Friday, May 1, 2015

Wearable Teaching? College to Experiment with Apple Watch as Learning Tool

Even before the Apple Watch was released, professors and pundits began speculating on whether it and other wearable devices might play a role in college classrooms. On Monday researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s main campus announced that they would be among the first to test the device’s usefulness in the classroom.

The experiment will begin this summer, with eight Apple Watches the university purchased for the project. Penn State plans to expand the research to more students in the fall. We caught up with Kyle Bowen, director of education-technology services at Penn State, to hear more about the project, and his thoughts on the possible role of wearables in teaching and learning. Following is an edited version of the conversation.

Q. I understand a professor there will be experimenting with Apple Watch to measure student learning this fall. Can you briefly describe that project?

A. What we’re looking at in this particular research is how can we use wearable technologies like the Apple Watch to help students think about and reflect about how they learn. We know what the hallmarks are of engaged students: There are years of research that help us understand what an engaged student is and what they look like. But one of the challenges you have is how do you capture those types of activities in a Fitbit-like way — something that is very simple and easy to interact with, to think about reflectively how it is that you’re learning. We’re looking at the Apple Watch as a reflective tool to capture how the students are reacting with their classmates, how they’ve been interactive with their material, how they’re learning and using that to self-inform the student in a number of different ways.

Q. Can you paint a picture of what that will look like for one of the students in this experiment?

A. How it works is, the student will wear the watch and on kind of a random interval the student will get sampled from a series of questions, and will receive a question like, “Have you studied with a classmate recently?” Or, “How much time have you spent studying recently?” Or, “Have you applied something recently from another course to your current class?” So that will be the first step … capturing that piece of information. And we’d have a series of questions like that throughout the day, and when the student would get that question, they could kind of respond to it, or dismiss it and answer it another time. Additionally, the student could … provide a voice feedback, so they could talk to us into the watch about how they've been studying. And we can convert that and actually do some textual analysis after the fact.


College for the Masses

Interesting NYT article on the benefits of four-year college over community college for marginal students. Read the comments to explore the diverse views on the subject...and the problem of a bachelor's degree for the masses.


The Numbers Behind the Broadband 'Homework Gap'

Since the dawn of the internet, there’s been much talk about the digital divide – the gap between those with access to the internet and those without. But what about the “homework gap”?

In recent years, policymakers and advocates have pushed to make it easier for low-income households with school-age children to have broadband, arguing that low-income students are at a disadvantage without online access in order to do school work these days. Later this year, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to begin a rule-making process to overhaul the Lifeline Program, an initiative that subsidizes telephone subscriptions for low-income households, so that it would also cover broadband.

In 2013, the Lifeline program provided $1.8 billion worth of telephone subsidies for qualified low-income people. The FCC has not yet provided estimates of how much it would cost to add broadband subsidies to the program, but the debate will undoubtedly focus on overall program costs and how many households would be covered.

How big is the homework gap? A new Pew Research Center analysis finds most American homes with school-age children do have broadband access – about 82.5% (about 9 percentage points higher than average for all households). With approximately 29 million households in America having children between the ages of 6 and 17, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, this means that some 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home. Low-income households – and especially black and Hispanic ones – make up a disproportionate share of that 5 million.


Faculty Achievement Program

Come celebrate the achievements of your colleagues. The program will start around 4:00 pm. Food (heavy hor d'oeuvres) and drink provided, in the hallway, outside the entrance to Social Center B.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Faculty Panel Digital Storytelling Assignments

Sheryl Tremblay, Rebecca Alexander, and Caroline Jetton will discuss the use of digital storytelling assignments in their courses. These faculty members will share the goals of and approaches to digital storytelling assignments along with ideas for student engagement and development. Lunch will be provided.


Read more articles:

Edudemic: Teacher’s Guide to Digital Storytelling

Center for Digital Storytelling

State Library of Queensland Digital Storytelling Manual

University of Wollongong Digital Storytelling Libguide

Microsoft: Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Digital Storytelling Resources at DePauw

Don't Rely on Grades Alone

How can you motivate people to do something they wouldn’t normally do? It’s a difficult question, and clearly one that’s near the heart of teaching.

All the knowledge, preparation, and pedagogical techniques in the world won’t help you in the classroom if you can’t convince students to come along with you. Particularly if you, like many faculty members, are moving away from a lecture-heavy model of teaching to one that makes more use of class discussion and group work, you need your students to be motivated to learn. Student-centered teaching depends on quality student participation, which in turn depends on student motivation.

Most of the time, our main weapons in the fight to motivate students are the grades we give out. To be sure, grades also exist to give an accurate picture of student performance. But grades typically exist as both rewards and punishments to nudge students into approaching the course the way we think they should.

Think about the way you construct your syllabi. You’ll devote a higher percentage of the final grade to assignments you think are more important or difficult. You’ll assign regular quizzes if you want to make sure students come to class prepared. You’ll threaten to dock their essay grades if they turn their papers in late. That’s how we tackle the idea of student motivation in higher education: Students understand the rules of the game, and if they fail to follow them, their grades (and presumably their future prospects) will suffer.

The tricky thing is that, while it’s easy to come up with any number of carrots and sticks to prompt students to do better, decades of research have shown that such so-called extrinsic rewards and deterrents are not particularly effective tools. In fact, in many studies, subjects who were offered extrinsic rewards to complete a complex task actually performed worse than when they weren’t given rewards.

When grades are the main driving force behind our students’ motivation, instead of trying to master the material for their own benefit and assimilate it into their prior knowledge, students figure out what’s expected of them to attain a good grade and act accordingly. In addition, if we want students to develop a lifelong interest in a subject, extrinsic motivators are problematic; after graduation, when the rewards for learning are gone, the interest disappears.

Read more

Friday, April 17, 2015

My Nomadic Class

My course this past semester began like so many others: 14 students and I arrived every Tuesday and Thursday morning in an uninspiring space of concrete-block walls and fluorescent lighting, with few windows and fixed desks all facing forward, ill suited to the discussion-based, flipped format of the class. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, we decided to go nomadic.

We had pedagogical reasons for doing so. The course focused on how the built environment both reflects and affects our ideas about the world around us, looking at how philosophical concepts, cultural constructs, and social, economic, and environmental constraints help shape the spaces that human beings inhabit . . .

Unexpectedly, the continual change in learning environments also helped the students learn the material. Certain ideas became associated with particular locations, and recalling a space seemed to help the students remember a concept. We talked in class about how students in pre-Gutenberg Europe learned to mentally construct “memory palaces” as a mnemonic device to help them remember information attached to objects and spaces in their imagined structures.

Read the article My Nomadic Class