The Guinea Pig Diaries

28 09 2009

guinea pig with glassesA day-by-day account of connected learning in an actual college classroom. Spills, chills, thrills, and the occasional system crash, plus the tools to help you get connected too. Start here, or scroll to the bottom to start with Day 1.


Where are all the other days?

12 01 2010

This is the final entry in this tale of my first semester of connected learning, and clearly I need to answer one nagging question: how can you manage to only teach 32 class days and still get paid? In the case of this journal, there were several class days I left out, primarily because there was nothing to tell. For example, most Fridays were spent in project teams, which meant there was very little connected learning action taking place. Also we took exams, completed a multi-day negotiation exercise, and dismissed class one day for an on-campus event. Trust me, I really did teach the whole semester’s worth of material.

As I write this conclusion, it is January and a new semester has begun. Optimism reigns and I arrived at my classroom yesterday confident that the network connectivity issues of Day 1 last fall would be a thing of the past. Of course if you’ve read any of this site, you know better, and as I was standing in front of 80 new students trying to explain this whole “connected learning” thing (and why it didn’t seem to work) our network guru was on the phone with our vendors, trying to figure out why all the campus access points seemed to be dead. Deep breath. Sigh. Oh well. We’ll try again tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

Day 32: Resurrecting History

16 11 2009

In my course we spend a day discussing US business history; I do this because a lot of events today make no sense unless you understand the context in which they arose. For example, labor unions frequently seem like an incredibly pointless thing to our students (we live in the Southwest where labor unions are almost non-existent) until we talk about the early twentieth century, when business owners could use and abuse workers without consequence (and most of them did).

Like many folks, I am still angry at my high school history teachers for taking a potentially rich and interesting topic and reducing it to a meanningless exercise in memorizing dates. In the later years of my life I have come to enjoy history, so I am intent on making our short study of business history interesting and relevant. So, for the first time this semester, we used the iPhones for actual in-class research.

Read the rest of this entry »

Day 31: Making my life harder

9 11 2009

Today we took a quiz using SurveyGizmo; it worked perfectly. Two students had technical difficulties; one brought his laptop (since he knew his phone was dead and he would need it) so he moved down to the front row and took the quiz just like everyone else. A second student had problems and couldn’t get on, but he didn’t say anything to me until class ended. I told him he would need to come in and make up the quiz. I’m not sure he ever did…

After the quiz, I did the unthinkable and told the students to stow their gizmos, after which we had an old-fashioned class day. In two ways this was great: it was a change of pace from what we usually do, and the kid on the front row didn’t spend the entire day playing an online combat game. As far as the rest of the class, my material was great and my delivery was energetic, but by the time it was over, I was fairly sure it had been a bit of a bust. To be quite honest, I’m afraid I’m becoming accustomed to the interaction I get when we use the iPhone in class. In just a few weeks I think I’ve trained the students to expect something more than just a lecture, and now they see that as somehow inferior. Of course I could be totally wrong, but if you teach you know that there are class days when you just know it didn’t work, and this was one of those days.

By the way, earlier in the week I did identify a new use for the online quizzes: signing up for events. We have done this twice now, and the sign up includes only one question: their name. After the students submit this, I get a standard spreadsheet with the list. Works great for almost anything they need to opt into, and it beats an illegibly scrawled sign-up sheet or a bunch of response e-mails.

Day 30.5: Electronic Cheating

6 11 2009

At our university there is a strong culture of honesty. No, I am not naive enough to think that our students don’t cheat–in fact, I actually presented a research paper on this topic a few years ago, and it appears that we have our share of folks who take shortcuts. So, as we move into new methods of testing and evaluation I am keeping an open eye for new and better ways to cheat. While this topic is much too involved for me to cover here, let me just mention at least one advantage these new tools give us in keeping our students honest.

Consider this email I received Monday after our quiz:

It is awkward for me to tell you this but I think it is necessary to let you know. This morning, when we were taking the quiz I did not  like the grade that I made and I wanted to figure out what I did wrong so, I  looked back at the questions but to be able to look at the entire quiz I had to answer the questions all over again. When I had answered everything, I was tempted again to see how I did for that second time so I clicked on submit. I just wanted to tell you the truth first before there is any confusion about it. I am really sorry about this confusion and I hope it is not going to have any bad consequences.

Thank you for your understanding and I am sincerely sorry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Day 30: Dancing Poodles and Technology

4 11 2009

If you use Google to find pictures of Albert Einstein, you will locate quite a few, including shots of the genius looking bemused, thoughtful, tired, mellow, and just plain smart. But the shot at the top of the search page today is my favorite: one of the smartest men who ever lived sticking out his tongue.

Why was he doing this? As an undergraduate physics major (I only lasted one semester) I might have thought he was saying, “Ha! You’ll never get this stuff.” But today, just let this picture sum up for you the realities of using technology, especially new technology, in the classroom.

Our tech people have been great in this whole initiative. Imagine the challenges involved in trying to set up one of our auditoriums so that 600 people can simultaneously hit the wi-fi access points, which makes my little class of 70 look pretty simple. Even though our room was already set up to handle around 100 connections, today we got an upgrade which takes the capacity up considerably.  I’m not sure why we got this, but I do know that in the days after the upgrade (I’m writing this in hindsight) our connectivity improved markedly.

Why? I have no idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Day 29: How YOU doin?

2 11 2009

Today we tested my theory that we were still having connectivity problems in our classroom. As class began, I asked all the students with iPhones to switch from wi-fi to 3G. Some of them had been doing this already, since it seemed to alleviate some of the connectivity issues they experienced. Naturally, I had a few students who did not know how to make this switch, and I told them it was not a big deal. Once half the class was switched over, connectivity was smooth for the rest of the day.

We took a quiz today using Survey Gizmo; I e-mailed the link to the class just before starting time, then provided the password in class. Note to self: send the link earlier in the day so they all have it already resident on their devices. This just saves the hassle of two or three having to find it during class time.

For me, one of the huge drawbacks of large class sections is the difficulty in gauging how the students are doing. In particular, my first-semester freshmen are at some risk of getting lost in the crowd, falling behind, and giving up. Read the rest of this entry »

Day 28: Podcasting Upgrade

28 10 2009

Today was my birthday; if you’ll look closely at the iPhone in the picture, you’ll notice that it is actually a birthday cake (from Nobody got me a birthday cake quite this fancy, however I was able to celebrate by spending all day in a computer lab while the seniors from my other two classes took an exit exam. Happy birthday to me!

However, my students in the connected learning class did not suffer too terribly from my absence (I’d like to think that they missed my stunning good looks and my rapier wit, but these are both doubtful as well). Read the rest of this entry »