Using Instructional and Interactive Videos for Online Teaching

Instructional Video created as a recorded slideshow using Apple Keynote 

As part of the online French course I teach for NHTI, Concord’s Community College, I provide instructional videos to supplement the students’ assignments. Some videos are designed to elicit “video responses” as a means of giving students the opportunity to practice speaking while interacting with their environment (one involves me showing objects on my desk and asking them to respond in turn with a video showing objects on their own desks). Other videos, like the one I posted above, are meant to guide them in understanding new vocabulary and grammar.

The above video is a particularly successful one that I created to supplement the lesson on reflexive verbs (verbs that express actions one does for oneself). This video clarifies how the verbs themselves are to be conjugated, and also puts them in context with non-reflexive verbs to describe activities that one performs during the day, creating a sort of personal agenda. I also surreptitiously sneaked in a little lesson on how to express time in French, a lesson I think is poorly presented in the textbook I’m using. Again, contextualizing time with daily activities is a great way to have students learn how to understand otherwise confusing syntactical/grammatical structures. The video is also useful to them since it aids them as they write their compositions, and ultimately provides them with the opportunity to use new vocabulary in context.

Thus far, my observation with this video (it’s only the second semester I have used this particular one) is that when students are asked to write a composition describing their daily routine, they are more creative and draw on more cumulative vocabulary than students in semesters before the video was in use. They also seem to have a better understanding of how to conjugate reflexive verbs, which was one of my original goals when I set out to create the video in the first place.

I feel that as a professor who teaches online, it is helpful to build a repository of materials that can be repeatedly added to and drawn upon to create a rich and interactive learning environment for students and faculty alike.


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Macaulay Snapshot 2014 at the New-York Historical Society!

This year our annual Macaulay Honors College/CUNY Snapshot student-curated exhibit of student photos taken on October 11th was on display for one day at the New-York Historical Society.  Here are some of my own snapshots (and one video of a multimedia display) of the event.

Students were asked to take part in a “re-curation” of the exhibit by taking photos of different parts of it while considering these questions:

Imagine you live in the year 2114 and discover this photo exhibit from 100 years ago. What ideas do these photos give about the peculiar lives of New Yorkers in 2014? What were these people from the past trying to say about their lives? Take pictures of photos in the exhibit, treat them as if you are examining them from the future, and caption them with your impressions.

When you’re looking at the other exhibits (Leibovitz, Jerni Collection, etc.) on display, you are looking into the past. Compare what you see in those exhibits to the Snapshot photos using the same criteria: what seems to have changed about life in New York City? What has stayed the same?

What strikes you, a person living in 2114, as particularly different or similar about life in the 21st century (2014)? … about life in the 20th century? … about life in the 19th century?


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John Jay Night at the Museum

I took my students from my Intermediate French 1 course to the Museum of Arts and Design this evening. Their assignment is the following:

  1. What do you know about the work of art? (name of artist, title, etc.)
  2. What do you want to know? (who is the sculpture of? What is the inspiration?  How did the artist create the sculpture or painting?)
  3. What surprises you?  What details do you notice?

They will use the photos that they took from multiple angles and post their reflection of the experience (and of the object) in French (bien-sûr!) on our course website using the Wiki Module in Blackboard.

The students were really enjoying the museum, and the exhibit itself, entitled Out of Hand: Materializing the Post-Digital, made use of 3D printers to render many of the objects, and featured several interactive displays where you could use sound and movement to create your own sculpture!  Really a fascinating evening, and I do hope the students enjoyed it even half as much as I did!

Below are some of the photos I took of them as they perused the exhibit.

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Cutting the Cable in New York City (updated 2014)

Recently, a friend asked me how much I was paying a certain large conglomerate for my cable TV service.  I had one of those “all in one triple play” packages that included phone and internet, and with DVR and HBO I was paying $163/month.  I knew I had to figure a way out of that, especially since I rarely used my land line, anyway, and really only needed the broadband internet connection.  Now, I’m not the kind of person who would give up TV. I seemed to remember from my childhood these contraptions that we called “antennas” that we put on top of our TV sets, in our attics, on our roofs, etc. that would bring in a TV signal for free.  I knew there had to be a way I could cut the cable and still watch clear, crisp, high-def broadcasts.

I am writing this because when I tried to find information about what quirks there are to using indoor antennas and getting a digital/HDTV signal in New York City, I just couldn’t find anybody else who had documented the experience.  May this information help you and set you free!


Getting clear, free, over the air TV broadcasts in New York City

“I’ll cut your heart out, Walter.”

One thing to know: all channels since the digital transition in 2009 broadcast on a set of “subchannels” – Channel 2 is now 2-1, Channel 4 is 4-1, and so on… (a digital flat screen will have the little “-” on its remote control’s keypad).  Some of these channels offer alternative programming, and I was thrilled that 11-2 is Antenna TV and I can watch reruns of All in the Family and Maude! There are also classic 70′s drama reruns on 4.2 Cozi TV, and fun movies on 5.2, Fox’s Movies! channel. (You can get more information and see what channels you can expect to potentially receive by going to Antenna Web and plugging in your address.)

Another thing to know: there really is no such thing as an “HD antenna” per se – if the signal is strong enough, a coat hanger can bring in a perfectly good digital HD signal.  You can, in fact, use your old rabbit ears as long as it has the UHF loop.  One example is this one from RCA that retails between $5 and $10.  If you live in an area with a strong enough signal, it should work.

Basic Rabbit Ears from RCA (with UHF loop)

Again, I live in Midtown Manhattan, on the third floor of a brick building – I’m surrounded by taller buildings and don’t see a lot of open sky.  I attached the cheap RCA antenna to my set, scanned for channels, and lo and behold, I got in Channels 7 and 11 clearly.  Channel 5 was weak, but it did come in.  But nothing else.  I was frustrated, but hopeful.  After trying different kinds of antennas, I splurged on a Clearstream Micron High Gain Indoor TV Antenna from Antennas Direct.

Clearstream Indoor HDTV Antenna

It’s a fairly attractive piece of equipment about the size of an 8×10 picture frame.  I plugged it in, and I got a perfect signal for channels 2, 4, 5, and 9, plus several others between 14 and 69.  But I was frustrated.  Where were channels 7, 11, and 13?  They had a sticker on their antenna that said “call to learn, don’t return.”  So I did.  What I found out was that in New York, some of the broadcast channels (7, 11, and 13) actually broadcast on VHF (which requires the rabbit ears), while the others (2, 4, 5, and 9 and the others above 14) broadcast on UHF (which requires the loop antenna). That explained why one antenna was good for some channels, and why and the other was good for the rest. I have to note that the small loop on the RCA simply wasn’t strong enough to pick up a significant UHF signal where I am, but I do know that it worked for a friend of mine who lives just a few blocks from me, which just demonstrates the fickle nature the signal in New York City despite the fact that we are right near the transmitters; this is probably because the signal gets intercepted by all the buildings.

UHF/VHF Diplexer

The solution for me was to use both of the antennas I had, but how?  Turns out, there is a tiny piece of equipment that is called a UHF/VHF Diplexer that allows you to hook both antennas up to your set.  Once Antennas Direct sent me that one missing piece, I was done.  It’s kind of stunning – you can get a crystal-clear, high-definition signal that looks as good as any cable signal FOR FREE.  Yes, you do have to look at an antenna or two, and yes, you do have to adjust them a little bit for different channels, BUT, you don’t have to have an energy-sucking cable box plugged in 24/7. And did I mention, it’s FREE?

Roku Player

And with the addition of Netflix and Hulu Plus streaming via a Roku player you can still enjoy movies or watch current episodes of a lot of TV shows on demand for a fraction of the cable price.  Seriously, cable has gotten more and more expensive over the years, but they did it bit by bit so we barely noticed it until we were writing checks that were as high as $163 every month.  And whereas some of the features that they are able to provide us (caller ID on the TV, remote DVR programming) are really cool and useful, I have to remind myself that their level of “cool” wasn’t really worth what I was paying every month. So I’m saving $100/month having gotten rid of cable and phone service, and now I don’t have to see crap like Tia and Tamara and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Yeah, I’ll miss Food Network and HGTV, but I can stream, can’t I…???


Mohu Curve 30 Indoor Antenna

Mohu Curve 30 Indoor Antenna (the “30″ refers to “30 miles” – A “60″ is available with an amplifier if you’re further away from the signal)

I recently purchased the Mohu Curve 30 indoor antenna, and I no longer need to use two antennas attached with a diplexer!  I love the Mohu, and I even have it situated away from the window on a console table.  So I throw my endorsement that way, as well.  (For some of you, their original Mohu Leaf might also work, but the Curve works better for me.)

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A Night at the Museum

Students milling about in the Beaux Arts Pavillion of the Brooklyn Museum

Students milling about in the Beaux Arts
Pavillion of the Brooklyn Museum

Tonight was our inimitable Macaulay Night at the Brooklyn Museum.  The event went smoothly after a tremendous amount of preparation.  About 550 Macaulay first-year students descended on the Brooklyn Museum for a private event where, armed with recorders, the students documented their conversations about the works of art they viewed (we had previously trained them in the SmartHistory methods of how to look at and discuss a work of art they are unfamiliar with – more details can be found on my Events and Other Projects page). To the left I included a snapshot I took of a large group the students convening in the corridors that surround the Beaux Arts Pavillion, and below is the Brochure we distribute to them (that I helped to design) that includes a background of the museum, guidelines for the project, as well as tear-out pages to keep track of group members and recorder numbers, in addition to room for notes.  Later, the students will reconvene at Macaulay for a series of Media Arts workshops where they will create SmartHistory style videos based on the work they did this evening. In all, it was a huge success and I cannot wait to see and hear the students’ projects!

Download (PDF, 3.42MB)

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Today it was my supreme pleasure to receive my PhD (officially!) from the CUNY Graduate Center!  The Commencement Exercises took place at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, along with several colleagues from the PhD Program in French at the GC, as well as other colleagues from Macaulay.  The student speaker was Gregory Donovan from the PhD Program in Environmental Psychology, who spoke brilliantly about what it is to be a scholar.  The best part for me, though, was that in attendance were my sister, mother, niece, nephew, and several friends.  Afterward my brother gave me a gorgeously framed giclé of Carl Köhler’s André Gide (pictured below).  I’m absolutely thrilled (and might I say, proud)!

Carl Köhler's André Gide

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Two Interesting Birthdays

I have a couple of Facebook friends who frequently repost literature-related birthday announcements from the Writer’s Almanac and decided I would follow suit today since there are two French Lit related postings.

The first is Molière. My soft spot for him comes from the fact that I enjoy using a small piece of Le Malade imaginaire with my French students when we are doing a chapter on health and fitness, in which they learn vocabulary of the body, of exercising, and of various diseases (and they learn to say “Professeur, j’ai la grippe!”).  I’m grateful to Molière for the ability to actually make them laugh as they begin to comprehend snippets of dialogue between Argan and Toinette.  Joyeux anniversaire, M. Poquelin!

The French playwright Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (books by this author), was baptized in Paris on this date (1622). Known as the father of French comedic theater, Molière wrote The School for Wives (1662), Tartuffe (1664), and The Misanthrope (1666). Although he poked fun at the peasant and bourgeois classes, he was careful to leave the church and the monarchy alone; as a result, he never ran into trouble, he was a favorite of Louis XIV, and he always had work. He collapsed onstage during a performance in 1673; he finished the performance, but died of tuberculosis later that night. Because was no priest around to administer the Last Rites, he couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground. After his widow appealed to the king, Molière was buried in the section of the cemetery reserved for unbaptized babies.

Molière, who said, “All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.”

The second is Marie Duplessis.  Now, she is not someone I ever really heard of.  I figured as I began reading that she was like any other “courtesan” and her story started to remind me a little of Zola’s insufferable (sorry, there’s no other word for it) Nana (Lord I hated that book!). But for Duplessis, it’s the Dumas Fils connection that I found most compelling.  Ah, Violetta, Un di felice, indeed…

It’s the birthday of French courtesan Marie Duplessis, born Alphonsine Plessis in Normandy (1824). She was a beautiful young woman: petite, dark-haired, and slim. She was working as a laundress at the age of 13 when her father decided that prostitution paid better. He sent her to live with a rich and elderly bachelor in exchange for cash. After a year, she went to live with cousins in Paris. For a time, she was kept by a restaurant owner, who gave her a place to live in exchange for her favors. It wasn’t long before she set her sights higher. She learned to read and write, and she studied a wide variety of subjects so that she could hold her own in any social situation. She started appearing at places where the rich and powerful were likely to be, and she attracted lots of attention.

She suspected she had tuberculosis when she developed a cough that only got worse. She was treated with everything from spa cures to strychnine to hypnotism. And through it all, she kept dressing up and holding salons and going to the opera. Having grown up in poverty, she couldn’t get enough of luxury. Noblemen from all over Europe would call on her whenever they were in Paris, and they brought her expensive trinkets, which she sometimes pawned to support herself between lovers.

She began an affair with Alexandre Dumas the younger when they were both 20 years old. He was a struggling writer, and he wasn’t able to give her lavish gifts like her other lovers. He kept her with him out in the country for a while, for the sake of her health, but she missed the lively Paris scene and went back to the city after a year. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore, and broke it off with her, writing in a letter, “I am neither rich enough to love you as I could wish nor poor enough to be loved as you wish.”

Duplessis never answered Dumas’s letter. She was too ill, and she had begun an affair with the composer and pianist Franz Liszt. She wanted Liszt to bring her along on his concert tour, but he was afraid he would catch tuberculosis from her, so he left her behind. He promised to take her to Turkey one day, but he never saw her again. After she died at the age of 23, Liszt regretted not coming to her bedside, and said: “She had a great deal of heart, a great liveliness of spirit and I consider her unique of her kind. [...] She was the most complete incarnation of womankind that has ever existed.”

Four months after Duplessis’s death, Dumas published his novel The Lady of the Camellias (1848). It’s the story of a courtesan named Marguerite Gautier, based on Duplessis. She breaks the heart of her lover — Armand Duval — to spare him from ruin. Dumas wrote it in four weeks. It was later made into a play, which in turn inspired Verdi’s opera La Traviata (1853).

Quotations from: “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.” RSS. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.

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Before December 21, 2012: End of the Apocalypse Course

Apocalypse 2012“The notion of a collective death or rapture can be very attractive to those who live a very solitary life. The protagonist of my film lives by herself, she has alienated her family, and she keeps her neighbors out by triple bolting her door. She is able to find solace through her church where her Pastor preaches that those who love God will be raptured collectively. The predicted day is December 12th, 2012 at noon ( The protagonist has a dream the day of the expected apocalypse and is certain the Pastor’s prediction is correct. However, when she calls the Pastor in preparation to come to the church, he unexpectedly insists on the solitude of the rapture for unexplained reasons. This film shows the behavior of the protagonist in her inner fight between certainty and doubt.”

The above quotation is by student Colby Minifie, introducing her creative film project, “A Solitary Apocalypse,” for the cross-campus seminar Apocalypse: Before and After, taught by Professor Lee Quinby with me as the instructional technology fellow.  The course follows a similar format to other courses that Dr. Quinby has taught, relying heavily on weekly blog posts by students to reflect the readings that address Apocalyptic narratives from a critical and creative standpoint. The sophistication of students’ written analyses and the level of their discussions in class rivals any graduate course. Although I’m not normally inclined to highlight one particular student’s project, I was astounded by the work that she did on this film.  Although it was shot on a high-quality camera, the movie itself was edited in iMovie. I believe this is one of the best examples of what students are able to accomplish when given support by the university in the form of instructional technologists (whose job it is to conceive of projects that support faculty learning goals and help students as they execute them) and the equipment (video cameras, computers to accomplish these projects). Macaulay’s unique approach to instructional tech increases the digital literacies of its students at the same time excellent professors increase traditional literacies of reading and writing.

I do urge you to take a look at Colby’s film, as well as peruse the other projects and blog posts that were created by this exceptional group of students.

A Solitary Apocalypse from Colby Minifie on Vimeo.

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Snapshot 2012

On October 11th, the members of the Macaulay Honors College freshmen class each took a photograph that would capture for them some aspect of New York City. Their photos were uploaded to a gallery – http://macaulay.cuny.edu/gallery/index.php/snapshot-2012 - and a group of student curators, under the mentorship of artist and professor Corey D’Augustine, came together to create an exhibit of these photographs at Macaulay.

The freshmen class came to Macaulay on December 2 to view the exhibit (of which they themselves were the artists), and armed with video cameras, still cameras, and voice recorders, they explored the exhibit. The assignment was to re-curate the exhibit it by using selected images to tell a story, and to created a multimedia presentation of their vision. With the assistance of their Instructional Technology Fellows, they used a variety of tools to create their projects: Vuvox, iMovie, Prezi, and Voicethread to name a few.

My role was to coordinate the event, from setting up the online gallery so 500 students could upload their images, to arranging for the technological needs of the curatorial team, to conceiving the shape of the multimedia projects that the students were to create.  I also worked closely with Macaulay ITFs with the technologies that students were going to use and arranged for coverage and support.  The day was a huge success, as is usually the case given the caliber of my colleagues and students, and the projects showed a level of creativity and investment on the part of the students that made me proud of what I do.

Snapshot 2012 Project Website

Snapshot 2012 Project Website: http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/snapshot2012

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