Tools of the Trade | January/February 2015

Learn more about the latest tools for educators, including Powerpoint's Office Mix, Mindtap's built-in organization, and real-time student evaluations.

POWERPOINTS GET ‘MIXED’

Microsoft has released Office Mix, a cloud-based tool that allows educators to convert PowerPoint presentations into interactive online lessons, or “mixes.” The mixes play like videos, but also can incorporate animations, videos, live links, and quizzes, along with traditional slides. Professors can include external exercises from online apps such as Khan Academy; narrate over the slides; integrate written notes; assess student learning; and export those results to Excel.

Clara Cheng, an associate professor of psychology at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has used Office Mix to convert the PowerPoints for her statistics course into video formats. She appreciates the ability to embed multiple-choice questions into each mix. “The video will stop and ask a question that students have to answer correctly before they can move on,” she says. She also creates new mixes during the semester to address areas where students are struggling.

As with PowerPoint, Office Mix allows educators to add, delete, and reorder slides and content easily. The product does not yet support the presentation of open-ended questions or equation solutions for student response.

> Visit mix.office.com for information.

MINDTAP BRINGS BUILT-IN ORGANIZATION

Every college course is designed to help students master its material by semester’s end. But sometimes logistical matters—explaining the syllabus, reminding students of deadlines, informing them of upcoming test content—can eat up a professor’s time and distract students from learning.

Cengage Learning has developed MindTap, a learning platform that guides students through each step of a course, including deadlines, test dates, readings, quizzes, interactive assignments, apps, and collaboration tools. MindTap integrates Cengage course content in a number of disciplines, including business communication, business law, business statistics, economics, finance, management, and marketing.

Professors also can customize courses with their own content, such as newspaper articles and YouTube videos. Students purchase access to these courses as they would purchase a textbook, paying from US$75 to $153 per course. For an extra $10, they receive a printed textbook.

Joshua Robinson, an assistant professor of economics at the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, began using MindTap in his sophomore microeconomics course in the fall of 2013. Now part of Cengage’s Technology Power User program, Robinson appreciates that the course’s content and schedule are visible on one screen.

Robinson also has organized information on the platform by what will be on each test. “When students open up the folder for ‘Test One,’ they see the chapters, homework, and video problem walkthroughs for that test in the same folder,” he says. “Before, students’ No. 1 question was ‘What’s going to be on the test?’ Since I began using MindTap, I haven't had a single student ask me that question.”

When Robinson compared student performance in courses with and without MindTap, he found that mean test scores improved by nine points. “The range of scores also has shrunk significantly,” he says. “I’m seeing fewer Ds and Fs, which I attribute to the regular assessment and feedback, more accessible content, and built-in organization.”

> Visit www.cengage.com/mindtap for information.

REAL-TIME STUDENT EVALUATIONS

Canada-based learning solutions provider eXplorance has introduced bluepulse, a real-time online social collaborative hub and course evaluation tool that allows professors to solicit student feedback on and suggestions for the course as it progresses.

Instructors also can ask students to rate aspects of teaching, assignments, and learning objectives in time to make adjustments, as well as generate data charts that summarize how students’ perceptions are evolving throughout the course.

> Visit www.explorance.com/bluepulse for information.