Category Archives: Learner-Centered

Teaching Foreign Language Online

voice thread screen shot of desertsDeveloping new and innovative ways to teach foreign language, CDL is incorporating VoiceThread into various courses, including Spanish for the World of Business. VoiceThread is a digital medium for housing, displaying and distributing nearly any type of media (images, documents and videos).  VoiceThread allows students taking the Spanish course to collect media files, display them, and comment on them in 5 different ways – by using a  microphone, a telephone, using written text, an audio file, or recording a video with a web cam. Students can create and share their media with anyone, anywhere. 

Additionally, VoiceThread hosts group conversations, allowing students to practice their Spanish by sharing their thoughts on their media collections – in this case, their most loved and most hated foods.

screen shot of voice thread pageStudents taking this course also use VoiceThread to market a product of their choice, in Spanish. The product can be food, computer software, services, a store, etc.  Students write their own advertisement and present it to the class, while the instructor and other students will record and share their own comments, in Spanish.


2010 Curriculum Retreat: A Shared Vision

Held at 113 West Avenue in Saratoga Springs, the 2010 Curriculum Retreat fostered meaningful conversation and highlighted the ongoing collaboration between Center for Distance Learning (CDL)  faculty and Curriculum & Instructional Designers (CIDs). On February 9th ,  faculty from across the disciplines gathered together for a full day of discussion and contemplation on the current and future state of the curriculum at SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning.

New to the retreat this year, members of the Technology in Action Committee took the initiative to demonstrate the flexibility and unique capabilties of the Angel Learning Management System (LMS) currently being used at CDL.  Members of the CID group were called upon to present alternative content design approaches using the Angel LMS.

Highlights included presentations on the following content design approaches in Angel:

The Easter Egg

The Graphic Organizer

The Taskbar

The Humanities Desktop

Dr. Nicola Martinez, then Director of Curriculum and Instructional Design at CDL, also gave a brief overview of processes related to the infusion of creative design elements in courses, and encouraged faculty from all areas of study to continue collaboration with the CID group and promote ongoing innovation in courses offered by CDL.

Future Genesis: The Transformation Station Tour Guide

Future Genesis is the Second Life avatar name of the machine driven cyborg designed to serve as a station tour guide in a futuristic transformation station that provide students with a unique experience in changing avatar identity prior to sending them on a journey of scientific discovery through Second Life worlds. 

This immersive simulation is the Second Life component of an interdisciplinary science course titled the Future of Being Human.Throughout this course, students discuss biological enhancements, advances in neuroscience, medical breakthroughs, technological change and exponential computing. They use scientific experimentation to analyze how the experience of virtuality is changing human beings and their environments and assess implications of science and technology policies related to technological advances. Finally, they participate in a simulation of virtuality reflecting Vittorio Gallese’s theory of embodied simulation. 

The immersive learning activity provides students with the opportunity to experience transformation, transport to various worlds, and explore future, past and imagined worlds in their new form. Students use scientific methodology within a framework of biological advances, artificial life, and emerging technologies, and write a 500-word scientific report based on their experiences.  To do this, students enter the transformation station, transform their avatar, and receive a heads-up display (HUD) to guide them through exploration and discovery using the scientific method.

The machine driven avatar Future Genesis was developed as a solution to provide students with 24/7 assistance in introducing the student to the transformation station and providing hands-on instructions on how to operate the station, transform avatars, and receive the heads-up display.

Dual Wiki Support System

The Dual Wiki Support System offers a flexible activity that adapts to student interests and needs, provides unique assignments, and encourages collaboration. It also provides a place for students to reflect on their own work. It operates by using two wikis in conjunction: in the first wiki, students determine topics of research that they will work on together in the second wiki. Each wiki has an area where students can share and expound upon their research strategies.

Introduction to College Studies uses this tool for an activity in which students determine the five areas of college study habits where they need the most improvement. Students then address each issue. The first wiki offers a space where each student proposes the five areas in which he or she needs to improve. The class then works together and decides which five areas most affect the group as a whole. In the second wiki the students create a post for each of the five agreed areas from the first wiki. Collectively students develop strategies to overcome these problem areas. In the comment sections, students reflect and explain their decisions in a class-wide discussion.

Wife Swap! Tying Texts to Written Assignments

Role Swap!
In U.S. Women’s History: Lives and Voices, the texts examine the three prevalent kinds of families in Colonial America: Native American families, slave families and English/European families. An early assignment in the course requires students to imagine (in writing) a wife-swap situation in which one woman temporarily changes places with a woman from another kind of family, using the articles in their texts as sources. 
  • In the first part of the essay, describe your daily life before the swap. Describe where you live, what kind of family you have, and how you relate to your husband, your children and your community. You may be a white colonial woman, a slave woman or a Native American woman.
  • In the second part of your essay, describe the changes that took place during  the swap. How are the women in your new culture treated by the men in their families? What new roles and expectations do you have? How is your daily life different from the one you were accustomed to?
  • In the third part of your essay, describe the learning you took back to your own family after the swap. What would you tell your family about your experience with the other culture? Would your experiences change your attitudes and behavior towards that culture in any way? Explain your answers.

Creating Social Policies for the 21st Century

The fall of the Berlin Wall.

The fall of the Berlin Wall.

Privacy, Security and Freedom:  Social Concerns for the 21st Century is a course that explores the sociological and philosophical aspects of privacy, security and freedom in the 21st Century in the context of both theoretical and practical, policy-oriented aspects of these social concerns. To that end, one course exercise requires students to develop a hypothetical scenario on a security issue — school security or computer network security — and a policy that addresses the concerns raised by the scenario. Students choose one of the two options and then work in teams to develop the scenario and the policy.

First, the teams meet in their own discussion areas to share research results and to reach consensus on details of the scenario. Each group then begins the collaborative writing of the scenario in Buzzword, an online word processing tool that allows multiple users to edit the document at the same time (or not). These documents are then posted and each team can review and comment on the other’s submissions.

Next, the teams develop the security policy. They return to their designated discussion area and again share research and reach consensus on a policy approach that, in their opinion, will best address the issue. The teams return to Buzzword and fashion a new document, working collaboratively, until all agree it is ready to be submitted to the instructor. Each team can review and comment on the other’s submissions.

This activity not only gives students an opportunity to apply in a practical way the sociological and philosophical aspects of security they have studied, they also have the opportunity to work as a team, including all the real-life implications of developing policy with people who may not have a single shared perspective.

Linear Equations and Weight Loss

scaleFrom an introductory Algebra course, an activity based on the mathematics of weight loss encourages students to reflect on the relationships inherent in linear equations.   As students gather and evaluate data from a given set, they are also asked to predict future values, observe potential erros, reflect on their results and consider how certain conditions can produce a different (and possibly unexpected) outcome.  Students are also asked to synthesize their previous assumptions about the data with their newly acquired knowledge, which ultimately highlights one of the most important applications of mathematics: Creating models of real world processes and events. By asking students to think of mathematical models as general solutions to problems, the models can then be reused to solve any number of  problems – even those outside the world of mathematics.

Gender Health Nursing Case Studies

In Gender Health Nursing, students produce unique, individual case studies for their peers using a random case study generator (see below).  The conditions are selected randomly and blindly, resulting in a unique set of conditions for their individual case studies. Students use these conditions to write detailed case studies for both a male and a female patient (applying the same conditions to each gender). The generator has an infinite number of combinations so no two students cases are similar.  The results are displayed immediately and continually. This virtual activity was created to replicate a face-to- face classroom activity in which students role dice to get randomly assigned conditions for their case study.

Assessing Environmental Impact

A landfill.In this course,  Geology and the Environment, the final course module offers students a choice of two different types of capstone assignments to complete by the end of the term. Students choose to participate in either the Lifestyle Project, or to write a research paper. The Lifestyle Project requires students to turn in a journal each week, in which they collect and analyze data about their own lifestyles and the impact of their lifestyle choices on the environment.  Each student chooses three different categories of behavior in which they are interested in changing their habits: The use of electricity, water, heat or automobiles, food types and consumption rates, waste production, and environmental awareness.  Each week, one category is addressed with the goal of reducing environmental impacts through a gradual but definitive change in everyday habits. Each week, the project becomes more rigorous as students the demands of each category increase.

Human Conflict & Cooperation – It's Evolutionary!

Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud

Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud

Evolutionary Psychology: the Context

Evolutionary Psychology is a course that focuses explicitly on social behavior and how evolutionary pressures may have selected for both conflict and cooperation between humans. Throughout, theoretical analyses are integrated with empirical studies to demonstrate how evolutionary psychology can be applied to significant human concerns. Students must master foundational textbooks and apply course content to current events and the observation of behavior in daily life.

The course’s culminating essay integrates scientific literature, current events, and personal observations, while challenging students to reconstruct their views of human behavior from an evolutionary perspective and develop a new constructive perspective solidly grounded in theory, evidence and direct observation.

The Activity: People Watch Journals

 Students support their contributions to class discussions with direct observations of people in public places, in films and advertising media. They collect ‘data’ by systematically engaging in ‘field observations’ and then post their observations weekly as a journal entry to inform the discussions. The goal of the discussions is to encourage students to develop the ability to conceptualize and analyze human behavior in terms of evolutionary psychology and then link those analyses to observable human behavior in real-life situations.

The People Watch Journals are regular assignments in which students share, discuss and analyze one another’s real-life observations, employing new concepts as they are introduced throughout the course.


Journal Prompt
Module 1
Intro and Overview         


Find a setting where behavior influenced by natural selection might be observed, such as parties, committee meetings, children at play (3 year olds are best; teenagers are good too).Organize the notes from your field observations and enter them into your journal. Focus on describing what you see and the context in which you made the observations. This need not be anything elaborate, a paragraph or two is enough. (Note: this paragraph is repeated in each prompt.)
Module 2
The Evolution of Cognitive Processes         


The task here is to search your daily life for evidence of apparent remnants of the hunting gathering lifestyle of our ancestors. I can imagine that organized sport, hunting, fishing and camping provide rich grounds for collecting such anecdotes. The day-to-day lives of children might also provide fertile ground.
Module 3
Sexual Selection and the Challenges of Mating         


Pay attention to how people present themselves in ordinary day-to-day situations in terms of behavior, dress, and the use of jewelry and cosmetics. Write down one or more descriptions of one or more interactions that illustrate how males and females react to each other at a non-verbal level.
Module 4
Parenting and Kinship: The Basis of Society         


While in the mall or in the grocery store, observe and later write a posting in your journal of observations of parent-child conflict that can be analyzed in terms of Triver’s theory.
Module 5
Cooperation and Competition: The Foundation of Social Life         


Pay attention to how people manage conflict in daily life. For example, how do people react when others cut in front of them in line, or how do adults react when teenagers slouch in their presence? (a very subtle display of disrespect, with overtones of a threat).
Module 6
Organizing Social Activity: Status, Prestige and Social Dominance         


Whenever two or more people come together, there are almost constant battles over dominance. Watch and listen, searching for little demonstrations of status seeking.  Try viewing casual conversation as a stage for dominance displays.  Write down one or more descriptions of one or more interactions that illustrate how males and females react to each other at a non verbal level.
Module 7
Primates on Facebook: A World to Which We Are Not Adapted         


Collect field observations to support the points you want to develop in your culminating essay. At this point in the history of Evolutionary Psychology, careful observations under well defined naturalistic conditions can still make a real contribution. You have had the opportunity to develop substantial skills as an observer; put those skills to work.