Sunday, January 17, 2016

Straight from horses' mouths: Fall '15 data roundup

Now that two semesters of tablet instruction have passed, I'm enjoying learning from my students which aspects of my mobile technology instruction are successful and which are not. Reviews of last term's assessments have revealed some interesting responses and trends. My hope is that sharing these student attitudes and impressions with you will both catalyze changes to your teaching as well as provide some cautions about teaching with mobile devices. To start, let me briefly recap what I've been doing in the classroom (Approaches), and why (Goals).

Tablet Course Redesign

Goal Approaches Apps Employed
Provide students with resources that support their studying and learning
  • Create instructor-recorded (and captioned) lectures and exam keys
  • Provide PDF lecture slides/exercises/URLs/resources prior to class
  • Facilitate group work and peer instruction/interpretation/critique
  • ExplainEverything (for lecture recording/screencast)
  • Adobe Acrobat and others (for PDF annotation)
  • Google Docs, Sheets, Drive, Classroom (for collaborative writing and analysis)
Expose students to authentic disciplinary practices Web browser
Employ evidence-based teaching practices
  • Flipped classroom (students first access material before class on their own, especially to learn factual information, then come to class with questions and ready to practice and employ the factual information to solve problems and discuss issues)
  • Active learning
  • Socrative (for anonymous in-class student polling and quizzes)
  • Google Classroom (for distributing and collecting in-class exercises)

I'll share here the good (and the not-so-good) data on progress toward achieving these goals. These data and student comments are from IRB-approved assessments from the Fall 2015 semester of my genetics course.

Resources that support student learning

97% of students reported that they used instructor-recorded video to help study for exams, and 90% of students reported that watching recorded lectures was critical.

"I really like the tablets because I could see the lecture notes on my tablet clearly and I also really like the recording of the lectures because those really help me with studying for the test."

Over half of the students indicated interacting with other students during class more or much more than normal. Over 80% of students reported remaining in the same groups during the semester. Only half of the students knew their other group members prior to the start of the semester, but 62% of students reported interacting with each other outside of class. This suggests, to me, that employing group work as part of this course might have improved student sense of belonging and also enhanced peer instruction.

Exposing students to authentic disciplinary practices

Much to my satisfaction, the vast majority of students reported that using a tablet computer in this class helped them grow "some" or "a lot" in the following areas:

  • having authentic experiences in genetics
  • achieving a better understanding of the relevance of genetics to the student personally, or to humanity
  • improving quantitative reasoning skills (graphic, predicting, estimating, analyzing data sets)
  • improving information literacy skills (knowing where to find information relevant to genetics, how to evaluate its legitimacy)
  • working collaboratively in groups

Using evidence-based teaching practices

Two-thirds of students reported that focusing in-class time on exercises and question-and-answer sessions contributed to their success in the course.

When asked about how study habits changed during the term, student responses included (emphases mine):

  • For other courses, I usually rely on the textbook and homework problems to study concepts. In this class, I was more interested in studying the relevence and application of concepts, which prompted me to rely more on outside resources like the internet. I focused more on interactive, application problems than just memorizing facts.
  • I started to go through the audio recordings over and over again. Also stopped taking notes and started paying attention.
  • I really liked how we had to read the chapter we were going to discuss in class, before class. I would love to do this for every class, but i dont have the incentive too and am too busy. But in this class, it was part of the hw grade, so i did it knowing it was not a waste of time but counted towards my grade.

Other tidbits

  • 65% of students typed notes using their tablet devices
  • 91% of students felt like they used their tablets in class as much as they had expected
  • Importantly, almost 90% of students self-reported spending the majority of time spent in class using their tablet for on-task activities.

The not-so-good results (or, "Things to keep in mind when deciding how/whether to use mobile technology in the classroom")

Over a third of students indicated that they asked questions in class either less or much less than normal.

When asked about whether students felt that using tablets reduced the quality of instruction, some of the more negative responses included:
  • Difficulty concentrating due to tablet and constant shift in attention among multiple apps
  • It is very helpful, but some students can get easily distracted from it as well
  • Sometimes the professors would have issues with technology, which in turn kind of look away time from the students. 
  • I prefer taking notes on paper and by writing it helps me more to remember
  • I feel that I spent a lot more time figuring out how to use apps and the tablet to submit assignments than actually learning some of the material. Spent more time learning how to use the apps.
Looking to the future

Although a sizeable portion (about 15%) of students disagreed that a tablet-based class was better than a traditional lecture class, the vast majority of students (including many in that 15%) said that they would suggest to friends that they enroll in a tablet course.

Beyond this course, academic IT approaches are spreading on campus, with 84% of students in my class indicating that they used their tablet for coursework in other courses.


In sum, I'm buoyed by the successes I've had in redesign, but there are clearly places where my course redesign with technology needs tweaking, including:
  • more consciously considering the degree to which I demand that students use technology (e.g. as opposed to paper)
  • the number of ways (and therefore number of different apps) we use the tablets each day
Finally, as always, it is even more clear that managing student expectations and articulating instructor goals, motivations, and expectations is critical to ensure the best possible experience for students entering the unfamiliar and potentially stressful environment of a technology-redesigned course.

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