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.

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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.

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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 27: Highs and Lows

26 10 2009

It may shock you to find out that not every day in my classes is outstanding, interesting, or worth writing about. OK, so that probably didn’t shock you at all. Like everything else in life, this class has had its share of ups and downs (many of which I’ve described to you). It has also had a fair number of days which are somewhere in the middle, and not terribly interesting to talk about. This was one of those days.

To avoid being one of those folks who starts by saying, “Well, I don’t really have anything much to tell you,” and proceeds to prove it for the next 40 minutes, let me just hit the high points. We tried the word cloud again, and this time it still didn’t work; that’s two strikes, and in my league that is probably enough. We took a quiz the old-fashioned way, I showed a couple of video clips in my lesson, and I sent them on their way.

Today was one of those classes that reminds you of the sad truth: no matter how hard you work to be  a dynamic, powerful Superman in the classroom, you will still have days where you are simply a somewhat uninteresting Clark Kent.  As you adopt connected learning tools, you will still have one foot in the old way of doing things. That straddling of two worlds can be both a liability and an asset. Oddly enough, I have found that an occasional day of old-style teaching actually adds variety to what I’m doing. And that’s a good thing, because all this new-fangled stuff is taking a lot of time to put together!

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…. Read the rest of this entry »

Day 25: Dislocated teaching

19 10 2009

One of the hardest questions to ask yourself is whether you have become obsolete. About three years ago I designed an online course for our university. It was sort of an experiment for me as we move some of our less frequent offerings (especially at the graduate level) to an electronic format. For this process I took an existing course and recreated the lessons, experiences, illustrations, and other elements so that an individual anywhere in the world could complete the course from home. Since that time, a few hundred people have completed the course, all with relatively little involvement from me.

Ironically, if we take that model and extend it to its ultimate possible degree, we reach a point where a team of professors could spend two or three years moving an entire degree plan online, at which point they could all retire (if they are old enough) or just file for unemployment (if they are not), while the course was taught by adjuncts, grad students, or someone else for the next ten or twenty years. This is the outcome which troubles professors across the nation right now, and it remains to be seen how it will play out. Of course that topic is far too large for us to consider here, so let’s leave that depressing thought and move to something more immediate. Read the rest of this entry »

Day 24: Paper vs. Plastic (revisited)

16 10 2009

Before letting my students work on their team projects, I collected some more data. Once again I was trying to understand how they view the connected learning initiative, the various technologies that go with it, and the advantages/disadvantages it brings to the game.

In my first round of data collection (done more than a month ago) I  found that the students strongly preferred taking their quizzes on the iPhone; this preference surprised me  because we faced so many problems with the technology early-on. Of course the challenge in assessing this sort of data is to determine not just what was said, but also why respondents said it. So my objective in this survey was to learn whether their strong preference for electronic quizzing was inherently about the mode of delivery, or whether  it was more about feedback timing; after all, a printed quiz takes at least a day to turn around (often longer) while the electronic version provides immediate feedback. Read the rest of this entry »