Testing VoiceThread

It is possible that linking YouTube videos is not enough to count as student interaction. One suggestion is to use VoiceThread instead of YouTube. I started tinkering with VoiceThread today. So far, it looks interesting.

I would be happy to separate my YouTube channel from my online courses. That would give me more freedom in selecting video topics. Also, I would be able to monetize the channel without worrying about conflicts of interest.

The downside is that VoiceThread may prevent me from sharing my materials. So, let's test embedding a VoiceThread in an external webpage.

So far, so good.

Digits: A New York Times Number Puzzle

Over at Lifehacker, Beth Skwarecki wrote a nice article introducing the Digits game at the New York Times. Go check it out. The only thing I'll add is that I find it's easier to factor the target numbers at the start of the puzzle. The larger numbers seem to break down nicely.

Screen capture of the Digits game. The target number is 462. The results on the right show my solution and the publisher's solution.
A screen shot of Digits.

To get 462, I factored it as 14 * 33. Combining the numbers to get 14 and 33 is much easier.

As an experiment, I tried to paste the results into the blog. It looks like it worked.

Digits #5 (15/15⭐)

59 (59)   ✖➖➖

133 (133) ➖➖➕✖

218 (218) ✖➖➕

388 (388) ✖➕✖➖

462 (462) ➖➖✖✖

You can play digits at The New York Times website.

YouTube Update - Back to the Drawing Board


Screen capture of YouTube video statistics. Average view duration is 13 seconds.
Video Analytics of Shame

Well, hard work usually pays off, but not in this case. I have been laboring diligently on updating my YouTube content to comply with the new captioning guidelines. I want to make sure that my videos are accessible and inclusive for everyone who wants to watch them.

You can see from the analytics from the first video that I have some work to do to improve retention. The entire internet decided this video is worth about two minutes. Even though I'm not interested in making money from YouTube, low average view duration tells me that people aren't getting what they expect from my videos. 

I decided to investigate why this is happening and I found out that it has a lot to do with the structure of my videos. Since the videos are designed for my online classes, I start the video with specific indicators of where the material fits into the course. Students in the class can get that information from the Blackboard shell. Viewers outside the class don't care.

As an additional point, I like to use the Bing AI feature to draft my blog posts. Without any prompts, the AI generated this list of improvements for my videos. I like the list, so I'm quoting it almost verbatim.

Here are some of the things I'm going to do:

 - Start with a hook: Instead of giving a long introduction, I'm going to start with a hook that grabs the attention of the viewers and makes them curious about the topic. For example, I could start with a question, a fact, a story, a joke, or a challenge.

 - Use shorter segments: Instead of having one long video, I'm going to break it down into shorter segments that focus on one main idea or concept. This way, the viewers can digest the information more easily and stay focused on the topic.

 - Add visuals: Instead of just talking to the camera, I'm going to add some visuals that support and illustrate my points. For example, I could use images, graphs, charts, diagrams, animations, or screenshots.

 - Use captions: Even though I already have captions in two languages, I'm going to use them more effectively. I'm going to make sure that they are clear, accurate, synchronized, and readable. I'm also going to use different colors and fonts to highlight important words or phrases.

 - End with a call to action: Instead of just summarizing what I said in the video, I'm going to end with a call to action that encourages the viewers to take action or learn more about the topic. For example, I could ask them to subscribe, like, comment, share, visit my website, or check out another video.

New Textbook from OpenStax - Contemporary Mathematics

The textbook I've been waiting for has finally arrived! OpenStax released Contemporary Mathematics on March 22, 2023.

(I can't believe I'm this excited about a new math textbook.)

There are not as many good OER materials for Liberal Arts Mathematics classes as there are for other math subjects, so I was excited to see this new book from OpenStax. The book Math in Society by David Lippman has been my first choice for examples. However, It's a little lacking for exercises.

I use OpenStax books for references in my math videos because they are good enough quality and are free to copy, with appropriate attribution. The math selection from OpenStax has been fairly robust, with the algebra and calculus books being the most useful.

I will use it to create videos based on the text for the Fall 2023 semester, and I hope you will join me in exploring the fascinating world of contemporary mathematics. The videos will be on my YouTube channel: Navigating College Math.

You can access the book online or download a PDF version from the OpenStax website. You can also sign up to be notified when print copies are available. You can also find additional resources created by the OpenStax community on OER Commons.

I hope you will give it a try and share your feedback with me and the OpenStax team.

Moving on from GitHub

I have decided to move my files from GitHub to this site. Why? Well, there are two main reasons.

First, GitHub is not really designed for hosting documents. It is a great tool for version control and collaboration, but not for publishing content. It's great that it is free, but I feel a bit guilty to use it to get around Google Drive quotas.

Second, GitHub pages are updated slowly and sometimes not at all. Pages are reformatted from Markdown to HTML. This has been running slowly. It usually takes minutes, but today it hasn't updated at all.

Look at the blog pages - currently under development - for new materials.

The Deceit of Silicon

The main theme of the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian revolves around the Enigma of Steel. Conan must answer the Enigma of Steel or he will be cast out of Valhalla by Crom. In the beginning of the film, Conan's father states:

The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one - no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. This you can trust.

The exact riddle and answer are never explicitly stated. The implied answer, from the movie and Nietzsche quote that opens the film, is that the will forged through overcoming hardship is stronger than steel. The demonstration of forging a sword through fire and hammering in the opening credits makes this plain. The movie depicts Conan surviving in his early life when others do not. Conan loses his life and love before finally defeating Thulsa Doom in the climactic battle. The final victory comes when Conan overcomes Doom's hypnosis in a battle of will.

(The fact that the solution is never stated aloud fits the theme. My interpretation is that Crom will judge the person's actions rather than accept a verbal answer.)

The opposite of the Enigma of Steel is the Deceit of Silicon. Where an enigma is a truth hidden in a mystery, a deceit is a lie hidden in apparent truth. When heated, steel becomes stronger. When silicon is heated, it becomes brittle glass. Wielding a sword requires skill and strength. Using a silicon-based processor requires a few swipes or key presses. Steel makes no promises other than to be heavy and make you work. Silicon tempts you with algorithms to make you famous and deliver the world to your doorstep, if you submit to its will.

As an teacher, I repeatedly fall for the Deceit of Silicon. As education moves further away from in-person classes, it is easy to think of my classes as a chance to show the world my genius as an math communicator. In reality, I plan my lessons on how they affect my YouTube analytics instead of how students learn best. Getting a new subscriber or two only adds to my false conviction that I am one the right path. My many students would disagree.

(I realize that some of this is due to ADHD symptoms that I will have to address at the end of the semester.)

Students need to be aware of this phenomenon too. There are cell phone apps and YouTube videos that will help them get through a math class. This may get them through today's homework assignment, but that is putting off the reckoning until the next day. Many current college students finished high school math during COVID. It was easy to believe they were learning by getting passing grades. However, the day they have to show mastery is now.

If this sounds like you, then do not worry. Make peace with the fact you have some gaps in your math preparation and make plans to fill them. College professors will not be as forgiving as your high school teachers, so there is no avoiding it. Just know that, like Conan, the extra effort will not kill you. It will make you stronger as a student.

This Could Have Been an Email - Teaching Edition

I have two pet peeves in this world: people wasting my time and me wasting other peoples time. I recently realized that I've been wasting my students' time and my time by creating videos that could be Blackboard announcements. I've decided to stop making as many videos and focus on other ways of connecting with students.

During my online teaching professional development, I was taught to use introduction videos to help students start to form a connection with their instructor. Of course, I can't stop with just one video. I have to make a video for each week of the course. Since I'm terrible on camera, these videos take longer to make than is reasonable. Also, no one watches the videos after the second week of the semester.

To try to maintain some personal connection, I plan to record the weekly posts as an audio file and upload it next to the script. That way students can choose either option. This also covers my bases for accessibility. Because audio files are easier to edit and looking good on camera isn't an issue, the whole process goes faster.

A welcome message for Liberal Arts Mathematics. There is an audio file player above the written text.
Student view of a finished welcome message.

Also, it is possible to use the recording process to create videos as well. It works pretty well to solve a problem and scan each step in the process. I can create PowerPoints with the scans and other text and then save the whole thing as a series of images. A video editing program can assemble the images with the narration. It is possible to do this entire process in PowerPoint, but I like to edit the audio first. This post from the Audacity wiki shows exactly how I edit my audio.

Long term, I'd like to assemble all of the audio recordings into a single file for students to download. This is an idea I picked up from Michael Wesch. It may not work as well with math as it does with anthropology, but that's a problem for later.

Since my perfectionist tendencies have to be appeased somehow, I decided to build a recording area in my messy garage. With $45 worth of PVC pipe and Harbor Freight moving blankets, I managed to pull something together. There is a frame built out the PVC pipe and some fittings. The blankets are clamped to the frame. It's not professional quality, but a little effort goes a long way.

Two shelves hold some moving blankets.
I can fit myself, a microphone, and a recorder in there.

A piece of lumber holds up a PVC pipe frame. A moving blanket is clamped to the frame
Close-up of the frame and blankets.