What Visual Aids Do You Use in Class?

I have often joked that my favorite week in school was the “using visual aids” week. When you go to college to be a teacher, using visual aids is one of the topics covered. I learned all about using visual aids in classrooms. Yeah, don’t laugh.

I use my eyeballs a lot and I like to touch things. So when a topic is being addressed I like to be able to touch it, or at least see it. Thank goodness for PowerPoint right? Does all that visual aid stuff for you right? Some colorful bulleted lists and maybe a picture or two and you got some kinda killer visual aids. Well, not really. Ask any student.

Some courses lean more towards easily accessible visual aids. Science courses for example. There are all kinds of cool things you can bring to class for science. Bones you find in your back yard, pretty flowers, or moldy bread. And the classrooms themselves are full of things to play with and touch. To smell and to get hurt using. Other courses, like psychology or advanced business courses may be more challenging. None the less, you can have fancy visual aids to help articulate and detail examples from the field of work you are studying in any course. It just takes some imagination.

Easy Access / Easy Consumption - The Wall E Model

I don’t teach English anymore. But when I did, I used serious visual aids sometimes. We usually call them “field trips.”  To me, they were just another visual aid that helped students better understand the multidimensional topics we covered. I had them draw the rock they saw in Bryce Canyon. I had them read about conservation in Yosemite. I used some big visual aids in my classrooms.


Now I do “teacher training” and I really can’t use the phrase “visual aids.” Sounds like I am talking about middle school right? But not really. I employ fancy colors, big pieces of paper, and sometimes old t-shirts to really bring a point home. Yeah, keep laughing.

Sometimes, I use websites. But not store bought websites. My own websites. The difference there is like bringing store bought cookies to a party versus bring warm homemade cookies. You’re not laughing now, are you? And website are an interesting form of handout that can be shared many times over. Of course a website has limitations like anything digital. No smell. No texture. You can’t throw a website across the room or dance with it.

These visual aids can be employed in a variety of ways. You can use them in one on one conversations or in small groups. You could use them as rewards, or as ways to recognize outstanding performance. They could be online or held in a hand. They can be big or small. Fluffy or prickly. Smelly or cold.

What about visual aids in online classes? Well, you might just use the out-of-doors as a visual aid to help describe something.

What I enjoy the most is that time holding something that represents an actual artifact from the content being discussed. Then giving it to students to look at, to touch and feel. A tangible element to add dimension to the conversation. I know, I can think of a lot of examples for science or botany or anatomy. Even some for physics and math. But what about English? What about those times in psychology where you do role playing? Do you bring in hats and big horned rim glasses to help with the visual elements?

I have more questions about visual aids. Like is a guest speaker a visual aid? Is a field trip a visual aid? Is Skyping someone into the room a visual aid? Is asking another faculty’s class to come share some time with your class a visual aid?

Do visual aids make any difference? Learning is about making connections. Connections between ideas and things known and newly discovered. And these things are not just words in a bulleted list, they are often things that exist and can be touched. And that touching can be part of making connections more concrete. Because we remember what our senses encounter. And we sense the world with more than our eyeballs.

2016 eLearning Symposium

This week I completed my first real training with faculty at the second annual eLearning Symposium here at the University of Washington | Bothell. The focus of the day was on elearning tools and active learning. We tried to do some activities that could promote getting outside and walking about and using tools to document ideas and experiences and had some wonderful faculty share their stories about various forms of engagement in learning.

For part of the morning and all afternoon, we used an activity list similar to one I had some success with at Yavapai College. Basically, it is an 11 x 17 piece of cardstock with a number of activities to complete. They worked in groups of two to complete the activities which ranged from capturing a video of a faculty taking about important qualities for classrooms to have, to simply adding some ideas about classrooms to a Google Doc. One activity had them participate in a VoiceThread conversation and another was to add an image of active learning to a Google Slide presentation. Some had experience with the tools. Others, not so much.

We gave each participant an 11 x 17 “Most Interesting Man in the World” meme with the text relating to teaching and technology. If you want to use it, here is the link. It is 11 x 17.

With them all filled out it was a good way to introduce the challenges of technology and allow faculty a casual way to share concerns and successes.

They all look great when placed edge to edge. They make up a nice piece of art for our office display case for a month or so.


One of our awesome faculty, Jane VanGalen, was describing her work with a class “In the Open” and was addressing her use of Twitter and WordPress. Here is the class blog. She shared that she uses a Howard Rheingold resource and I mentioned that to Howard via Twitter. He Tweeted back before the end of her talk and she was able to show the participants that you really can connect with authors and experts in real time. It was a cool example of using Twitter.

We used a hashtag and had some interaction during the event. I think only four or so people really had experience with the tool. Here is the conversation.

It was a great day and a really nice way to meet some of the faculty here. After four months I am still meeting people and I look forward to the fall when there will be more people about and more questions coming my way!

Soft Canvas Cookies

We had some good success with our Blackboard 57 Second Tips of the Week videos. They were short. Specific. Easy to watch. Useful information. Early on they were very much “click here to do that” but they evolved into some that included some soft instructional design tips and general web tools.

We sent them out each Monday for a while till we ran out of enough ideas to keep them up weekly. But the faculty that got them each Monday morning for those months really liked them. It was successful.

Here are the 43 we made before we moved from Blackboard 8.whatever to Blackboard Learn.

When Yavapai College moved to Canvas we had hopes of redoing the short videos targeting the Canvas LMS and intentionally including more pedagogy within each “tip.” We never got it going. I never got it going. But we had a name for them if we ever created them! “Canvas Cookies!” A memorable name if ever there was one.

As I have said many times before, the whole idea came from watching the amazing Jonathan Finkelstein and his “Real Time Minute” videos. I loved that he would be in these interesting different places and pull the qualities of the location into his message. To me, in 2007, they were talking about including synchronous activities in the otherwise timeless, asynchronous online space. I was inspired because they shared a better version on the online experience and how to do it. I still am inspired. Thank you Jonathan. Thank you for not just the “what” you told me, but how you shared it with me.

Here are a number of his videos and you can figure out how to find more. Great work!

Up here in Washington I have started some drafts to share with colleagues of what will be the Canvas Cookies. One is mostly just strait screenshots, the other has an introduction of sorts that I hope to be able to add to many of the Cookies. I’d like to add the human person in the video, in locations that might align with the content discussed, and also include more rationale for the “why” we might use the tools.

So here you go, a couple of the early drafts. We need to work on leveling the audio in the final versions ( and I have to frickin open my eyes or wear sunnglasses) caption them, and add credits. But you can see the difference between one with some “live” person added and one without.

Canvas Cookies
elearning one bite at a time

We hope to have several ready to launch for the fall semester and send them out to faculty every two weeks. That is the current plan anyway.

How I Can Help?

Hi there.

Sorry to miss the opportunity to meet you all in the room, but I am off to attend my awesome daughter’s high school graduation!

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Here is a short introduction in the video below.

From simple to complex, from pedagogy to technology, I can help you with the options available to you when looking to change/improve the structure of your course.

Instructional Design in Higher Education cover
Instructional Design in Higher Education 2016 Report

The report linked above came out last month and looks at what instructional designers do. I have learned over the nine years doing this work that each instructional designer does something slightly different. How they are used at institutions varies and the skills they bring to the table varies. Some skills I admire in instructional designers include years of teaching experience, a good understanding of teaching practices and learning theory, and some good technology skills. I also admire people who work well with other people. Usually, I think I am a good communicator.

I’d be happy to meet with you in your office, in our Learning Technologies Studio, outside on a bench, or over at the Starbucks Beardslee Crossing. I can help over the phone and via email. I enjoy working with faculty and imagining how technologies can be best used in learning environments and in our personal lives.

Lastly, this site has some useful information for faculty. Under the “Writing” tab there are several articles I have written for faculty and under the “Presentations” tab there are some sites I have created for conference presentations. Some of the posts below address issues in teaching and learning, and some are informal pieces about me or my interests.

Please let me know if I can help.