Friday, February 17, 2017

Mobile Tech and Pedagogical Innovation

Yesterday, I was afforded the opportunity, as recipient of the Fresno State Provost's Award for Innovation, to provide remarks to my colleagues. A video of my talk is available at:

Disclaimer: As is often the case, technical difficulties occurred, so I was not able to play intended videos during my talk, and the "lecture capture" from ExplainEverything (the app I'm using to present these images) did not work this time (unknown issue). So, I'm making use of my rule always to have a backup plan, and posting the video I took, using another tablet computer, of the projection screen.

The slides can be downloaded as a PDF from:

A handout (activity, with my contact information) can be downloaded as a PDF from:

The structure of my presentation was to explicitly provide the half-hour worth of remarks in the same format and structure that I use in my technology-augmented classes

The life cycle of my classes, starting at ten minutes prior to class and moving through the end of class (top); then moving into what students do outside of class (below) and how this provides me with feedback to design the following class.

Thus, I had asked participants, before attending the event, to watch an instructional video (21 minutes) with background information on innovation:

At the end of the "pre-lecture" video, as I normally do in classes, I asked a question for viewers to consider. In this case, to make a point, I specifically told viewers that I would be having a quiz during my presentation, and that it would ask them to identify the topic I was discussing at the two-minute mark in the video. The goal of this was to be able to demonstrate how the YouTube Audience Retention analytics report can be used by instructors.

Formative Assessment via YouTube Analytics

However, because my internet connection from my laptop was not functioning during my talk, I wasn't able to make that point then. So, I make it here! (Always have a backup plan…)

Audience retention graph of my innovation talk "pre-lecture" video.

Look! There is a small peak just at the two-minute mark, suggesting that the audience was specifically targeting that segment of the video to watch (and perhaps re-watch), just as students will do if they are unclear on a topic in a video and feel the need to re-watch it.

During the event yesterday, as I do in my classes, I also conducted entry and exit surveys of the attendees using Socrative. In class, the entry quiz is based on content of the pre-class readings and/or video.

Results of my Socrative entry survey on Innovation

Of 13 attendees who completed the entry survey, 9 were instructional faculty; 4 were administrators. Almost all indicated that they wanted to hear more about student collaborative work during my talk. Very few had watched the video (based my assessment on the accuracy of responses to the question about what I had been discussing at the two-minute mark in the video), which indicated to me that I should spend a little more time than I might otherwise spend during our in-person time together reviewing the contents of the video the audience was to have watched in advance.

Goal of the Innovation Talk

For each attendee to obtain some immediately applicable information, approach, or insight that would help them address an immediate need.

Main Points of the Innovation Talk

To me, the most important message I delivered was a call to stop using fixed sets of lecture slides that are instructor-generated. As I describe in the movie of my remarks, I like creating lecture slides for two reasons:
  1. They provide me with an outline of my talk (reminding me what topics to touch on as I move through the slides). In other words, they're my crutch and make me feel safe.
  2. I give the PDF file of the slides to my students in advance, so that they can take notes on them and know what content we'll cover in class (I have loads of positive student comments from previous course evaluations that they very much appreciate having slides in advance as a resource)

However, my recent observations with trying to implement the blended learning (flipped classroom) approach suggest that making lecture slides in advance might be counter-productive to the flipped classroom approach.

Stop Preening your Lecture Slides

First, because of the temptation to throw lots of interesting (and well-produced) photographs, diagrams, charts, and published data (which we're supposed to be doing, right? Helping students learn quantitative analysis and critical thinking, by exposing them to real data?) into slides, I might further reduce the dynamic nature that an engaging class would require. I recall, as an undergraduate, that I preferred it when an instructor drew out a process, from start to finish, rather than just presenting a static figure with all of the details, all at once. Why? Because learning about processes (including how to solve problems, how to think through problems, and how series of events occur) is really difficult to do when a process is represented by a static image! This is true for lectures and for flipped classes. So this paragraph was more like a rant about effective teaching. However, back to the point about how lecture slides are probably bad for flipped classes:

Second, and much more critically, providing students with lecture slides before class might (according to some anecdotal information I've heard) stifle the students' willingness to ask questions! They might see how many slides you've carefully prepared, and then feel like they shouldn't interrupt with questions during class. "Look at all of this material the instructor intends to cover during class," students might be thinking to themselves. This is absolutely diametrically opposed to the atmosphere we should be fostering in the classroom.

What I think is preferable, especially for creating a flipped class from a "traditional" (lecture) class, and what I'm now doing, is:
  • In the pre-lecture video, create the structure (work from an outline; make sure you cover all of the important points that need to be made). Incorporate questions during the video that students should try to answer before coming to class. This way, you've pre-loaded some questions to help students answer during class, if they've had problems doing so (which you'll assess in your entry quiz, in which you ask students to provide the answers to the questions asked in the pre-class video)
  • Create a stock folder of useful visuals (graphs, charts, diagrams, movies, animations), from material you've used in the past to teach the content. If a student asks a question that would benefit from your displaying one of these visuals, then bring it onto the video projector. Combining all of the visual resources into one folder for each class meeting just makes it more efficient to grab one image when it is needed.
This approach neglects the students that value having lecture slides in advance. This is why lecture capture is critical.

Last on this point, what do my "lecture slides" look like now? Approximately four slides, distributed to students as a PDF in advance of class.
  1. The first slide has the class name and date, and the instructions for accessing the Socrative entry quiz.
  2. The middle slides will have typed questions (and/or relevant screen shots) from the pre-lecture video and from the entry quiz. We start class by discussing how to answer those two sets of questions.
  3. Following those re-statements of the questions, I have blank slides, where I add any necessary drawn responses (or existing graphics, from my folder of visuals) to student questions that follow. On days where I'm providing in-class active learning exercises, I'll also include screen shots of those exercises, to facilitate discussion and annotation of how to complete the exercises.
  4. The last slide reminds students what to do to prepare for the following class: usually a new question to think about, what to read, and which video to watch.

Other key points from my Innovation remarks included:
  • We need to develop structures to help faculty feel more at ease using technology in the classroom (e.g. opportunities for collaboration and discussion with like-minded colleagues about how to address common classroom problems using technology; time to practice approaches before introducing them to students)
  • Failure is OK (and maybe even beneficial). This is why it is important to have a back-up plan. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to innnovate/adopt too many new approaches at once. Take small, purposeful steps that you justify in advance to your students, and leave plenty of time for helping students practice the use of new technologies in low-stakes ways.

Summary of questions and comments from during and after my talk

  • How to employ mobile technology in a large-class setting? Best practices are still being developed, but include small-group work, and small-group discussions facilitated by learning assistants (e.g. TAs).
  • How to prevent students from being distracted by technology? My opinion is that this is addressed on an instructor-by-instructor basis, because philosophies differ. I'm OK with students being distracted in class, as long as they aren't actively distracting other students around them. If so, then I ask students to put the technology down, or to leave the classroom. Ultimately, students are paying for the opportunity to be in class, and if they don't want to capitalize on that investment, I don't feel that it is my place (or even entirely within my capability) to correct that behavior.

It was also mentioned by an attendee that the flipped classroom approach, augmented with technology (e.g. lecture capture, pre-lecture videos, active learning with technology, formative assessments by clickers/polling) focuses on students learning basic, factual information by themselves, and then spending in-class time practicing using/applying that information. This is the direction Universities must realize is the future of higher education.

As Jose Bowen has remarked, the value of the professoriate is no longer that we are the only source of "advanced" information - it is mostly available on the internet now. Our value now is our ability to help students understand that information, applying it to solving problems, and understanding how the information relates to their lives and to society. In other words, our jobs are helping students learn how to become self-teachers. We don't (can't) do that by lecturing.

Results of my Socrative exit survey - did I succeed?

At the end of my remarks, half of the attendees agreed that they would invite me to attend one of their classes to get advice how to incorporate technology and/or to attend one of my classes to observe how I use mobile technology. Because these surveys were conducted anonymously, I don't know, but suspect, that it was the administrators in attendance who did not agree to both of these questions.

Based on my claim (in this video) that an effective pedagogical mindset is that failing in front of class is a great way to teach, I purposefully asked the attendees of this talk to watch a 21+ minute video in advance - which is way too long for most students in a "flipped classroom" approach. My post-seminar survey revealed that six attendees felt the length was "just right"; only one responded "too short," and four brave souls indicated that this video was "too long." I failed at producing a pre-talk video that was a useful length for almost all "students" (attendees), and this is a great lesson for those who are planning to flip the classroom.

Critically, I found that I did achieve the goal for my presentation. Many attendees responded afterward that they did learn something new. The majority of respondents tended to indicate that:

  • they had no idea that YouTube video analytics existed
  • analytics could be so useful for formative feedback to instructors
  • the ease of lecture capture, especially using the Socrative app, was a new discovery for them

Even more importantly, the depth and variety of responses to the final post-remarks survey question, "What topics are you now interested in learning more about?" ranged greatly. Examples include:

  • how to use a YouTube channel
  • using Zoom for conducting office hours
  • types of in-class activities to perform using mobile devices
  • how to get away from using pre-designed, static lecture slides in class

It looks like I have my faculty professional development work (in helping others augment classes with mobile technology) cut out for me!