A Sifendipity that turned into an activity

This week I have been quite busy conducting interviews for my hybrid pedagogy promotion project, and one aspect that came up frequently during those interviews was my interviewee’s particular reservation against using the microblogging platform Twitter for pedagogical purposes. Most interviewees said they don’t (like to) use Twitter because it would sent their teaching into a tailspin, thereby making it more difficult to administer the students’ learning experience.

I can certainly understand the attitude. Once we go hybrid with our pedagogy, we introduce additional spaces into the learning experience and it can become quite overwhelming not only to administer the content that students produce on Twitter, but also to use that content for assessment, not to mention that in every class there will be students who don’t use social media tools at all (at least that has been my experience so far). So, from that angle, I can surely understand how Twitter can be quite intimidating at first.

However, a couple of days ago I found an email in my inbox from a research-sharing website which contained a paper on the rhetoric of hashtags by Daer, Hoffman, and Goodman, titled “Rhetorical functions of hashtag forms across social media applications,” and here I can certainly see the merit of using Twitter in the classroom for critical thinking exercises as well as for practicing analytical skills. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Twitter, hashtags are used to connect Twitter messages to larger conversations. Hashtags are words or unspaced phrases that follow the number sign (#), and they can be placed anywhere in a tweet. But beyond its ability to construct a conversation space, a hashtag can also tell users in each instance a thing or two about the contextual configuration of that space. In other words, by looking at the hashtag we can draw inferences as to whether the conversation space was created to inform, identify, entertain, critique, rally, or maybe motivate. Check out a couple of hashtags below and think about the underlying purpose of the conversation space in each case:






For a composition class or a critical thinking class,  in which questions of audience awareness and purpose are important topics of discussion, I can certainly see the benefit of using Twitter. Surely, Twitter can also teach us a thing or two about the advantages of brevity in writing, but this only goes so far. I find that Twitter would work better for analysis exercises. I imagine that an activity could be that students choose a hashtag, identify its purpose, and then 
analyze a set of tweets in relation to the extent to which they fulfill the purpose of the conversation space. In order to capture the tweets and turn the activity in for assessment, students could use the free webtool Storify, which allows users to collect and curate material from the internet.

I will certainly try this activity out in the future. If you think the activity is interesting, and you get a chance to do it, then please comment and let me know how it went.




It’s all about the content! … or is it?

Over the last week I’ve been really busy with one of my projects in particular, which is to produce a series of short videos, featuring both faculty members as well as students, that are designed to shed light on so-called hybrid approaches to teaching and learning. What does that mean? In essence, a hybrid approach to teaching and learning combines on-ground, in-class activities with online activities and discussions. Especially in the last couple of years, more and more attention has been given to this particular educational design, presumably because the explosive developments in digital information technologies and social media applications have had the effect that most of us spend more time online now than in the past. Naturally, academia doesn’t want and also shouldn’t fall behind those developments. That being said, however, there are a number of challenges that need to be considered when blending offline with online education, as put forth by Jesse Stommel, Founder and Director of Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal on Teaching & Technology:

“[The] challenge is not to merely replace (or offer substitutes for) face-to-face instruction, but to find new and innovative ways to engage students in the practice of learning. Hybrid pedagogy does not just describe an easy mixing of on-ground and online learning, but is about bringing the sorts of learning that happen in a physical place and the sorts of learning that happen in a virtual place into a more engaged and dynamic conversation.” (“Hybridity pt. 2: What is Hybrid Pedagogy?”)

So, our videos are designed to ease the process for both faculty and students to approach hybrid educational settings. And rather than putting forth a series of “how-to”-videos, we’ve decided to tackle this pedagogical concept by presenting a series of short anecdotes from experienced faculty members as well as students. I believe that a set of stories will make the whole experience much more relatable.

So much for content and context. With that being said, however, our content can only be as good as the quality of the production, particularly in terms of video and audio quality; taking those aspects into account is important because we typically find well-produced content a lot more credible. In turn, we experience bad video quality, bad audio quality, or a mix of both as distractions from the content. Even studies have shown that a video with even slightly distorted audio impedes the learning process because we need to use parts of our brain activity just to listen to the content through the distortion, similar to having to read through lots of typos in an academic paper or smudged printing of the pages.

So, below I’m going to share a few links that are not only helping me with my current project, but which will also help you when you consider creating videos for educational purposes:

MOOCing It: 10 Tips for Creating Compelling Video Content (great general tips)

What Happens to a YouTube Video After 1,000 Uploads? (insightful take on what happens when you upload a video on a platform such as YouTube)

Video Making 101 – Good Sound Quality Is Essential (& how to do it) (pretty self-explanatory. Check it out!)

How to (and Why) Produce High Quality Audio for E-Learning (great tips to get you started)

Videography Tips (great general set of guidelines, including the “Seven Deadly Camcorder Sins”)

We’ve now scheduled the first interviews with faculty members willing to share their experiences. I’m very excited about the outcome, not only with regards to their stories but also when it comes to the quality of our production.

As mentioned in my first post, I also want to end my post with something valuable to share. This time I would like you to check out Lynda.com. It’s a great, subscription-based online resource with lots of tutorial videos that I’m sure you will find valuable. The platform not only features video tutorials for specialized software such as video editing programs, which I will have to wrap my head around, but you will also find a lot of great tutorials that deal with office applications such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or Outlook. And the great thing for us at GSU is that you can access the whole catalog for free. Just follow this link.


Let Me Visualize Your Words, and I’ll Tell You Who You Are

Consider the following everyday life situation: you’ve bought a defective item, and now you are discussing return policies with a customer service agent over the phone…then maybe you are not discussing return policies at all but you want to place an order over the phone. In any event, I dare you to ask yourself if you’ve ever wondered what the agent on the line might actually look like? I am sure that we’ve all done that at one point or the other, and I am also speculating that 9 out of 10 times our intuition would fail us and the agent on the other line doesn’t look anything like the image we crafted of him or her in our minds. Now, why might this be worth noting? The inference that we can draw is that there are certain cues embedded in the human voice which, when all we have is sound, motivate us to craft an idea of the speaker in our heads. Moreover, not only do we imagine physical attributes, we also equip the voice with certain characteristics that the speaker presumably has. Succinctly put, when we only have the sound of a voice available, we are often tempted to fill in the blanks of the speaker’s personality. And this leads us to the well-grounded assumption that the human voice is shaped by the relative relationship of various parameters such as

pitch, tone, timbre, rhythm, inflection, and emphasis among others,

which—during the act of listening—leave us with impressions about the speaker that go beyond content and context as well as the mere level of sound. The only problem is: the human voice is a fleeting thing, which makes it virtually impossible to measure and analyze the interplay between all of those parameters in real-time. Not so with pre-recorded speech, of course, which provides researchers with a potent avenue to capture and visualize the dynamic interplay of parameters that shape the human voice, and the way it is perceived.

To be honest, however, up until a week ago, that topic had never really crossed my mind. But then I had my first couple of SIF meetings, and I am now working on a project designed to find (better), more innovative ways of visualizing prerecorded voices along a set of specific parameters, enabling researchers to export parameter-related data for quantitative as well as qualitative analysis. How fascinating is that?!

I have put “better” in parentheses here for a reason because there are already quite a number of programs available that do just that.


What you see above is a screenshot I have taken with the free software, Praat (click the link to download). Whit this little tool, one can not only record mono and stereo sounds, one can also load pre-recorded sounds in order to visualize a couple of the kinds of parameters that I’ve listed above. The sound I have chosen for this example is a word, and it’s probably one of the most enigmatic utterances in cinematic history: “Rosebud” from the movie Citizen Kane  (1941). The main character, Charles Foster Kane, utters this word with his last breath, and throughout the movie, audiences ponder not only the meaning of but also Kane’s relationship to the word. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because it’s such a great movie, but what I can reveal is that Kane is fond of what “Rosebud” refers to. Now, moving back to the image, what if there was a way to visualize vocal parameters in such a way as to draw relatively accurate inferences about the emotional quality of different types of utterances.

What we can visualize with Praat, first and foremost, is a waveform in the upper half, and the amplitudes here tell us something about the volume and the emphasis of the utterance. Where things become more interesting, however, is when we look at the lower half of the image. Here, we have access to visualization of certain sound-related parameters such as pitch (marked in blue) and intensity (marked in yellow). Applications like Praat are commonly used in the field of speech therapy.

Current research on sound visualization is trying to capture vocal expression on a quantitative as well as qualitative basis. Here is just one interesting paper on the topic in which the authors are “particularly interested in the paralingual (pich, rate, volume, quality, etc.), phonetic (sound content), and prosodic (rhythm, emphasis, and intonation) qualities of voice” (157): “Sonic Shapes: Visualizing Vocal Expression.”

And this is one of the projects that I’m going to work on this semester. Again, up until a week ago, those questions really hadn’t crossed my mind. But this is what it means to be a SIF fellow at Georgia State, I guess. Not only do you get to start working with a group of very smart people, you are also being confronted with new things, new questions, and new ways of seeing. And if all goes well, you eventually start looking for even newer and more exciting things yourself that you’re eager to share with others.

Speaking of sharing, I want to make it a habit of always ending a post with something worth checking out. So, if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane, yet, then by all means, do so!