In one of my classes recently, we started getting some hands-on experience with PHP programming. I was happy enough about my first (very simple) script actually working that I tweeted about it. After class, I got to thinking about whether I could extend what we’d learned that evening and write a different (though very basic) script. When I had some time a few days later, I did a little searching for some information I needed, then gave it a try.
To my surprise and delight, it worked. That fact left me grinning the rest of the evening.
It also left me pondering how I might help my students have that same kind of “aha!” experience. I’d like my students—at least occasionally!—to have the satisfaction of learning something new and interesting, and really knowing that they’ve learned it. I’m in an enviable position at the moment: I’m in the class in question specifically because I want to learn what’s being taught in it. My students don’t always have the luxury of being in my particular class because they’ve chosen it (sometimes they have, but often they’re there because the course fulfills a general education requirement, or is required for the major, or fits their schedule, or . . . ).
Even in such a situation, though, I think it’s possible to help students have the kind of experience that I did. One way may be to give students a greater voice in determining what we learn in a course. Students are already involved in choosing the topics we study in my 100-level general education course, but I’ll be looking for ways to incorporate more student input even in courses where I have to be more directive about the syllabus.
Do you have other ideas to share? If so, please add them in the comments.
[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by pdinnen]
I have a confession to make: I hate responding to student essays through a computer screen.
Yes, I know I’ve advocated using text-expansion software to respond to student writing, Billie has taught us how to respond to student writing audio style, Jason has explained how tracking changes on the iPad might be useful when grading, Doug Ward has described grading with voice on the iPad, and I know that Erin (among others, probably) uses iAnnotate with her students’ essays (an iPad app that both Jason and Mark have covered).
Here’s the thing, though: I am much more comfortable (both ergonomically and psychologically) with a printed essay on the table in front of me and a pen in my hand. It’s much faster (for me), and it is much less taxing (for me). I realize that it might sound ridiculous to describe reading and responding to student essays as “taxing,” but here we are. When it comes to grading essays, I just haven’t gotten to the point where using some kind of digital interface feels as comfortable, as seamless, and as transparent to me as using a pen and paper.
In other words, sometimes it’s necessary to recognize that a potential digital solution is just not going to work out for you. At that point, it’s time to abandon the digital.
How about you? Have you had a similar experience? Have you gone back to analog ways of doing things after a fling with the digital? Please share in this week’s open thread!
[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Ryan Hyde]
Here at ProfHacker, we’ve written several posts over the years about cloud computing and collaboration. Most of our focus has been on GoogleDocs and collaborative authorship (see my “GoogleDocs and Collaboration in the Classroom,” for example).
Not to be outdone by the cloud services offered by Google and others, Microsoft has been working on offerings like Office Live (which I wrote about in 2010) and Office 365 (which the New York Times covered in 2011). These services are designed to let users access and edit cloud-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentations from any device with a connection to the Internet and to collaborate on these files simultaneously with other users. And as Microsoft attempts to stay competitive with its mobile devices, introduces a new operating system (or two), and starts selling a new tablet device, cloud-based tools are going to be more and more important.
Last week, Microsoft announced Office 365 University, a cloud-based service to be made available to students, faculty, and staff at colleges and universities. The company says that the service is scheduled to become “[a]vailable in the first quarter of 2013,” and will be free for higher ed users who have purchased Office University 2010 or Office University for Mac 2011. (However, later in that same announcement a price of $1.67 per month is specified, which is still pretty good, but not as good as free).
Since I work on a campus where the default computing tools are Microsoft-compatible, I’ll be interested in seeing how this service rolls out. While my students have made good use of GoogleDocs, there’s still some (though not much) awkwardness in moving from Microsoft Office on the desktop for most of their writing and editing needs and then converting to the GoogleDocs format for sharing and collaborating. If Office 365 can make this kind of work as seamless as possible, then I will certainly be interested in giving it a try in the courses I teach.
How about you? Have you taken advantage of Microsoft’s cloud-based services? Will you be giving Office 365 a try? Or are you committed to other, competing services? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Microsoft Sweden]
Although it’s possible to get carried away, it’s still helpful sometimes to discuss what we carry with us for our work.
Your teaching tools don’t have to be digital, and they don’t have to be especially sophisticated. In fact “sophisticated” tools sometimes turn out to be “complicated” tools, and complicated tools can be the ones that are the most likely to malfunction. For me, the simplest little things can be the most powerful.
What do you keep in your bag for the classes you teach, regardless of which classes you’re teaching? I always make sure to have the following:
- a small notebook for jotting down reminders to myself and recording contact information,
- a few pens in different colors for my own use but also to loan (or give) to students as necessary,
- a couple of inexpensive flash drives also for my own use but also to loan (or give) to students,
- my beloved dry-erase markers for use on the classroom whiteboard
- a generous supply of sticky notes,
- an extra power adapter for my laptop (in other words, I have an adapter that stays in my office and I always have in my bag),
- a display adapter for my laptop so that I can plug in to the classroom projector (note to Mac users: Monoprice is a great place to buy cables, cords, and adapters for significantly less than what Apple charges).
How about you? What’s in your teaching toolbox? Let’s hear from you in the comments!
[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Ken]
For many of us, the semester is almost half over. Now might be a good time to ask your students to provide you with a mid-semester course evaluation. (Brian has even suggested conducting your midterm evaluations publicly with GoogleDocs.)
We’ve written several posts about evaluations here at ProfHacker, and we’ve even written a few posts specifically about mid-semester course evaluations. For example, Billie has explained that “[b]y conducting mid-term teaching evaluations, you have the students’ perspective once they’ve experienced enough of the course to provide constructive feedback, but while there is still enough time in the course to make some substantive changes (if needed).” And Amy has written that “[s]uch evaluations can provide an opportunity to step back, take a deep breath, and reflect on how things are going.”
These evaluations don’t have to be extensive or complex. You could just ask your students to answer four simple questions:
- What’s going well?
- What needs improvement?
- What can the students do to improve the class?
- What can the instructor do to improve the class?
I’ve conducted mid-semester course evaluations a number of times and have always found the results to be quite helpful.
How about you? If you’ve tried mid-semester course evaluations, let us know how it went!
[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Pink Sherbet Photography]