UW Bothell Learning Technologies Blog Rotating Header Image

Interactive Media

Engaging Students to Learn Through zyBooks

Textbooks can often be long and boring to read, making it difficult to keep students engaged. Now there’s a new web platform ‘zyBooks’ that creates a new way to learn from textbooks. ZyBooks mixes learning activities such as question sets and animations with written content. ZyBooks wants professors to use the web-based platform as a new way to help students engage with course material along with helping students perform better.

Students oftentimes have to reread passages in textbooks to actually understand the content. Frank Vahis, the founder of zyBooks in 2012, wanted to create a platform where students could retain more information while giving students an alternative to the wall of text traditional textbooks have. Vahis explains that the company wanted to avoid having “book” in the products name because the word would inaccurately describe what they were trying to do, however eventually they did keep it. Yes, digital textbooks are hardly a new idea, but the ‘next step’ Vahis argues is for textbooks to provide engaging material that helps students collaborate with other classmates while assisting students retain more information. A study done on students using the platform found that students tended to perform better on quizzes and other actives. Students also reported that they felt more engaged with course material when using zyBook products than using a regular textbook. The product also provides professors with a tool to track students’ progress in the course.

Currently, professors in 250 universities, primarily in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses, are using zyBooks. Not to mention that zyBooks products cost $48 each, which is cheaper than the average cost of a new textbook. Originally the platform was intended to focus on courses such as computer science and other STEM fields, but now the group hopes to move onto other topics, such as finance, accounting, and sociology.

For more information on this topic click here.

Evaluating Web Page Accessibility

This month is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, which is a federal legislation designed “to [eliminate] discrimination against people with disabilities.” Often times students with disabilities can be left out of online curriculum, which is why it is important to evaluate if your webpage is accessible. In an a recent article George Williams discussed how you can evaluate your webpage for accessibility, he noted the best way to engage in accessibility testing is with actual people. However there are also a number of helpful tools that can automatically check your site for the most important accessibility issues:

  • Wave Toolbar
    WAVE can help you evaluate the accessibility of your web content. WAVE is easy to use, you simply enter the web page address or browse to a file on your computer and select WAVE this page. WAVE will then provide you with a report section at the top of your page with embedded icons and error indicators. RED icons indicate accessibility errors and GREEN icons indicate accessibility features.
  • HTML_CodeSniffer
    HTML_CodeSniffer Is a client-side JavaScript application that checks an HTML document or source code for violations of a defined coding standard. It can be extended by developers to enforce custom coding standards by creating your own “sniffs”. This bookmarklet can work with almost any browser.
  • Tota11y
    Tota11y helps visualize how your site performs with assistive technologies. Testing for accessibility is often tedious and confusing, but tota11y aims to reduce this barrier by helping visualize accessibility violations. Your file will have a small button in the bottom of your corner document, once you click on the button you are able to see the accessibility problems your web page may have.
  • Pa11y
    Allows you to check the accessibility of web pages your own or others. If you are more interested in fixing issues rather than hunting them down you can use pa11y-dashboard.

You can also look at W3C web accessibility evaluation tools list. Over 40 tools listed are software programs or online services that can help determine if the webpage is accessible. All these tools will help evaluate webpage accessibility to ensure everyone can enjoy your webpage.

Create A Better Learning Space

Providing a well-rounded learning space is not always the easiest task, and can be difficult based on the class size as well. Luckily there is a way to deal with such obstacles. In an article on Campus Technology we find out how multiple types of tests, taken by Purdue University, worked and brought in new ways to improve the learning space of their students. To provide a better experience for everybody, the university had to lay out specific requirements for the new physical space, such as: soundproofing, acoustic panels and ceiling mics.

To create a better learning space, Purdue University had to take into consideration the different needs of students taking classes online. In order to turn lectures around quickly for the use of online learners, “Telestream” was applied to do the encoding, which allowed the school to provide recordings to its students within 20 minutes from the time the lecture was finished. The encoding would capture the lecture and place it into one big file. It was then compressed down into a MPEG-4 file that could be uploaded onto a Web server.

This was a great way to improve the experience for students who were taking the class online, but more changes had to be made to take effect on those who physically attended. It was for them that the monitors were removed from the desks in order to design a more interactive classroom layout. Mobile tables and chairs were also added to provide maximum flexibility for the professors and students. For bigger classrooms, containing 75 students, 90 inch screen tv’s were placed on the wall allowing the students to view anything that the professor would display or demonstrate.

The rooms were all designed to function in two distinct modes: the first is the”Presentation mode,” this meant that the equipment in the room was not in use for  lectures being recorded; the second is “production mode,” an operation intended to capture the class. These two modes could easily be switched between one another with one single button. Though as nice and as flawless as this may sound, there were some challenges the University happened to come across. To see what challenges were faced and how they were handled click the link above.

Gaming In Education

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 4.50.25 PM

Educational video games have become a hot topic for several years now. Barry J. Fishman, a professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, has borrowed elements of gaming to develop GameCraft, a learning-management system that lets instructors organize their courses in a ‘gameful’ way.

GameCraft provides students with many assignments to choose from, so any student who does poorly on one can find plenty of tasks to redeem themselves. GameCraft treats unsuccessful assignments not as failures but as learning experiences.The ‘grade predictor’ helps students figure out what they need to do to reach the classroom goals they set for themselves.

Giving students the freedom to decide which assignments to complete and when to complete them can be difficult for the instructor and students to keep track of. This is why Mr. Fishman created GameCraft to help professors organize their course. GameCraft provides an engaging way to pass the class by allowing students to independently map the course work they want to complete. In order to unlock more assignments, students have to complete certain assignments to move forward, similar to passing levels in video games. Mr. Fishman has noticed that students are more engaged with the course and their work because they have the opportunity to choose the assignments that interest them. 

Currently about 2,000 students in 19 courses in Michigan have used GameCraft. Of course GameCraft can be scary at first for students and creates more work for professors, but nearly all the instructors who experimented with the system want to use it again. Mr. Fishman hopes the system will grow beyond his own institution. Mr. Fisher explains that he doesn’t define what he’s doing as gameification, but as a ‘gameful’ design that brings a positive attribute of gaming systems, like establishing clear goals and giving players multiple routes to success – to the classroom.

For more information on this topic visit the link below.

Fabris, Casey. Want to Make Your Course ‘Gameful’? A Michigan Professor’s Tool Could Help. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 15, May 2015. Web


Adapting to College Through Social Media

College is thought to be a very impactful time where students will make lifelong friends and build the support group they need, especially for those students living away from home. Many people believe social media has created a barrier for student development. The truth is students are now spending more time on social media than ever before. More students are making social media, such as Facebook, part of their daily routines.

Collin Mr. Ruud, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois, has been observing the effects of social media for years. During the time social-networking sites first started to take off Mr. Ruud was a residence-hall manager. He was immediately interested in how it might affect student development.

Social Media Class

Social Media by Mkhmarketing

For his most recent research, Mr. Ruud conducted online surveys, collecting 159 responses from undergraduates at an unnamed flagship university in the Midwest. Mr. Ruud identified a strong link between social-media use and feelings of belonging to the broader campus community.

For students who moved away from home Mr. Ruud found that they feel more connected to their colleges when they continue to interact with friends from high school. Social media, such as Facebook has helped create a support network for college students with high school friends who are going through the same process of adapting to life on other campuses, Mr. Ruud said. Now that students have easy access to social media, all a student has to do to feel support is log on.

Fabris, Casey. “Post Navigation.” How Social Media Helps Students Adapt to College. Wired Campus, 19 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 May 2015.

For more information on this topic visit the link above.