Excel Final Project: the Only True “Student Data File”

Always seem to be working on the BTS 165 final project. Tweaking it to make it better…

One realization I had in Monday night class last night is this: this project is, essentially, like creating your own “Student Data File.” That is, for every assignment in this Go! textbook, the authors provide the data for you. Most of the time, that is in the form of a starting file, which the publishers always seem to call “student data files.” (Why they don’t call them “starting data files,” i don’t know.) Sometimes, they’ll have you start with a blank Excel file, then tell you what to type where. But either way, you do not create your own data.

The final project is the only assignment in this class in which the student creates their own starting data file. THAT really is a “Student Data File!” (ha!)

Text of My Commencement Speech

Photo of me on stage at Key Arena, gesticulating with both arms out towards the far balconies.
photo by Ann Minks

Here is the text of the speech I delivered at Bellevue College’s 2015 commencement. I’m posting it after one of my high school English teachers asked if she could read it. So, Ms. Apple, please remember that it was written to be a speech– to be listened to– rather than to be read…


Good evening! I am so honored to have this opportunity to say a few words to you tonight.

But, my gosh, preparing these words has not been easy… I have been over this and over this… Read and listened to scores of commencement speeches. Written half a dozen drafts of this speech. Gotten feedback from dozens of people. I’ve wanted my words to be perfect… But I’m settling for honest.

I’ve considered telling you my own story, of my personal philosophy of teaching, and how my main goal as a computer teacher is to empower people to use the computer as a tool to help communicate and connect with each other.

I’ve considered talking about my students, who teach me something new every single day. Who inspire me to continue to come to work every day, in the hopes of seeing the world thru their eyes, and thus expanding my own world.

I’ve considered talking about my love of Bellevue College; how it’s given me a place to feel at home, a safe place to reach out from, a place that surrounds me with brilliant, funny, and appreciative peers. I’ve considered telling you about how much respect I have for the role that Bellevue College plays in the larger community—how I’ve seen dozens of times how it helps people elevate themselves in new knowledge and skills, but most importantly in self-confidence.

I’ve considered voicing my concerns about a couple of the directions that the college is heading (specifically, the push towards university status and the push to move more and more classes online)—because, while these may be exciting directions to grow, we should not forget who we really are— the value of our buildings, which provide safe haven for people meet, face to face, a safe place to try new things and a safe place to make mistakes; we should not forget the value of our teachers who challenge students to explore themselves and the world around them more deeply; we should not forget the value of all our support staff, who help students meet basic needs so they have a solid foundation from which to reach for more.

I’ve considered emphasizing how, over the 50 years that BC has been around, it has learned the value of good teaching, the value of authentic connections between living, breathing human beings, and the value of community. I support progress and growth, but not at the expense of those who need us the most.

I wish I had something deep and profound to say. But I really don’t.
Because, I think that life is pretty simple, really: be kind to yourself and others. Do your best. Listen to your heart. Pursue things you’re interested in. Touch the ones you love. Be grateful to those who have helped you get to where you are right now. And pay it forward.

Because there is no such thing as “too much love.”

Thank you.

Bellevue College Grads Earn More Than UW Grads!

Chart showing that Bellevue College graduates' median income is highest of all baccalaureate graduates in the state.

Spotted in the Seattle Times on June 8, 2015:

According to the Washington State Education Research & Data Center’s Earnings Dashboard, Bellevue College grads have higher median wages than University of Washington grads. Quite an amazing statistic.

I am so proud to work at an institution that values student success over all else!

Finally! News on the New Version of Microsoft Office for Mac

Mac Office 2016 IconsI just heard the first official word about Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac:

http://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-delivers-first-public-preview-of-office-2016-for-mac/

Also interesting to note is that, while Mac Office 2016 is due in the summer, Windows Office 2016 is due later this year. So, essentially, Mac users got screwed again– two versions of Office for Windows in the timespan of only ONE version of Office for Mac.

While I love Microsoft software, and Office for Windows, particularly, I hate the way they continue to diss Mac users. I know it’s part of their business plan — “don’t make our Mac software very good: we want people to buy Windows computers so that we can make money on Windows, too” — but I don’t care about their business plan. I’m just a software junkie who loves Macs and wishes I could use the best hardware in the world (Macs) with the best software in the world (Microsoft Office).

Embedding Office 365 Documents into Web Pages… or Not. And, Ben Franklin.

I’m having some kind of fun playing with the various features of Bellevue College’s new Microsoft Office 365. One of the coolest, most promising features is embedding Office documents into web pages. Over the Christmas break, Bruce Wolcott showed this to me– he had embedded a Word document in Canvas. It was super-cool!

So now I want to try it here in our Commons blogs. The Commons blogs are WordPress-powered, which is a different set of technologies than either Office 365 or Canvas, so it may not work right just yet. Nevertheless, here goes.

Here, I just paste the URL of a document in my OneDrive, and convert it to a hyperlink:

https://bellevuec-my.sharepoint.com/personal/krowley_bellevuecollege_edu/_layouts/15/guestaccess.aspx?guestaccesstoken=L9j3jlafHhbaIRWMIKTJFIjN2nFmEpLl9Ato4R5KTGI%3d&docid=0699e67f0e7764b1eb81e0880cbc76915

Well, that works as expected: that is, it opens a new tab in my browser, and inside that tab, opens Word Online, with the document (“Book Love”) open. However, I am currently logged into my OneDrive/Office 365 site. If I am NOT logged in, what happens?

Ah, very cool! It opens the document in Word Online, but with view only permissions. Perfect.Linked Office 365 document, with View permissions

 

Now, that’s pretty cool. But, what if I want to do what Bruce does in his Canvas Pages– embed? Let’s snag this file’s embed code from OneDrive, and paste that iframe code here:

This is an embedded Microsoft Office document, powered by Office Online.

What?? Nooo! How lame! WordPress totally ditched the iframe code, and replaced it with this:

HTML code of lame replacement message

Yep, after a cursory search of the WordPress.org support and forums, it appears that WordPress strips out iframe code for “security” reasons. Bummer. I want this all to come together. I want to be able to put my Office documents anywhere. I want to be able to collaborate with others on any site. I know computer security people hate users like me.

Which reminds me of an issue that the college is encountering on other levels right now, and a relevant quote from Ben Franklin:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Blessings,

K

Excel, Used

When I teach Excel, I always highlight what I consider the two most important features that make Excel useful: formulas and charts. Formulas are important because they allow us to analyze, manipulate, twist and turn numbers so that we can learn new things about them. And charts allow us to visualize numbers so that we can understand them in an instant. (If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a chart is worth a thousand numbers.)

But, when we start creating our own charts, and formatting them, I always point out how charts can be used to manipulate the data. The easiest way to point this out is to change the vertical axis so that it doesn’t start at zero. This amplifies any changes in the vertical axis, making the chart more dramatic. Here is an excellent article by Eric Portelance that further discusses this manipulation, as well as several other manipulations — either on purpose in order to mislead an audience, or by mistake by someone who doesn’t know how to present data accurately. First Chart: inaccurate

The chart Portelance discusses is from a (late 2013) article by Mark Gimein, “Companies and Markets editor at Bloomberg.com, and lead writer for the Market Now blog and newsletter.” Bloomberg is, of course, the huge financial services conglomerate. These guys DO data. They should know better. In fact, I find it extremely hard to believe that they would create a chart that mistakenly mis-represented the data. The only other conclusion, then? That Bloomberg purposefully mis-represented the data.

The question then becomes, why? What do they hope to gain by publishing an article with the title, “For U.S. Men, 40 Years of Falling Income,” and then backing it up with purposefully mis-represented data?

Gimein’s concluding paragraph states, “To TMN it seems that the focus of the economic debate belongs less on rising incomes at the top than on falling incomes in the middle. The concern of Americans on the middle of the economic ladder is not really that their neighbors behind some high hedge are doing too well. It’s that they themselves are not earning anything like the incomes they expected. Judging by the data, that concern is well-founded.”

“Well-founded?” Look at the data in Portelance’s corrected chart:Second chart: corrected

The real question with this chart is, “what happened in 1972 that caused the steady progression of income growth to immediately level off?” Portelance, admitting he is not an economist, takes a shot in the dark anyway: “Bretton Woods and the end of the Gold Standard?” Maybe so. I’m not an economist either, and a cursory glance at Wikipedia’s “Nixon Shock” article only provided me more anxiety.

However, I do have my own guesses as to Bloomberg’s motives for publishing this purposefully-inaccurate article: Is Bloomberg trying to deflect attention away from income inequality (aka “Class Warfare”)? Are the richest 1% trying to “divide and conquer” the 99%?

Let’s look at a chart that looks at income by class: Third chart: income by class

The income of the bottom four-fifths — the middle  and lower classes — has remained steady since the mid 1960s. However, the top 20% and especially the top 5% have grown steadily since the mid 60s. This means that all the growth in income is going to the people who are already rich.

Is Bloomberg afraid that the proletariat will realized the rich have rigged the system? That the rich run things? That the rich make the rules, which of course favor the rich?

Assessing Computer Users: “Easy” May Not Always Equal “Best”

5-year-old kid sitting at his computer desk.
Ayan Qureshi: the 5-year-old kid who passed the Microsoft Certified Professional exam.

This 5-year-old passed the Microsoft Certified Professional exam. Granted that the kid may be special, but, seriously, what does that say about the Microsoft Certified Professional exam?

I’ve taken the Microsoft Office Specialist exams for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and they were pretty dang easy. I wonder how much of a true measure of a computer user’s ability these tests are. I mean, the instructions are all there. The test instructions say stuff like, “insert a photo,” “make the text bold and red,” “move slide 1 to become slide 5,” and so on. So, the tests may accurately asses IF a user can do a specific given task using the software, but my main concern is that, in a real world situation, there is nobody around to tell a user WHAT to do, or WHICH tool to use WHEN. In the real world, a computer worker is told to “create a flyer.” Maybe the boss will bring in a flyer that they saw in the mall and say, “make it look like this.” But the boss is not sitting there next to you saying, “merge and center cells A1:D1, and format using the Title style.”

Such assessment — of a user’s ability of HOW to use a software tool — may be easy to implement, but I am skeptical of its ability to  accurately assess a different and more important dimension of computer users’ abilities: WHEN to use WHICH tool to solve various real-world problems.

In my BTS 165 Excel classes, the final project assignment is to use Excel to solve a real-world problem. Students must find a problem  to solve, then use Excel to solve it. It doesn’t have to be a huge problem, but the application of the tool to the problem must be theirs. While assessing the student’s success is a considerable challenge — especially in the amount of time it takes to work with students to understand their decisions and reasoning at several key points in the weeks-long process — and even then, perhaps open to some amount of subjective interpretation on the teacher’s part, I feel that this project is a much more accurate assessment of a student’s understanding not only of how to use Excel’s various tools and features, but WHICH tools and features to use WHEN.

Sometimes “easy” does not equal “best.”

Canvas’s Roll Call Attendance Tool

I spent some time the other day playing with Canvas’s newish “Roll Call” Attendance tool. It has some good stuff and some bad stuff…

Good Stuff

I like that I can enter attendance data one time– in Canvas– and the data goes straight into the gradebook. This saves me a bunch of time over my current method of attendance, which consists of:

  1. In class, students pass around a “sign-in” sheet. Sometimes, students who are actually in attendance forget to sign the sign-in sheet, and once per quarter or so, I actually lose the sheet before it safely gets to my office.
  2. I manually transfer these sign-ins to an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve spent countless hours on refining to compile requisite points, and to give me all sorts of information about class attendance. I occasionally make mistakes in this transfer.
  3. I manually transfer attendance points from my spreadsheet into Canvas’s gradebook. Again, I occasionally make mistakes in this transfer, too.

Each of these three steps provides opportunities for problems, errors, mistakes. This is why I wanted to try out the Roll Call Attendance tool.

Bad Stuff

Screenshot of Roll Call Attendance tool
(click image for full-size version)

Two problems: one relatively minor, one relatively major.
The minor problem: most of my classes consist of two separate sections/class codes, and the students do not all appear one list; instead, I have to switch between the two sections via a tabbed interface. That is, half of my students are listed in one tab while the other half are listed in another tab. And, when I switch between tabs, the date always returns back to today, even though I’m entering attendance data for a different day.

But, as I say, that is just a minor inconvenience. The main problem, however
— the killer, as far as I’m concerned– is that the Roll Call Attendance assignment counts 100 points. Period. There is no way to change how many points it counts. No matter how many times the class meets, the attendance column in the gradebook is worth exactly 100 points.

The idea, I think, is that it’s a percentage. So, you must weight your assignment groups. I don’t. Weighting confuses the heck out of me. My gradebook philosophy is “a point is a point. If I want an assignment to count more than another assignment, then I make it worth more points.”

So, no matter how much “good stuff” the Roll Call Attendance tool offers, it simply will not work for me. I’m bummed.

However, if you weight your assignment groups, you really should consider trying it out. If you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll pass along the information you need to enable it in your Canvas class.

Canvas Course Syllabi Can Now Be Publicly Viewable

Yes, check it out– here’s my Fall BTS 161 Syllabus:

https://bc.instructure.com/courses/1046777/assignments/syllabus

This is very cool. I have had prospective students ask for my class syllabi, and I’ve had to email old ones to them. Also, now my department can point to these syllabus pages.

However– one thing I do NOT like about the way Canvas does this: it shows all the assignments. Why do I not like this? Well, the assignments are automatically drawn from the Canvas course, and I use Canvas for assignments. What if one of my peers does NOT use Canvas for assignments? The public will think that HER class is “easier” than mine because she has no (or fewer) assignments, and register for that other class rather than mine. NOT COOL. Canvas should NOT show assignments on the public syllabus page. I’m cool showing assignments to the students, just not to the public.

Another change coming to Canvas’ Syllabus tool: it will be a *form* that instructors can just type their own class data into. This form will include fields for “Instructor Info,” “Course Description,” “Required Materials,” etc., *and* it will automatically drop in all the official college boilerplate text that instructors currently have to manually drop in ourselves.

Change. The only consistency…

Teaching and Training

First week of Fall quarter classes done. The first week of each quarter is nice, because I don’t have any homework to grade, and my classes are pretty much set up– syllabi are done, the quarter’s assignment schedule is done, each class’ Canvas site is done… So, the first weekend is pretty slow. A chance to exhale.

So, I’ve been thinking a bit… Because “the economy” is “better” (whatever the heck that means), enrollment is down for all of my department’s classes. BTS enrollments are all down this quarter compared to Fall 2013. And that’s not good for me, nor for my BTS teacher counterparts, because we are making less money. And, as it is, it’s pretty tough for adjuncts here at BC to make ends meet here in Seattle, where the cost of living is among the highest in the country. Now, of course I’m not complaining, because it could be much worse, and of course I’m grateful that I have a job in the first place, and of course I didn’t go into teaching for the money, blah-blah-blah.

But many people here at BC may not know that, in addition to teaching BTS computer classes here in the IBIT division, I also work part time for Information Resources as a trainer, with Sukirti Ranade in the Technology Learning and Connections Center in A109. If you go to the TLCC website and look under “Peer-to-Peer Faculty Support Hours,” that’s ME! I’m the “peer” for teachers here at BC. As of this quarter, actually, that is only me, whereas for the last couple of years, it was me and Jim Dicus, English adjunct. But Jim is really busy this quarter and didn’t have time for the TLCC, so now I’m the only peer.

I really enjoy working at the TLCC and helping my fellow faculty with their technology needs. During those “support hours,” I just hang out in A109 and wait for the phone to ring or for faculty to walk in. But I also lead several training workshops for both faculty and staff each quarter. Look on the Training Calendar for all the workshops. This quarter, I’m offering Word Accessibility and WordPress trainings. Both of these sessions are great. We’ve been getting positive feedback about the Word Accessibility sessions, as the general consciousness about accessibility grows on campus.

But I’m especially excited about the WordPress sessions, because — well, this blog  is on WordPress, and in fact, ALL BC websites are now powered by WordPress… So, if you are in charge of your department’s website, or if you hope to some day administer an official BC website, or shoot, if you’d just like to use your own personal BC blog, then you may want to attend one of these sessions. And, speaking of accessibility, we will be talking about how to make your WordPress sites accessible too.

And while I’m talking about accessibility, I must tip my hat to BC’s new eLearning Manager, Ekatrina Stoopes. She has really spearheaded the college’s current efforts to “accessify” all documents and web sites. Since Ekaterina has been here, I have learned more about accessibility than in the entire rest of my life. So, thanks, Ekaterina.

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