How unexpected opportunities can inform practice

This post is the first in a series of posts based on course work completed for the class Education as an Advanced Field of Study that I completed at Northeastern University.

This annotated bibliography item reviews a case study that developed during the progression of an environmental studies class that connected students with professionals in the field. The findings may be helpful to faculty who are interested in learning more about how to integrate practitioners of certain expertise levels into coursework for a connected class, as well as how sharing the results of unplanned teaching practices can be beneficial to all.

Meretsky, V. J., & Woods, T. A. N. (2013). A novel approach for practitioners in training: A blended-learning seminar combining experts, students and practitioners. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Volume 13, Number 3, 48–62. Retrieved from:

The authors of this case study were concerned with the disconnection between academic areas of study and the context in which the taught skills and knowledge are applied. Through their design of a blended course format professional practitioners in the US Fish and Wildlife Service regularly interacted through videoconferencing with graduate students in the area of environmental science. Data collection and analysis was qualitative and relied primarily on surveys given to students, practitioners and participants. Since the authors also served as the instructors, or facilitators of the course their thought process behind the design and adjustments to the course was included as well.

Since the authors were also intricately connected to the design of the course being studied, I had hoped to find some self-reflexivity which would better define the impact of Meretsky and Woods’ values on their evaluation of the blended seminar. However, since the case study grew out of the initiation of an outside agency, and Meretsky and Woods acknowledged that their data collection occurred based on the “unexpected opportunity”, it stands to reason that the authors retroactively recognized the importance of the experience in connection to existing research on situational learning, experiential learning and cognitive apprenticeship. Results from practitioners and students indicated that on a very general level the interaction was positive and from students’ perspective added value to course. The authors included many details about logistics, opportunities and challenges of the course which coupled with the general data collection indicate a positive area for future study.

This piece helped to inform me about a different concept of blended learning. Ideally I had been searching for more experiential based application of blended learning, however since the study included some unexpected collaborations between the agency practitioners and the students, I found it relevant to my focus. In particular the organic development of the collection of information indicated how unexpected opportunities can inform learning practices by chance, and how logistics and environmental concerns can inadvertently increase attention and usage of hybrid learning collaborations.

The importance of place

I live less than a mile from where I grew up on a dairy farm. Maybe it’s the lens of maturity or clarity of mind or a combination of both, but somehow the beauty of this place becomes brighter each day. Along with that clarity comes the realization of how terribly hard my parents have worked to provide me with opportunities that were never offered to them. It’s bittersweet to feel the benefits available to me, because the hard work that allowed these things to fall within my grasp was not just my own. What I’ve achieved I’ve reached from the shoulders of my parents. As a parent, I understand; but I still hope to one day lift them up to reach a dream.

Sun rising with the fog

Sun rising with the fog

PowToon Beta (adventures in animation)

Earlier this semester I was asked to participate in a presentation to discuss the work of the digital media tutors. Coincidentally I had also just stumbled on a web tool called PowToon that allows users to easily create animations. As is often the case in my workflow – I decided that I could both work on my presentation AND learn a new tool all at once! (Did I mention that I’m an efficiency freak?) Below is what I came up with. It was quite easy to put together and served its purpose well. Later in the semester I attended some multimedia presentations where a student had used PowToon to incorporate animations into her project. Her use was clever and smart and it convinced me that this is a tool with definite uses in curricular tech.

Tracking Lab Stats: My First Infographic

My first infographic

Make room on the fridge – I’ve got something to post! Today I felt like I finally had success working on an infographic workflow. This has been a hot topic with the digital media tutors and one I’ve been trying to figure out through a variety of methods. My goals were:

  1. Locate a design component that was relatively easy to use and did not require a steep learning curve.
  2. Being able to output the result in a format that students could take with them. (One of my goals with everything digital!)
  3. Integrating data sets from Excel
  4. Being able to interact with the data would be frosting on the cupcake – but I wasn’t counting on that one. (Spoiler alert – I got FROSTING!)

So what did I do/try?

Thanks to one of our super librarians (thanks Brenda!!) I was notified that had a group of tutorials on infographics. I set to work watching and settled on “Creating Infographics with Illustrator”. Using the graphing function within Illustrator I was able to come up with the primitive version below….

My first attempt using Illustrator's graphing capabilities

My first attempt using Illustrator’s graphing capabilities

Did I mention that I’m not a designer? Ok – good, just checking. 😉 So although I found this quasi-functional, it seemed to require a higher level of design expertise to incorporate multiple infographic elements. (As a side note I thought it would be a cool idea to try to make the graph at the bottom of the page mimic the Green Moutains with the time starbursts starting as sun in the morning and moving to a moon at night. However, I quickly determined that was going to take more time that I feasibly could devote to trying to figure something out. It did sound like fun though.)

My next stop? Piktochart! I noticed this tool being used in the lab this semester by a few students and it was already on my radar from a few posts here and here. (Thank you Edudemic!)

I had already crunched the numbers by exporting the data collected on a Google SS via a Google form to an Excel spreadsheet, so I had segregated and totaled the data that I was targeting. Piktochart offers a few free templates, however I decided to go with a blank template to see how difficult it was to start from scratch. By adding blocks I was able to create different sections of data and a header for the chart. Since my main focus was data manipulation my end product is very chart heavy b/c I wanted to see how the different types of charts displayed on the screen. Curious what this non-designer, multi-color loving, tech-tinkerer created? Check it out below. BONUS – I was able to embed it in my WordPress blog using iframes…although I’m not sure how stable this method is. (Functions on hosted WordPress NOT on :’-)

It’s not perfect – I know, but it does represent what I think is a workable workflow that does not require a learning curve the size of the Grand Canyon…or even Middlebury gap for that matter. It’s do-able, interactive (5 stars there) and web based; which are all items that I think will be seen as beneficial. But I’m still curious.

Are you helping students to create infographics? What tips do you have to share?





Student inspiration

This is an entry taken from my teaching portfolio. It was written during my second year of teaching at the Hannaford Career Center and inspired by a struggling writer who was a genius in the diesel mechanics lab.


Several times a week I ask students to write for 5 minutes non-stop in their writing journals. I started off the year giving specific prompts but found that students always wrote better and more on “Freewrite Fridays” where they got to choose the topic. Second semester I took their lead and allowed them to choose their topic for each journal write. This is one example of student writing for this assignment.


Harvesting Pea Crop, Cowra Dated: No date Digital ID: 12932-a012-a012X2443000167 Rights:

“I hate to write because I don’t feel productive. Putting ink on paper is only good for one thing: keeping the loggers in business. When I write stuff it’s just its just weird lines on paper. I t has no use once its there, there is nothing more to do with it. To feel productive I want to be able to see a change. Like when you fix something you see it come apart, and go back together – change. When it gets towed in to the shop and drove out – change. Writing is like working in the shop doing the work without the change. Thus not productive. It isn’t even that good for communication because again, you can’t see the expressions (change) on a reader’s face.”

The writer was a senior Diesel Technology student who was also enrolled in my Technical Communications class to earn the ½ English credit he needed to graduate. He also completely disassembled and reassembled a diesel tractor during the course of a semester.

 This is my response to his writing:

“This is excellent work! You are very right. It is hard to see the “change” in writing. That’s where your audience or reader comes in. I think you’ve done a great job of expressing the frustrations that many students face in writing. I would argue, however, that when you write something you make your thoughts and ideas concrete – something that will last and in a way that your voice can be heard even when you are not there. Writing can give anyone a “louder” voice and a bigger audience.”


The reward for a morning run.

The reward for a morning run.

I love to run. Well, not all the time, but I always love the last few steps into the driveway with my trusty sidekick Zeva by my side. (Zeva is our 2 year old black lab who has a sweet tooth for wallboard but I’ll save that story for another post.)

This summer I snapped this pic soon after taking those last few steps and just after quickly whipping my phone off my armband so I could check my time. It was too beautiful to miss.

It’s one of the few moments I let technology get between me and the moment. But sometimes there are images that I just have to capture. Not sure that there is much more peaceful than the moments I’ve spent at the end of run catching my breath and watching the bright sunrise fade to blue.