Working from home during COVID-19 means we need a decent computer. Unfortunately, with the economic uncertainty that the pandemic has brought, it’s not so easy to plunk down $1500 or more for a new laptop. The good news is that our laptops are lasting longer than ever.
I recently upgraded to a beefier MacBook Pro 16″, since I use my laptop for work, graphics, audio production and programming. Thankfully, my old 2013 13″ MacBook Pro is no slouch (see specs at bottom) and I got the battery replaced early last year. My wife showed interest since she has an older, slower version of the same computer. For Mac users, there are built-in tools, as well as some tricks, that can help you migrate data between computers. Here are some strategies for migrating the data and getting your computer organized.
The term ‘alternate delivery’ has become common among Canadian (and American) universities that are shifting to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators in colleges and K-12 are scrambling and I feel for them. Online teaching isn’t an easy thing to do, and my colleagues out there are doing their best to learn the technology.
As a librarian, my world is a little bit different. Since I’m trying out new things myself, I decided to create a series on this website about what I’ve done to teach online (including creation of resources for asynchronous delivery), technology and edtech tools I use for instruction generally, my productivity strategy for working at home, etc. I don’t have his series all planned out, but I’ll post things as they come to me. And, what better way to start than with an example of how I spent a weekend transitioning a face-to-face library session to an online module.
For this example, I’m using a General Education session I teach every semester with a colleague. This is an English course, and students have to write a persuasive essay on how an aspect of society is changing or has changed the English language. Students are given a list of possible research questions to answer, but they do have the opportunity to develop their own as well. For my face-to-face session, the objectives would be to have students 1) create a mind mind for their research question and brainstorm search terms 2) find a handful of preliminary (or background) sources and 3) get started finding academic research. I give students a template for how to document their search, the goal being to develop good research organization skills early in their program.
I kept my library guide simple.I focused on designing content as if the course was asynchronous. Why not just do the whole session live over video conference? The advantage of online is the opportunity to re-watch content, and I wanted a guide students could return to. Students have enough on their plate right now.
The guide is divided into the following steps
Developing your search strategy
For steps one through three, I developed some screencasts illustrated what I wanted them to do. I’ve put links to the videos below.
These videos were done quickly, which is what instructors scrambling to switch to online delivery will be doing. I worked in education technology and instructional design prior to being a librarian, so I can tell you that the quality could be better. I remember spending many hours with instructors to develop slick PowerPoint, scripts, and animations for recorded lectures. We used to use green screens and special cameras. Not this time around…
That being said screen casting short videos is easy to do and can be effective. For most of these screencasts I used my Mac with Quicktime to record the audio and video. Quicktime is built into your Mac, and it records at high quality. There’s also a Windows alternative – the Xbox Game Bar app. There’s lots of way to do audio over PowerPoint, though in my experience the audio quality can be poor so I’d recommend against it.
For the second video, I wanted to recreate what I would have shown using a whiteboard. There are many digital whiteboard apps that allow you to draw out concepts easily. These apps work best with a device that has stylus support – such as the iPad, Samsung tablets, Microsoft’s Surface devices, etc. For this video I used an app called Explain Everything which has a huge toolset for teachers. You can record whatever you do on the screen. This allowed me to take a sample research question and create a mind map. Again, the goal is to get students brainstorming what they know about the topic. This app is pretty specialized. Microsoft Office (PowerPoint, Word, and OneNote) has really good pen support as well and it’s cross platform.
The search strategy videos covered how to find background resources using CREDO Reference, our library’s discovery system and Google Scholar. It’s pretty basic, but unlike an in-person session students can watch these again to reinforce the skills. I think the time spent by the instructor recording important skills or concepts is valuable, even for face-to-face courses. Videos should be five minutes or less ideally. I broke that rule here, but the goal was to get this done quickly.
Virtual library session
I held live library classes over video conference, but I didn’t use it to recreate the classroom experience exactly. With the help of my faculty colleague, we gave students pre-library session homework. Students were instructed to read the assignment, read through the library guide and watch the videos. The virtual library session provided an overview of how to use the guide and tackle the assignment, but the majority was allocated to discussion and answering questions.
Just like a guided reading, students were given direction on what to do before the virtual class. This is key. Both sections were excellent – with students using either their device microphones or chat to ask questions. My faculty colleague was also on the session, so it was very much a team effort. We all met over Google Meet (our campus solution) and it worked well with little lag.
What I learned
Though I have some experience with instructional design and developing online content for other instructors, it’s not what I do on a daily basis (apart from my library guides). Creating good multimedia content is an art. This experience was a good refresher and I (re)learned a few things.
Videos don’t have to be perfect. As you get better with the production value things will improve. Structuring the content clearly and keeping the videos relatively brief is key.
Don’t try and recreate the classroom. Online is different so I’d recommend leaning into this. The advantage is that students can rewatch, so use ‘class time’ for discussion.
Before a virtual library session, give some homework. Even if the task is ‘watch the videos’ that’s enough to get people’s minds working. The process is similar to giving students guiding questions for readings.
I hope this is somewhat useful for folks. If anyone wants more details on how I used apps the aforementioned apps, or if you want recommendations for other tools, give me a shout.
I’ve been using a Raspberry Pi as my media centre PC for about four years. I like the idea of having a computer hooked up to my TV for playing local media. For Netflix, I use my (now ‘obsolete’) Wii U.
Previously, I had a dedicated media server (running Open Media Vault). The Pi was a ‘front end’ of sorts for that server and it ran OpenELEC (a Pi variant of Kodi).
Unfortunately, I had to change this long-standing setup. The server bit the dust – likely an electronic short. This new setup is a less complicated replacement and kind of an experiment to see if I can function without the dedicated server. Also, OpenELEC, as a platform, has fallen out of favour so I’m using Open Source Media Centre (a fork of the ELEC) which has a slicker interface and better support.
The hard drive, which is designed for network-attached storage, has been put into a nice enclosure which doesn’t require any tools. This allows me to swap out the storage easily (say if the drive dies). The drive is formatted to exFAT so I can write to the disk using Windows or macOS.
The nice thing about this setup is how easy it was. Both the Pi and drive/enclosure have external power. To make them talk to each other, you just plug the drive into one of the Pi’s USB ports. Done.
When it’s all hooked up for the first time, it’s a little messy. Plugged into the Pi, is an ethernet cable (highly recommended over wireless), the keyboard/mouse dongle, and USB cable for the drive. For this Pi, I bought a power supply that has an on/off switch. I highly recommend this, as it allows you to setup your hardware without automatically starting up the Pi.
When you boot OSMC for the first time you’ll get a blue screen (of life?) with the operating system logo.
To make this hardware setup more visually attractive, I put both the Pi and drive behind my DVD player. In the dark, all you can really see is the blue and red lights.
The interface is very intuitive and I recommend using the Kodi interface Estuary. There are lots of add-ons for OSMC for YouTube, TWiT, Food Network, etc.
Connecting over the network
Once you have the hardware hooked up, it’s pretty simple to connect to OSMC over the network using SAMBA. From my Mac, I can see the Pi and the external drive from the Finder. This is a great feature because it allows you to transfer new files to the Pi over your local network.