETS-T 2 (a) and (b).

Bio-Alive Biology and Life Science Video Share

Bio-alive lists video lectures, seminars, conferences, simulations, virtual labs and even videos of surgical procedures. Many of these videos are hosted on YouTube, but some of them are hosted on their own institutional websites. Basically, this is a community where users link to relevant scientific video resources; users are forbidden from posting copyrighted material. These videos are a great way to introduce new material to a blended classroom or reinforce what we’ve covered before. Since this is a community, instructors and students must follow etiquette and exhibit ethical use of the technology and intellectual property of the video resources (NETS-4 (a) and (c)). The variety of media offered is a great way for instructors to model digital age work and learning (NETS-T 3 (c )).

DNA from the beginning

I was so excited when I found this resource. We often cover the history of science and the experiments that changed the way we saw nature over time (like Sir Isaac Newton said, “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”). This website shows all the classic genetics experiments animated; plus videos, images, biographies of the incumbent scientists, quizzes and links to other relevant resources. I’d love to include this in my classroom for a more engaging way for my students to appreciate everything that scientists have done over the years. According to NETS-T 2 (a), these resources contribute to a digital age learning experience because they are a contemporary tool to promote student learning. Teachers are able to communicate the content thanks to a variety of digital media (NETS-T 3 (c )).

NOVA Education

NOVA provides some wonderful videos to complement the blended classroom. Not only that, but they also host interactive activities that act as virtual labs, in a similar way to the article I reviewed. One activity that I would add to my hybrid classroom is “Create a DNA Fingerprint”. Another one is “Extract your own DNA”, a video tutorial that guides students into extracting their own DNA at home, using household products. Thanks to these resources, students would be using simulations to explore complex scientific issues (NETS-S 1 (c)), and practice procedures for solving real-world problems (NETS-T 1 (d)).

Article 2: Hybrid learning for undergraduate students

Title: Designing Blended Inquiry Learning in a Laboratory Context: A Study of Incorporating Hands-On and Virtual Laboratories.

Author: Eva Erdosne Toth, Becky L. Morrow and Lisa R. Ludvico

Journal: Innovative Higher Education

Publication date: 2009

This quarter I have been learning about theories of teaching and learning, and a question that came up was “how would you design your ideal classroom?” With all the technological innovations that I’ve learned about in Internet for Educators, I definitely want to integrate some sort of digital component into my ideal classroom. The paper I’m reviewing today is a case study on the use of virtual laboratories in addition to regular, hands-on laboratory work; I have toyed with the idea of implementing this environment for some time.

Toth, Morrow and Ludvico identify a common problem in teaching biological sciences: experiments are often carried out in order to learn experimental protocols, but do nothing to support student’s “active, inquiry-based discovery”. They define inquiry-based discovery as a learning experience based on building essential scientific skills: asking questions, using evidence to address these questions, connecting the answers to prior knowledge, and communicating the results to the community. The goal of their study was to determine if the combination of hands-on and virtual labs would provide these learning benefits.

It turns out that the virtual lab had students focus on the specific mechanism of the experiment, allowing them to internalize the knowledge without any external variables affecting the core of the process. On the other hand, the hands-on lab allowed the students to refine their manual skills, measuring skills, and practical reasoning through troubleshooting. The students commented that they enjoyed the virtual lab’s ease, speed, and illustrative nature; and they preferred to complete the virtual lab before the hands-on lab.

Hybrid learning is based on many of the NETS standards. The environment helped students explore a real-world issue and improved students’ conceptual understanding of the material (NETS-T 1) thanks to the digital experience of the laboratory (NETS-T 2). The instructor exhibited fluency in digital tools that support student success (NETS-T 3). The instructor improved their own practice, and this study can be used as a model for future classes, so it is contributing to the effectiveness of the teaching profession (NETS-T 6). This article is a perfect example of why a blended environment is ideal for advancing learning in the digital age.


Toth, E., Morrow, B. L., & Ludvico, L. R. (2009). Designing Blended Inquiry Learning in a Laboratory Context: A Study of Incorporating Hands-On and Virtual Laboratories. Innovative Higher Education, 33(5), 333-344.

Article 1: Video and hybrid learning for undergraduate students

Title: Video Lectures through Voice-Over PowerPoint in a Majors-Level Biology Course. 

Author: Nathan H. Lents and Oscar E. Cifuentes

Journal: Journal Of College Science Teaching

Publication date: November-December 2009

The paper I chose to read this week talks about two overlapping learning mediums: video and hybrid learning.

I am currently learning about designing and teaching online courses. I have had doubts about my ability to engage my students in the content from a distance. The web environment places more personal responsibility on the student than on the teacher, as Lents and Cifuentes observe. In addition, my discipline requires laboratory experiences to increase comprehension and connection to the student’s life and future career. Simply replacing these experiences with computer simulations may not be enough. The authors lobby for a “middle ground”: the introduction of web-delivered video lectures to replace a portion of traditional classroom lecturers.

Lents and Cifuentes identify some problems with this approach: there is no record of attendance, students won’t get instant feedback to clear up misunderstandings, the delivery is inherently less engaging, and there is less social interaction (2009). Still, they ran their experiment. They prepared an experimental and a control group of students to take their basic majors Biology course. They would measure student success by their exam results. The software they used for the video lectures was Camtasia.

Student accessing computer for learning

Student accessing computer for learning. Image source:

The students who received the video lectures did poorly in their first exam. The instructor then had a discussion about the process of learning by video lecture. The students who were against the video lectures replied that they had trouble staying focused. However, many students were enjoying the video lectures and found several advantages to them: they could pause frequently to take notes and check their textbooks and they could re-watch the lecture several times. After their discussion session, the grades of the experimental group improved greatly.

Students taking notes at their own pace

Students taking notes at their own pace. Image source:

Before the third exam, the students answered a survey to choose the delivery method for the last portion of the course. They decided that a normal lecture would be delivered AND recorded for web posting, so students could choose the method that worked for them: this was reflected in their high grades. Lents and Cifuentes conclude that the introduction of web-based video instruction can be used successfully.

This project was a digital-age learning experience (NETS-T 2) because the instructor developed a technology-enriched learning environment, and personalized the delivery method to reach different types of learners; plus the researchers used the data from their experiment to improve teaching and learning.  The instructor delivered the lecture by using a digital age medium, demonstrating fluency in the technology (NETS-T 3, Model Digital-Age Work and Learning).  The most important part of the project for me, was that the instructor identified a problem with the delivery method and then discussed it with the students and involved them in the decision to change it.  I think this was in line with NETS-T 4, Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsiblity, specifically “address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources”.


Lents, N. H., & Cifuentes, O. E. (2009). Web-Based Learning Enhancements: Video Lectures through Voice-Over PowerPoint in a Majors-Level Biology Course. Journal Of College Science Teaching39(2), 38-46.

Week 7: Social media learning resources

The Science Forum

This is a general forum that is open to anyone’s input. User are very active and come from all walks of life. Although my students wouldn’t be able to create their own boards, they could create their own thread and get an input of information from all over the world. According to NETS-T 3 (b), it would be a great tool for students to collaborate with one another, as well as provide an opportunity for instructors to assist. This also provides a good chance to exercise NETS-T 4 (c): by participating in the forum discussions, you can promote responsible social interaction in the online environment.

Open WetWare

I love OpenWetWare, it was a great find when I was an undergraduate Biology student. This is a wiki platform for lab protocols; it is updated with the best and newest lab practices. It boasts an impressive list of links to online tools that are specific to the Biological field (such as calculators and analysis tools). Academic labs and groups are welcome to join in. This website covers many NETS standards. It is a good one for NETS-T 2(a-c) as it encourages the creation and sharing of your own lab work. It is also a good example of NETS-T 5 (a), because Open Wetware acts as a global learning community for exploring different applications of learning.

Open Leaf

This is a student-only networking resource for educational purposes. It only launched earlier this year. The neat thing about this site  is the way that networks are setup: you can talk to people on your own campus (I am the only student from WOU so far!), people with the same major and minor, or people sharing the same courses. This allows students to fulfill the entirety of NETS-S 2 by giving them a chance to interact and collaborate with students from multiple campuses and disciplines. It also covers NETS-T 1 (c), as this promotes collaborative learning.

Biology Beta

Another question and answer site specifically for Biology that is open to everyone. The cool thing about this site is that you can vote on questions and comments depending on their level of contribution to each discussion thread, so the good content ends up at the very top. Plus, discussion posts are easy to find with tags. This resource covers NETS-T 3 (c), since an instructor can answer questions and communicate with various students. That also carries over to NETS-T 5 (a), as it is a global digital resource for both students and teachers.

Reddit – r/science, r/askscience, r/biology, r/microbiology, or make your own subreddit!

These are subsections of the popular social site reddit. Similar to the previous resource, users vote on the best content, so that the important comments rise to the top.  The community in the science subreddits is amazing; you can ask any question and an expert is almost guaranteed to give you a thoughtful reply. Plus, students can make their own subreddits! I would love to have this in my classroom. This is a good site for NETS-T 1 (c), since it is another place for students to collaborate ideas. It also covers NETS-T 2 (d), because teachers can used the information amassed there to find better explanations for lesson concepts (I know I have!)

Blogging platforms – WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, etc.


There are several online websites that allow you to sign up for a free blog; these are just a few of them. Having your students start a blog advocates creativeness and inventiveness, thus covering NETS-T 1 (a) and NETS-S 1 (b). This also works for NETS-T 1 (c), as it promotes self reflection and student collaboration through post replies.

Collaborize classroom

This website can help instructors build an online class or supplement a traditional class. The website provides tools for adding and sharing teaching resources, setting up conversations, and gathering data on the class, which satisfies NETS-T 2 (d). It also covers NETS-T 2 (a) as you can design an entire course here, and NETS-T 5 (b) as it spearheads the usage of an online environment for learning.


This social networking site is the facebook of education. Students get a secure place to collaborate, share content and form a community. Teachers get almost all the functionality of Moodle (posting grades, assignments, quizzes, polls, discussions, creating subgroups, etc.). This is a good site for NETS-T, as educators can collaborate in building knowledge with their students and colleagues. They can also moderate the discussions in Edmodo, which can cover NETS-T 4 (a) and (c) by promoting ethical use of data and proper etiquette in discussions.


Twitter is a networking site for sharing content in 140 characters or less. Experimenting with in-class use of twitter has encouraged students that usually would not have joined in to participate, which covers NETS-T 1 (c).  The use of a modern social tool via computer or phone to share and gather student information covers the NETS-T 3(d).

Google +

Everyone uses google. Our WOU email is based on gmail. In Google +, you can share information and images like in twitter, but you can also join in group voice and video chat, or Google Hangouts for synchronous online sessions! This is a great example of NETS-T 3(c) and 1 (c), as you can set up video hangouts to exchange information. Google+ can be used to coordinate group projects quite effectively, makes it an excellent tool that covers NETS-S 2 (d).

Article 2: Social networking for undergraduate students

Title: Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets

Author: Eva Kassens-Noor

Journal: Active Learning in Higher Education

Publication date: February 28, 2012

A study by sociologists at the University of Alabama examined multitasking with social activities while doing schoolwork, and discovered that using facebook and texting negatively affected student GPAs.  Educators have confiscated cell phones for years and warned students about the dangers of oversharing information in social media sites. Now, as the net generation becomes the teachers and the principals, we are beginning to see a shift in these attitudes.  Proponents of the shift offer a very simple solution: give students something to do that’s class-related on those same platforms, which then become a powerful teaching tool instead of a distraction.

President Obama tweeting

Even the president tweets!

In her study, Kassens-Noor proposes exactly that. She offered groups of students the choice of a) using twitter in an assignment as their only communication mechanism, b) doing one in-class discussion and keeping diaries, or c) writing a 5000 word essay (thankfully, no one chose the last option). The twitter group had strict criteria to meet  to get credit for the assignment (e.g., tweet daily, each answer to a tweet must add on to or refute previous data, must turn in a printout of all tweets, etc.) She found that twitter fostered communication and prolonged engagement in the learning process. The students found and shared more data than the traditional group, but they had slightly less knowledge retension. Another limitation she found was the character limit- which might have constrained critical thinking and self-reflection. Kassens-Noor ‘s study showcases several NETS standards. She inspired student learning and creativity by engaging with her students in a virtual environment, following NETS-T 1 (d).  She also adapted the learning experience to a digital tool, as described in NETS-T 2 (a). Her students demonstrated a good understanding of the technology (NETS-S 6), and used it appropriately for collaboration (NETS-S 2).

I do not have twitter at the moment, but I’m up to trying it out in my classroom. I would use it as an instant feedback tool for student-teacher communication. I think it would foster a feeling of community and openness much faster than class interaction alone. The disadvantages of using twitter really seem to depend on the content. If critical, in-depth thinking is required from the students, twitter is probably an unsuitable tool.


Junco, R., Cotten, S. (2012). No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education, 59(2),  pp. 505-514.

Kassens-Noor, E. (2012). Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(1), pp. 9-21 doi: 10.1177/1469787411429190

Article 1: Social networking for undergraduate students

Title: Social media and microbiology education

Author: Vincent R. Racaniello

Journal: PLoS Pathogens

Publication date: October 2010

Social media is unavoidable on college campuses. Students are constantly looking for the latest news from their peers and the world through the use of facebook, twitter, blogs and internet portals. A quick look at Alexa’s top 25 sites on the web gives us Facebook as the most popular site in the world (no. 2 in the US), followed by YouTube, Yahoo!, Twitter and LinkedIn a little further down, as well as Blogspot and WordPress. The analytics reveal that many users access these websites at school.

Alexa's entry for Facebook

The most popular site in the world is primarily accessed at schools.

In his paper, Vincent Racaniello proposes to use these digital tools to facilitate learning. He talks about his experiences with blogging and podcasting- which are very similar to the model we’re following in this class. Racaniello wished to reach a large number of students of Microbiology, and so he began writing a blog covering news stories about viruses, as well as the results of his research. The social aspect of the blog was in the comments- visitors often developed a dialogue inspired by Racaniello’s posts. Later, he added weekly podcasts with expert hosts to the mix to further support student learning. His approach was consistent with many NETS standard. He inspired learning and creativity by engaging with students (high school, college, graduate and medical, colleagues and the general public in a virtual environment (NETS-T 1 (d). He also adapted the learning experience to a digital tool to promote student learning, reaching NETS-T 2 (a). He demonstrated fluency in digital technologies and communicated effectively using two different digital formats, which covers NETS-T 3 (a) and (c). Finally, he was a leader in building his digital learning community, which covers NETS-T 5 (b).

Although Racaniello used blogging and podcasting primarily for the benefit of the general public, instructors could certainly follow his example when designing their own course.


Racaniello, V. (2010). Social media and microbiology education. PloS Pathogens, 6(10): e1001095. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001095

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