Day 26: Boooooom!

21 10 2009

Where to begin….

If you’re thinking about trying this whole connected learning thing, you are going to need one key thing, and it’s NOT technical expertise. In fact it’s not really any kind of knowledge at all. If you want to give this a shot, you must, MUST come to the experience with a willingness to fail, not on a small scale, but on the scale of a natural disaster. And you must know that the day will surely arrive when nothing you have planned will work, and you have to be ready to move forward and improvise in spite of it. In short: be brave, or it will never work.

OK, if you’re still reading, here is how Day 26 went. Now that we had figured out the formula for giving quizzes on the iPhone I was ready to just roll right on. Before class started I emailed all my students a link to the quiz (as I always do) and I told them to visit the link and launch the quiz (as I always do). They took out their phones, and after about 30 seconds, one of them said, “I can’t get to email.” He was only the first, and soon it was evident that more than half the class could not get to the link. What to do, what to do….I took this opportunity to share with them the gospel of periodic rebooting, and had them all restart their phones. No help, no change. Hmmm. At this point there weren’t too many options; we threw out this quiz and jumped into the class. Then, it got even better. My phone would not connect to Responseware. I tried it twice with no luck. Others were having similar problems (and it’s bad form to blame the students when you can’t even do what you are telling them to do).

At this point I was 0 for 2 and not feeling too confident. We plunged into the class anyway and I did my best to wow them with my good looks, astounding intelligence, and razor wit. You already know how that went over….Class was dull, even to me, and that’s a very bad sign. Maybe it was the time of the year; maybe it was the teacher’s unease after his first two tries fell flat. Maybe it was just dumb luck, but I came back to my office feeling like I needed to quit teaching and go back to school. If you teach, you probably know the sort of day I’m talking about. I eventually attributed at least part of the problem to the fact that Fall Break was just one day away and most of the students had already shipped their minds back home for the weekend. But I also put a big chunk of it on my own doorstep.

My experiment this semester has been designed to ask both “What can we do with these tools” and “What should we do with these tools.” At the midway point, I’m starting to think that the connected learning tools are not at their best as “efficiency improvers.” I say this simply because we have had so many technical issues related to attendance checking and quiz administration that I think becoming more efficient in these ways may be a mixed bag (at least with current technological limitations). Perhaps these tools are, as someone once described a golf club, “singularly ill-suited to the task” of making class administration more efficient.

On the other hand, I am coming to think that these tools hold almost limitless potential for expanding our interaction with our students. Without sounding too much like a “fan boy” I can say that I find it  hard to imagine that these tools will not be widely used in higher education within five years. Why? Because the ability to call up virtually any fact, or contact virtually any person from virtually any place on the planet renders the distinction between the classroom and the “real” world largely meaningless. The expectation that students memorize lengthy lists of dates and locations becomes harder to justify when that information is instantly available (for free) at any time. Note that I’m not saying the students shouldn’t learn these things; I am merely stating that our concept of ‘learning’ a subject is going to have to change as our access to information changes.

Sorry, we’ve veered off into the land of philosophizing. I give myself a big fat ‘D’ for this assignment, though in the words of one of my students, “I put in ‘C’ effort.” See you after Fall Break.

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