Monday, October 22, 2012

Back to the drawing board

One of my primary impetuses for getting an ipad was trying to address some of the pedagogical challenges of one of the EAS courses that I teach every year.  The course is the only 200-level SOAN course open to first-year students from any discipline with no prerequisites.  It is also required of all EAS majors who often wait until their senior year to fulfill their requirements. Typically hovering around 25-30 students, the course thus incorporates first year students with little to no background either in sociology/anthropology or East Asian studies, and upper-division students who have already had courses in advanced social theory and/or spent significant time in East Asia.  Over the years, younger students have mentioned that the classroom atmosphere can seem intimidating and that this hampers their participation.  My plan was to use the iPad in this classroom to address these concerns, specifically by using the iPad app “LectureTools.”  LectureTools (LT) is usually a paid subscription, but I talked the sales team into a free demo for the semester.  It’s a presentation program that allows the instructor to share slides and presentation material with the students and that allows the students to individually annotate directly onto the slides on their own computers/iPads/smart phones. LT also allows students to engage directly with the presentation by posing anonymous questions and answers to questions from their devices through a “questions” tab that then appear on the central classroom screen.  For assessment purposes, the instructor has the individual ability to note which students are asking/answering questions without other students having access to the information.  Thus, students who feel uncomfortable participating in conversations that are dominated by upper-class students with more extensive disciplinary/area studies background may contribute in more creative ways.  The program also has a “confusing” button that students can press that allows them to show incomprehension without feeling self-conscious.  Sounds great, right? Back to the drawing board.  After all this prep, learning the program, publishing the course info, etc. when I tried to use it in the classroom it was a flop.  The lag time required of students to type questions/answers/etc. into their phones and/or computers was so lengthy and awkward that is became more of a burden than an asset, with everyone getting impatient with the lag time between question, answer and discussion.  Off to the next idea…

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