Travel and Technology

japanHow do you successfully navigate a foreign country in which you don’t speak the language and have no access to your cell phone’s data plan?

Nate and I recently took an awesome vacation to Japan, and although we were anxious about the language barrier, we found some unique ways to make it work.

Before I left the country, I installed several travel friendly apps to my iPhone. The first was XE, the Currency Exchange app that let’s you convert currencies. This app helped me stay within my spending budget because it gave an up to date conversion rate.

googletranslateThe Google Translate app was also very useful. It was great for translating foreign languages. This app let’s you either type or speak a phrase and then it translates it to the language you pre-selected. I used this app to translate signs and menus, however, it would have been great if this app included a photo recognition feature in addition to the typing and speaking functions.

lineAnother challenge we had was that I arrived a few days after Nate, so we were concerned about how to communicate to each other once my flight arrived. This was solved easily with the Line app. We were able to send SMS messages and make calls to one another over the WiFi network. It worked as well as text messaging and provided us an opportunity to stay in touch. This is a must have app for any people who live or travel to a foreign country.

But how do we use all of these apps if we don’t have data? Easy. Japan has a really convenient technology for monthly rental- a  mobile WiFi device.  It’s a portable, personal, WiFi hot spot that you can carry with you.  Nate signed us up for one with a deposit. We had to spend some time at the end of our trip to return it and get the deposit back, but it was well worth our time and money.

Besides the WiFi hot spot and the apps I used, another travel technology tip is to utilize GoogleMaps and the iPhone camera. Before heading out from our hotel each day, we planned our itinerary and mapped out directions in both English and Japanese. When the directions were loaded to my phone, I snapped a screenshot of the map so that I knew we could access the map even without an Internet connection. This proved even more useful when we got lost and couldn’t articulate in Japanese where we needed to go. I simply opened up the photo of the directions in Japanese and zoomed in to the location. The lady smiled brightly and knew exactly how to help us.

Overall we were able to navigate through Japan with very few issues. I’m sure we could have done this with travel guides and translation books, but books can be heavy when you’re packing light!


Relationship Building Excels Instructional Design

Working-togetherRelationship building is sometimes an overlooked aspect in the instructional design field. However, relationship building is an integral part to successful ID development. Subject matter experts, course reviewers, and design teams all contribute to the Instructional Design process and if one does not cooperate, the integrity of your project can be at stake. But with collaboration and solid relationships, your Instructional Design project can excel. Therefore, it’s important not only to advocate for sound instructional design practices, but also to advocate for the needs of your contributors.

Liz Ryan, CEO Human Workplace, states “project Management is a collaboration among people who all want the same thing and/but have widely varying views on the best way to get there. A project manager’s job is to keep everyone on the team feeling valued and listened to while keeping the many moving parts on track.” (source:

How do you keep your team feeling valued and listened to?

Respect Their Ideas and Expertise

At BlackLine Systems, the Product Training team works closely with subject matter experts in deciding which content is relevant and valuable. The SMEs have input in the initial course planning and script-writing steps, as well as with the final course review. Their input is invaluable for creating accurate course content.

Respect Their Time

The Product Training team is cognizant and appreciative of our SME’s time. We work on a schedule that best meets their needs, even if it means arriving at the office before 7 am or staying past our normal work hours.  The key is being flexible so that our SME’s are comfortable with recording with us.


When you spend a full day in a recording studio with your SME, you become pretty close to them in a short time. I spent a lot of time with a SME who was from out of town and was staying at a hotel. Even though we had met only prior to recording, I invited him for dinner and bowling after work with my friends. We spent all day cooped up together, I couldn’t imagine him staying cooped up in a small hotel room all night either. He accepted the invitation and we had a fun time relaxing outside of work. Now, whenever he’s at headquarters, he stops by my desk to say hello, an indication that we’ve developed a good relationship.

Praise Publicly

I think it’s also important to praise your collaborators. At BlackLine, we have a points system, called You Earned It, in which you give points to your colleagues that can be redeemed for prizes. The points seemed hokey at first, but it’s a positive way to thank your colleagues for their help. You can also set the points award to be public, which is a nice way to let the entire organization know that “hey, this person went out on a limb for me”. This public acknowledgement spreads good will and feelings of being appreciated.

Acknowledge Their Contributions

Our Product Team recently presented at the company’s monthly meeting (each month a different team presents). This was yet another avenue to express our gratitude to those subject matter experts, course reviewers, and designers for their help. Recognition is not necessarily a driving factor for why colleagues help Instructional Designers, but it’s a positive way to show mutual respect. I’m glad our company offers these ways to encourage collaboration.

With respect and acknowledgement, instructional designers can build successful relationships with their colleagues, which in turn will aid in the creation of excellent training and educational materials.

The Padagogy Wheel – Merging Bloom’s Taxonomy w/ EdTech

It’s back to school time for many people, and for those students who are required to bring iPads or tablets to class, here’s an interesting look at how the iPad can be implemented. It’s not just a coincidence or for a love of shiny new technology that educators are implementing iPads into their instruction.

Applied correctly, the iPads can be a very effective teaching tool.

Allan Carrington, Learning Designer at the University of Adelaide,  developed The Padagogy Wheel to illustrate how iPad and Mobile Apps can be used to support the instructional design theory Bloom’s Taxonomy. Carrington turns Bloom’s  Cognitive domain into a wheel that emphasizes how each of the six focuses of the cognitive domain can be supported through the use of Ed Tech, such as iPads and mobile apps.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is not new in the world of instructional design. It’s the foundation that learning designers use daily (probably without thinking about it) to create solid learning experiences. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of the different learning objectives established for learners, categorized in three domains. The three domains are achieved sequentially:

  1. Cognitive (knowing)
  2. Affective (feeling)
  3. Psychomotor (doing)

Learners must first know before they can feel, and then act on those feelings by doing.

Allan Carrington’s Padagogy Wheel model focuses specifically on the Cognitive domain, which uses specific learning objectives to accomplish each of the following skills:


The Padagogy Wheel does a good job of getting educators thinking about how to use the iPad to support learning objectives and encourage students to accomplish each of the six cognitive skills.

For example in the Remember/ Understand skill, an action verb that is used is explain, and the activity used to explain is commenting. The Padagogy wheel then uses the Facebook app as a tool to accomplish the activity of commenting to perform the action verb of explaining. Learners comment on Facebook statuses and newsfeed posts to explain their knowledge and show their understanding of the given topic.

The Padagogy Wheel:



The Padagogy Wheel, developed by Allan Carrington, Designing Outcomes


An alternative eLearning Tool: iSpring

I’ve been using iSpring to publish eLearning training courses for the last few months. As a user of Adobe Captivate and TechSmith Camtasia, I was a bit skeptical when my manager first introduced iSpring to me. I enjoyed the full all-in-one record and edit capabilities of Captivate and Camtasia.


iSpring is easy to use, it works as a plug-in to PowerPoint. Many people already know how to create PowerPoint presentations, therefore, there is a small learning curve to using iSpring.

As you can see from the image pictured, iSpring has it’s own tab and the features are fairly straightforward: publish, presentation explorer (timing) links, audio, import audio, insert Flash and YouTube files, among other features.

Another benefit to this eLearning software is that I can use it on any of my computers because it’s a plug-in to PowerPoint. This means that I can develop eLearning courses without a lengthy installation process or it taking up my computer’s resources.

In addition, I enjoy being able to add high quality video and audio files to the PowerPoint presentations. It makes for better content compared to simple text-only slides. Once the course is published via iSpring, the high quality multimedia files can be maintained by selecting the correct quality settings.

My eLearning development process includes creating high quality MP3 audio files and MP4 video files to be imported into iSpring. I do so by using what I think are the best production tools (for a PC). I record narration in Adobe Audition, edit the raw audio so it sounds clean and crisp, then import the MP3 files into iSpring. I do the same thing for the video demonstrations, choosing to record and edit screen captures using Camtasia and then importing the MP4 files.

I also like the iSpring Quiz feature. I use the Quiz feature to create interactive practice activities and course end assessments to evaluate the learner’s knowledge of the content. The Quiz feature offers a variety of question types such as matching, multiple choice, short answer, etc. The question pools make exam creation / variation easy.

When the iSpring PowerPoint is developed, there are several options to publish the files. It can be published for the Web, HTML5 (mobile compatible), or LMS compatible.

The final output includes a navigation pane for learners to advance the class, as well as a Notes section for transcribed /outlined content. These features are beneficial for learners who want a quick refresher of the course content, without committing to the full length course.

The downside of using iSpring is that simulations are not compatible with the LMS publishing setting. However, the simulations are compatible when the course is published as an HTML5 file.

I’m not willing to give up Captivate and Camtasia fully, but iSpring is a simple eLearning developer software that I’d recommend for any instructional designer’s toolbox.

Avoid the Traps- Instructional Design Decisions

A great website I like to use for eLearning resources is  I recently read an article by Stephanie Ivec that summarized important instructional design decisions that should not be overlooked. The article is titled 5 Instructional Design Traps to Avoid.

Ivec warned against falling into these common traps:

  1. Forgetting Learning Objectives

The benefit of learning objectives is that they keep the course focused.

  1. Too Long to Be Engaging

According to Ivec, and I agree, elearning gives developers the opportunity to divide complex topics into smaller modules for easier comprehension.

  1. Features for the Sake of Features

Limiting animations and features for when they make important information stand out will help learners process key content.

  1. Irrelevant Content

Using scenarios and real-world examples will help learners apply the learning to their job tasks.

  1. No Evaluation

Evaluating the effectiveness of the eLearning course can help create better courses in the future.

My department of eLearning Developers/ Instructional Designers have been perfecting our methods of instructional design. We have discussed different approaches to making our eLearning courses effective and exciting for our learners.

We’ve created a standardized template that includes an introduction, objectives, agenda, content, practice activities, and summary. The template helps us to keep our courses consistent and minimizes the use of unnecessary animations that may otherwise distract the learners.

We’ve ensured that each topic is concise, not more than 3-4 minutes per demonstration, with an activity to keep our learners engaged. We’ve eliminated irrelevant content, such as removing content that is too novice for our learners. The course concludes with an evaluation– a quiz assessing the learner’s knowledge of the content.

Overall, it is important for instructional designers to give everything the learners need and nothing more. It’s also important that the content is packaged in a way that is manageable and intriguing.

Sharing is Caring: Knowledge Sharing

downloadWe all do it. We share information, skills, and expertise with those around us. This activity is formally called Knowledge Sharing, but the free flow exchange of information is an important part of everyday professional development.

Recently I shared with a colleague in the sales department my eLearning planning toolbox. This toolbox included an instructional design document, a template PowerPoint, and a draft roadmap for building eLearning programs. Sharing these design templates with my colleague helped her to start planning her own eLearning program. She also received training on recording and editing tools. By providing her with this information and helping her get started, she will be able to create a program that adds value to her department.

There are several different modes of communicating and sharing information. Examples include Wikipedia, workplace shared drives, and informational meetings. This Web site is another example of how information can be shared. Formal knowledge sharing experiences include conferences, conventions, and publications created by professional organizations. Knowledge is also shared informally- conversations over coffee and in the break room can have great impact on a person’s work.

Knowledge sharing has specific benefits. It promotes cross-functional training. Knowledge Sharing promotes participative decision-making and shared expectations. It fosters good will among colleagues and it fosters an open and trusting environment. When you’re on the receiving end of information, you learn and better yourself. When you’re on the giving end of knowledge sharing you exhibit your professional expertise, which can help establish a positive reputation in your field. Knowledge Sharing also helps to establish professional relationships.

Some people use information as a way to control power. Keeping information and tips to yourself may give you an edge over your colleagues. But I strongly feel that the more you share the more value can be added to the company.

Action! Activity! Stimulating Interaction in eLearning

An instructional designer can stand out from others by developing comprehensive learning experiences that stimulate user interaction.

There are three components to instructional design development that are typically included in eLearning:

  1. Tell– the user about the subject matter
  2. Show– the user the subject matter with images and videos
  3. Do– provide the user with a practice activity that replicates what was told and shown

The tell and show are most commonly used in instructional design because they take less time and resources to develop.

Depending on the scope and time frame to develop the training project, talented instructional designers are able to create a stimulating user interaction experience—the Do.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to begin new projects where I’ve scoped out interaction.

After discussing the timeline and workload with my colleagues, we decided to complete two reiterations of the courses.

The first versions of the courses include the “tell” and “show” components. We decided to launch these first versions of the courses in order to provide our users with timely content. The second version of the courses will include the tell and show content, but will also include user activities.

We record all of the content pieces for both versions of the course at the same time, but post production is first conducted on the Tell and Show version. After a course is complete and launched to to the users, the Do content is then edited, added to the course, and relaunched to the users.

The content for these courses were produced as follows:

  1. Tell– Use Adobe Audition to record subject matter experts’  narrations of the content
  2. Show– At the same recording sessions as the “tell”, the subject matter experts’ record a screen capture using TechSmith’s Camtasia. After editing these with the voiceovers, the final result are “Demonstrations” that show the user the subject matter
  3. Do – The final piece of production is recording a second version of the subject matter in Adobe Captivate. We’ve been able to record Camtasia and Captivate on the same computer, at the same time. After post production is concluded on the tell and show, attention is focused on producing “Try-It’s” that allow the users to practice what they learned earlier in the course.

Gardening: sunshine, relaxation, and socialization

photo 3This year is the first year that I’ve grown a garden without the help of my dad. I decided to start a garden in Los Angeles for a couple of different reasons and have been surprised with the added benefits.

I started the garden for the obvious– to have home grown produce. I also started the garden because I wanted an excuse to be outside in the beautiful Southern California weather.

What I found surprising were the added benefits:

Watering my garden guarantees me twenty minutes a day without screen time. I can take a deep breath and relax while taking care of the plants. As much as I love technology, and I did some Google searches for  gardening tips such as keeping the snails away (copper tape and coffee does the trick), I do enjoy the break of shutting off the computer and playing in the dirt.

photo 1If you’re curious about other ways I’ve broken away from the digital world, read my article “Disconnecting to Reconnect”

I’ve also enjoyed getting back to my roots (pun attended). I grew up in rural Central New York and as much as I love living in a city, I miss the country serenity. Having a garden gives me “zen time” to think about where I came from.

photo 2Another benefit of gardening is that it has made me a more sociable neighbor. I live in a small apartment community. My garden is in the shared common area, which means when I’m tending my garden, I have the opportunity to speak to my neighbors as they come and go.

It reminds me of the poem Mending the Wall by Robert Frost. The line “good fences make good neighbors” sticks out in my mind. This line can be interpreted as follows- having a fence between properties forces the two neighbors to walk the fence together annually in order to repair any damages. Without a fence, the two neighbors would not have an excuse to speak to each other. Similarly, if I wasn’t out in my garden every evening, I wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to catch up with my neighbors.

I’m really enjoying the sunshine, relaxation, and socialization that my garden gives me… I also can’t wait until I can be eating my vegetables!

Confidence in EdTech!

Where do your instructors fall in the EdTech adoption?

As an Educational Technologist and an instructor, I’ve seen many faculty members excel in the use of classroom technology and others whom let their fear get in the way of their technical growth.

Mark Anderson, @ICTEvangelist, posted a chart that graphically illustrated the Teacher Confidence in Use of Technology. The graph was adopted from the work of Mandinach and Cline and described the stages of confidence related to technology.

teacher confidence use in tech

As confidence and competence grows, instructors are keener to apply the technology they’ve mastered to the classroom. In doing so, the technology can effectively impact the way students learn.

The final step of the Confidence graph is Innovation. Instructors have the confidence to use technology seamlessly in the classroom, as well as innovate and share their ideas. It is at this point that I believe instructors demonstrate independence and enthusiasm for utilizing technology.

In my experience, I’ve mostly worked with faculty that were between the Survival and Mastery levels. The challenge of an Educational Technologist is to provide enough support and training to help encourage the technological exploration, yet, not be too helpful in that it enables the instructors to lean on you as a crutch when they use technology. Balancing support with autonomy is important.

Say What?! Improving Online Class Discussion

This semester I’ve decided to use discussion forums for only half of my online class participation. I mixed it up to add some intrigue and interaction to the other weeks– my students are using NowComment.


NowComment is a Web site that displays articles and text content for students to read. The unique thing about NowComment is students can comment in-line to the text. Students can also reply to one another. NowComment nests the comments for a clean user interface experience. Students can also mark up the document with highlights and annotations.

This mode of communication has proven successful. Students enjoy the variety NowComment adds to the online class, in addition to the traditional online learning tools such as email and forums.

It also allows the students to interact directly with the content.

Most online classes have students read an article or book, then contribute to a different web page to discuss their findings. I’m guilty of this, like I said, I use discussion forums for half of the class participation. The problem with this traditional online discussion structure is that a student may not understand what their classmate is referring to in the text, unless it is directly cited. Nowcomment minimizes this confusion and lets students tag the statement in the text to comment directly to the material.

This tagging feature makes it better for everyone to draw connections to the reading and contribute to a dynamic online class discussion.

To use NowComment, you must have an account. However, the accounts are free for educators and students. Instructors can create a group for each class roster to easily invite a group of students to one document. The Web site uses email to inform students of a new document to discuss.

A negative impact of NowComment is that students must check their school administrated email accounts or provide the instructor with an alternative email. In addition, their may be technical difficulties such as the invitation being filtered to the Spam, Junk, or Trash folders.  For example, I have a student that has had technical difficulties all semester. She does not receive the initial NowComment invitation. I’ve had to delete her invite, then send her an updated invited for her to access the documents. We have no idea why these issues occur and why she is the only student with problems.

In general, the students are enjoying the conversation and are able to contribute successfully. I recommend this educational technology tool for anyone with flexibility to choose a means of communication and for those with text heavy class materials.

*Update* I was impressed how quickly the NowComment President reached out to me regarding this blog. He was very helpful in troubleshooting the invitation errors my student had. Kudos to a company that follows social media and proactively reaches out to it’s audience!

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