For Consulting and Contact Information

For Consulting and Contact Information


If you'd like to contact me, or learn more about my Moodle, e-learning, and Blackboard consulting services, please make a quick trip to my new website at http://williamrice.com.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What are reasonably priced, and professional quality, technology/service options for hosting a real-time seminar? What are the pros/cons? (e.g. join.me, gotomeeting etc)

I just answered a question on Quora.com about the best software for hosting webinars. Quora.com is a question-and-answer website created, edited and organized by its community of users. I answer questions about e-learning, Moodle, and Blackboard.

I'll reproduce the question and answer below.

Question:What are reasonably priced, and professional quality, technology/service options for hosting a real-time seminar? What are the pros/cons? (e.g. join.me, gotomeeting etc)

  • There will be 20-40 remote participants each in a separate location
  • I will be using powerpoint slides and will speak to those slides.
  • I would like to be able to interact with the participants in a controlled way.
  • I have a good broadband connection. I have a webcam.
  • Most if not all remote participants will have a reasonable broadband connection. 

My answer: join.me versus meetingburner.com versus gotomeeting.com, plus Google Hangouts

I have run classes using http://meetingburner.com and http://gotomeeting.com. I have attended a class given on http://join.me. I found that meetingburner had the best balance of features and ease of use.

GotoMeeting has lots of features, but its interface is sometimes confusing for first-time users. Join.me is dead simple to use, but it lacks the ability to record your meeting, and it doesn't integrate with a payment system.

Meetingburner let me record a session, and then download the recording so I have it even if Meetingburner goes out of business. It also has built-in options to quickly share the recording to Youtube. Also, Meetingburner integrates with PayPal so you can charge for your course and the application takes care of the usernames/passwords/payments. These features are with the Pro level, which is $40 per month.

Also, don't forget Google Hangouts. It's free. You can share your screen, record your session, and share files on your Google Drive. Why not convert your PowerPoint presentation to a Google Presentation, and share it during a Hangout? If you require the people in your class to get a Google account, you can add them to your Circles and use G+ to share with them in between sessions.

In sum, I think Meetingburner is the easiest solution, and Google+ is the cheapest solution.  With work, Google+ can provide intriguing possibilities for sharing and keeping in touch with your students.


If you'd like to read the other questions that I've answered on Quora, or just click around the e-learning and Moodle sections, or you can click through to my Quora profile

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Attractive Course Layouts in Moodle

I just answered a question on Quora.com about course formats in Moodle. Quora.com is a question-and-answer website created, edited and organized by its community of users. I answer questions about e-learning, Moodle, and Blackboard.
I'll reproduce the question and answer below.


The question:

How could the Moodle course design framework be made more modern and user friendly?

At the moment the course page design is really awful. There should be many more ways of navigating, creating less linear sequences and the label system should just die, die, die!

And my answer:

I see that some contributors have suggested that you look at other Moodle themes. A Moodle theme will change the layout of the frame that surrounds the course page, but the layout and function of the course page itself is determined by the course format that you select: topics, weekly, social, etc.

Until recently, most of us chose the Topics format. And many of us felt the same as you about the aesthetics of that format.

 In Moodle 2.4, you can add plugins for many other course formats. Collapsible topics, grid, nested sections, and so on. Check out the documentation at Course formats - MoodleDocs. I think you will be pleased with the expanded choice of course formats.

If you'd like to read the other questions that I've answered on Quora, or just click around the e-learning, Blackboard, and Moodle sections, you can click through to my Quora profile

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Does it make sense to use the same product for K-12 (schools) and corporate e-learning environments?

I just answered a question on Quora.com about academic versus corporate learning management systems. Quora.com is a question-and-answer website created, edited and organized by its community of users. I answer questions about e-learning, Moodle, and Blackboard.
I'll reproduce the question and answer below.

The question:

Does it make sense to use the same product for K-12 (schools) and corporate e-learning environments?

The product is an adaptive learning system which will adapt to users learning ability. The product supports multiple roles (student/mentor/admin) I am seeking opinions about the usability, and effectiveness of such a product, in 2 very different environments. The issues I foresee are wrt content, and presentation, but I have limited experience in e-learning, both for K-12, and corporate.

And my answer:

I have helped people use Moodle in both academic and corporate environments. I work for a medical school that is part of a large hospital, so our learning management systems (yes, there are several!) must occasionally work in both a corporate and academic environment.

In your question you ask specifically about differences in the content and presentation of courses, when used in a corporate versus academic environment. In my experience, the types of content that an LMS can handle, the presentation of a course, and the usability of the LMS for students, are the issues that are least affected by the different needs of corporate and academic users.

The issue that most separates academic and corporate users of a learning management system is user and course management. For example, in a corporate environment, we often need to enroll everyone with a given job title into a specific course, and require that they pass that course by a specific date. So the corporate LMS needs to:
  • Pull job titles from your company's human resources system.
  • Assign courses based on job titles.
  • Track due dates for course completion and alert users of past due courses.
These are things that a lot of LMS's developed for academic environments don't do.

On the other hand, in an academic environment, we might need our LMS to establish core competencies (often called "outcomes") that apply to all students, in all grades. We might want to have teachers include those competencies in all of their courses.

For example, we might establish deductive reasoning as a core competency. So the academic LMS needs to:
  • Allow administrators to establish outcomes that apply to all students in the school.
  • Allow teachers to indicate when an activity, test, or assignment is testing or developing that outcome.
  • Report on the progress that individual students, and groups, are making in learning the outcomes.
Learning outcomes that are measured across courses is something that you'll find in academic LMS's. But if you wanted to ensure that everyone in company has a given skill, then in a corporate LMS, you would probably need to make that skill a separate course and run everyone through that one course.

To summarize: once a student is inside a course, the differences between academic and corporate learning management systems usually don't matter to the student. But the managers, administrators, and teachers who run the learning management systems have different needs in academia and the corporate world. So LMS's designed for those different worlds usually have very different features for managing courses, managing users, and reporting on activity.

I hope this helps you to evaluate LMS's for K-12 versus corporate learning environments. Feel free to post any follow up questions that you may have.

If you'd like to read the other questions that I've answered on Quora, or just click around the e-learning and Moodle sections, you can click through to my Quora profile

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Get a free e-book from Packt Publishing


My publisher, packtpub.com, is about to publish their 1,000th title. Packt publishes highly focused, how-to books on technical subjects. This weekend they are celebrating their 1,000th book by giving away free e-books.

Just go to http://packtpub.com, and register to create a free account on their site. Then, when you return to the site on September 28 or 29, you will be able to add any one e-book to your account for free. These e-books are in pdf format, and do not have DRM enabled (so you really do own the book, you're not just "renting" it from the publisher).

Remember, this is only if you visit their site this weekend, September 28 and 29. So hurry over and get your free book!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Surviving a Difficult Presentation: Techniques for Handling a Hostile Audience

If you give enough presentations, there's a good chance that you will someday find yourself the target of an uncooperative or hostile audience member. As in most crises, you're better off if you have a plan to respond. This article contains specific verbal techniques to help you handle uncooperative or hostile audience members during presentations. These techniques are based on my fifteen years in the software training profession.
This article:
  • Describes some difficulties you might experience from a hostile audience member.
  • Presents verbal techniques to overcome those difficulties.
  • Gives you examples of how to apply the techniques.
  • Explains which techniques are appropriate when you are giving a sales presentation, and which are appropriate when you are giving an informative presentation or class.

Class versus Sales Presentations

When teaching a class, you are the authority figure in the room. You set the agenda for the session. And, you determine most of the rules for interaction during the class. This is a very different situation than when you are giving a sales presentation.
During a sales presentation, the customer's highest-ranking audience member is the authority figure in the room. While you may have an agenda and rules for interaction in mind, the client's authority figure has the ability to undermine or change them.
Each situation closes some avenues and opens others. As this document presents each technique, it will make you aware of the unique advantages that each situation gives you.

Difficult Situation 1: A Constant Stream of Questions

One of the most common difficulties that you encounter in public speaking is a barrage of questions from a single or a few audience members. Sometimes the people interrupting the presentation sincerely want answers to their questions. Other times the questioner has a hostile motive.
Usually, a hostile questioner does not want to attack you personally. Instead, the questioner wants to attack the material that you are presenting. This is an important distinction, because the most effective way to attack the material that you are presenting is to draw you off topic into areas that you are not prepared to speak about. Specific techniques for dealing with off-topic questions are covered later in this document. For now, we will cover techniques for dealing with someone who continuously interrupts with on-topic questions. If the questions are off-topic, you may want to use the techniques covered in this section with the ones for off-topic questions.

One-breath Answers

The least confrontational way of dealing with a constant stream of questions is to answer each question as briefly as possible. Limit your answers to one breath in length. And before stating your answer, ask yourself if this material will be covered later in your presentation. If it will be, state only that the material will be covered later. Do not expand on your answer, because additional details will give the constant questioner additional opportunity. After giving your answer, launch directly into the next topic.
Taking time to answer a constant stream of questions may not be your desired solution. However, if the questioner is an authority figure, you might feel obligated to answer the questions. Keeping your answers short minimizes the negative effect of the interruptions.

Set Limits

You can discourage constant interruptions by setting limits on when you will take questions. To avoid being confrontational or authoritarian, state why the limits benefit your audience and ask for their approval.
For example, if you're teaching a class you might say something like, "I'm going to speak about this topic for the next ten minutes. You'll probably think of questions while I'm speaking, but many of them will be answered while I talk. I'd like to address your remaining questions after covering this material. Shall we get started?" If you're giving a sales presentation, you might say something like, "On the previous topic, we had a lot of questions. While I'm talking about this next topic, I'll keep your concerns in mind and try to answer your questions pro-actively. When I've finished, let me know how I've done."
If the questioner interrupts after you've asked them to hold their questions, you may want to escalate by giving a very short answer and then tactfully reminding them to hold their questions. For example, you might say, "Yes, we can produce that kind of report. Stay with me for the next few minutes, and I'll answer the rest of your questions right after this material."

Acknowledge and Delay

You almost never want to ignore a question during a class or sales presentation. Doing so may be taken as a sign of hostility on your part. Even if a question is inappropriate or ill-timed, try to acknowledge it.
If short answers and setting limits has not eliminated interruptions, you can acknowledge a question and delay the answer. For example, in a class you might say, "That's a good question, and it's covered later in the course. Let's finish this topic and move on." During a sales presentation, you might try to get the room to agree to cover the question later. For example, you might say, "Later on, I'm going to go over some material that will answer that question, and several others that you probably have. Do you mind if I wait to answer that?"

Private Discussion

If short answers, setting limits, and acknowledging and delaying questions has not eliminated interruptions, you may want to escalate to a private discussion with the interrupting audience member. If you want to prevent the discussion from taking a confrontational tone, remember a few important points.
First, acknowledge the person's right to have their questions answered. Second, point out any examples of questions the person posed, that were answered later in the presentation. Remind the person that holding their questions until the appropriate time will speed the presentation. Promise to allow time for questions at the end.
Also, acknowledge any questions the person had that were off topic. Ask the person to compile a list of those off-topic questions for you, so that they can be answered outside of the presentation.
Finally, ask the person to agree to "help you" with the presentation by agreeing to these proposals. Remember, the person's problem is probably not with you personally, but with the material you are presenting or some other factor over which you have no control. Asking the person for "help" in speeding the presentation can get that person on your side.

Difficult Situation 2: Off-topic Questions and Discussions

A few off-topic questions from your audience should not be a problem for you. However, if an individual or group has many off-topic questions, this indicates a possible problem. If the off-topic questions are coming from several people, your presentation may be unsuitable for the group. For example, if your presentation is about the hardware required for a new invoice system, and the group has a lot of questions about the software’s capabilities, your presentation may be mismatched to the audience.
If the off-topic questions are coming from one person, then your presentation may be unsuitable for that person or the person may be hostile to your material. A hostile questioner may be trying to make your material look bad because the questioner would benefit from its failure. For example, the questioner may be in charge of an old system that would be replaced with a new system that you are speaking about. Or the questioner may feel threatened by being in your class and learning a new way of performing a job function. Either way, the motivation for a hostile questioner is usually fear, and the technique is usually to draw you off topic.

Ask for Relevance

One technique for dealing with an off-topic question is to ask for its relevance to the current topic. This must be done tactfully, to avoid offending or embarrassing the questioner. For example, saying "I don't see what that question has to do with what we're talking about" may be taken as a criticism. Instead, ask the questioner to "help you understand" the relevance of the question to the current topic. The sooner you can relate the question to the current topic, the sooner you can tell the questioner that the answer is another part of your presentation. You want to be able to say something like, "Okay, I see how that relates to what we're talking about. Stay with me, because your question is covered later in this presentation."

Volunteer a Course Correction

If it has become apparent that your audience has a lot of off-topic questions that you cannot relate to the material at hand, you may want to offer them a "course correction." That is, you may want to offer to change the focus of your presentation.
You must make your offer very specific to avoid promising something that you cannot deliver. For example, saying "It appears that you have a lot of questions about material that's not in this presentation. Would you like to change the focus of the presentation?" is inviting the group to suggest any topic for your new focus. The result might be a request to speak about a topic you are unprepared for.
Keep control of the situation by offering to change the focus to a specific topic that you know well, and that the audience has asked about. For example, you might say, "I had intended to cover the types of documents produced by our product, but I see that you're very interested in the analysis module. Our expert in that field isn't here today, but if you like, we can either schedule a presentation for that person or I can change the focus of this presentation. How do you feel about those options?"
If there is a single or a few authority figures in the group, you may want to call a break and ask those few people if they want to change focus. If you ask the group in general if they want to change focus, and there is an authority figure in the room who disagrees with the group's decision, you may create conflict between that person and the group. It's more tactful to have the conversation with the authority figure in private.

Difficult Situation 3: Confrontational Questions

When dealing with a confrontational question, separate the attitude of the questioner from the content of the question. For example, consider the question “Why do we need to waste our time learning this? The old system works fine and this one is full of bugs.”

Separate Content from Tone and Restate

Separating the tone of this question from its content defuses this question. The tone is challenging. If you respond to the tone,with a challenging or sarcastic response, you decrease your credibility.
However, the content is a legitimate question, and can be rephrased and restated by you in a less confrontational way. For example, you could restate the question like this: "We have a question about what advantages this new system has over the old one, and, what do we do when we encounter bugs in the new system?"
Here are two more examples of a confrontational question or statement defused and restated:
"Why is this class so long? I don't think it should take this long to learn."
becomes
"What is our training plan for this class, and, how do we know our estimate of how long it will take is accurate?"
"This system doesn't work. It doesn't give accurate results."
becomes
"We have a question about the accuracy of our results. How do we interpret them, and what are the limits of their accuracy?"
When faced with a confrontational question or statement, pause and look for the legitimate question contained within the confrontation. Restate this question to the class, and answer it as honestly and completely as you can. The result is an obstacle turned to your advantage.

Address Hostility Privately

If defusing hostile comments does not work, you may need to speak privately with the person. Keep the discussion on the training process, not on their problem. For example, don’t get drawn into defending the requirement that they attend class, or defending the topic that you are teaching. Keep your discussion focused on the fact that they and you are required to be there, and to accomplish a stated learning outcome. State how their hostility endangers that outcome, for them and for the rest of the class.
For example, this statement is defending the information being taught: "I understand that you don't like this new method of doing things, but it will save you time and effort in the long run. I think it's in your best interest to learn it and give it a try." The hostile trainee probably already knows the advantages of the new method or system being taught, because the introduction to your class probably stated those advantages. This knowledge has not prevented the trainee from acting out.
Instead of trying to sell the material to the hostile trainee, focus on the fact that the material is required, and that it is to their advantage to learn it. Also, remember that much hostility is the result of fear. You can soften your message with an offer to help, which may ease the student's fear and decrease the student's hostility: "This information is important to you and the others being able to do their jobs. This method is going to be implemented, and even though you may not like it, you will need to learn and use it. I'm going to do my best to ensure that you leave here able to do that. Let's work together on that."

Expelling a Student or Audience Member

Expelling a student or audience member is the most drastic measure you can take to restore order to a class or presentation. If possible, discuss this with the sponsor of the course or the student's manager before doing it. There's a difference between saying, "I think it would be best if you left for the remainder of the class," and "Your manager and I think it would be best if you left for the remainder of the class." This diverts the responsibility for expelling the student from yourself to the student's manager or other authority figure. Remember, as the trainer you are not paid to be the disciplinarian, you are there to educate.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's published! "Blackboard Essentials for Teachers" book is finally here.

For over six months, I've worked on Blackboard Essentials for Teachers. This is a beginner's guide to the most-used and essential features of the Blackboard LMS.
It also contains a chapter that acts as a quick start guide to using Collaborate, which is Blackboard's live, online meeting and presentation system.
Like my Moodle books, this one tells a story. We start with a tour of a course created in Blackboard. Then, step by step, I show you how to build that course.
Like my Moodle books, I try to tell you not only how to use Blackboard features. I also try to tell you when to use the features, and how to fit them into your teaching strategy.
As far as I know, this is the only book for Blackboard users from a major publisher since 2006.
You can find a detailed outline, and sample chapter, at the publisher's website. The book is available in print and as an unlocked ebook. See it here.

Book Review: "Moodle Gradebook" by Rebecca Barrington


Moodle teachers and administrators have needed a good book on the Moodle Gradebook for a long time. Finally, Rebecca Barrington fulfilled this need with Moodle Gradebook, from Packt Publishing.
As an author, I know that it can be tempting to inflate a book's page count with unneeded text. Thicker books sell for higher prices, which means more money for the author. That's why I appreciate an author who writes a book that presents the information that I need, and then gets out of the way so I can get on with my work. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is a classic example of this kind of user-friendly writing. Rebecca Barrington's Moodle Gradebook is another.
Barrington begins with a tour of the gradebook, including a list of the Moodle activities that can be graded. Many Moodle teachers don't know that forum posts and glossary entries can be graded. Barrington also tells the reader early in the book that you can create custom scales for the gradebook, while avoiding the temptation to go into detail about those custom scales. After Barrington explains the standard numberic and letter scales, she gives us details about custom scales.
Barrington also covers using outcomes, which might be the Gradebook's most underused feature. If you're a corporate user of Moodle, you will be especially interested in using outcomes. That's because and outcome can be measured by several different graded activities. For example, suppose resolving customer complaints is an important skill in your company. Your company might have a speicfic course on that skill, "How to Handle Customer Complaints." Also, that skill might be a part of several courses, such as a topic in "Dealing with Angry Customers" and also a topic in "Routing Calls to the Proper Department." You could create an outcoome for Resolving Customer Complaints, and apply that to graded activities in all three courses. Then, you can track your students' progress for that skill as they progress through your catalog of courses.
Rubrics are also covered. A rubric is an element of a grade. It enables you to separate a grade into individual criteria, and assign a specific number of points to each criteria. Barrington uses the example of a writing assingment, where the word count, number of quotes, and number of elements covered are all critera that are graded.
Barrington covers several kinds of grading reports from both the teacher's and student's point of view. Knowing what the students will see when they look at their invidividual gradebook is very useful for the teacher.
If you want to get more insight into your students' progress, the Moodle Gradebook can be a valuable tool. Barrington's book does a good job of explaining and demonstrating how to make full use of the gradebook. I ensourage you to read the detailed table of contents on Packt's website.