Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Mark Tiller: Using Xtranormal to Engage Students

Posted March 5th, 2012 by Lori Greig

Sometimes keeping students engaged is just as challenging as teaching the material

Mark Tiller, Interim Executive Dean for Northwest College, wanted to use video in his orientation sessions to increase student engagement. Because of the time/scheduling constraints of using real faculty and students, Tiller investigated  a website called Xtranormal, which allows the user to make text-to-speech based computer animated video clips. Tiller learned about the site while attending the New Media Seminar, taught each semester by Tom Haymes, Northwest College Director of Technology.

Tiller found the program easy to use, spending one afternoon becoming familiar with it, and the following afternoon creating the films. With a little imagination, one can write a script, choose animated 3-D characters (actors) and control their gestures and voices. These animated actors will then lip sync the words the user word processed. The user can also choose backgrounds, sound effects, camera angles.

The user can host short videos online for free, however, in order to save the films off-site to embed them in his Powerpoint presentation, Tiller had to pay a monthly membership fee of $10. Tiller also had to adjust the script to compensate for the computer-generated voices that occasionally produced confusing pronunciation.

Overall, Tiller was happy with the experience and plans on making more films for future presentations. Watch one of his animations below.

Trick Question

Save as PDF in Microsoft Office 2010

Posted October 10th, 2011 by Jordan Carswell


As faculty are encouraged to print less, access to digital versions of course materials has become more important. But simply uploading copies of Microsoft Word or Powerpoint files to the Web is not necessarily the best approach. There are three important reasons for this:

  1. Office files are not universally accessible. When you share a Microsoft Word document, for example, the person receiving the document will need Microsoft Word to open the file. This is not always the case.
  2. Your formatting will not be preserved. When you share a Powerpoint presentation, if the other person does not have the same fonts, the layout of your slides will change and the content may even be unreadable.
  3. Others can edit your Office files and redistribute them. Sharing an original Word document with others can create other problems when the original file gets modified and/or forwarded beyond their original intended recipients.

Creating PDF versions of your files solves these issues for the most part. All modern operating systems, including Windows, MacOS, and Linux provide support for accessing PDF files meaning that anyone with access to a computer should be able to open and read a PDF file. And your formatting is preserved with a PDF as if it were a print copy of your original file. Finally, unlike Word documents or Powerepoint presentations that are intended to be easy to edit, PDF files can be read-only and are much harder to manipulate by the average computer user, meaning that your work is safer from misuse.

Step by Step Instructions

The following how-to provides an overview of creating PDF versions of your files. For these instructions, Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows 7 has been used. This software is available to all college faculty and staff. If you do not have a copy of the software, you cansubmit a request to Information Technology.

1. Open a document in Microsoft Word.

2. Click the Save button at the top of the window (Look for the floppy-disk icon).

3. From the Save As menu, choose PDF.

4. For the location, save the file somewhere where you will be able to easily locate it later.

5. Click Save.

6. Once you have confirmed that the PDF version of your document has been created, you can close all applications.

Note: This same process is generally applicable for other products in the Microsoft Office 2010 suite, including Excel, Powerpoint and Publisher.

Faculty Spotlight: Rosalyn Crain

Posted October 2nd, 2011 by Janie Blitch

Rosalyn Crain, Northwest College government professor, along with June Woest, Southeast College, and Homer Steward, Northeast College, recently participated in an Apple facilitated program on Challenge Based Learning. (more…)

“Why I Can’t Reduce Paper”–Rethinking your paper use

Posted September 16th, 2011 by Site Administrator

Tom Haymes, Director of Technology & Instructional Computing at Northwest College, addresses the top five reasons given for not reducing paper use at the college.

“I don’t trust the podiums to work when I need them.”

Our priority right now is making sure the podiums are as close to 100% working as possible given the realities of budget. However, there are always backup plans. Laptops and projectors are available from the library. They also have a big-screen TV on a cart to which a laptop can be attached to display content. Always have a backup plan.

“What if the Internet or network goes down?”

Keep a backup of documents you wish to show online on a flash drive or a laptop so that you can display them offline, for instance.

“Paper is more permanent than online.”

Paper gets lost, torn or otherwise defaced by students all of the time. Online documents can be constantly refreshed and, in the case of the Learning Web and Eagle Online, backed up frequently.

“I like to give paper to my students so that they know they actually received it.”

For handouts as important as that, put an acknowledgement form online so that you have a record of the student having seen the handout in question. You also have no idea that if you hand a student a piece of paper that they will actually read it. This way, you have proof that they actually looked at it.

“Evaluation is best done in person.”

There are pros and cons of testing online versus in person and much of which method works best revolves around pedagogical styles and needs. Many kinds of testing such as essays and practice tests, however, can be just as effectively done online as well as in person and the progress of the student can often be tracked more effectively than traditional methods. Online evaluation opens up new vistas for testing because it creates possibilities for creativity that are not possible using traditional testing methods. For instance, how about creating a website or PowerPoint instead of an essay? What about a community forum on issues on Facebook or Google+? As with every test, you really have to ask yourself the question: “What am I really testing for here?” and then go from there.

Classroom Multimedia Systems (Katy & Spring Branch)

Posted August 30th, 2011 by Site Administrator

This is a quick start guide to using the multimedia systems in the classrooms at Katy and Spring Branch.

 Step by Step Directions

Turn the System On

To turn on the system from the control panel depress the button that says PC and hold it for several seconds. The video button is only used if a VCR or DVD player is connected to the system. To turn off the system hold down the PC button for five seconds. Do not turn off or shut down the computer. just make sure log off of active directory.

Booting Up the System

If the PC button does turn on the system or the system boots into a blue screen that means someone has turned off the computer. You will have to access the computers power button. On the Mac Mini the power button is on the back. Reach around you push that button for several seconds. The computer should chime to let you know it is booting up.

Log In to the System

In order to access the systems you will need an active directory login. If you do not not have one contact your chair and he or she will issue you a temporary password until you have an active directory password. When you are done make sure to log off of your account.

Connect a Flash Drive

There are two ways to connect flash drives to the system. Some systems have a cable coming out of the podium with a USB plug for your flash drive. If the system you are using does not have this cable, you should be able to connect to the system via the USB ports on the side of e monitor.

Report Issues

If you cannot connect a flash drive to system or it will not start up for some reason after following these instructions please submit a trouble ticket at

Podium Computer Access Changes

Posted June 4th, 2011 by Steve Rota

Beginning Summer 2011, faculty members at the Katy and Spring Branch campuses will use their Active Directory account information to log in to the classroom podium computers.

Check out the detailed instructions on how to log in to the podiums with your AD name and password and how to take advantage of the network storage provided to you to manage your course materials across the college.

Faculty Spotlight: Janie Blitch

Posted June 3rd, 2011 by Janie Blitch

Janie Blitch, a veteran adjunct faculty member for the English, Philosophy, and Communications Department, also serves as the Faculty Mentor for the Northwest College Curriculum Innovation Centers. (more…)

Northwest Review Goes Digital

Posted May 13th, 2011 by Jordan Carswell

Northwest Review Winter 2011The Northwest College literary and arts magazine, Northwest Review, is offering a digital version of its Winter 2011 edition. Lori Greig, Senior Graphic Designer for Technology & Instructional Computing, worked closely with professor and editor Michael Sofranko on this project.

Although a print version of the Review will continue to be produced for now, the digital version has a growing future. The digital format, with its ability to also incorporate audio, video, and animation offers a wider palette for creative expression. Sofranko has already approached filmmaking program chair, Rick Harrington, about including student video submissions in the next edition.

Northwest Represents at 2011 NMC Summer Conference

Posted May 12th, 2011 by Jordan Carswell

Northwest College will be sending four faculty and staff members to present at the 2011 NMC Summer Conference in Madison, Wisconsin June 15th-18th. Government professor Rosalyn Crain will join a panel of faculty from across the country to discuss their participation in Apple’s challenge-based learning project. Technology staff Tom Haymes and Jordan Carswell will co-present with Southwest College’s Larry Mers in a poster session titled, “Online Presence for the Masses–HCC’s Learning Web,” about the latest system-wide version of the Learning Web. Tom will also be presenting with graphic designer Lori Greig in a breakout session about the experience of converting the print version of the Northwest Review into a digital publication, “Crossing the Digital Publication Divide”.

The New Media Consortium’s web site describes this annual gathering as “a one-of-a-kind event, attracting an audience of hundreds of highly skilled professionals interested in the integration of emerging technologies into teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.” This year’s conference is hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes place June 15-18th.

Faculty Spotlight: Donna Rhea

Posted May 11th, 2011 by Janie Blitch

Donna Rhea

“My students needed more information for an upcoming exam and I wanted to give them further information about two topics,” explained Professor Donna Rhea, a full-time faculty member in the Government, Economics & Criminal Justice Department. When she was not satisfied with the voice recording tools in Blackboard Vista, we recommended she use another solution, Audacity, an open source audio editing tool.

By using Audacity, Professor Rhea created two MP3 audio files that she could upload to the Web. One of these files, concerning reasons for low voter turn-out in Texas and its causes, is less than six minutes in length, making it quick to download from within Blackboard.

The excellent audio quality and editing features make this software a boon for varied instructional practices. Mac users have Garage Band as another audio option. Audacity and GarageBand, as well as advanced media production tools, are available for faculty use at the Town & Country Curriculum Innovation Center.

Donna Rhea, a recipient of the HCC Northwest College Award for Teaching Excellence, has used the Curriculum Innovation Center to enhance her instructional options. As a HCC faculty member since 1988, Rhea’s education includes a B.A. and M.A. in political science from the University of Houston.