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  • Mohit Verma

Technology in the classroom: useful or distracting?



I have written about my experience of teaching for the first time—the joys and the perils of the journey. Today, I want to discuss the technologies that I have incorporated within my class to keep it engaging while avoiding having to learn too many new systems. I use Blackboard Learn for managing all the course content and also for conducting quizzes and exams. Blackboard provides a central dashboard which can be integrated with other tools such as Gradescope—useful for submission and grading of handwritten or typed assignments, BoilerCast (now Kaltura, useful for recording slides and audio of in-class lectures), Qualtrics (for conducting surveys or peer-evaluations), and Respondus Lockdown Browser (for conducting tests while preventing cheating). Although some aspects of Blackboard could be improved, most notably the navigation, it is a workable platform after getting over the initial learning hump. The support staff at my university is incredibly useful and provides a timely response for issues with Blackboard. Since I was teaching the course for the first time, I had the ability to experiment with the technologies listed above and more. I will review these below (click on the titles for more details on how to implement each tool):


Hotseat

A platform (developed in-house) for responding to questions in-class (similar to i-Clicker, the popular alternative)


Pros

  • Hostseat is great for in-class activities. It is not only good for judging how well students grasp the concept but also for obtaining feedback using open-ended questions.

  • It allows for responses via a smartphone (web or text-messaging) or a laptop. I figured since most of the Millennials and Generation Z’s are on their smartphones, why not use it for their benefit instead of banning it.

  • I embed bonus points for activities and it is easy to link it to students’ grades.

Con

  • The ability to export and analyze responses is primitive. It currently only permits exporting of polls (where open responses are limited to 100 characters) and it does not allow exporting of questions, which are useful for students to review later (and for me to use in-class next time).


BoilerCast (Kaltura)

It records the presented material (on dual projectors) and audio associated with it and automatically posts it on Blackboard.


Pros

  • It is very convenient and easy-to-use. I just had to make a request to the technical staff before the course began, let them know about the class times, and they take care of the rest.

  • Students find it very useful, although it has to be explicitly stated that it is available because not everyone is aware of it.

  • Blackboard also provides analytics on how many times the videos were played (737 times in my case for 32 videos). I can also see which lecture was played the most often because it suggests that a difficult topic was covered in that lecture and I should make it more clear next time.

Con

  • I have to be careful not to say anything ridiculous because everything is being recorded


Gradescope

It is useful for submitting and grading assignments.


Pros

  • Integrated with Blackboard (upon request from technical support staff)

  • Collects similar responses, keeps everything electronic (useful for sharing with others, e.g. ABET accreditation documents)

Con

  • I cannot post questions directly on Gradescope. I had to separately create an assignment on Blackboard and post the questions there.

My TA did the grading, so I’m not completely familiar with the interface/usability but I did not hear any major issues.


PowerPoint/Document Camera

I use PowerPoint and doc cam for all my lectures.


Pros

  • PowerPoint slides are useful to keep the lecture organized and to have materials for students to review.

  • Doc cam is especially helpful when there is a need to slow down the lecture (or discuss responses to activities). I prefer doc cam over the blackboard/whiteboard because everything that is projected on the doc cam gets recorded using BoilerCast.

Cons

  • While using the doc cam, I have to ensure that the text is in focus and my handwriting is clear. Sometimes I can go out of visible region without realizing because there are no markings on the doc cam to indicate the field of view.

  • When presenting using PowerPoint, lectures can be too quick and so, I have to be especially mindful of the pace (the activities mentioned in my previous blog post end up being helpful).


Nameplates

It is probably the most low-tech tool that I use in class.


Pros

  • I am able to call on people for responses. Nameplates also help me remember some of the names better (certainly not all names).

  • Nameplates keep the students on their feet because anybody could be called out. From the teaching workshop that I attended, I was told that I should avoid cold-calling and so, I always give people time to think (about 30 seconds – 2 minutes) before calling on them.

Cons

  • Some people get anxious

  • Some students forget their nameplates or do not display them (most of the students were comfortable with the nameplates a few weeks into the course)


Qualtrics

A survey-collection and analysis tool:


Pros

  • My university has a license for Qualtrics which enables the use of all of its features.

  • It can be used on mobile devices and on laptops.

  • Strong data analytics capability.

  • A variety of question designs are available.

Con

  • Does not integrate with Blackboard, one needs to manually export data and link to grades (I did the setup, TA did the analysis of results).


Respondus Lockdown Browser

It enables online exams while minimizing cheating. I design my tests to be open notes because, at this point, the focus should not be on memorization by rather on understanding and application of the content


Pros

  • Browser works well, but takes a little bit of getting used to; sometimes glitches are seen for some tests (I keep a few paper copies of the test/exam as backup).

Cons

  • Students need to install a separate application.

  • Some students do not bring a laptop or tablet; Respondus is not mobile-compatible. It also does not work with all operating systems.


Blackboard for online tests

I designed the tests and exams (except the final exam) to be online but taken in-class (to avoid cheating). The students were allowed any handwritten or printed notes.


Pros

  • automatic grading for most types of questions

  • ability to easily create a variety of numerical questions (i.e. you can automatically vary the numbers in the question and it will recalculate the correct answer according to a provided formula)

  • ability to analyze the quality (correlation with overall score) and difficulty (% of students that got it correct) for each question.

  • linked to grades easily

Cons

  • asking for mathematical derivation type questions is difficult.

  • short answer questions and partial credit still needs to be manually graded.


Blackboard self and peer evaluation


Pros

  • crowd-sourcing of grading

  • teaches students to be critical

Cons

  • need creative ways of avoiding cheating

  • manual grading still required to address any discrepancies and to ensure peer evaluations are done appropriately (as opposed to being biased towards friends)

  • if someone does not submit an assignment, they are also unable to evaluate other assignments

Overall, I found that most technologies enhanced the experience for me and the students. My university is re-evaluating which platforms will continue to exist and I am looking forward to implementing them the next time I teach. I think technologies are useful in the classroom, if implemented correctly.

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©2018 by Mohit Verma.