Taking Advantage of the Wireless Classroom

Image wire twisting from Flickr user oskay

During the summer of 2011, wireless technology was made available in all of the Keene State College classrooms thus enabling students to interact with class material and engage in class activities in new ways. CELT has highlighted two proven learning activities that we hope will assist faculty to think about leveraging the ‘net enabled classroom. We also think that it will help facilitate more in depth conversations with colleagues about instructional practices. At the bottom of this post you’ll find resources for learning activities and best practices shared by seasoned classroom instructors.

Using a Blackboard pre-test to gauge students understanding
While there are many, many variations on this activity, the one listed here is pretty straightforward as all it requires is some Blackboard-survey-know-how.

Remember the pop-quiz from middle school? In some ways it felt punitive and did little to help with the learning process. More often than not it was used to make sure students did their homework. But what if faculty could use the same idea and turn it into a real-time-feedback-tool which could be used to help steer the direction of instruction? In others words it’s a strategy to help instructors teach more effectively.

Here’s an example of how to do it in a wireless classroom.

Assign an out-of-class reading to students and use a Blackboard in-class quiz to assess their understanding of the material. The quiz should be about 5 questions or so.  Immediately assess how they did by viewing the results which provide a percentage breakdown for those who answered correctly or, as important, incorrectly. Use this information to immediately address the gaps in understanding.

Another strategy could be to give students class-time to re-read the material and take another quiz. In either scenario, interpreting quiz results in real time informs instructors about where they need to spend valuable class time as well as giving students an idea of where they might need to focus their efforts.

Time required to set up Bb survey: less than 20 minutes
Time required for students to take in-class survey: 5 minutes
Time for instructor to review percentages: 1 minute

Using video to enhance understanding
Like all well-thought-out classroom activities this one from Stephen Brookfield centers on student engagement and active listening and less on wireless technology. It can be re-purposed in so many ways that it seemed like a good example to include in this post.

Use short video segments (5 minutes) to introduce a new idea or concept to students.

Move students into groups of 4 or 5 but be mindful of the groupings as group dynamics can dampen or enlighten the activity.

Assign each group a different video. The topics could be the same but it might make for a more rich report-out at the end if they were not the same.

After the groups have watched the videos ask a question(s)about ideas, concepts or point-of-view. * Each students will answer the questions on their own but will share with their assigned group.

Provide enough time for students to collect and organize their thoughts. Consider raising the level accountability and ask each student to write down their response.

Open up the questions for discussion. Each student has uninterrupted time (1 minute) to share their thoughts.

Once everyone in the group has contributed a second round ensues but with the following ground rules: students can only talk about someone else’s comments and are not allowed to elaborate on their own point-of-view unless requested to do so.

This simple but highly effective group activity can be used in a variety of ways. The reason it is put forth here is to acknowledge that video can be a useful supplemental tool but it needs to be grounded in an activity that involves participation from every student.

CELT Faculty Friday addition
CELT just concluded a conversation with faculty who participated in this 2-hour session. Below are some of the ideas shared:

Require that students complete their homework assignment during class. Use the Bb Assignment tool to collect material. Use this time to coach students having difficulty or who need clarification on the assignment.

Use Google Forms during and at the end of class to survey the students on their understanding of concepts just covered or as a “just-in-time” teaching tool. For instance, use the results to 1) determine if the concepts your covering are understood or 2) are answering the questions in the form in a meaningful way.  If answers are not to your satisfaction, go over the content and guide them to where you want them to be or 3) if this is a one time activity, survey the students to see how the students perceived the value of the activity (or guest speaker, training, workshop, etc.).

Use Google Docs to have students type lecture notes and share them via Bb or keep them on Google.

These were just a few of the ideas share during the session. If you have some ideas that you would like to share please drop us a comment.


Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms – Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill –

Discussion as a Way of Teaching: PDF excerpt – http://www.temple.edu/tlc/resources/handouts/discussions/Discussion_as_a_Way_of_Teaching.pdf

Laptops in the Classroom: Back Row or Front? – Derek Bruff

10 Ways to Use Laptops in Teaching and Learning: Florida State University

The Flipped Classroom

Your Time is Valuable: Learn How to Pick the “Right” Technology (and strategy) to Save Time

(The following are notes from the 2/4/11 CELT Faculty Friday)

Does this sound familiar to you?

“I’m responding to student email all the time”,

“I have 30 papers to correct this weekend and I don’t have time for anything else”,

“When do I collect student papers digitally and when do I collect them in paper format”,

“I’m at a conference but don’t want to cancel class. What technology can I use  so that I don’t have to cancel?”

One of the reoccurring comments that we hear in AT is an apologetic, “what a great idea…BUT I don’t have time to learn how to use tool X”. Sometimes it’s not about learning a new tool but rather trying a new teaching strategy. But this requires that you slow down and lift your head up from the pile of papers that need grading and learn how to use a new application that will help you become more efficient and, yes in some cases, a better teacher.

Below are a list of things we covered in the 2/4/11 Faculty Friday. You’ll notice that we didn’t focus exclusively on technology because tech will never do what you need it to do without examining your approach to teaching.

How and when do you communicate with your students?

  • Day #1: Establish standards for how and when you communicate
  • When should students use a discussion board post and when to use email
    • Manage the discussion board settings to streamline communication
    • Allow subscriptions
  • The Ask Forum – open to all questions
  • Try holding virtual office hours at a time that is good for them (Bb chat, IM, Skype, etc.)
Establish a communication Hierarchy
  • Check the syllabus first, classmates next, post to the  “ask a question” discussion board forum. As a last resort, email the professor (this prevents the number of repeat email questions and keeps your inbox at a manageable number).
Give your students meaningful feedback (or guide a complex process)

“What are we supposed to be doing?”

  • Syllabus quiz – Give a low stakes syllabus quiz during the first week. This quiz provides an opportunity for students to experience the online testing environment and provides an incentive for students to read the syllabus and other important information.
Don’t re-invent the wheel
Use existing resources such as:

Richer Professional Development

CELT may have hit on a richer type of learning experience – students and faculty learning together – and all by accident. Here’s how it happened.

Matthew Ragan was planning a workshop with Elli Caldwell on using Google Spreadsheets as a interactive data gathering tool.

Matthew had made a guest appearance in Elli’s classes to walk students through an activity in which students used Google Spreadsheets to examine complex (or not so complex) data sets. In this case, the class was looking at the caloric content of fast food menu items. The class used a Google Spreadsheet to estimate the calorie content of several fast foods, and then recorded the actual calorie counts of those foods. Finally, they created charts and compared the data they had just compiled.

Elli and Matthew decided to use this same activity for a professional development workshop. Instead of simply telling the attending faculty about the activity, they decided that the real value of the lesson was in the activity itself: it’s difficult to imagine how an activity is going to work without first seeing it. They decided that while they worked through the same lesson they had delivered to Elli’s class, they should also stop along the way to discuss the theory and purpose behind specific teaching techniques. Rather than only lecturing about the content of the lesson, the participants would be asked to participate in each step of the process.

You can see the spreadsheet they came up with here: Food Fight SpreadSheet

Typically it’s only Keene State faculty who attend CELT’s Faculty Friday professional development sessions. This Friday, however, was different. Professor Susan Whittemore heard about the presentation and asked if she could come and bring the students working with her on a research project. Her cohort of students was getting ready to collect a chunk of data, and hoped that learning a little more about Google Spreadsheets might help their efforts.

Since the space was available, CELT invited the students to attend the workshop – and that made all the difference.

As the 7 students and 5 faculty worked through the activities, lots of exciting things happened:

Students and faculty worked together on teams tussling with the data problems, getting to see how each other thought and worked on problems

Students got to see their teachers as learners.

Students watched their teachers grappling with how they could use this learning activity in their classroom, seeing their own learning at a different level.

Faculty got to see students engage in a simulation activity with several reflection components.

Students shared how they planned to use Google Spreadsheets in conjunction with the work they were doing in their research.

Faculty shared what assignments and lessons could better be facilitated by examining data critically.

Students and faculty were engaged in a dialogue, together, about how to use this technology.

Faculty had the opportunity to see how students collaborated with one another in real time, and hear students reactions to this type of activity.

Students and faculty left with skills they could use immediately.

While this format for a professional development workshop won’t always be best, in this case it did provide valuable insight into the learning process for both the attending faculty and students. For students, it made the process of  teaching a little more transparent and highlighted the intention behind classroom-based activities. Faculty got to see students actively engaged in the learning process, and hear student enthusiasm about being able to work collaboratively with their peers.