Friday, July 18, 2008

Chalk Bored

It's instructional technology week here again at Virtualpolitik, even though it is summer, and your faithful reporter should be enjoying the benefits of her academic schedule and lazily sipping margaritas with her toes in the sand.

On Tuesday, I visited the class of USC colleague Mark Marino, where I gave a talk about Internet fame. It was interesting to see how Marino is using students' familiarity with widget-based interfaces to teach small classes. He's currently refining a Pageflakes based tool to solicit more student participation, which I will link to later this summer when it is ready for public view.

In contrast, on Thursday the focus was on large classes, as our campus presented a recap of the recent UC 21st Century conference at UC Davis. From the standpoint of pedagogy, it seemed like there were two major themes in the UCI sessions: 1) the evolution of "hybrid" courses that aim to use technology with live lecture-hall style teaching in ways that are very different from distance learning models and 2) consciousness-raising about the perils of what has been called "PowerPoint abuse" in higher education by The Chronicle of Higher Education, in which faculty become overdependent on one-to-many presentation technologies that often foster passivity and/or resentment of redundancy. (I heard at least one plug for SlideRocket for faculty looking for an alternative, but it sounded like most people still used the Microsoft standard despite its obvious disadvantages to instructors.)

Professor Michael Leon discussed ways to "personalize" large classes of pre-medical students. Leon argued that science classes could sustain class blogs like this one or use tools like this to seize on occasions for learning through updates of "news" or postings on"forums," that online demos such as this one were often more effective than static materials in textbooks, that chemistry homework could be easily personalized so that each student would have a different problem set, and that "garage demos" on YouTube could provide the "library of digital video clips" that faculty have been waiting for. Of course, given the complicated politics of proprietary technologies and intellectual property that YouTube represents, Leon also had a number of life hacking tips for his fellow professors. He advised them to find clips using the flythrough features of PicLens, reformat them into more sharing or PowerPoint friendly formats using Zamzar, and then edit them in MPEG-4 format using Squared 5.

Much of the practical guidance for large classes also focused on the use of "clicker" technologies, in which students answer questions and give feedback to provide data measuring participation and learning outcomes that can be monitored and aggregated from the front of the lecture hall. As Professor Philip Collins explained, our campus had been remarkably patient in experimenting with this technology through trial and error, long after other UC campuses had dismissed the technology as impractical. After rejecting hardwired and infrared clickers, early adopters settled on radio frequency models, although even they admitted that the fact that clickers were often carried in purses and laptop bags where jostling turned them on and off caused many students to complain about dead batteries.

There were also presentations about the UC Irvine about the Open Courseware Initiative and the web portal at UCI for these materials. Although MIT is still a clear leader in the field as far as the number of online courses and pedagogical materials, hundreds of other campuses have joined the movement according to Dean of Continuing Education Gary Matkin. Matkin argued that the low commercial value and the high social value of digital content created at universities should make them particularly likely to be contributers. (To get a sense of the technological habits of the UC Irvine students who attend the physical campus in comparison to what you might believe about your own students, you can check out this recent large-scale survey.)

Labels: , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know what you mean by 'obvious disadvantages to instructors'

I don't follow your blog so perhaps this is something someone who does would understand, but as a developer on the Office development team, I'm honestly interested in your reply.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

Certainly I'm sympathetic to the challenges faced by software developers, but MS PowerPoint has a number of disadvantages to educators compared with some other slideware packages: relatively large file size, difficulty of annotating content collectively, problems incorporating video, etc. Of course, a lot of people use it -- myself included -- because it has the advantage of compatibility. But as someone who works on design issues, I wish that it had better fonts and templates, since many of the default choices are unattractive.

3:54 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home