#astd2013, Hijacking technology to increase participant engagement with @larrystraining

It is always a pleasure to sit in on Larry Straining‘s presentations. He puts a lot of time and energy into making the presentations unique and informative; this presentation was no different. He began by encouraging us to tweet to #tu314 during the class. 

Straining pointed out that students are already bring the technology into the class. What we needed to do was change focus from external tasks to in class tasks. During the presentation, he focused on five tools commonly used that could be used in the classroom:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. QR Code
  4. Foursquare
  5. Pinterest

Although, having nothing to do with technology, I really enjoyed his use of spider graphs or radar charts to assess participant tool usage . Basically, he had us plot out our usage of the various tools on one of these graphs and reassessed our positions at the end of the workshop. At least, I think he did; I had to depart early from the presentation.


Straining started his talk on tools by focusing on Twitter. He began by discussing the Twitter backchannel. A backchannel is a way to follow a conversation relevant to a specific topic. Often the topics are filtered through the use of a hashtag or other keyword.

In the case that Twitter is being used in a classroom setting, participants can be grouped by pairing Twitter users with non-users so that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Twitter does not require a smartphone, it can be used on a feature cellphone by using the 40404 number. Twitter can also be used on computers. 

Twitter can be used prior to a session as a means to assess skill level and set expectations. During a session, it can be used to poll participants, assess understanding, and receive instant feedback. Twitter can also be used post session to continue the conversation and follow-up on questions.

Straining conducted a novel exercise to demonstrate the amount of information received on Twitter and the importance of filtering. He had all participants (over 100) stand up and simultaneously begin telling him about themselves… pure chaos. And then, through questions about a hobby, he was able to filter down the participants until he was able to listen to only one or two people. In this way, he was able to better follow the stream of information. He pointed out that a hashtag was used as:

  • identifier
  • filtering
  • sorting
  • reference
  • searching

Straining also showed off some tools to get the most out of Twitter. Again, SAP Web 2.0 was used to engage with the backchannel. He also demonstrated

He recommends using Alt-Tab to switch between presentation and Twitter tool while giving a presentation.

Here are some final thoughts on using Twitter in the classroom. First of all, Straining believes a backchannel is useful for a course or presentation. During virtual sessions, he recommended a facilitator monitor the backchannel thus freeing up the presenter. Finally, he pointed out that you archive the backchannel for later follow up.


Straining moved on to Facebook, LinkedIn groups, Google+ and similar tools as a way to organize student activity and build community.

QR Codes

The last section I had time for was QR codes. Straining pointed out that if students have a cellphone with a camera, they then have ability to use QR codes. Naturally, a QR code reader has to be installed.

When creating QR codes, he recommended using bit.ly to shorten the URL which results in more easily decoded QR codes. Also, test QR codes on different devices and with different QR code readers.

Straining has a wealth of ideas for using QR codes. He quickly recommended using them to link to surveys, quizzes, reviews, polls, videos, how to videos, lectures, guests, etc. You can also use them to distribute lecture notes, copies of presentations, reading material, source data, etc.

You can get more ideas from his book, Learniappe: 111 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes.

Unfortunately, this is where I had to leave. This was another enjoyable and informative presentation from Larry Straining.

Great Organizations are Constantly Learning and Improving

Time to re-inventI would like to challenge you this new year to learn something new to improve your craft and organization. Two often, we become comfortable with what has worked for us in the past, and we are hesitant to try something new. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid what others think of us when we try and fail.

Great organizations become great organizations because the learn and adapt to an ever changing environment. There are many organizations and programs that failed to adapt and as a result are now extinct. Here is a list of good stores that never adapted quickly enough. These stores failed because they were content to doing it the same way.

I am interested in education. I am interested in my personal education, informal education, corporate education, extension education, higher education, non-profit education, adult education, technology in education, etc. What is fascinating is the more I read about education and learning, and the more I am involved in education and learning, the more disconnection I am finding. Dewey, Lindeman, Knowles, and others have been admonishing educators for over 80 years that the lecture method is not the best method for instruction, yet, it is the most common method in our schools today. We need to listen to their advice and make changes.

There are three areas I would like you to look at when you look for something new to try: subject matter improvement, instruction methods improvement, technology implementation improvement. As an educator, these are the three areas I consider most important. Presently, I am looking at it from the vantage point of extension.  Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

  • Stay abreast of changes in your field of study by subscribing to or creating a Paper.li newsletter. More.
  • Reflect on what you learn using a blog or podcast.
  • Improve support to your courses with performance support and job aids. More.
  • Make your course more engaging by flipping your instruction. More.
  • Use QR Codes to enrich your physical documents. More.
  • Use tools like Evernote, Diigo, Zotero, and Dropbox to become more organized in your research. More.
  • Read a book on improving your instruction.
  • Read a book on implementing new technology.
  • Teach a class in a way that you never have before.
  • Let others know what you are reading and why. More.
  • Keep an eye out for what others are doing well and benchmark the ideas. More.
  • Add fun and engagement to your class through gamification. More.
  • Improve your operations by creating a checklist. More.
  • Make time for learning, attend a Webinar, read a book, explore a program, just do it.

One of the most frustrating things I face is when people dismiss something on hearsay instead of investigating it for themselves. I challenge you to honestly explore new methods, techniques, and technologies for yourself before dismissing them, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Make a commitment to yourself this new year to go out and learn something new. Try something new in your classes, your students will appreciate it, especially if you are not lecturing.

Extending Extension with QR Codes

Skrabut's QR Code
A QR code linking to Skrabut's LinkedIn account.

Recently, I have seen posts focusing on quick response (QR) codes. QR codes link the physical world to the virtual world. In case, you have not seen one, I included one as part of this post.

A QR code is essentially a bar code that when scanned and decoded will typically link to a Web site, providing a user with more information about a topic.

QR codes do not only link to Web sites, they can also be created to provide text information. QR Codes can store up to 4,000 characters of information using the correct QR Code generator. I recommend http://qrcode.kaywa.com and http://www.qrstuff.com/.

To scan QR codes, you will need a device to read and decode the QR codes. I recently created a learning guide focusing on QR codes, I recommend it as source to get started.

What I am really interested in is how Cooperative Extension could benefit from QR codes. As I was starting to understand what QR codes do, a number of possibilities came to mind. I would like to share those ideas. Remember, the idea is to link the physical world with the virtual world as easily as possible. You could certainly provide a URL, and I recommend that you still do, however, a QR code makes it more convenient for the user.

Ideas for using QR Codes in Extension

  • Include QR codes in publications linking to videos or Web sites with more information.
  • Add them to recipes to show processes. This would be beneficial for individuals who struggle with the language.
  • 4-H exhibitors could use them to link back to Web sites and videos showing how they progressed over time.
  • Include them in 4-H learning guides to demonstrate processes.
  • Place them on Welcome signs to link back to more informative Web sites.
  • Add them on your business cards to connect back to your LinkedIn profile.
  • Add them to merchandise to pull them back to the Extension Web site.
  • Place them on signs in fields where research is taking place so a learner can get more information.
  • Conference IDs can have QR codes to provide more information about a participant.
  • QR Codes can provide scannable links to equipment instructions.
  • Use QR Codes to promote events, again tying back to Web pages, videos, or text.
  • Color code your QR codes to identify different types of material, e.g., green could mean 4-H or horticulture.
  • Create virtual tours of areas of interest, each QR code gives directions to the next location.
  • Add them to plant identification tags.
  • With QR Codes, you could link to a Google map you created.
  • Use QR codes to highlight nomenclature of an item.
  • Create an interactive book.
  • Include them in your presentation slides, to link back to additional material.
  • Include QR Codes on posters, brochures, etc. back to your Web site, Facebook fan pages, Twitter feed, Youtube site, etc.

This a great little video that shows examples of how a school uses QR codes to facilitate learning: Black & White and Scanned All Over

Comment below with ideas where you see QR Codes can be used in Extension.