Friday, September 5, 2014

Anatomy of a tablet class (I) - preconceptions

I imagine that many of you have the same question that I still have: what should/does a "tablet class" look like? How does it operate? How is it different from what I now refer to as a "traditional class?" What does it mean to "teach with a tablet?" I'll get to all of these in due time, but first, a more fundamental question deserved our attention:

Student Expectations
What expectations exist when one mentions tablet-based instruction to an undergraduate? I'm almost twice as old as some, so I daren't try to guess. My own preliminary data from class surveys seems to suggest that students had perhaps four general preconceptions of how they'd be using tablets in class (in no particular order):
1) to interact with the instructor and peers (collaboration and feedback)
2) to take notes
3) to access information online
4) to follow along with the instructor's digital lecture materials in class

I'm not going to say much about point 4, because I'm not convinced that this requires a tablet to achieve.

Accessing online information
Regarding point three, I have definite plans (which I started incorporating in class today - post to come soon) to ensure that my students have authentic experiences in modern genetic analysis, particularly as it pertains to doing in-class exercises, and perhaps incorporating exam questions, that focus on information literacy skills and using online resources (databases and tools) that I regularly use in research.

I did spend a very brief period of time in class one day discussing note-taking with my tablet students. My approach was simple: I asked students what they had been doing to take notes, and asked them to share aloud with the class what apps they had found to be useful so far. I also pointed out a few potentially useful apps (Google Docs for typewritten notes, Adobe Reader for PDF annotation) that students already had installed because they're part of the Fresno State "core apps" (which means that they're free and they're available for all three DISCOVERe-approved platforms: Windows, Android, and iOS). I also suggested Evernote to students. One app that some students are using, which isn't free (but is very inexpensive) is iAnnotate PDF (instead of Adobe Reader).

One potential concern, related to note-taking, is not over-using the tablet to try to do too many things during a class period. I notice a number of students typing notes as we discuss genetics in class, or drawing notes on the PDFs of my slides that I upload the night before class. However, when I ask students to switch to another app to perform a collaborative assignment, or look something up on the internet, or access our course management system (Blackboard), I'm taking them out of their note-taking app. Coupled with the fact that it does take a while to switch between apps, do an exercise, and then return to a favorite note-taking app, I'm now making more conscious decisions about how I structure "tablet activities" during class. I either build the ability to take notes into the exercise (e.g. a PDF annotation exercise) or try to cluster the activities back-to-back.

Interacting with the Instructor and Peers
Also too large a topic to address fully at the moment, but this is where I and many of my colleagues are focusing a great deal of effort. Suffice it to say that a huge benefit of not only requiring the students to have tablets, but also having provided them with data plans, means that instructors can request that students continue collaborating after they leave the classroom. I've just started venturing into this realm, and I'll report on that soon.

Others' Expectations

As I've mentioned, the main concern I've heard from colleagues is that the students receive the necessary content despite the fact that they're holding a tablet. I'm looking forward to helping set tablet classroom expectations by being an example!

The official word from campus administration is that there is no minimum set of things we need to do with tablets in the classroom. It is nice to have that sort of carte blanche, and I think our administration recognizes that creativity and innovation in the classroom might be stifled if tablet instruction is heavily regimented.

Reading between the lines, there is at least one goal I've set for myself as a result of how our President has advertised the DISCOVERe initiative. One reason that tablets are the focus is because some public schools are using them and because some professions might expect college graduates to be skilled at using tablets. Thus, although I'm teaching a genetics class, I have accepted the idea that there is a necessity to set aside some extra time in class each day to be a technology instructor (to ensure that all of the students are keeping up with me as I move from app to app, that all three tablet platforms are able to accomplish the same tasks, etc.) I'm definitely becoming more proficient with tablet technology, and I'm sure my students are, too, even though that's not the focus of the class.

How little tablet use is too little?
I haven't found out yet. At present, in my class, I think that (aside from tablet-based note-taking), we're actively using the tablet for fifteen minutes in a fifty-minute class. This is partly because my teaching style is pretty heavily Socratic, so I spent a lot of time talking with my class and asking them questions, fostering critical thinking and stimulating discussion and interpretation (things I haven't yet ported into the digital realm). I personally feel that this is a good balance of tablet use, but I'll find out the student perspective at the end of the term. If this question of how much the tablet needs to be used in class to make it worth the effort (and cost) is troubling you, then I would suggest that it is critically important to set student expectations early (in the syllabus and in a classroom discussion on the first day). The students should be able to buy in to the tablet instruction concept by having some idea of why tablet instruction might be beneficial to them and of the types of activities that might occur over the term.

Those are my current (limited) insights into the student perspective of tablet instruction. However, as the instructor, I'm certainly making heavy use of my tablet during class. Primarily, as I've mentioned, I use it in the classroom for projecting digital images (slides, photos, etc.) I use ExplainEverything for this, because it lets me record the classroom audio and the annotations I make on the slides. I'm still (now starting the third week of the term) recording every class meeting this way and posting it on YouTube. Future posts will delve into much more detail about the myriad ways I'm using the tablets to collect student feedback, have students collaborate, practice completing exercises, and exercise their creativity in developing their understanding of genetics.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have an insightful comment, best practice, or concern to share? Please do!