Green Up! the Classroom

Green Up NIUDuring the summer of 2012, NIU’s Information Technology Services launched an initiative to Green Up! NIU. This includes an effort to become increasingly paperless. The Vision 2020 goal of 100% Wi-Fi coverage in student and academic spaces supports going paperless, as does the new student printing quota. There are several ways that faculty can support the Green Up! Initiative and help students avoid unnecessary printing.

eReserves and Online Readings

The pressure of reducing textbook costs has increased the popularity of using eReserves or posting articles for students to download and print. However, this also results in additional student printing. There are a few options to reduce printing of electronic readings:

Laptops and mobile devices: Encourage students to bring and use laptops, tablets, and smartphones in class as allowable by course policies and course activities. Students can use these devices to access readings during class instead of printing them. Plus, these devices can be used for engaging in-class activities, as well.

Course Packs: Instead of posting reading assignments online for students to print, have them printed and available for purchase at the bookstore. While this does not eliminate paper, it does reduce students’ tendency to print multiple copies if they have lost of forgotten an article that they already printed. Using a Course Pack also allows students to pay for the materials using financial aid, if they are eligible. The University Bookstore and Document Services have partnered to improve the Course Pack ordering process and reduce printing costs for students.

In the future, Course Packs can be created electronically through an easy-to-use web store that automatically creates a cover and table of contents. The bookstore will obtain any necessary copyright permissions. Students can purchase the print materials from the bookstore. It is even possible to create an eBook format with interactive features, like embedded video or audio, that can be read on PC, Mac, and most mobile devices. Document Services is currently looking for volunteers who are interested in trying the new online course pack ordering and eBook creation processes. Anyone interested should contact Mitch Kielb, Director of Holmes Student Center at or Brian Thompson, Print Shop Superintendant at for more information.

Electronic Grading

We generate a lot of paper for assessing students. If students are required to turn in paper copies of their assignments, they may have to pay per page for printing just to submit their homework! Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for students to submit their work electronically:

Submission of Student Work

Blackboard Assignment Tool: Ask students to submit electronic copies of their work by using the Blackboard Assignment tool. Students can submit nearly any common file type, including but not limited to Microsoft Office, audio, video, and photo formats. The submissions are organized in the Grade Center so that it is easy to view and grade student work. Student submissions can be viewed individually or downloaded as a package. Learn more about the Assignment tool at or watch an archived workshop on this topic.

SafeAssign: One of the advantages of requiring students to submit their work electronically is the possibility of helping them with preventing plagiarism. SafeAssign is a plagiarism prevention tool that detects unoriginal content in students’ papers by identifying areas of overlap between submitted assignments and existing works. Text-based files (.doc/.docx, .txt, .rtf, and pdf) submitted through SafeAssign are compared with sources from the Internet, ProQuest ABI, previous submissions through SafeAssign at NIU, and a global reference database. Results are organized in the Blackboard Grade Center, which facilitates the grading process. Learn more about the SafeAssign tool at

Google Docs: Following the 2012 migration to Google Apps for Education, NIU students now have access to Google Dr. This means students can create and edit text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations from the web. Google Docs can be shared among students for collaborative work and submitted to faculty as a link.

Grading and Providing feedback

The Blackboard Assignment and SafeAssign tools allow faculty to provide feedback with a grade, comments, and a file attachment. It is possible to provide the same level of detailed feedback that is traditionally written in the margins by using some interesting technology:

Electronic Rubrics: Recently, Blackboard added an interactive rubric tool that can be used to grade any work submitted through Blackboard or for which a grade is entered into the Grade Center. The rubrics help students understand the requirements for the assignment and help faculty explain how student work is evaluated. The rubrics can be associated with Assignments and SafeAssignments, as well as Blogs, Journals, Wikis, and Discussion Boards for which grading is enabled. Rubrics can also be used for any column in the Grade Center, even if there is not an associated Blackboard submission (e.g. for papers turned in on paper, in-class presentations, participation, etc.). Learn more about Blackboard’s Interactive Rubric feature at or watch an archived workshop.

Microsoft Word Reviewing Tools: Microsoft Word has an extensive suite of features for commenting and editing documents. These tools are available under the Review tab (or menu, for older versions of Word). The New Comment button adds a balloon to the margin for commenting on a portion of the text. Highlight the text first, click the New Comment button, and then type the comment into the balloon. The Track Changes feature marks any changes to the document and notes who made the change. Students can review the changes and choose to accept or reject them. This would also be beneficial to introduce to students who are working collaboratively with Word documents.

For more information on using Track Changes, go to

Digital Handwriting: Imagine writing comments in the margin of a student’s paper, but then sending them the paper and comments electronically, without use of paper or ink. Digital pens, previously the tools of graphic designers and digital artists, have become more accessible for daily use. These devices can be used like a pen to sketch or write on electronic documents, in either Word or PDF format. Inexpensive pen tablets, like the Wacom Bamboo tablet, are particularly well-suited to this use, although it does require practice to become adept at writing legibly with one. Pen tablets can also be used to create narrated tutorials similar to those from the Khan academy or to handwrite formulas and calculations for handouts or study aids.

Mobile Devices: Mobile devices, particularly tablets, are also useful for electronic grading. With a tablet and a stylus, it is almost as easy to annotate student work electronically as it is on paper. The process is not perfect, yet, so it requires downloading student papers, syncing them through a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, and then annotating within an app like Adobe Reader (Free, for iOS or Android) or Good Reader($4.99, for iOS). It is also still necessary to upload student papers to Blackboard manually from a desktop or a laptop. However, using a mobile device to read and grade student work certainly makes the process easier. Blackboard plans to improve this process in future upgrades.


These methods really are just the beginning for electronic grading. Others have experimented with using audio feedback for grading, even recording the audio on an iPad, and with video grading. There is no one right way to grade electronically, just as there are many ways to grade on paper. The key is to find an efficient process that is comfortable, and to begin a little at a time.


Learning on the Go

NIU MobileNIU has released its first campus-wide mobile app, NIU Mobile for Apple (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad), Blackberry, Android, and webOS devices.

The app connects students and faculty to NIU resources on-the-go, including the campus directory and calendar as well as athletics schedules and scores. Campus maps can help new students find their way around campus, and Emergency Information is easy to access. There is even a portal to search the library catalog.

NIU Mobile also includes access to Blackboard Mobile Learn, so students can access course materials, post to the discussion board, and check their grades from anywhere. Faculty can also post announcements from the app.

This video provides a demonstration of the NIU Mobile app and highlights its most exciting features. However, Mobile Learning encompasses more than checking grades from a phone or posting announcements while traveling.

What is Mobile Learning?

There are many definitions of mobile or m-learning, ranging from simple definitions such as “e-learning through mobile computational devices” (Quinn, 2000, para. 1) to complex theoretical definitions of mobile learning as a function of its facets (Laouris & Eteokleous, 2005, para. 15). However, across all definitions there are several common themes:

  • Learning occurs outside of the classroom. Students learn from wherever they are, or from contextually-relevant locations (like museums or landmarks)
  • Learning occurs at any time
  • Learning is facilitated by a mobile device, which can include smartphones (like an iPhone or Android device), cell phones (without web browsing capabilities), tablets (mobile devices with larger screens, like an iPad), and even laptop computers

It is important to note that mobile devices are often viewed as the driving force for mobile learning, but that is not necessarily the case. Mobile Learning is really about new ways to access content and engage with students, as well as innovative methods to analyze information and create media.

Why does Mobile Learning matter?

Internet-capable mobile devices are becoming more prevalent, and new devices like tablets are expanding the possibilities for portable devices. In fact, by the year 2015, it is estimated that 80% of all Internet usage will be done from mobile devices (Ericsson, 2010, para. 5). Mobile devices can be used to access information, communicate with others, compose text, and create media.

Mobile learning can be more engaging for students because it accommodates multiple learning styles, particularly the auditory and kinesthetic styles. Because students are not tied to a classroom, mobile learning can be used to augment real-world experiences, like gathering data, making observations, or conducting interviews.

Convenience is also a factor in mobile learning. Students can access materials at any time and from anywhere, which makes learning accessible to students who might otherwise struggle with courses. Also, high-speed mobile Internet is available in locations where traditional high-speed connections have not yet reached. Pilots of mobile learning initiatives have been conducted with students in remote locations and in developing nations, where mobile technology exists but hard-wired infrastructure is not available (Parker, 2011).

What qualifies as a mobile device?

Mobile learning naturally brings smartphones to mind, like the iPhone or an Android-powered phone. These devices have vast capabilities, including accessing Internet content, running a continually growing selection of programs called apps, and creating and editing media like photos, audio, and video. These devices generally have GPS features for location-specific content.

Tablets, like the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or the Motorola Xoom, are more like keyboard-less laptops. They run apps similar to smartphones, but have larger screens and more processing capabilities. Laptops are also considered mobile devices, since students can utilize them from anywhere, although they are certainly less mobile than smaller devices.

However, these high-end devices are not the only options for mobile learning. While many students do not have smartphones, most do have cellphones. In fact, 93% of adults age 18-29 use a cellphone (Voxy, 2011). Most modern cellphones have capabilities that can be used for mobile learning, like text messaging and cameras.

What activities/techniques are possible?

Technique What is it? How can it be used in the classroom?
Text messaging (SMS)
  • Short text-based messages of 160 characters or less
Mobile photos and video
  • Most modern cellphones are equipped with cameras for photo or video, some high resolution (5-9 megapixels)
  • Smartphones can run apps for photo and video editing
  • Students can document locations or events by taking photos with their phones
  • Students can record presentations as practice or post short videos for classmates to review
  • eBooks can be read and annotated on mobile devices or dedicated readers (e.g. Kindle, Nook, etc.) as well as desktop computers
  • eBooks can include videos and other interactive media that print textbooks cannot
  • Faculty can select textbooks that are available both in print and electronically so students can choose
  • Faculty can create eBooks instead of PDF files for course documents


Quick Response (QR) codes
  • Created using free services, saved as images
  • Can direct to a website, display a short message
  • Displayed on posters, cards, t-shirts, etc.
  • Scanned using free apps
  • QR codes can be used for a scavenger hunt, where each code provides a clue to the location of the next code
  • QR codes can be shorthand to direct students to important resources or detailed information
  • Wide variety of available apps with educational uses
  • Use for classroom activities or as optional study aides
A limited list of potential apps (all free and available for multiple devices): 

  • Evernote: synchronize notes across devices and desktop
  • i-nigma: a simple QR reader
  • foursquare/gowalla/scvngr: location-based apps that can be used for scavenger hunts
  • Dropbox: synchronize files between desktop, mobile, and web
  • Much more


Learn More

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is now offering a Mobile Learning Series of workshops. The series began with Learning On the Go: Introduction to Mobile Learning. The presentation from that workshop is available at The series continues with Quick Response (QR) Codes on October 27, 2011 from 10:00 am to 11:30 am and Text Messaging in Teaching on November 17, 2011. Each workshop is independent of the others, so sign up for all or just one! Plus, look for more topics coming in future schedules, including creating and using eBooks, location-based learning, podcasting, mobile media, and more.


Ericsson (July 9, 2010). Mobile subscriptions hit 5 billion mark. Retrieved from:

Laouris, Y. & Eteokleous, N. (2005). We need an Educationally Relevant Definition of Mobile Learning. Proceedings of the 4th World Conference on mLearning. October 25-28, Cape Town, South Africa. Retrieved from:

Parker, J. (2011). Mobile learning toolkit. Retrieved from:

Quinn, C. (2000). mLearning: Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. LiNE Zine. Fall. Retrieved from:

Voxy (2011). Are we wired for mobile learning? Retrieved from:

iPad in Higher Education Seminar at NIU

posted in: News, workshops | 0


Join Apple Inc. at NIU on Thursday, February 10, 2011 to see how iPad is making learning more engaging and accessible than ever.

Today students are learning in more places than just the classroom, and educators are finding new ways to reach them anytime, anywhere. At this event, Apple will share its mobility strategy with the iPad and how it is beginning to change higher education. With numerous education applications, as well as strategies for textbooks, research and integration, the iPad is becoming a tremendous tool for 21st Century Learning.

We will spend time learning about the Apps that are native to the iPad, and then investigate some of the resources that are available on iTunes U. We will also look at some of the Apps that are available from 3rd Party developers that enhance teaching and learning in the classroom.

Additional Information
Please feel free to pass along this information to other interested faculty and staff at your institution as well as neighboring educational institutions.

Lunch will be served to all registered attendees and seating will be limited so be sure to reserve yours at the registration link provided below.

Location and Date
Date: Thursday, February 10
Time: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Where: Northern Illinois University
Holmes Student Center
Illinois Room, 2nd Floor
DeKalb, IL 60115


Who Should Attend?
Faculty and staff interested in enhancing the educational experience through the use of Apple’s mobile devices.

Location Instructions
Visit the following URL for directions and parking information: