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Before yesterdayProfessor Danny Smith

Who are you plugged into? Developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

By ProfessorDannySmith
A digital board of some sort with dials and a variety of coloured patch cables connected to it.
Photo by John Carlisle on Unsplash

Teaching can be an isolating experience. I spend the vast majority of my time in class rather than with colleagues and admin work is completed at hoteling stations where I tend to be by myself. It is unlike any other job that I’ve had at the college or in marketing. In those cases, I was constantly surrounded by my peers throughout the day. My colleagues would sit close by, share projects, and even eat together. As a result, there were impromptu moments for conversation and more importantly, collaboration. As a contract faculty, collaboration is unlikely to happen by chance so I’ve had to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) in order to connect and collaborate with other teachers.

A PLN is the group of people that you choose to surround yourself with.  It’s your team.  It’s the group of people who will challenge your assumptions, that you will learn from, and who will motivate you.  You decide who is in your PLN.

Tips for Creating a PLN:

  • Find a faculty discussion group onsite
    • In my case, it is a casual, monthly, face-to-face conversation about teaching and learning with a small group of college faculty
    • It includes members from a cross-section of disciplines
  • Participate in Twitter discussions
    • Twitter discussions tend to be fast-paced, and because of the format, you don’t have to write too much
    • I like to participate in the bi-weekly #UDLchat
    • The discussion skews to K-12, but I find that helps to stretch my thinking, especially when I hear that Kindergarteners are using technology to support learning
  • Join an Online Community
    • I’ve been participating in eCampus Ontario’s Extend West program about 21st Century Learning
    • We have weekly video based calls, Twitter activities, and more.
  • Find a teaching buddy
    • Faculty suggest all the time to students that they should buddy up with a classmate.  Perhaps we could take the same approach.
    • Mine just so happens to be my neighbour.  She also teaches at the college level, but in a totally unrelated discipline which helps us to open up our collective thinking.

PLN Resources:

  • If your interested is learning more about PLN’s, I encourage you to visit eCampus Ontario’s Extend website: Collaborator module .  There you’ll find more about how and why PLNs work and ways to go about setting them up.
eCampus Ontario's Extend Collaborator Module web page
eCampus Ontario’s Extend Collaborator Module web page

My PLN has helped me to connect with like minded faculty and to create a community.  Plus, the people involved have pushed me to reflect on my teaching practice and motivated me to modify it where appropriate. I’m better for it and so too are my students.

Who are you connected to and how did you get connected?



The post Who are you plugged into? Developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

From a Thought to a Lesson in 3 Hours

By ProfessorDannySmith

It’s true, I’ve had my guitar in my living room, gathering dust, for about 6 months. I wanted to learn but didn’t want to make time for it or to prioritize it.  Watching bad Netflix shows, cleaning, or surfing 300 feet of social media content was waaaaay more important.

Being able to get from thinking about a guitar lesson, to having the guitar lesson in under three hours really surprised me.  I couldn’t believe at how simple it was and how satisfying it would make me feel.  More importantly, it made me think about the barriers that we put up in class that prevent students from taking action when they’re motivated to learn. We talk a lot about motivating students in the time that we have designated for learning i.e., in the classroom, but rarely do we talk about tapping into students’ own moments of motivation.

I like to make the majority of my content and assessments accessible on the first day of class.  This way, students can access the content when it makes sense for them as well as their schedules and priorities. But what else can I do to help students shift from feeling motivated to taking action?  This is what I have to figure out for next term.

Below I’ve shared some additional context regarding engagement from a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) perspective as well as additional information about Mel Robbins, the motivational speaker I referenced in my video.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL):

Providing learning content in advance of when it is required helps to engage students and to tap in students’ motivation.  Checkpoint 7.1. Optimize individual choice and autonomy talks about the importance of choice and autonomy.  From my perspective, giving students the opportunity to interact with course content when it makes sense for them, contributes to students’ autonomy and helps them to learn self-regualation.

Mel Robbins, motivational speaker, with arms spread open
Book cover image from Kick Ass with Mel Robbins

Mel Robbins:

  • Originator of the 5 Second Rule (She is not related to Tony Robbins)
  • I refer to Mel’s rule in the video.
  • She talks about moving as quickly as possible between thoughts and action.
  • Check out her Ted Talk: How to stop screwing yourself over
    • 20 min, 17 Million viewers.
  • If you like that, she also has two books out including 5 Second Rule

What I like most about Mel’s rule is that it the inherent blast off moment.  She talks about this in her book.  Once you’ve counted down, you gotta do something before you mind steps in and casts doubt or provides rationale for not taking action.

Are you stalling on something? What do you do change thought into action?

The post From a Thought to a Lesson in 3 Hours appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

Free photos – it’s way easier than you think to find and use them

By ProfessorDannySmith

Many of us find ourselves developing PowerPoint presentations, creating teaching & learning materials, and writing content for our blogs. Typically we grab photos from Google images, and then paste the images into their intended destination.  And we do this without concern about copyright, nor sourcing the image.  What? That can’t be.  We generally source written content and teach our students to do the same, but we’re much more lackadaisical when it comes to photos.

Technology is helping us to find and use open source images for all types of use.  This means you can use the images without worrying about copyright infringement so long as you follow the attribution guidelines.  Below are some sources that you might consider using in the future.

Captioning Photos

When you insert those photos, be sure to describe what is going on.  This supports UDL Principle for Representation: 1.2 Offer alternatives for for visual information

Check out this poster created by the Center on Technology and Disability regarding alt text requirements for 5 different image types including informative, functional, decorative, complex, and image of text.

Photo Sources

The following two sources were found at Ontario Extend’s Curator module for Visual Interest

    • this website is super simple and is my favourite
    • free images for commercial and non-commercial use
    • attributing credit is a nice thing to do, but not mandatory
Unsplash homepage Free photos
  • Creative Commons Search
    • This site is like a one-stop platform or a gateway for all open resource images.  I find it a little cluttered as compared to Unsplash, but you get more options like video and sound.
    • Select a resource e.g., Google, Flickr, YouTube, and SoundCloud
Image of the Creative Commons' search page
Creative Commons’ search page

I also follow where I few other resources that might interest you.  There is an article that lists and describes the following three sources for images, videos, and vector files.

Pexels homepage Free stock images


Pixabay homepage Free stock photos, vectors, and art illustrations homepage Free vectors, PSD, icons, and photos





The post Free photos – it’s way easier than you think to find and use them appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

What he lacks in pooping, my son makes up in reading – A nod to digital literacy

By ProfessorDannySmith
A literacy double play – Pokemon hunting with app & book.

My 4 year old son struggles with bathroom activities but his reading skills are exceptional!  (What can I say, I’m a proud dada.) We’ve committed to reading with my son daily, but we also have also relied on the iPad to supplement our efforts. To that end, we attribute his success in reading in part to the Teach a Monster to Read app. Yes, it is acceptable for a 4 year old to play and learn on the iPad in our house. Sometimes it’s with a parent and sometime alone.  It is important to me that he learn how to use digital tools but more importantly, how to manage their use.  This is why he’ll pick up his Pokemon books rather than the iPad.

Using both traditional and new reading practices would fall within Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle: Engagement – Recruiting interest: 7.1 Optimize individual choice and autonomy

@OntarioExtend asks what does Digital Literacy for Teaching mean?

Personally, digital literacy means:

  1. Connecting and conversing online when face-to-face is not practical, nor available
  2. Navigating the online environment – finding what you need when you need it
  3. Making sense of and critically evaluating content
  4. Maintaining personal safety, privacy
  5. Managing its use and/or not use

I believe Digital Literacy for Teaching means:

  1. Using technology to support to support learner activities
  2. Assessing technology i.e., did students understand how to use the tool, was the tool beneficial?
  3. Modifying its use i.e., adjust a tool’s use to better align with learning objectives and outcomes
  4. Incorporating industry technology i.e., familiarizing students with industry relevant tech and how to use it
  5. Building communities and voices

Because I have invested time over the past few years learning and implementing ed tech into my daily life, I feel confident using technology in the classroom in meaningful ways.  What’s key for me is that tech doesn’t get in the way of learning, rather it supports it.

My favourite tools right now:

I generally focus on a few tools per semester or year so that I don’t get overwhelmed, so here is my shortlist:


The post What he lacks in pooping, my son makes up in reading – A nod to digital literacy appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

It’s Time to Dial up Webinar Engagement

By ProfessorDannySmith
Tween yawning
Boredom, by Alan Feebery, CC, no modifications,

I was on a ed tech webinar this afternoon where the presenter just talked and talked.  There were no questions, interaction, nor asking attendees what they’d like to learn or why they were participating. This translated into NO me.  I bailed within 10 minutes despite being very interested in the educational tool that was being discussed. And even though this was more of a business type webinar, UDL principles can apply.

C’mon folks, the time of talking AT someone is over. Instead, lets engage our online audiences. We have to remember that we are teaching people, not subjects (ref. unknown).  This is even more important online.

Engage your online audience

If you’re promoting a product, service, or just getting a team together to chat online, consider using the features that come with the video presentation software. Doing so will help to engage your audience and make the content more meaningful. Remember, you’re competing with other screens and priorities for attention.  Make your online meeting matter!

Look for webinar features like

  • Virtual whiteboards – collaborate, brainstorm questions, and or ask participants to engage with an image e.g., draw where they are from on a map
  • Instant polling – assess what attendees already know, need to know
  • Instant messenger – ask/respond to questions,
  • Check for understanding
  • Show your face – it’s really hard to connect with a screenshot

On a happier note

I turned my attention to some personal online learning and easily completed 4 x 15 minutes self-paced modules because the content was engaging, interesting, and fun.  The course used quiet design complimented by:

  • Reading
  • Slideshows
  • Drop and drag exercises
  • Best answer questions
  • Self-assessments

For reference, Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

  • Providing webinar hosts a strategy for more interactive events falls within the Engagement principle
  • Checkpoint 7.2 Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity
    • Includes: varying activities, facilitating active participation, inviting personal responses

The post It’s Time to Dial up Webinar Engagement appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

Blank Stares after In-class Videos?

By ProfessorDannySmith

I like to showcase videos of award-winning marketing cases during class and in turn, ask the students to review, unpack, and build upon the campaigns. To my chagrin, I’m generally greeted by blank stares and faces after videos, especially if I start asking questions about the content. Guided by UDL principles, I went looking for a solution this week to help students make sense of video content.


  • Help my students to more actively process video content.
  • Help my students to create a reference collection of best-in-class digital cases.

Cornell Note taking Approach to the Rescue

The Cornell approach is well know to those who have had formal teaching training.

  • The approach is broken into 3 parts: general notes, key points, and summary
  • Watch this overview video and be sure to take notes 🙂

How I heard about the Cornell approach

  • I am participating in Ontario Extend West cohort
  • Find this approach in the Teaching for Learning module under Organize Knowledge
Image of students’ notes using the Cornell approach

In-class Activity/Implementation

  • Introduced the approach
  • Guided students as they constructed the table
  • Students took notes about the video
  • Students watched the video twice
  • In pairs, students compared and contrasted notes and in turn, filled in any gaps
  • In pairs, students identified and wrote the key points
  • Class shared and discussed the key points
  • Students wrote a summary statement

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The post Blank Stares after In-class Videos? appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

To Write or To Type Exams?

By ProfessorDannySmith


Image of students taking a test
One student writing a test and two students typing a test on their laptops

How do you Express Yourself?

I can more easily get into “the zone” when I’m typing.  How about you?

Let’s offer students the choice to write or type their tests so that they express themselves the best way they know how.  The added benefit of typed exams for students is that they can use editing tools to refine their response.

Universal Design for Learning

UDL principles suggest that we offer students choice where possible so as to increase their chances of success.

In-class execution

  • Same exam, same time, and same room for all students
  • I divided the classroom into sides (written versus typed)
  • Everyone received a paper copy of the exam questions for reference (the questions were also available online)


About 40% of students opted to hand write their tests whereas 60% chose to type their responses directly into the learning management system.

Recommendations for the future

  • Use browser lockdown software that is inherent to learning management systems to prevent cheating
  • Use file folders on each side of screens for added privacy
  • Request that screen brightness be 75% or so

Universal Design for Learning

UDL principles suggest that we offer students choice where possible so as to increase their chances of success.

The post To Write or To Type Exams? appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.

Finding Marketing Content That Resonates with Students

By ProfessorDannySmith

1 in 45 students buy Diet Coke.  1 in 45 students buy Campbell’s condensed soup. 1 in 45 students plan to watch the Super Bowl. These stats are from my classes.  Traditional brands are not resonating with my students.  So, we shifted the conversation this afternoon to Paul Logan (nice segue to Bell Let’s Talk IMC) and Cardi B (from stripper to 3rd artist & first rapper to have 3 hits simultaneously on Billboard Hot 100, joining only The Beatles & Ashanti”).  The content shift appeared to help my students to connect the dots and I learned some modern slang along the way (they giggled).

The post Finding Marketing Content That Resonates with Students appeared first on Professor Danny Smith.