Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tablets in office hours

For the last half-year or so, I've been telling everybody I can at Fresno State about how useful it would be to suggest that faculty deploy their tablets in their offices, during office hours! Most recently, I spoke about how this could work at the Fresno State Student Success Summit and then again at the President's Showcase of Excellence (a PDF of the DISCOVERe tablet poster I presented should appear here in the near future).

Here's how it works: much of the improvement of student success I saw in my first term teaching with tablets centered around students accessing tablet-recorded class material (in various forms) distributed as videos:

Much of my assessment data (see my tablet poster, link above) points to students really appreciating having all of these resources available for studying. Student quotes from my assessments talk about how it was helpful to be able to pause, rewind, and look up topics in their textbook while reviewing in-class activities and how it was helpful to be able to listen to the class content while commuting. From students and faculty I've spoken with, it has to be incredibly beneficial for English as a Second Language (ESL) students to have the recorded lectures available. Video analytics also suggest that students really value and actually use these instructor-generated resources (especially just before exams!)

So, I figured: why not leverage the tablet in the instructor office during office hours? You know how it goes: one student shows up at the start of your office hour, and, for some reason, unlike when you were in front of your class, you are now extremely lucid and give an amazing explanation of the most intricate concept. Then you're done. Then three more students show up and ask essentially the same question! Wouldn't it be nice if you could just hit "rewind" and play the previous encounter back to these students? Of course you can!

To enable office hour screen capture, my ideal situation (which I initially pitched to the campus) involved my having an AppleTV installed in my office, connected to a large flatscreen monitor on my office wall. That way I could wireless project to the flatscreen, and students in my office could see what I was doing on the tablet, making the flatscreen monitor my digital whiteboard. I would then use ExplainEverything, as I do in class, to capture and record the audio and video. A quick upload to YouTube then distributes the Q&A session attended by one or a few students (let's face it: my office can't hold all sixty plus of my genetics students, anyway) to every student in the class. They all benefit from the questions of their peers - especially those who can't attend my regular scheduled office hours because of course conflicts!

While I'm still waiting to find out if campus might be willing to pony up some resources to outfit my office with a flatscreen TV (and to pay the union guys to come bolt it to the wall), here's the less-outrageous alternative:
The two monitors at left are my two computer monitors, facing my chair. Where I was sitting when I took this picture was in the student seat (their typical "office hour" view). I've used an HDMI cord and adapter to plug my iPad straight into the third monitor (right) where you see the Hall of Mirrors effect. This monitor is large enough for one or two students to see comfortably during office hours. We talk, they ask questions, I draw responses on my iPad using ExplainEverything, and the students see my sketches and diagrams on this monitor. I upload the video afterward, and, presumably, other students benefit!

Here's the proof of principle: I used this process for the first time three days ago (my final office hour before a class exam). Three students were present in my office hour, and I recorded this office hour capture video and posted it to YouTube. I hadn't told the other students in the class that I would be doing this, but I immediately posted the video link to our class website. I had 53 views (637 minutes viewed) in the two days before the class exam! If those are unique students, then over half of my class looked at this video. Students want to take advantage of these resources!

It only takes faculty a few extra minutes (mostly the exporting the video file and uploading it) to take a resource they have already created - by simply talking to students during an office hour - and make it available to all of their students! Let's make this idea take hold!