Saturday, May 14, 2011

Random links about technology and teaching

Take these with a grain of salt and my standard disclaimers: I like technology and think it has valid uses in the classroom, hands-on learning can be useful, and all the rest.
  • Here's an experiment: say you have a class that for some reason is mostly lecture, and in the eleventh week (which we could call the "week 11 slump," because anyone who's ever stood in front of a class knows that's what it is) you tell the students they'll be part of an exciting experiment about learning, and you let the postdocs take over and give them all kinds of cool interactive tools. For one week. The students who have practiced on these tools perk up and do better with their week's learning than a control group. Would you then conclude that "Postdocs Can Be Trained to Be More Effective than Senior Instructors"? You wouldn't? What kind of scientist are you, anyway?
  • Kim Brooks, at Salon, wants something different to happen with high school English so that her first-year comp students can write better. I think she wants fewer hands-on assignments that ask students to make videos about how Hester Prynne would act today and a few more assignments that focus on making sure that students can write a sentence that has (1) a subject, (2) a verb, and (3) a clear point.
  • But if you go to USC, you might get to keep making videos instead of writing papers. For the record: making videos can be a valid pedagogical choice, of course, and students can come up with some very sophisticated visual arguments. But sooner or later students are going to have to write something, aren't they? A cover letter? An email? A report? Do geologists (one of the examples) get to turn in a video assessing the prospects for drilling for oil in a particular region, or do they have to write a report? I'm guessing the latter.
  • According to the Chronicle, Stanford med students, who were issued iPads last fall, demanded paper notes or books instead of reading their required books on the device, although they found the iPad useful for sketching and taking notes in lectures: "But when Stanford's School of Medicine lent iPads to all new students last August, a curious thing happened: Many didn't like using them in class. Officials had hoped to stop printing an annual average of 3,700 pages of course materials per medical student, encouraging them to use digital materials instead. Some students rebelled, and Stanford was forced to resume offering printed notes to those who wanted them. In most classes, half the students had stopped using their iPads only a few weeks into the term."
  • At least no one's requiring that Atlas Shrugged be taught lest money should be withheld from the school. Oh, wait: "A separate grant from BB&T funds a course on ethics and economics in which Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is required reading. The novel, which depicts society's collapse in the wake of government encroachment on free enterprise, was recently made into a movie marketed to tea party members."


-k- said...

Re: the Stanford bit, I haven't ever used an iPad so don't know what the specific complaints might be, but I've always felt the same way about .pdf readings and online handouts. What the 'green' initiatives did in effect was to make it my problem- the administration looks noble and saves money, while as a student I got to pay to print hundreds of pages of reading, and as a faculty member I was responsible for any copying beyond the bare minimum of syllabi and tests. Bah.

Anonymous said...

Atlas Shrugged?
*blink blink blink*

Bardiac said...

I read the article in Slate, and it sounded like she hasn't had any real composition teaching training, and so has no awareness of research into composition teaching, and thus thinks it's all about prescriptive stuff. She's on the mark that kids who read more tend to pick up writing stuff. Other than that, she needs to take some comp courses.

Wasn't there some research done way back that whenever you tell someone they're part of a special research thing, their productivity picks up for a while? Let's tell all 11th week students that we're doing a massive campus research project every semester!

undine said...

-k-: That's exactly right! The pious "green" initiatives mostly just offload the costs and printing. It's just . . . different . . . to read things on a screen, and while I like it for some things, other types of reading are easier on paper. They just are.

Ink: So they can use "Who is John Galt" as their catch phrase and be slender, beautiful capitalists like Dagny Taggart, of course! (Yes, I read it and its evil twin, _The Fountainhead_, several times as a teen, but it didn't turn me into John Boehner, thank God.)

Bardiac, reading is the key, absolutely, although that feels a little heretical to say around comp theorists. Revision helps, but in all these years of teaching, I've never had a really good writer who wasn't also a really good reader. I'm just saying.

You're right about the study, too: if you pay attention to students, they do better. I like your "11th week experiment"!

Anonymous said...

My students demand paper books.

They also hate those textbooks which come in looseleaf, for binders. If it's a textbook, they want it in print and hard bound.

They are 19, most of them. They love JSTOR but if it's a book, they want it on paper.

TTDaVeTT said...

These are all very interesting links. I am a developer for WordStash (, which is a flash card based study tool that is also a very helpful piece of educational tech.