Instructor Q&A: Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill on UWIT Workshops

Have you been thinking about incorporating a digital component to a writing assignment or classroom activity? Have you been holding back because you don’t feel comfortable teaching students how to use the tool? Good news! UW Information Technologies specialists will do a custom workshop for your class on the technology of your choice, tailored to the assignment or activity you’ve designed. You can check out the extensive list of software they cover, as well as instructions for setting up a custom workshop, here. (Note that you’ll need to be in a computer classroom for the workshop, so if you’re not teaching in the CIC, be sure to email me to see if there’s a computer classroom available during your class time.)

Don’t want to schedule a workshop during class time? You can point your students to the ongoing open IT workshops–which are free to students and instructors–on the same range of software tools (see the schedule here).

To give you an idea of what this might look like in your classroom, I interviewed principal instructor and EWP assistant director for ENGL 121 Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill about her success with a UW IT class workshop. In addition to describing the assignment and workshop, she also provided us with

  • a pre-workshop survey she conducted to gauge her students’ comfort levels with the presentation software the workshop would cover (see below)
  • a post-workshop anonymous evaluation of the workshop she asked students to complete (also below).

We highly recommend borrowing these pre- and post-surveys from Elizabeth so you can get the most out of your UW IT workshop (and cultivate a reflective teaching practice!).

The assignment: Students in my English 298 [IWP] writing link with Communication 201 had been assigned to groups based on their interest in shared topics. Within those groups, each student did an individual presentation, and then the group co-authored a presentation introducing their individual work. We modeled this on an academic conference panel. Introductions were 3-4 minutes and presentations about 5 minutes each, so a 4 person group took about 25 minutes. The presentations were an assignment in themselves, and, after students got feedback from peers and me, also served as a draft for the next assignment, in which students wrote individual essays on their topics, and co-authored an introduction to that collection of papers.

The workshop: Initially, I asked UW IT to offer a workshop during my class time in the MGH 082 lab to teach students how to use Google Sites, Prezi and PowerPoint. The UW IT staff helped me design a pre-workshop survey for my students to complete so that the workshop could target what they really needed support on. [See the survey below!] It ended up that all the students felt comfortable with power point, so UW IT offered a workshop on Prezi and Google Sites, and also explained that students have a 30 minute consultation with UW-IT available to them each quarter for help on presentations. Of the four student groups in my class, 2 did PowerPoint, 1 did Google Sites, and 1 used Prezi.

The workshop went well. We only had the CIC for an hour (because of the way our CIC schedule worked that quarter) and it might’ve been useful to have the full hour and 20 minutes for students to practice each method and ask questions, but it was fine, and I think possible in a 50 minute class if the pre-workshop survey is done so instruction can be targeted.

The assignment worked well. Because Communication 201 focused on mass media, and as a discipline is very interested in presentations and multimodality, it made a lot of sense for me to do a presentation assignment. Some students were nervous about presenting, but they appreciated the opportunity. It worked quite well to use a presentation as a draft in a sequence moving toward a paper. Kimberlee and I have done something similar in our English 281 “Investigating Seattle Communities” class in the past. I do focused instruction on working in groups, and I interact with the groups, give them clear guidelines for each stage, and have each individual assess the work of the group in an evaluation that comes in only to me — students know ahead of time that their participation in group work will be graded. I set aside a portion of the course grade — 15% — for the co-authored/group portion of the work. I was particularly pleased about how well the groups worked together, including a group with a very nervous international student who ended the quarter with a comment saying “I love my team!!”

Elizabeth’s pre-workshop survey questions for her students:

In Google Sites, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Setting up a Google site, creating and organizing pages, posting documents, posting images and videos, writing text around those images and video:

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

In PowerPoint, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Creating a PowerPoint presentation, creating a new slide, inserting images into a slide, inserting text into a slide, positioning text and images on a slide

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

In Prezi, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Creating a Prezi presentation, creating a route through a Prezi, inserting images, inserting text, positioning text and images on a slide

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

Elizabeth’s students’ (anonymous Catalyst WebQ) evaluations of the workshop:
Very effective: 10
Quite effective, but I have a suggestion: 4
Effective: 2
Somewhat effective, but needs significant development: 0
Not effective: 0

Student optional open-ended comments about the workshop:

  • I would not have known about Google slides without that workshop.
  • It was really helpful learning how to use other presentation sites other than powerpoint
  • interesting and helpful to learn about prezi and google sites
  • This was extremely helpful since I have never used prezi before.
  • Very effective, I felt that I learned enough to be able to navigate all sites.
  • Pass out a sheet signing up to see UW-IT people.
  • The presentation on google sites was very helpful as well as the simple template that was provided for us. Also thank you for the help with prezi
  • Would have hoped for a little more time with instruction but understand that there was a time constraint

Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your success!

By Ann Shivers-McNair

FERPA Law and Digital Tools

UW offers an impressive array of digital tools to support classroom instruction and student learning: notably, Google Drive (documents, forms, presentations, and sites–which some instructors use for student projects and portfolios) and Canvas, which has lots of options for in- and out-of-class engagement (for example: peer review, Canvas-friendly appsPanopto, and of course portfolios).

But there are also lots of other great digital tools out there, and many of us are using them in innovative ways to engage our students. We’re here to support you in finding tools that advance your pedagogical goals. But there are also some ethical and legal considerations to keep in mind when you’re thinking about tools that aren’t protected by UW NetID access.


We all know not to post student grades on office doors or leave boxes out for student paper drop-off or pick-up, and we know we cannot discuss grades over email. But did you know that you also should not store electronic copies of student papers or grades in your personal Dropbox or other cloud service? It’s true: any digital copies of student work or grades should be kept in your UW NetID-protected Google Drive or on Canvas or Catalyst.

Why? Because FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) says that educational records (which include not only students’ grades, but also records that identify students’ course numbers/titles/times/instructors) cannot be revealed to a third party without the written consent of the students. (Check out a quick overview of FERPA guidelines here.)

Because UW cannot guarantee the security of internet-based resources outside the UW NetID, keeping student records anywhere else is a risk (and UW can’t help us legally if there’s a data breach outside their NetID protection). And requiring students to use social media (with their real names or other identifying information) for class participation or projects, particularly with hashtags or group/page names that identify the course, without their written consent is a violation of FERPA.

Does this mean we can’t use any digital tools outside the UW NetID protection? Not at all! But it does mean we need to be informed about students’ rights to privacy, and we need to be judicious (and legally correct) about using other digital tools. Essentially, this means two important things:

  1. Obtain students’ written consent whenever you ask them to use a non-UW-protected digital tool (I’ve included a sample consent form below). Note that if students create anonymous user names, you do not have to get their written consent, but you do need to be prepared to provide an alternative for students who have legitimate concerns about putting their work online.
  2. Give students a viable alternative to using the non-UW-protected digital tool: they should not be penalized in any way for not using the non-UW-protected tool.

Taking these simple steps allows you to safely and conscientiously use great digital tools and resources in your class.And it’s a good idea to keep your EWP and IWP administrators in the loop, too. Here’s an example from a course I taught last spring:

A Digital Platform for Peer Review

Peer review is a central element of my pedagogy, and I was excited when I learned about Eli Review, a digital peer review platform that provides some more sophisticated options than Canvas. But Eli isn’t protected by the UW NetID, so with the help of then-EWP director Anis Bawarshi, I developed a consent form informing students of their rights, the security specifications of the platform, and their right to opt out:

All the work you do in this course, including your peer review work, is your property, and you have legal control over who has access to it.  Eli Review is a platform for conducting peer review and revisions on your projects in this class; it is password protected, and peer review projects will be restricted to members of our class.  Your work will be stored in a secure database accessible only to Eli developers for the purposes of site-wide, de-identified statistics or system diagnostics. Your name will be attached to the work stored in the program database, because you will create a profile in the system in order for the system to generate the individual reports you will see after you complete a peer review task.  You do retain legal rights to your work.

By agreeing to use Eli Review in this class, you are consenting to allowing your work to be non-anonymously stored on the Eli database.  If you are not comfortable with this, you can use Canvas for peer review instead, and you will not be penalized in any way.

I hereby DO/DO NOT consent to use Eli Review for course-related review and revision work in ENGL 131 during Spring 2014 quarter.

I understand that consenting or not consenting to use Eli Review will not affect my grade in the course.

As it turns out, all students in my class opted to use Eli Review, and we had great success with it. You can read more about how I used Eli Review here and here. And feel free to borrow that consent form language!

So the point here is that we can and should be exploring and using a full range of tools to support our students’ learning; we just also need to be conscientious about protecting our students’ right to privacy.

Here are a few more resources on navigating UW and Washington State policies for technology use and information storage:

And of course, feel free to get in touch with us (Ann and Kimberlee) or your EWP or IWP administrator with any questions.
By Ann Shivers-McNair