Day 7: Agile Teaching (at last)

7 09 2009

bulb 672796_lowDay 7 will always stick in my mind as the day I finally got to use the response system as I have envisioned it. To start our discussion of international business, I asked a simple question and let them respond to it: Who is the largest international trading partner of the US? Canada, China, Japan, or Germany.

An overwhelming number chose China, while only one student chose Canada (which is actually the correct answer). At that moment, and for probably 5 minutes thereafter, I had their attention. Why? Because my question raised questions in their mind, and inquiring minds are open minds. It was a great moment. The rest of the class experience went about the same way and I felt like we might finally be getting where we want to be.

This class period also featured M*A*S*H*, the Monday App Showcase. I highlighted two free apps, Shazam and Cowbell. If your classroom has a document camera, you can probably set your iPhone under the scanner and let the students see on the screen what you are seeing on your small screen. By the way, neither of these two apps has any real practical value; I mostly wanted to get them thinking about the sorts of things they might find in the app store. I also asked for volunteers to share their favorite apps in a coming class period.

Today was our second electronic quiz, and it went…okay. We had three specific interface-related problems this time around. One student wanted to review a previous answer and hit the back arrow; the quiz was set to disallow this and with the Safari browser, rather than a simple dialog message, the student got locked out. End of quiz (final score 40%). Unhappy student.

A second student emailed later that day to tell me why he scored 60%: he ran out of time. Whether this was due to log-on problems and a late start, loading problems during the quiz, or some other issue, he did not feel like the quiz was a realistic test of what he had learned.

Perhaps most interesting was the student who requested the paper quiz (we once again had 6-8% use paper). When I asked if he was having technical problems, he held up his phone and explained that he could not read the small text. What I saw was a properly formatted question which filled only the center third of the screen and needed only a tap to zoom in. I supplied the tap and he was fine. This was just another reminder of the need for training in the fundamental interface skills required by all our students.

It was rumored years ago that frustrated execs at Apple had discovered that some percentage of the population were not able to master the basic double-click needed to use a one-button mouse. I don’t know if this story is true, but it seems clear that even in a “tech savvy” generation like this one we need to provide a good bit of hand-holding in the early stages of the process, otherwise we risk alienating students from the very tools we are trying to introduce.

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