Media Lab Schedule Change

We’re changing our schedule slightly this semester.  The Vitale Digital Media Lab will be open on Saturdays from Noon-6pm instead of Noon-9pm.

Categories: Pedagogy

Meet Award-winning Animator Cissy Tan

Last semester, Video Contest 2014: Make a Point was conquered by WE, an existential animated short as thoughtful as it is charming. This summer, I got to sit down with the film’s creator Cissy Tan to discuss her theory, her method, and her aspirations as an animator and director.

Feeling inspired? Well you’ll be happy to know that while the patience and discipline for animation are still rare, the tools are more accessible than ever before. iStopMotion is a very affordable solution, and while not as robust as Dragonframe, it’s more than capable enough. Even Photoshop has its own rudimentary system for animating frame by frame and exporting either as a video or as an animated .gif file. In Cissy’s case, the process consisted of photo editing, scanning, printing, arranging, and photographing–working from digital to analog to digital again.

If you’re interested in experimenting with stop motion, the Vitale Digital Media Lab has software to help with animating (Photoshop, After Effects, Premier, etc.), cameras and tripods available to borrow (the very same used to film this interview!), and we are happy to offer advice on setting up your own animation studio. You can also check out our Photoshop and Graphic Design WICshops this semester, which teach fundamental skills for working with static digital images–of course we can show you how to string multiple images together as well!

Looking back at the winning videos of past mashup contests, you’ll see that each year the bar is raised. Cissy’s work is no exception, and I know her video will motivate students to continue exceeding our expectations.  Remember, it’s never too early to start planning your entry to next year’s contest!

Categories: Pedagogy

Lab Closing Early this Saturday

The Vitale Digital Media Lab will be open this Saturday from Noon-6pm instead of our usual Noon-9pm.  We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Categories: Pedagogy

Screening of Student Video Creations

This guest post by Ellen Reynolds, Lecturer in Fine Arts at Penn Design and video creation guide for our Seltzer Award winners, describes an upcoming event on September 11 to showcase student creativity.

I’m delighted to present, on behalf of The Undergraduate Department of Fine Arts, a screening of student video work this Thursday. We offer a course sequence in Video Production that is challenging, rich, and exciting! You probably know (if you’re reading this blog!) that video production is very time consuming. In a 13 week semester, students always work until the last possible minute on their videos and as a result we frequently don’t even have an end of the semester screening – making it random and rare to see work produced in one of our classes. What a shame!  I hope that students, staff and faculty who are interested in taking a video class with us, or in learning more about our course sequence, or who just love innovative short films, will come to our Screening and enjoy some cookies, beverages, and conversation about filmmaking at Penn!

Selected Student Work from Fall 2013, Spring 2014
Thursday, September 11th, 6:30pm – 8pm
Gregory House Screening Room, 40th and Spruce

Categories: Pedagogy

Interview with Dr. Charlene Wong

Researchers (from left) Mike Kaiser, Charlene Wong and Cjloe Vinoya (Photo by Emma Lee/WHYY) Link to WHYY NewsWorks story below.

Charlene Wong is a pediatrician in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program here at Penn.  I spoke with her about her recent study on how young adults use Healthcare.Gov to choose health insurance, and also about the ways in which the WIC was able to support her team in that process.

Q: Hi Charlene.  Tell me about the study you did.

CW: We did a study looking at how young adults are able to navigate and make decisions about the health insurance plans on We were really excited because from the study we were able to make 6 recommendations about how to change and improve to better support people in making informed, smart decisions about health insurance.

Q: So you weren’t looking at what plans were offered—you were really looking at the interface that users were interacting with?

CW: Exactly. There were 27 health insurance plan options that young adults had to choose between. These were all young adults in Philadelphia age 19 to 30, and we were looking to see how is it that they were choosing between those 27 plans: What did they like about the website? What did they not like about the website? How did they think that this website could be improved?

One of the reasons why we were considering these questions in the millennial population is that young adults are uniquely positioned to make thoughtful recommendations on how to change the web-based health insurance marketplace platform, because they’re a generation that’s grown up online – shopping online, rating things online. So, they’re able to give us some really creative suggestions about how to improve this online insurance shopping system.

Q: What was the process you used to do this?

CW: There were two parts to this study. In the first part we brought them in and put them on a laptop computer here at the Vitale Digital Media Lab.  We watched them for 30 minutes as they went through the process of trying to choose a health insurance plan for themselves, and we asked them to go through the process as if they were sitting at home.. These were young adults who were actually looking for health insurance for themselves during the first open enrollment period, so it was not a hypothetical study setting.  While they were navigating online, we asked them to think aloud about what it was they were doing on the screen and what they were thinking about as they saw new plans come up, because we wanted to capture their reactions and thoughts in real time. The great part about the observation period is that we used ScreenFlow software here in Vitale, which enabled simultaneous screen and voice recording and helped us capture some really rich data from this part of the study. Right after we finished the period of observing them on, we interviewed them using a structured interview guide.

Q: And, what did you discover?

CW: One of the fundamental challenges of this process for anyone is that health insurance in the US is complicated. These plans vary across so many different dimensions. But despite these inherent challenges, these young adults identified 6 recommendations that are relatively simple changes to be made to the web based platform that we think will help better support people in making insurance choices. Not necessarily just for young adults in Philadelphia, which are the group that we were looking at, but for people of all ages and all over the country. The recommendations included things that are as simple as giving better explanations for health insurance terms, like deductible and co-insurance, that a lot of the young adults weren’t familiar with. Think about it – anyone would have a hard time choosing a health insurance plan if you didn’t understand those terms because they’re fundamental to processing the different prices displayed when shopping for health insurance.

Other recommendations were making it clearer what health insurance benefits are included in different plans. For example, a lot of the young adults wanted to make sure that preventive care would be affordable in their health insurance plan. Well, as it turns out, preventive care is included in all of the plans for no additional cost because it’s an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act.  But that wasn’t obvious when looking at the details about each plan, so their recommendation was to more clearly state these benefits up front when looking through plans. They also again drew on their experience of being very internet savvy, saying things like, we wish there was a better way that we could narrow down our options using checkboxes or sliding bars where you could indicate price ranges that you would be willing to pay for the premium or deductible. You’d be able to check off what important insurance benefits you’re looking for: do you want dental coverage?  How about mental health coverage? They pointed to other websites like Amazon or where these sorts of tools are readily available.

Q: Have you been in touch with the folks running the website to give them your recommendations? If so, what have they said?

CW: We have sent our results to contacts in the Office of Health Reform because we know they are redesigning and trying to improve the website before the next open enrollment period in November of this year.  We hope to have some in-person, or at least phone briefings with them to give them even more information about our recommendations. But certainly, we’re also very thrilled that these recommendations are now publicly available in the article and also with the press coverage that’s come from it.

Q: Where was it published, and what other press have you gotten about the study?

CW: The study article was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. I  also published an Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer with David Asch and Raina Merchant that summarized the results of our study. The Inquirer also wrote a separate article on the study because we were highlighting how local young Philadelphians who participated in this study made recommendations they may change the way people all over the country are going to experience selecting health insurance. The local NPR affiliate WHYY and Knowledge@Wharton Sirius XM radio ran segments on our study. The Leonard Davis Institute has also covered and helped disseminate our findings.

Q: Why did you choose this topic?

CW: At the beginning, when the health insurance market place was opening, a lot of the focus was on’s technical issues and how the website was failing. But I started thinking about how difficult it’s been for me in the past as a doctor–someone who has a lot of experience with health insurance –to choose insurance for myself or my family. And then, as a pediatrician specializing in adolescent and young adult medicine, I was thinking about my young adult patients and how they are often purchasing health insurance for the first time.  And I wondered how is they were going to manage the process of navigating selecting a health insurance plan, and in particular on this brand new platform that had previously never been tested in this sort of broad sense. So that’s really where the study idea came from. It became clear early on that one of the biggest impacts of the study was going to be that these young adults had great ideas about how to improve the website.  That’s how we targeted getting these study recommendations out first—and quickly, because we wanted to make sure there’d be time for these recommendations to reach the people in Washington who are redesigning the website.

Q: Tell me what resources you used in the Information Commons and the Lab and the Library, and how we were able to help you through this process?

CW: There was no one on our research team–and we have a pretty large, multi-disciplinary senior research team–that had the technological expertise to recommend how to do screen recording on that we wanted. So meeting with you and Anu from the Weigle Information Commons and the Vitale Digital Media Lab was instrumental in making the study feasible for us.  Otherwise, we weren’t sure how we were going to capture the data that we needed. WIC also provided us with essential equipment—a laptop, an audio recorder, and a microphone in addition to the screen capture software we used.  You all also  taught us how to use it all, because no one on our team had experience with these tools. On top of that, we were also able to do the actual study, here, in the WIC.  The location was accessible and easy to find for the local young Philadelphians who weren’t affiliated with the university. You all also helped use arrange for weekend and evening access for study participants, which was really helpful since many of them work during the day.  This flexibility was important for reaching our study recruitment goals.

Q: And you used study rooms at WIC?

CW: We used the study rooms here at WIC, which again was really fantastic because we wanted a quiet, private space for the participants to be talking to us about what they thought about the website.

Q: I understand you used a program called NVivo in this study.  Can you tell me about that?

CW: NVivo is a software program used to analyze qualitative research. We’re using it for the study transcripts, which we read through and then develop what are called nodes or themes. The software allows you to rearrange qualitative data transcripts into these themes. That way, when you’re analyzing your data, you can say, “62% of participants discussed” this particular theme.  We’re also using NVivo for our screen recordings because it can store video and time-stamped video transcription. That way we’re analyzing all of our data, videos, audio transcripts, all within this one program. It’s been great.

Q: Where do you use it on campus?

CW: We use NVivo in several places.  It’s available here in the WIC. We also have access to it in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program office and the Penn Medicine Mixed Methods Research Lab.  But WIC has the most available computers with this software, so we have done much of our analysis here.

Q: How did you find Cjloe Vinoya, who worked with you on this study?

CW: Cjloe was our research coordinator, and the two of us did all of the study sessions.  She had worked as a SUMR Scholar, who are undergraduates who get paired with health researchers at Penn. She did such a phenomenal job in that program that she was asked to stay on with her principal investigator at the time, Karin Rhodes, and at the Leonard Davis Institute (LDI).  When I was looking for a research coordinator, she was very highly recommended to me by LDI staff.  And it worked out so well. She has such great rapport with participants, which was important for this qualitative study. Everyone really enjoyed working with her, and she’s incredibly organized.

Q: So what’s next?

CW: We are still in the process of analyzing more of the study data. This article that came out was just a brief article with the 6 recommendations. We have a lot more information to share about young adult’s perspectives on health insurance. We also have data on which plans they actually selected and how satisfied they were with their decisions, so those analyses are still ongoing. Then, as a physician, what I’m also very interested in is looking at how young adults are planning to use their health insurance–which we explored a little bit in this study.  And then trying to identify how to better help them use their health insurance to be healthy.

On top of that, we partnered with a national organization called Young Invincibles, which works on issues affecting young adults including healthcare.  In the study, we identified some knowledge gaps around health insurance, for example health insurance terminology literacy . So they’re considering developing some web based, more accessible explanations for young adults or any adults who aren’t as familiar with concepts like ‘deductible’. If you haven’t ever had to pay the deductible before, it’s a little bit complicated to explain just using a glossary definition. In addition, the young adults wanted more examples  about how to choose between all these different health insurance plans or tools that help them make a decision because there was so much information to process. These are issues that may be the focus of future projects coming out of this work.

Q: Thanks so much for talking with me.

CW: You’re welcome!


Annals of Internal Medicine (via Penn Libraries. The Experience of Young Adults on Suggestions for Improvement. August 5, 2014)

Tech-savvy subjects test website, advise changes (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Op-Ed about the study (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Study of young Philadelphians’ experience on health insurance site may guide improvements (WHYY NewsWorks)


Categories: Pedagogy

Summer in Weigle

This guest post by Amanda Gisonni, a junior in the College studying Psychology, describes her experiences over the summer using various resources in the Weigle Information Commons to improve her technology skills.

If you have ever been in the Weigle Information Commons before, you know it is a great place to work with a group. There are booths, study rooms and free-standing tables, plus talking is always welcome. But did you know it is a technology hub, too? It’s a place where you can get access to the latest gadgets, use top-notch software programs, and take hands-on workshops. Ultimately, you can learn how to use a new program like Excel, Photoshop, iMovie and more, which is exactly what I did this summer.

At the start of the summer I barely knew how to use Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator or WordPress. Now I can navigate my way through all three Adobe programs, and I even created my own WordPress website. How did I accomplish this? I spent time in Weigle. I took some WICshops, watched tutorials, and experimented with my own projects in some of the software programs.

This is the front and back of a business card I created with Adobe InDesign in the “Making Business Cards with Adobe InDesign” WICshop in July.

Weigle is a great resource for students, but it’s disappointing that not everyone takes advantage of it. Students often get bogged down with school work and claim they simply do not have time. I disagree. I think if students knew how to use the resources available at Penn, they would.

Here is a simple guide to get you started:

  • Sign up for a WICshop (aka a Weigle Information Commons workshop). Check them out this September! Try WordPress Basics, Photoshop Layers, Making mini iMovies, and Crafting a better resume with InDesign and more!
  • Spend some time in a booth or group study room using the software programs on all of the computers. Experiment with InDesign, Photoshop, Excel and more. Reserve a spot here!
  • Don’t have the time to take a WICshop? Reserve a time slot on and learn at your own pace and on your own time! Check out all the videos that Lynda has to offer on the website.
  • Lastly, if you have any questions, just walk in! The Weigle Information Commons staff are friendly and eager to help you out! For those who do not know, Weigle is located in Van Pelt Library on the first floor. Enter through the turnstiles and take a left after the elevators, and then continue straight and you are there!

Check out Amanda’s website at or follow her on Twitter @amandagisonni

Categories: Pedagogy

Remove Duplicate Records in Excel

When you extract a large amount of data from a database, the first thing you may want to do is to clean the data and remove duplicates.

In this blog post, I will introduce you to two easy ways to remove duplicate values and get a list with unique records only in Excel.

You can download the practice file here > RemoveDup. It contains a list of all states in United States with each occurring more than once.

The classic way is to use [Filter]:
  • Go to [DATA] tab, and click [Advanced] near [Filter]

  • In the [Advanced Filter] dialogue box, check the box before [Unique records only] to hide duplicates.
  • You can either choose to [Filter the list, in-place] to filter the list in column A and then copy them to a new column, or choose to [Copy to another location] and make a list in another column.

The convenient way is to use [Remove Duplicates]:
  • Copy the list to another column – Important!! Otherwise you may just lose your original data
  • Select the whole column, then go to [DATA] tab, and click [Remove Duplicates]
  • Since we only have one column here, there is no need to select  columns, just click [OK]

  • This will also give you a summary and help you to find out how many duplicates are in your selected cells


As always, if  you have questions about this or other aspects of Excel, please stop by the Weigle Information Commons during my Excel office hours, and I will help to troubleshoot your problem!

Categories: Pedagogy

Learning how to teach (Excel)

This guest post comes to us from Nicolette Tan, a junior in the College studying political science. She wrote this reflection essay during her participation in MGMT 353 Wharton Field Challenge in fall 2013. WIC staff assisted students in the seminar taught by Arjun Bhaskar and Samaira Sirajee with guidance from Professor Keith Weigelt in learning how to present Excel skills to small business owners in Philadelphia.

It’s one thing to know how to use Excel yourself; it’s another to be able to teach it.  Today’s workshop definitely showed me that teaching is hard, and even more so when you’ve only met these people for the first time. The class got off on a high note, when Grace asked the class to “Raise your hand if you’re excited about learning Excel!” and people cheered and raised their hands enthusiastically. One thing that strikes me every time is the positivity that the students bring to the class, and how eager they are to improve themselves – regardless of age or background, and I have so much respect for that.

The syllabus for the day was simple – graphs, forms and the basic functions. Grace took the class through graphs, and Arjun did forms and functions. Today’s workshop really embodied Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Having the participants practice through the Excel sheets with mini-activities was very helpful, especially for the TAs because it created an exact context in which they were asking their questions.

My favorite activity was probably the one we did with Starbursts! We distributed 10 Starbursts at random to each participant, and got them to practice making graphs reflecting the data. People were very excited about having Starbursts and that definitely upped the interest value of the activity! With real world applications, people also were better able to make their own connections – they started thinking about how they could use Excel graphs to visualize their own expenses and income.

One thing that I feel was difficult to grasp was how much people already knew about Excel, and what the pace should be for the class. Different people were at different levels of ability, and to pace the class so that everyone took something away was hard. Perhaps we should have split the class into two so that we could better meet individual needs, and that’s something to take away for next time. Also, I think one thing that might be good would be to set overall expectations for the class – have them know that what we aim to do is not make them experts, but expose them to the basics.

As a TA, I feel like I managed to do more on a 1-1 basis, and I only wish I could have talked individually to more people and understand their needs. The main takeaway though, was to have everyone become more confident about trying out formulas on Excel independently, and be exposed to the way that Excel can be used efficiently to capture and present data. I think we achieved that, despite the challenges we faced. For example, I went round telling people that now that they knew the importance of the = sign in front of functions, so having learnt =SUM() they could try =AVERAGE(), =NOW(), etc., exploring with all the different formulas and see what is relevant to them.

Overall I think today’s class was an good testing ground to see what worked and what didn’t for the class, and we got a lot of feedback that will be useful for the next two classes! Also, this might be a really tiny thing, but as a TA in the class, I was essentially a nameless helper. So when a lot the participants asked for my name, and thanked me personally for my patience and attention, I felt very appreciated, and it really made my day  :)

Categories: Pedagogy

Infographics in PowerPoint

George Hundt is getting his Masters of Environmental Studies.  As an assignment for Yvette Bordeaux’s class on climate change, he had to create an infographic, and Dr. Bordeaux suggested using PowerPoint.

George wisely planned the entire graphic out on paper first (see his sketches below) and then came into the Vitale Digital Media Lab for assistance in translating his ideas into PowerPoint.  (Having no prior PowerPoint experience, George had also watched the PowerPoint training videos that we make available to Penn students, faculty and staff.) He was here for several hours, but finished the entire thing in one day.

The final info graphic is included here, and you can see what high quality work can be achieved just with PowerPoint and a little elbow grease.

Thanks to George for letting me share his work in our blog!

Categories: Pedagogy

Lab Closed This Friday

The Vitale Digital Media Lab will be closed this Friday, August 15, while we do our semi-annual inventory and install new computers. We should have some exciting additions when we reopen on Saturday at noon!

If you need to borrow equipment that would be due on Friday, let us know and we’ll extend it to Saturday or Monday for you.

Categories: Pedagogy

Canvas Office Hours at the EC

Throughout August, we’ll be holding Canvas office hours at the Education Commons for extra support in getting course sites up and running for the fall semester. Please see the Canvas at Penn blog post for more details and register on the EC’s workshop calendar.

The EC office hours are in addition to the many Canvas workshops and office hours being held at WIC throughout August. Please see the Canvas calendar to register for sessions happening at WIC.

Categories: Pedagogy

Treehouse by Interlude

When coming across Interlude’s well designed website, the first thing they’ll tell you is that we’re entering a new way of telling stories. I think they’re right, with more platforms on which to watch films, television shows, and everything in between, we’ve got to figure out better ways to tell the stories we want to tell.

Interlude is taking that and running with it. They’ve created an online program, Treehouse by Interlude, to easily craft interactive videos that let the audience follow a particular point of view, or to decide which path a character will go down, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure novels that changed the children’s book game back in the day.

While companies that rake in major bank by convincing us to buy their products have to fork over a hefty sum to participate in this engaging form of video making, you and I and the other average Joes get to enjoy nearly all of Interlude’s features free of charge.

The format can be a bit confusing at first glance, but if you take the time to play around in their sample videos, you’ll be a story building pro soon!

When building a story, on the left you’ll see library of clips that you’ve uploaded.

On the right, you’ll find your “tree” (think: family tree turned on its side, less so an Oak or Cherry tree).

As the video plays you’ll be asked questions and have to make a selection for the story to continue.

Of course, not all videos are of the Choose Your Own Adventure variety. The musician Aloe Blacc teamed up with Lincoln Motor Company to create this multi-perspective music video for Love is the Answer using Interlude’s technology. (watch the video here!)

As the video plays, you can choose a different perspective to follow during real time, which results in an exciting story that lets the music act as the glue that keeps it all together. I encourage a look at the video to get your gears working with ideas to try out in Treehouse! I’m excited to test my storytelling with this multi-perspective, interactive twist! Come by the Media Lab and use our equipment to build your own adventures. Make sure to send your projects my way!

Categories: Pedagogy

Socializing with Social Media

(From left: Pam Harris of Swarthmore College Libraries, and Illene Rubin and Mallika Sircar of Penn Libraries)

Back in June at PhillyDH@Penn, I presented a workshop called “Social Media Tech Tools,” which provided a show-and-tell of six different social media tools that we use here at WIC and some tips about using social media to engage our audiences. The workshop took place in Van Pelt Library’s new Collaborative Classroom, which encourages flipped classroom and active learning methods via the room setup and technology. The room is also conducive to socializing as folks are collaborating and moving around the room, making it an ideal space to discuss social media.

One PhillyDH@Penn attendee, Pam Harris, Head of Reference at Swarthmore College Libraries, came to my workshop and thought it would be great for her staff members to take a summer field trip to Penn Libraries, see the Collaborative Classroom, and learn more about using social media effectively. So, this week, we did just that! We opened the workshop to Penn Libraries staff members as well, so that we could do some cross-institution sharing and socializing while discussing social media. Pam and seven of her staff members ventured out to Van Pelt Library, and we had a great time talking about social media tools. We kicked off the workshop with a bit of pre-workshop homework – a quiz called “Can You Tell What Makes a Good Tweet?” posted recently in the New York Times. The quiz encouraged us to ask and discuss the following questions: What makes an effective tweet? How can we create more content-heavy tweets without overwhelming our audiences? How can we better reach our respective audiences via creative content using various social media platforms?

While my presentation focused on specific examples of how we use social media at WIC, the floor opened up to examples of how Swarthmore Libraries and Penn Libraries staff members use social media for different purposes. We then did some structured “playing” with various tools; we rotated around the classroom tables every 5 minutes (enforced by the infamous Penn Libraries gong!), working on collaborative activities: using the world map on Flickr; testing new features in Instagram; creating a library spaces board on Pinterest; creating a story of choice on Storify; and using Mentionmapp with Twitter. Each group was very engaged and learned new things from each other by working through the activities.

(From left: Terry Heinrichs, Annette Newman, and Jessica Brangiel, Swarthmore Libraries)

(Mindy Weinberg and Manuel De La Cruz Gutierrez, Penn Libraries)

One lesson learned in the workshop is that social media is ever-changing. Even if your library or organization has a social media management system in place, platforms change and new features are added, which makes it hard to keep up with handling various accounts. We discussed that instead of joining every social media platform out there, it’s best for an organization to pick a few and devote time and resources to them. Sometimes, this is easier said than done, and one takeaway from the workshop was clear: we all struggle with strategies for handling social media in one way or another. If we have the attitude that we’re all in this together, we can learn from each other to figure out which tools and strategies work best for creating interesting content and reaching our target audiences.

Thanks to Pam Harris and the Swarthmore College Libraries and Penn Libraries staff members for making this workshop so enjoyable!

Categories: Pedagogy

You do you.

This guest post by Kelli Liu, a sophomore from southern California majoring in biology and Apple campus representative, describes her thoughts on software upgrades.

Like many people, I am a creature of habit and I often find myself resistant to changes unless I find them absolutely necessary. This aspect of change is extremely applicable to my life when it comes to updating my life technologically. Everyday I am bombarded with my apps, email, and softwares notifying me that my current version is outdated and that I must update immediately. However, I often become really comfortable with the structure of a software, app, or email format that I am using, and I find that often times when I update I regret the decision immediately. New updates are certainly nice and more developed, but sometimes they are not better for me.

So how can we know whether or not we are ready for an update without passing that point of no return? Apple just recently announced the launch of iOS 8 this fall, and like many people, I’m wondering—should I update?

Updates bring many changes, but the most sensitive and visible effect is the display and organization of the software. A company certainly finds their updates to be beneficial for the consumer, but sometimes I feel better off and more comfortable with an older version. Download speeds and more search options aren’t going to feel like a big change, but faced with an new interface, one will either love or hate the new version of their software.

For example, an update can go two ways:

  1. Too simple to more advanced and functional (like an app, for me my banking application, that felt a little outdate finally upgraded to include features that you’ve been waiting for, like finally being able to transfer funds between accounts on my phone, etc.)
  2. Perfectly functional to too complex with unnecessary additions (like my email or Facebook, which for me created new updates that didn’t make the interface any better, just more complex and harder to navigate).

For many people, updating from iOS6 to iOS7 was the latter. This fall, Apple announced it launch of iOS 8. It’s been advertised to include top of the line features, graphics, and demands; however, these new additions might just feel like extra fluff.

Whatever you decide to do in the fall, to update or not to update, I prompt you to consider this—the change in cloud compatibility and more sharing isn’t going to affect the way you use your phone—the change in the design will.

If you aren’t happy with a more complex interface fraught with shortcuts, new built in apps (the ones you can’t remove), and more swiping options—don’t update.

If you hated the update from iOS7—you probably shouldn’t update (especially if you finally became accustomed to iOS7)

If you are ready for something new and more complex—then you should update.

You do you.

Categories: Pedagogy

Symposium 2014 Brainstorm

Undergraduate Student Panel 2014

Please mark your calendars for October 31, 2014 for the 2014 Engaging Students Through Technology Symposium and join us for two open brainstorming sessions to plan the day:

Our annual symposium is designed for faculty. Last year, we brought together people from 11 of the 12 schools at Penn, and students reflected on their experiences with the “flipped classroom”.

For the morning, we plan an undergraduate student panel and a faculty panel, each with no more than five presenters. For the afternoon, we plan small group discussions, presentations, demonstrations and hands-on workshops.

We would like to identify broad themes as well as hot tech ideas. We are in search of thoughtful questions to ask our student panel. What should we take on this year? Join the conversation!

Categories: Pedagogy

Serious Gaming

What is a “serious” game?  Up until about a year ago, I didn’t really know what it meant, and kind of thought it sounded like an oxymoron.  Since then, I have been researching and making serious games–you can find my first one here.  At some point in your life, you’ve probably been in the midst of a task and realized you or someone else had turned it into a game.  Maybe your mom tricked you into thinking raking the leaves was a game by telling you and your brother that whoever got the most leaves into a pile the fastest would win.  Maybe your boss gave out points for a job well done in an employee of the month competition.  As a Penn Freshman, you may remember competing in a scavenger hunt during the Library Social here at Van Pelt Library.  Have you ever come across a game and got the feeling there was more going on than just fun?  If you answered no, odds are that will change soon.  Serious games include any game with a goal beyond pure entertainment, and they are making appearances in all kinds of places–especially digital games.

Sure, serious games include the chores game your mom made up and playing The Oregon Trail at your elementary school computer lab when you were 8.  But the goal doesn’t have to be chores or education.  Advergames are basically game version of advertisements, like the Chester the Cheetah platformer–if it got somebody to associate Cheetos with fun, then mission accomplished.  (Of course this may have backfired because that game was the worst).  Newsgames can offer interactive documentaries as a way to absorb current events.

If you’re not sure if a game is really a game, it’s probably a serious game.  Some empathy building and political games are meant to convey the perspective of another in a more powerful way through asking the user to try out making the decisions in the life of someone else, like in Darfur is Dying.  Others seek to use a larger community than what would be found otherwise for some really impressive advancements –just look at Foldit, which asks users to figure out ways to fold proteins properly.  When players get all the way up to folding proteins that modern biological science had yet to figure out how to fold, some players have actually made significant scientific advancements by solving the puzzle of folding the proteins.

Sometimes the game’s purpose is not obvious.  Persuasive games like the recruitment games for the U.S. army certainly qualify as serious games, but this is a space that lends itself to ambiguity.  Is Call of Duty a persuasive game?  It could also be seen as an army-recruitment-type game, complete with revisions of history in which America is constantly the scrappy underdog.

And of course, the educational game has come a long way since The Oregon Trail.  Sure, a lot of us have fond memories of fording rivers and hunting way more buffalo than we could carry (seriously, why couldn’t the rest of my party come help carry the food back to the wagon?).  But did anyone actually learn anything?  I’m pretty sure I learned that Independence Rock was a thing and that dysentery was pretty scary, but like many of these early educational video games, they were either more fun or more educational.  Modern educational games are trying to strike a balance, harnessing the motivational power of playing a game for fun with the learning potential involved in figuring out how to play something.  Since you have to learn to play a game better and better in order to advance (if it’s designed well anyway), if the gameplay action is something educational, you’re bound to learn something.  Good game design relies on making the learning process of improving gameplay skills as easy on the player as possible, which can make for some pretty great educational opportunities.

So if you are interested in how learning happens, you may be interested in checking out serious games.  If you’re interested in making a game here at Penn, make sure to check out the Computer Graphics and Game Technology graduate program, Penn Apps or Professor Kevin Werbach of Wharton’s work on gamification, including the gamification courses LGST 240 and LGST 640 (the former for undergrads, the latter for MBA and grad students) and this very popular Coursera class.  Outside of Penn, the Games for Change community would likely be happy to have you, and make sure to check out the smaller indie games cropping up these days–there are some pretty great innovations coming from individual and small groups of game makers, and they often include some great serious game options.  If you’re interested in turning something into a game, or making your first game from scratch, feel free to stop by Weigle Information Commons to chat with me.

Personally, I like making educational games (like this one for learning physics–note that you’ll have to install Unity Web Player, a free extension), but whatever game you want to make, we’ll figure out a way to get you started.  No programming or art skills required.

Categories: Pedagogy

Free Website Platforms: WIX and Weebly

If you’re thinking of creating a website and not sure where to start, this is the blog post for you. Fortunately, we live in a time where you no longer have to know everything about how to code your own website scripting with HTML, CSS, PHP, etc. You can use a content management platform! Content management platforms allow you to build a full website, directly in your browser without any prior knowledge of website development.  Even better, there are free content management platforms (which allow you to do a lot, without having to bump up to the premium packages with additional features), such as WIX and Weebly.

If you’re just getting started and looking for a free content management platform, you may have heard names such as WixWeeblyWebswebnode or squarespace. I myself use WIX to host my personal portfolio (click here to see my WIX website).  I’ve also used Weebly (through the web-hosting site ReadyHosting) to create the website for Peter A Rotella Corporation, a construction company in upstate New York. You can create a website as your personal portfolio, as I have; you can create a website to host your artwork and photography with links to your Etsy page or DeviantART account; you can even use these content management platforms as venues to host your blog (although, for more personal things you may want to go through the WordPress or Tumblr routes).   While you may have a different purpose for creating a website, it is important to note that working with these tools creates good results, even though they’re free.



  • WIX can help you create beautiful and professional websites. WIX is a very design-centered platform, created in mind with those who have an image or a mood that they want to convey through their website, be it through color schemes or background, which may add a certain level of appeal to your website.  Some of these pre-made templates are much more beautiful and detailed than what you get from other content management platforms.  If you’re not the creative type and need help in building a beautiful design, Wix’s pre-made templates will help you get started.
  • WIX offers a lot of flexibility with ability to place images, text and buttons wherever you want on each page of your website. I love the variety of ways in which you can customize what you are doing to your webpage through WIX.


  • With so many options, and ability to put any text box or image anywhere, it is easy to make a page cluttered, or to put inappropriate text colors over clashing backgrounds. There are so many options that it might be difficult to figure out what you want and where to find it.
  • Once you’ve picked a template and begun using it in WIX, you can’t switch to another template. A way to get around this is to explore multiple templates before choosing one, but it’s still less than ideal.
  • Compared to the Weebly, it is more difficult to work directly with a support representative to answer your questions.

On-Site help
WIX offers good support for their website creation platforms – which is ideal, because WIX can be used to do some not-so-basic things.

WIX offers a tab for everything to do with the WIX-editor, which covers topics from editing tools, to adding in WIX apps into your website. WIX offers walk-through videos, and a descriptive walk-through for each topic. This support page also gives you in-depth information on managing your website.

(click here to see WIX’s support page)


  • Weebly is clean, simple, and professional. Weebly offers a simple click and drag interface that allows you to create a professional website very quickly. You really don’t have to be too critical about the formatting of the locations of your newly added text boxes or images, as Weebly auto adjusts the spacing between any divided section. In this way, it adds a sort of “smart” design assistance, which can help prevent your website from becoming too cluttery).
  • If you are not familiar with website design, Weebly offers more structure than WIX. Also, their on-site help is a little bit more “easy access.” If you decide halfway through your project that you don’t like the template that you’re using very much, it’s easy to pick another template without starting all over.
  • I love the storefront option offered though Weebly, which allows you to connect with Paypal directly through your webpage, and to format your storefront creatively.


  • I would not recommend Weebly if you want a highly personalized website. Weebly offers somewhat limited customization options, especially for different themes, which may not offer any color or design customization. I’ve tested out a lot of templates in order to get just-the-right-one for Rotellacorp, and there are a few free templates that hardly allow any color preference adjustments.

On-Site help
Getting help with Weebly is really easy (click here to see Weebly’s support page)

Weebly offers simple, easy to follow walk-through assistance for everything from moving a set of columns to custom HTML embeded widgets. There are even training videos, and live chat options.

All in all, WIX and Weebly are both great website platforms. There are things I like better about WIX, but I definitely think that Weebly  makes web-design totally painless. When it comes down to it, you really need to experiment with either or both and see what you like.

If you’re interested in finding more about WIX or Weebly, join me at an upcoming WICshop. On July 17th, from 2-3:30pm there will be a hands on workshop where we will be using WIX (sign up here). One July 21, from 2-3:30pm there will be a hand on workshop where we will be using Weebly (sign up here).

Keep in mind that we don’t have to publish anything that we create at these workshops, but you certainly can! If you have any questions regarding these or any other content management platforms, please feel free to ask me (Allison Snyder), or stop by the WIC desk!

Categories: Pedagogy

Flipping the Classroom: A WIC Year in Review

Each year, Penn Libraries holds a Pecha Kucha event as the culmination of the year’s Public Services Forum meetings.  The event provides librarians a chance to share research, past projects, or new ideas for the upcoming year.  This year, I decided to do my 20×20 presentation on my experiences with video tools for flipping the classroom over the past year at WIC.  In particular, I focused on our work with educators at the Penn Language Center (PLC) in conjunction with their Certificate in Instructional Technologies and Online Learning.  After working with PLC language educators over the past year, we also enjoyed viewing the outcomes of their projects in May at the PLC Annual Teaching and Showcase Award Program.

Such projects have inspired us to host new events, like Scholarship, De-Printed, and offer new workshops on flipped classroom and other audio/video tools for showcasing online teaching and research.  It’s also tempted us to look back on the various video projects we have participated in with language classes and document these in a publication that we’re working on for the CALICO Book Series.

Please take a look at my presentation above to see our adventures this past year in flipped classroom tools at WIC (spoiler alert – my Prezi recording goes over the strict 5 minutes for Pecha Kucha!).

Categories: Pedagogy

Fab Four Needed!

We are looking for four fabulous graduate students to take WIC and EC into the new academic year. All four positions (two at WIC and two at EC) require a one-year commitment of 20 hours per week. Our interns do everything – they teach workshops, write for PennWIC, staff the WIC desk and the EC desk, and help with a variety of technologies. They participate in library chat assistance and reference desk assistance. This page and the video below (made by Nancy Bellafante a few years back) describe what we do and why you would want to join all of us! See application details.



Categories: Pedagogy

Summer Digital Scholarship Workshops in July and August

Originally posted on The Thread:

Keep current with developing research methods and tools with our summer offering of Digital Scholarship Workshops.

All workshops are at noon and, unless noted, are held in the 6th floor seminar rooms of the Kislak Center in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center.

Coming up right away on July 15 (Tuesday)
Practical Open Access – History, examples of copyright agreements and licensing options. Presented by Shawn Martin and Dot Porter. Learn more and register

July 16 (Wednesday) Meyerson Conference Center
Omeka Overview – A Guided Tour of Omeka presented by Dot Porter. Learn more and register.

July 22 (Tuesday)
Choosing the Right Exhibit Software – Join Nick Okrent and Katie Rawson to learn how to present your scholarship to the best advantage. Bring your ideas and suggestions.  Learn more and register.

August 12 (Tuesday)
Mind Mapping and Beyond - Manuel De la Cruz Gutierrez and Molly Des Jardins will lead you…

View original 21 more words

Categories: Pedagogy
Syndicate content