Classes start today. You can sense the excitement in the halls as undergraduates and instructors rush to classrooms – eagerly awaiting the start of lectures. OK, perhaps not EVERYONE is that excited… but I am. The start of term is always fun, and the start of class provides new opportunity to adjust, and hopefully improve, my own teaching .
I wrote a post about a year ago that expounded on the value of teaching without technology (In Praise of Chalk). Fundamentally, I can’t stand Powerpoint – it’s annoying, boring, causes information overload, and puts people to sleep. In my course that starts today (Population & Community Ecology), I have traditionally used the chalk board, and feel it has numerous benefits. It allows for a more engaging and interactive classroom environment, facilitates high attendance, and slows down content delivery. That being said, using a chalkboard also has some important drawbacks including (but not limited to): a) students having to decipher my poor handwriting; b) having to frequently have my back to the class; c) inability to easily bring complex graphs and figures into the lecture (i.e., from the textbook) – to do this would require switching between the data projector and the chalk board – an impossibility in the classroom in which I am teaching.
So, it’s not without a heavy does of irony that this term I am reintroducing some technology into the classroom. In fairness, I see this as a natural evolution from the chalkboard, and will hopefully allow to overcomes some of the disadvantages of the chalkboard (In my previous post, I did discuss how a ‘smartboard’ or ‘whiteboard’ may be worth trying…). This term, I will try using a tablet (i-pad), connected to the data projector (via a $35 cable), along with a tablet-friendly pen, and a piece of free software (a type of whiteboard – I’m going to try the Educreations app).
I’ve been playing around with this for a few days and here are my initial impressions: this approach will allow me to import photos – in particular, I will use images of complex graphs/figures from my textbook, and I can use the pen to highlight / draw / write on these figures. I should also be able to face the class when writing on the i-pad, and the software does have a function which allows for typing – this will help with the handwriting problems. The software does have a few issues – it doesn’t allow easy options for saving (i.e., you must create an account with educreations, etc), nor does the app come with an eraser (it does have an ‘undo’ button, but that button only works on the page you are currently working on – so, if you have to return to a previous slide, you can only add content, not remove what is already there). Nevertheless, I think the app will serve its purpose. If I really like using the i-pad for teaching, I might invest in other apps – there are many out there.
So, onwards with another exciting adventure in teaching! I’ll keep you posted about whether this approach works or whether I return to the comfort zone of dusty chalk.
What are your opinions and experiences? Please share….