My journey teaching with technology is constantly evolving… as it should be. In fact, I remain in a fairly steep learning curve, although I am intentionally taking baby steps as I explore new tools to meaningfully enhance teaching and learning. My approach to any innovative teaching and learning practice is to understand the type of thinking it targets or can facilitate when done well and what it looks like when done poorly. In other words, I place the thinking goals first, then choose the appropriate methods and tools to help.
What follows is a brief description of the various tools I have embedded, to varying degrees, in my instruction. I will make relevant connections to my uses in faculty development, but most of my experimentation is in the classroom and is fortunately aided by the skilled hands of my colleagues. I claim no expertise with any tool, but I am skilled at making the thinking goals visible and figuring out how to bring them to fruition.
- Blogging – I guess if you are reading this you are aware of this blog. It is the place where I reflect on and explore issues related to teaching, learning and higher education. Frankly, it has been one of the most rewarding exercises in my professional life. One of my colleagues, Britt Watwood, relentlessly argued that I embrace blogging, and, being a person who believes in making decisions on sound reasons when necessary and important to do so, I eventually had to yield. I have Dr. Watwood to thank for his introduction into the power of public reflection. I found my voice. Consequently, I have discovered ways to incorporate blogging into the classes I teach.
- Course Sites and Mother Blogs. The first two examples below capture efforts with the undergraduate courses I teach. The third example is an aggregated blog for the Learning Spaces program I designed, manage, and facilitate. All are evolving, but all represent an attempt to help students connect with one another and outside participants.
Google Forms & Docs
- Most of my electronic documentation in the undergraduate courses I teach take place in Google Docs. Our university supports Google, which makes it easy to share work with students and connect them to various apps and add-ons. The commenting features have proven very valuable for providing and tracking peer feedback. I have even experimented with Google draft back that I first learned about from James Somers blog on the topic. This tool is really powerful for its metacognitive potential and helping students actually see their thinking in action…for better or worse. Moreover, I can use this tool to show them my thinking as I write, re-write and re-write again. Finally, Google Docs is an excellent tool for co-creating course documents with students like rubrics and grade profiles.
- Google Forms is such an easy tool for real time assessment. Whether I am checking in with students to get a better idea of how the course is meeting their needs or if I need to check their understanding of a concept, Google Forms is a simple and quick way to gather that information particularly because it automatically loads the responses into a spreadsheet. It is just a press of a button to transfer that data into a graph or chart. Pretty seamless for my purposes thus far.
- I posted my first telescoping text in my course site for an undergraduate class entitled Inquiry & the Craft of Argument. I used this tool to communicate two elements of the course: The Big Thought Picture and The Big Course Picture. The first addresses the type of thinking and core questions informing our intellectual work. The second clarifies the course theme. The purpose of this technology is to find the CORE of the course. My secondary purpose was to model the type of thinking that the tool targets. In doing so, students were to use this tool to present the abstracts for their final research papers. The thinking (finding the core) was difficult for them just as saying it concisely, but the tool is easy to use; it just takes forethought.
- I LOVE FLIPGRID!!! I have to thank my colleague Michael Reis for the introduction and orientation to this tool. Why do I love it so much? It has a low threshold for participation. Flipgrid has proven to be an excellent tool for capturing faculty reflections. Of course, it has its limits. If my purpose was to use it to capture deep reflections and extensive elaborations, then I would be greatly disappointed. However, that is not my purpose. I use this tool as a conversation starter. Specifically, I use it to introduce a new idea, have participants engage with that idea modeling a specific pedagogical method (or interpret it through a specific conceptual lens), view what others have said, and use the 90 second clips as starting points for our follow-up group meetings. Awesome! 90 seconds is not a lot to ask and it does not require a unique log-in. It can also be used with computers and mobile devices that have voice and camera capabilities. Best of all, faculty love it too!
- It’s odd that I learned of this tool and it was announced shortly after that my institution will enable Voicethread in our LMS. My experience with this program is emerging, but so far I have found it very useful for digital interactions with students and faculty. I like the ability to annotate a document with text, illustration, and voice narration. It really helps viewers hear and see the thinking. I also like the commenting features, which allow for following discussion threads. Finally, it is a strength of this program that a user can comment in multiple formats: voice, video, text. As far as our faculty are concerned, one downside is that it requires a unique log in, so it adds yet another thing we have to keep track of. Hopefully, this last piece is addressed once it is embedded within our LMS.
- Timeline JS is a free web-ware that my colleague Tom Woodward introduced me to. It is designed for making history timelines. However, once I saw it I immediately thought of its potential for students crafting timelines of their intellectual journeys throughout the term. The assumptions driving general education initiatives rest on exposure to, practice with and transfer of cross-disciplinary intellectual skills and dispositions. I believe in the potential power of general education, but I pause at the suggestion that all students will be able to develop such skills and dispositions through mere exposure. I want to make the process more explicit and accountable as far as my class goes. My goal was for students to account for the development of the skills, dispositions and insights they have worked on throughout the term. This involves addressing obstacles they faced and how they managed them. Timeline JS allows for one to embed a document (pdf), picture, website or a video that I required students to cite as evidence to support claims of intellectual growth. This project is directly linked to my critique of traditional conceptions of what constitutes a student portfolio. The potential for students to see and account for their development over the course of a semester is tremendous; this is particularly relevant to shifting the focus of learning away from rote content knowledge toward growth mindsets. If we are to help students develop emerging understandings and skills of what it means to think within a discipline (like biologists, like literary critics, like historians, etc.), then much can be said of emphasizing deep metacogitive reflection that is both visible and framed as an argument.
Glogster and Smore are two additional online resources that I used to help students capture the stories of their intellectual development over the course of the term. I focused on my undergraduate general education course for reasons stated above in my description of Timeline JS. I gave students options because, after all, it’s their stories. I like the platforms because they are fairly easy to learn: there are multiple templates students can use. The thinking goals here focus on metacognitive reflection. Here are a few examples: Student Smore Examples Randomly Selected: 1, 2, 3
Piazza & Kaizena are two discussion and feedback tools that have a lot of potential to encourage peer feedback and develop communities of practice. I am new to these tools, but both are being used in a graduate course I am currently teaching.
- I really like Diigo. It is a web based bookmarking site that allows annotation and group sharing. It also excellent search functions based on tags and categories that are either user defined and/or Diigo suggested. It has been very useful for curating and sharing resources with colleagues and students.
- Where would I be without YouTube? Anticipatory Set Activities: When in doubt, use YouTube. An anticipatory set activity is an introductory learning experience that prepares students, intellectually and emotionally, for the content lesson. It is indirectly related, but speaks to a key concept or process with which students will engage during the lecture. A good video often provides that intuitive link that can help students see course content in just the right way. I make a study of good and short videos, and I thank all those that spend their time to make them public.
- My university has recently invested in Kaltura, which, I’m told, feeds nicely into our LMS. Kaltura is a lecture capture platform. I have recently learned that we can now embed a quiz in a video. I have not experimented with this yet, but plan to. This is a new tool for me, and I am particularly interested in exploring its potential for FLIPPED classroom applications.
My journey continues, and I work to make it a meaningful and exciting one.