Branding vs. Anonymity

When you decide to take your courses and your presence online, you start developing an online identity and an online persona. Some people don’t mind a public or even branded online identity/persona. In fact, they foster it. Do a Google search on one of my favorite branding and social media gurus, Gary Vaynerchuk, to see someone who has really worked on his brand.

It’s important to have an online presence and an online persona in your online learning environments (often Learning Management Systems like Canvas, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Edmodo, etc.) in order to develop a thriving learning community and feel successful as a student and as a teacher. However, sometimes the tools used in these environments ask you to post outside of the usually password-protected environments (like social networks, blogs, wikis, multimedia tools, etc.). Many people do not feel comfortable with their pictures and real identity being freely available on the web. Thus, it’s a good time to reflect on how public you want your online identity/persona to be. 

I have a pseudonym that I use – desertjul. I’ve been doing online things for a long time so you will see that I have julz, princessjulz, etc. But now, I try to stick with desertjul. This could help me be more private if I wanted to but I have intermingled my real identity with my private identity and have included media of myself all over the place because I teach heavily with these tools and use them as examples to share. So if you want privacy, don’t follow my example! 🙂

Depending on your attitude about the Internet as well as your personal and/or professional needs, we recommend that you consider your online identity. If you want to brand yourself, use your real name. If you have concerns about your privacy on the Internet, consider a pseudo-identity, a way to interact with us and each other online yet remain somewhat anonymous. Or you might be like me and have a combination of branding and pseudonym.

Creating Your Identity

First, ponder a nickname for yourself. It may be that you want to use your actual name or part of your name or none of your name at all. This is the time to figure it out. For example, as noted earlier, I have a couple of identities you’ll see me use – my skype is princessjulz and a common moniker I use as a username is desertjul.

Second, you are also going to want create a password. It should be easy for you to remember yet somewhat complex. I like using a word in Spanish and spelling it backwards, using two unrelated words and adding a character in between that requires the use of the shift key, or using a phrase that I can easily remember but others would not know. Also, consider a password software like 1Password.

Third, if you want to be really invisible, create an email account attached to your pseudo-identity. Gmail is our recommendation. Hopefully, your pseudonym idea hasn’t been used by someone else. This is where you might have to make adjustments to your chosen pseudonym.

Fourth, create an avatar for your online picture. Bitmoji is a fun avatar creator. I have used Voki,  Second Life, and a variety of other avatar, comic, superhero creation tools. This is ever-changing so do your research to see what is timely.


More about avatars –

Finally, how will you remember your sites, username/s, password/s? You need to think about this and discuss ideas with each other and be prepared.

Now, you can use your pseudo or semi-pseudo identity whenever you are asked to post something online or in social media.

Of course, there is a lot more to consider when you go digital with your teaching, learning, and life, so make sure to keep up with what is going on. Topics like digital literacy/citizenship, cybersecurity, ethics & safety, etc. are critical for you to stay on top of.

So, Who Are You Going To Be Online?

Resources for Further Exploration

Key Vocabulary Activity

This vocabulary activity is a model for providing learners with choices to demonstrate their learning of key course concepts. You can use this model for any big concept with your own list of relevant vocabulary.


Write an essay about online learning community using at least 10 of the words below. You can edit the words as needed. For example if a word needs to be plural or changed in tense, etc. For example, collaboration could be collaborate, collaborator, etc. Highlight the words you use with an asterisk. For full points, your essay should include the 10 words, it should be about online learning community, and it should make sense. Feel free to write poetry or a song. If you can figure out how to do a demonstrative dance (there would need to be a Key of some sort), that would be awesome. Feel free to create it on your blog or a wiki page and link to it in this LMS quiz tool.

  • assessment
  • asynchronous
  • avatar
  • collaboration
  • constructivism
  • content
  • cooperation
  • culture
  • engagement
  • ethics
  • facilitate
  • ice-breaker
  • interaction
  • learner
  • master learner
  • motivation
  • presence
  • reflection
  • relationship
  • social
  • synchronous
  • teacher

The Twitter Top 5, PLN 3-Point Reflections, The Great Debate, and Deconstructing Monument Valley: Innovative Activities in Online and Blended Graduate Courses

Julia Parra, New Mexico State University and

Presented at SITE 2016
(see SITE 2016 Proceedings for full paper)


Helping the modern educator navigate the ever changing landscape of learning design and technology is challenging but fun! In this poster/demo presentation, I will share three time-tested and effective activities, The Twitter Top 5, PLN 3-Point Reflections, and The Great Debate. Additionally, I will share a new activity, Deconstructing Monument Valley that I will continue to use because it was so successful in Fall 2015. You will leave this presentation with four new activities that you can modify for your classrooms! Conference participants will receive access to the instructional materials for these activities via Google Docs. Link for this document:

QR Code for this document 🙂

Effective Teaching Strategies in Online and Blended Graduate Courses

These four activities were done as part of coursework in graduate level learning design and technology courses. Many of these graduate students are educators.

The Twitter Top 5

Most of my online and blended courses include a module for getting started with group work where an engaging, low risk group activity promotes the development of collaboration and technology skills along with an in-depth understanding of Twitter as a tool for developing Personal Learning Networks. The Twitter Top 5 is the title for this low risk activity completed by groups. With The Twitter Top 5, student groups explore Twitter Resource, hashtags, professional relevance, and collaboratively complete a virtual worksheet using Google Docs.

Short URL to access Twitter Top 5 Learning Plan:

Short URL to access Twitter Top 5 Worksheet Template:

Personal Learning Network (PLN) 3-Point Reflections

Most of my online and blended courses include the PLN 3-Point Reflections with Resources module. Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) have always existed. At a basic level, a PLN includes the people and the resources that help inform one’s interests and profession. With the PLN 3-Point Reflection, graduate students are given the space to create and reflect on PLNs as a source for personalized, continuous, and just-in-time learning. This is an individual activity that aligns well with The Twitter Top 5. This activity includes, 1) Reflection 1 for pre-assessment, 2) resources and instructions to develop PLN, 3) Reflection 2 for midpoint reflection, and 4) Reflection 3 for final reflection.

Short URL to access full activity instructions:

The Great Debate

The Great Debate is an effective online discussion/forum strategy that I use in one of my 100% online courses but really should use more often! This activity occurs in three parts, 1) taking the position that a course concept is a negative (identifying the cons/barriers/etc., 2) choosing two colleagues negative posts to debate with a positive response, solutions, research to address, etc., and 3) a review of The Great Debate with post that demonstrates reflection and summarization.

Short URL to access full activity instructions:

Deconstructing Monument Valley

I did this activity on a bit of whim because I, personally, enjoyed the game, Monument Valley so much! This was a blended activity that occurred in five parts, 1) 30-60 minutes in class spent individually playing Monument Valley, 2) immediate online discussion forum reflection about the game-playing experience, 3) small group deconstruction and collaboratively created discussion forum response to a set of questions, and 4) we visited the NMSU Game Lab, and 5) learners conducted further individual research and continued the online discussion for 3-4 weeks. I will continue to use it this as an introductory activity when discussing games, game-based learning, gamification in education.

Short URL to access full activity instructions:

A Paper Presentation Submitted and Accepted for NCGE 2015 Conference

Presented August 8, 2015 by:

  • Julia Parra, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Geographic Alliance
  • Karen Thomas-Brown, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Michigan Geographic Alliance

Presentation Description

Dr. Parra and Dr. Thomas-Brown are identifying teaching and learning concepts for the development of an Effective STEM+C Model of Teaching and Learning, currently being referred to as Discover STEM+C. For this paper and presentation, Dr. Parra and Dr. Thomas-Brown will share this model under development along with the grant submissions under development and the Discover STEM curriculum that will be taught in spring 2016 by Dr. Parra. Dr. Parra and Dr. Thomas-Brown hope to engage the participants in a conversation that will improve the model, the course, and any other projects under development.

Link to Slides


  • Julia Parra, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Geographic Alliance
  • Karen Thomas-Brown, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Michigan Geographic Alliance
  • Karin Wiburg, New Mexico State University
  • Brad McClain, XSci Co-Director, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Michael DeMers, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Geographic Alliance
  • Enrico Pontelli, New Mexico State University
  • Rajaa Shindi, Dona Ana Community College

Note from Julia Parra – The Discover STEM+C Model of Teaching and Learning is a project under development. It is, of course, premature to say that this is an effective model, EXCEPT, that it thus far, it has been an effective model for me, and I am compelled to share.

The purpose of this project is to increase access to and ownership of STEM+C knowledge by K-12 teachers as a result of their engagement in challenging, personally meaningful and transformational curriculum of “extraordinary experiences.” The Discover STEM+C project builds on the three areas of promise, 1) the Experiential Science Education Research Collaboration (XSci) STEM-based experiential learning projects and research from the University of Colorado, Boulder, specifically the XNI model that stands on three legs that are specifically oriented to STEM learning – experiential learning, narrative study of lives, and science identity; 2) the existing understanding of computing and computational thinking integrated with STEM-based extraordinary experiences across interdisciplinary content areas, and 3) a focus on Geography as a STEM discipline.


XSci and XNI

The XNI model is from the Experiential Science Education Research Collaboration (XSci) STEM-based experiential learning projects and research from the University of Colorado, Boulder. The XNI model combines three fields of study into an innovative lens for guiding research and practice: (1) Experiential learning theory (educational research); (2) The Narrative study of lives (psychology) and; (3) Identity theory (sociology).

XNI Model

Importantly, this model situates narrative as the mediator between experience and identity as the predominant pathway for meaning making and the establishment of personal relevance to learning, a relatively innovative concept within educational contexts.


For the purposes of this paper presentation, we will focus on experiential learning.

STEM-Based Experiential Learning

The primary pedagogical approach for the Discover STEM+C curriculum is the use of STEM-based experiential learning to develop “extraordinary experiences” for teachers based on the research conducted by the Experiential Science Education Research Collaborative (XSci, n.d.). XSci’s Operational Definition of Experiential Learning is, “[a] transactional learning strategy in which educators and learners co-engage in direct experience and focused reflection, in concert with private personal interpretative processes on the part of the learner, to construct knowledge, develop skills, and contextualize the meaning of the experience.”

A key component for the development of Discover STEM+C curriculum is XSci’s Experiential Learning Variables and Indicators Scale (ELVIS), which is, “ a tool for designing and assessing teaching and learning efforts in terms of their “experiential-ness” and “synthesizes many of the best-known and well-researched models for experiential learning and boils them down into a very practical instrument that includes seven core characteristics of experiential learning: These characteristics include 1) locus of control, 2) physical involvement, 3) intellectual involvement, 4) social & emotional involvement, 5) narrative transport, 6) perceived risk, and 7) embedded reflection” XSci (n.d.).


Computing and Computational Thinking

A major goal of Discover STEM+C is to explore the computing and computational thinking as a strategy for the learning design process of structuring and processing teacher’s learning through extraordinary experiences as well as making computing and computational thinking an integral component of what teachers do as part of the Discover STEM+ extraordinary experiences. Computing as identified by the recent, 2015 NSF STEM+C CFP broadly “refers to the whole set of fundamental concepts and skills that will allow students to creatively apply and adapt computation across a range of application domains, to ‘bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will’ (Briggs & Snyder, 2012).” Of note, this project does not fully reflect a satisfactory role for computing and computational thinking. We are seeking funding for this purpose.

The Role of Geography as a STEM Discipline

The National Science Foundation considers all science and engineering fields supported by that organization to be STEM fields.  Geography is among those disciplines supported by research initiatives of NSF.  Among the more exciting and vital emergent sub-disciplines of Geography is geospatial science, which is essentially a combination of geocomputation, geographic information science, geographic information technologies and geographic information systems applications.  Ultimately it is the culmination of over 2500 years of geographic research encapsulated by the tools and methodologies of modern computer science and driving many of computer science’s more powerful scientific technologies.  These technologies include autonomous vehicles, earth satellite sensing devices, geographic information systems and global positioning systems, and large networks of automated environmental probes to mention just a few.

Among the hallmarks of geography as a science is that it is the only discipline that focuses on the entire earth and all of its physical systems – what once went under the moniker of  “earth system science.” What makes it more relevant today than ever is that it combines the knowledge of the physical earth -(geomorphology, geology, hydrology, oceanography etc), biological (biogeography), and atmospheric conditions (climatology and meteorology)  with human systems of land use and man’s impacts on the earth as well as the controls the earth places on man (human environment) into visual and intractable representations. This makes geography a very timely and relevant science in which to study the development of a sense of scientific competence in students as they incorporate existing knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and computational thinking. Geography as science is immediately relevant.

The crucial tie in this research becomes the audience, the learners themselves. Millennial learners are not technology immigrants, the role of technology in their daily lives is indispensable, hence, rhetoric, why not incorporate more technology into their STEM learning. No only do today’s millennial learners demonstrate high levels of motivation to learn (Dede 2005), their tech-savvy adds another dimension to their learning needs and categorizations of learning styles. Hence, we are developing a model that allows for a wide range of field, and laboratory experiences; reflective experiential co-learning; and reflective engagement and analysis of narratives gleaned from lived experiences provided a holistic and well rounded approach to the development of the learners’ science identity, and in this instance geospatial literacy.

Finally, geospatial science is among the most highly paid and highest demand disciplines in the United States today.  The US Department of Labor estimates an annual growth of nearly 35% and the commercial geospatial sector is doubling every year (  There is a growing demand in homeland security, regulated industries (e.g. utilities, telecommunications, transportation and education) as well as many private enterprises. In the context of this proposal, being able to show the learner that what they are learning has immediate application will enhance their level of enthusiasm to learn science. Geography is an ideal STEM discipline for STEM+C endeavors.

Discover STEM+C Curriculum Project

The aim of the proposed curriculum is to, 1) help teachers advance from a lack of comfort with STEM+C ideas to an ability to develop and share STEM+C content as a result of profound personal STEM+C-based experiential learning, and 2) is for teachers to experience the power of computational thinking and computing for processing and enhancing their STEM experiences.

The curriculum will include a set of activities, computational tools, and outcomes that can be utilized by teachers for their own learning and for designing learning opportunities for their own students.

Participating teachers will use computing devices as a natural part of engaging in Discovery STEM+C. For example, they will

  • use wearable cameras while engaged in challenging STEM+C activities;
  • create videos and edit videos as part of developing a narrative for their newly developing science identity;
  • use GIS devices and software while exploring a range of landscapes including desert, mountainous, and lake terrains;
  • use apps to control Sphero robot balls; and use the web and computation to find answers to their questions.

In addition computational thinking will be used as a basis for understanding their STEM experiences and solving problems suggested by the teachers during and after their experiences.  They will learn to create abstractions  at appropriate levels; collect data to help solve problems and answer geospatial scientific questions; and use editing devices to create simulations and movies about aspects of the geospatial STEM experiences and reflections. Teachers will be able to use CT models such as data-driven analysis and algorithmic thinking to design solutions to problems they have identified in their experiences.

In order to provide an example of the kind of experiential and reflection activities, Dr. Julia Parra, has developed a sample of what a STEM+C teacher professional development intervention might look like.


  • Engage with the Discover STEM+C Pedagogical Models including the app for ELVIS.
  • Explore documentary story-telling strategies and techniques (including the phases of pre-production, production, and post-production as well as narrative construction)
  • Receive Adventure Backpacks, ideally they contain:
    • hat, water, sunscreen, snacks, pens;
    • iPad with rugged case (note for grant – team might need a mobile wifi device added to budget);
    • Field Guide – Notebook with Handouts for concepts including ELVIS, pedagogical models, storyboards for narrative documentary, QR codes for further online resources, etc.;
    • copy of XSci documentary video, Inspire Me! AFRICA;
    • GoPro Hero Camera and accessories;
    • Lego pack for introduction and question/answer activities; and
    • robot kit (Sphero


This lake adventure combines the exciting sport of Stand-Up-Paddleboarding and/or Kayaking (no experience necessary) with STEM+C activities and documentary filmmaking using Go-Pro camera systems. This experience includes an educational cross section of geography, lake and marine ecology, the physics of buoyancy and hydrodynamic design, human-environment interaction in lake environment, documentary filmmaking and STEM+C-related personal narrative, Go-Pro camera operation, and editing software.

Adventurers will:

  • Engage in concept mapping and question asking (use concept mapping for letters in STEM+C to create a set of questions)
  • Prepare for data collection and manipulation
  • Explore the geography of Elephant Butte Lake with maps, satellite imaging-geospatial mapping, and robots
  • Stand-up-paddleboard or kayak on Elephant Butte Lake (this is for the area of Las Cruces, NM)
  • Learn proper safety, equipment, and techniques (balance, turning, strokes, falling, and recovery and including conversations regarding the physics of buoyancy and hydrodynamic design, issues of water, etc.)
  • Explore and respect the lake and marine environment with this low-impact sport (including water sampling and analysis for algal blooms, pH, phosphorous and other trace nutrients)
  • Use a Go-Pro camera system to record experiences
  • Use ELVIS to evaluate the experiential nature of this activity


  • Create Documentary Video (Engage in post-production and narrative construction to edit and share personal documentary shorts in high definition)
  • Engage in post-experience activities to support reflection and the take-aways for personal individualized classroom use.


This curriculum project started as a small idea for a class and grew into a collaborative project – the submission of a grant proposal for NSF STEM+C, currently under review. By sharing this paper at the NCGE 2015 Conference, we hope to share the concepts for this collaborative curriculum project and receive feedback from participants.

References (Full Project References as of August 6, 2015)

Bok, D. (2005). The critical role of trustees in enhancing student learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education,12, 16.

Brickhouse, N. W., Lowery, P., & Schultz, K. (2000). What kind of a girl does science? The construction of school science identities. Journal of research in science teaching, 37(5), 441-458.

Briggs, A., & Snyder, L. (2012). Computer science principles and the CS 10K initiative. ACM Inroads, 3(2), 29-31.

Computer Science Teachers Association & International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). Retrieved from:

Experiential Science Education Research Collaboration (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Hersh, R. H., & Merrow, J. (Eds.). (2005). Declining by degrees: Higher education at risk. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Hunter, A. B., Laursen, S. L., & Seymour, E. (2006). Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students’ cognitive, personal, and professional development. Science Education, 91(1), 36-74.

Itin. (1997). In Experiential Science Education Research Collaboration (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Grossman, T. (2009). Building a High-Quality Education Workforce: A Governor’s Guide to Human Capital Development. Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

Hour of Code. (, 2014).

Kilpatrick, J., Swafford, J., & Findell, B. (2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Kolb, D. A. (1982). Experience, learning, development: The theory of experiential learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2011). Retrieved from:

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics and Science Advisory Panel. U.S. Department of Education.

National Research Council.  (2005). Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

National Research Council. (2010). Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Revisited; Rapidly Approaching Category 5. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Papert, S. (1972). Teaching children thinking. Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 9(5), 245-255.

President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC 2005). Computational Science: Ensuring America’s Competitiveness, Report to the President. National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development, Washington, DC.

Resnick, M. (2012). Reviving Papert’s Dream. Educational Technology, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 42-46.

Resnick, M. (1995). New paradigms for computing, new paradigms for thinking. In Computers and exploratory learning (pp. 31-43). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved April 12, 2015 from

Smith, K. A., Douglas, T. C., & Cox, M. F. (2009). Supportive teaching and learning strategies in STEM education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2009(117), 19-32.

Sphero: SPRK Education Program. (2014, April 15). Retrieved from:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2013). Retrieved from

Thomas, W. P., & Collier, V. P. (2002). A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long-term academic achievement.

United States Department of Labor. (2004). Retrieved from:

Valdez, A., Trujillo, K., & Wiburg, K. (2013). Using technology to support middle-school mathematics instruction: Math Snacks ratio and number line concepts. Journal of Curriculum and Teaching, 2, 154-161.

Van Driel, J. H., Beijaard, D., & Verloop, N. (2001). Professional development and reform in science education: The role of teachers’ practical knowledge. Journal of research in science teaching, 38(2), 137-158.

Vogt, C. M. (2008). Faculty as a critical juncture in student retention and performance in engineering programs. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(1), 27-36.

Weinberg, J. B., Pettibone, J. C., Thomas, S. L., Stephen, M. L., & Stein, C. (2007, June). The impact of robot projects on girls’ attitudes toward science and engineering. In Workshop on Research in Robots for Education.

Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing.philosophical transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717-3725.

Zweben, S., & Bizot, B. (2014). 2013 Taulbee Survey. COMPUTING, 26(5).

Collaboration and group work can be challenging, especially when it is done as part of an online course. I’ve been teaching online and using collaborative group projects since about 2006 and have learned a lot. In 2012/2013 I gathered what I had learned, designed a process, and conducted a small research project with my students to see if this process worked. Here is an chapter excerpt:

“Anecdotally, I knew that providing students in online and blended courses with comprehensive support for successful completion of collaborative group work was important. Based on the survey results and the student presentations provided by every group at the end of the course, the design model discussed in this chapter, the Phases and Scaffolds for Technology and Collaboration (PSTC) online and blended course design model, supports student learning, student success, and student satisfaction.” (Parra, 2013)

Here is the breakdown of the PSTC Model.

Phases, Scaffolds, and Technology for Collaboration Model


(based on

16-week Schedule)



Student Activities Technology & Scaffold Examples
Phase 1


Unit 1

Weeks 1-2


Role Model

Master Learner



1.     Introductions, icebreaker, and/or orientation activities

2.     Develop basic technology toolkits

3.     Prepare for group work

4.     Form groups

5.     Review group work resources

6.     Practice group work communications and tool use

1.     LMS Forum and web conferencing tool

2.     Getting Started Guide

3.     Collaboration Survey

4.     LMS Group Sign-Up process & tools

5.     Group Work Guide

6.     Small group collaboration tools such as Skype & Google Docs

Phase 2


Unit 2

Weeks 3-5


Role Model

Master Learner


1.     Practice group work communications and tool use

2.     Complete a group work form/contract

3.     Complete a fun low risk collaborative group activity to understand group dynamics and practice collaboration skills.

1.     Small group collaboration tools

2.     Group Work and Roles Guide and class template [contract]

3.     Activity guide and class template [activity] with instruction for use of fun emerging technology like Twitter, memes, etc.

Phase 3


Units 3-5

Weeks 6-12





1.     Work on the Group Projects

2.     Submit group artifacts or progress reports

3.     Attend online class meetings or review recordings to discuss relevant topics, group work, Q&A, etc.

1.     Small group collaboration tools

2.     LMS assignment tool

3.     Class chat or web conferencing tool

Phase 4


Units 5-6

Weeks 13-16





1.     Turn in final products (slides, site, documents, etc.)

2.     Practice group presentations

3.     Present group projects in online class meeting

1.     LMS assignment tool

2.     Small group collaboration tool or class web conferencing tool

3.     Class web conferencing tool


Parra, J. (2013). Developing technology and collaborative group work skills: supporting student and group success in online and blended courses. In P. Blessinger  (Ed.), Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6 Part G – Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-Learning Environments: Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Increasingly, group work and collaboration are valued as key strategies for engaging students in online and blended learning environments. There are many online tools available to support students as they engage in group work and collaboration. With so much to choose from, it is helpful to create a basic collaboration toolkit.


I teach both face-to-face and online courses. Of note, my face-to-face courses are also always blended, hybrid and/or HyFlex in nature. I’ll discuss my HyFlex courses in another post. In my courses, I use a variety of learning technologies to support students as they interact and learn. Over time, I have developed my favorite toolkits for teaching and learning. I share my favorites categories and tools with you in this post.

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Learning management systems such as Canvas, BlackBoard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Edmodo, etc. allow for a one-stop shop for students in your online courses. LMSs usually have options for setting up group areas for students to collaborate.

Small group and 1-1 Web Conferencing

Small group and 1-1 web conferencing tools such as Skype and Google Hangout are great tools for synchronous communication and collaboration and support instructor-student communication, 1-1 study partners and small to medium-sized groups meetings. These tools allow for text, audio, and video chat along with other features including screen sharing, file sharing and a variety of other collaboration features. These tools provide mobile options as well.

Large Group and Class Web Conferencing

Large group and class web conferencing tools such as Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate also support synchronous communication and collaboration just on a more robust scale than the small group and 1-1 web conferencing tools. These tools can support full classes, with 100 or more participants and include a variety of features including PowerPoint and other document display, chat, audio, video, application and screen share, whiteboards, breakout rooms, recording, and more. Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate are cross-platform but they are not free. These particular tools provide mobile options as well.

Collaborative Document/Product Creation

Collaborative document and product creation tools such as Google Drive include great tools for collaboratively creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and even movies. For example, using Google Docs is just like using MS Word except that everyone in your group can edit the same document online synchronously, asynchronously, and from any Internet connected computer. A tool like Google Docs along with a web-conferencing tool like Skype or Google Hangout, can support groups or teams to with effective and efficient communication and collaboration as they engage in and complete group-based activities.

Wikis and Blogs

Wiki tools like PbWorks and Wikispaces and blogs like Blogger and WordPress are great tools for group work, collaboration, and collaborative publishing. Wikis are different from Google Docs in that only one person can create or edit at a time. Wikis and blogs are most helpful for group work if a polished end product is required.


Microblogging tools like Yammer and Twitter are fun tools for asynchronous communication and collaboration. Where Twitter is a free and global microblogging tool, Yammer is an organization-focused microblogging tool with free and paid for components. I use Twitter for a low-risk fun activity in the Practicing phase of group work in my PSTC Model. I also advise students on the supportive nature of Twitter for group work. By using the mobile notifications, a group can stay on top of group activities. I have personally experienced this strateg and found it a fun and timely way to accomplish group activities.


There are many other types of tools for group work and collaboration that could be discussed such as group texting, many other blog tools, graphic organizers, and a plethora of mobile apps. However, it is also important to keep things manageable for your learners and yourself. Therefore a strategy of picking a set of tools or a toolkit that is manageable and proven to be effective is recommended.

In my online and blended courses I choose a specific set of online tools to support student group and collaboration. These tools included the LMS Canvas tools; Skype; Adobe Connect; Gmail and Google Drive/Docs; and Twitter. In 2012/2013, I conducted research with my students about online tools for collaboration and they confirmed the usefulness of these tools for student success and collaboration (Parra, 2013).

For lots more great learning technology options, definitely check out the Top 100 Tools for Learning – and see my resource Julz Toolz for all of my faves.


Parra, J. (2013). Developing technology and collaborative group work skills: supporting student and group success in online and blended courses. In P. Blessinger  (Ed.), Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6 Part G – Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-Learning Environments: Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

I am really appreciating the opportunity to attend NSF Day in Lubbock. I find that when I embark on a new challenging path, it’s helpful to immerse myself in the culture and with the people involved. Some concepts involved in support of this include – situated learning, apprenticeship and mentoring, and communities of practice. Want to know more about NSF, definitely check out the site at and use the search bar feature. When I searched for NSF day, I found the events calendar and an option to Get Events Updates by Email. Which then led to a full blown option to select to receive all types of cool stuff.

I hope your day is as informative as mine!

NSF Day Lubbock


Hello Friends & Colleagues, I just want share what I am working on today, the The 1st Annual NewMexicoDLA Conference 2015. To learn more about NewMexicoDLA, check out our website at Here’s our promo blurb 🙂

Attend for FREE! The 1st Annual NewMexicoDLA Conference 2015

We are excited to announce the 1st Annual NewMexicoDLA Conference 2015! The theme of this conference is What’s New in New Mexico in Higher Education with Distance, Online and Blended Learning? Join us as institutions and colleagues from around the state of New Mexico share what is new in the areas of distance, online and blended learning. Additionally, we are asking for presenters to share current challenges and ideas for how NewMexicoDLA might be a support. Note that if you are a NewMexicoDLA member there will be an Annual Membership Meeting so that you can be informed and contribute to the goals and progress of NewMexicoDLA. This first conference will be held 100% online and 100% free! So you can join us from your office, home or even if you are on the road! We hope that you can join us for our 1-day conference on May 20, 2015 starting at 9am MT. Register at If you have questions, you can tweet me, @desertjul.


So it all started as a small guest speaking event with my friend, Dr. Merj B. Hemp, joining my hybrid (students attend face-to-face and online) class, EDLT 581 Emerging Technology Tools & Techniques to discuss her project, Complicated Conversations in the Post 9/11 Era. Dr. Merj has been engaging a variety of people in these Complicated Conversations using YouTube and her small home studio, you can see them on YouTube. She chose to use Google Hangout to broadcast for this guest speaking event and it occurred to her that a Hangout, as a tool for potential global participation, provided the opportunity for reaching beyond just one classroom. Additionally, other things are lining up with some fun announcements Dr. Merj wants to share. So, what was a small event has now become a bit of an EVENT!

So you are all invited!

Please join us as Dr. Merj B. Hemp shares about how she engages and connects different communities in hard conversations that include discussions about our lives in the post-9/11 era as well as the most pressing issues the world is facing today. A young Muslim Arab-American student leader, Yasmin, will join the conversation. And we will also talk a bit about the role of emerging technology in the facilitation and advancement of these continued and important Complicated Conversations.

You can join this event live, tomorrow, Tuesday, March 31, 5-6pm MT, at

and at


I recently posted briefly about my NMGA adventures in Washington, D.C. See