Those of you who know me are aware of my professional interest in the use of technology in the classroom.  I enjoy trying out new hard/software into my classrooms and occasionally am able to do some real research on the effectiveness of these tools.  Two tools that I am recently interested in is the use of student response systems (clickers) and e-books.

There has been a deluge of research on the use of clickers in the classroom.  It is actually beginning to be a bit annoying that at nearly every teaching conference that there is at least a half a dozen presentations on the different uses of these tools.  From what I have gathered it appears that the hopeful message that use of these clickers would consistently improve student performance is not supported.  Rather, there appears to be more of an effect on student engagement and enjoyment of these toys.  My own research has also supported this lack of an effect on performance.  This does not suggest that I believe clickers to be useless.  I am currently trying to find a way to suggest that the use of clickers might change how one approaches teaching.  I know it did for me, but I am still hammering this one out.

One consistent finding that I do have, anecdotally, is that student enjoy using the clickers.  Nearly every class where I introduce the clickers, there is a noticeable change in the students.  They giggle a bit, are interested in the ability to see immediate class results, and search to find just the right way to point their remote to activate their answers.  I also have students comment on my course evaluation forms that they liked the clicker questions and report that it helped them to pay better attention during lecture.

However, recently a colleague of mine used a slightly different version of a response system (one that worked through the student laptops and wireless network) and he reported that the students did not enjoy using this technology.  I am interested to know some of the reasons behind this because there has been suggestion of going the laptop route if Morningside chooses to adopt a response system institutionally.  Was it the technology?  Was it more difficult to use?  Were the questions not ‘fun’ or seen as ‘useful’ by the students?  Experiences that differ so greatly as my own and my colleagues raises very interesting and very practical questions.

The other technology that is becoming more popular is the e-book.  More and more publishers are offering e-book versions of their textbooks and these are often marketed as less expensive options to buying the actual paper and cardboard textbooks.  Personally I have been reluctant to offer an e-book exclusively.  I do let my students know about the option, but have not done anything formally with our bookstore to offer the students an e-book.  Part of this is from my own difficulty in reading from a screen and the other part is a desire for my students (especially majors) to be able to keep a resource for themselves (I know, how many will actually crack open their textbook later in life).

With new technologies like the Kindle and the upcoming Apple Tablet, perhaps it will be worth investigating the use of an e-book and student response to these books.  As with the contradicting experiences with the response systems (possibly due to differences in platform) perhaps there are differences in having an e-book on one’s laptop versus a more text-friendly technology.

I hope to have the possibility of doing some sort of systematic research to attempt to answer this question.  This appears to be more of a Human Factors than an Ed Psych question, but in all honesty, comfort with the material and ease of use is an important part of integrating technology into the classroom.  Students need to be able to focus their attention on the content and developing their thinking of the material, not trying to figure out or focus too much energy on the technology.  At least this is my personal point of view.

I will let you know if I am able to answer the e-book and clicker platform question.  It is an interesting one.  Perhaps there is a new study on the horizon.

NITOP Days 2 & 3

January 5, 2010

So  I was not able to post a full blog yesterday because I needed to take a nap in the afternoon.  I am nearly complete with my first ever NITOP conference and it has been great!  Yesterday I attended sessions on how to develop a mentoring program using alumni and a website, what the new(ish) products and policies based in cognitive science are, and a participant idea exchange where I learned about an in-house journal and how to be a more effective student organization advisor.

I did not attend the afternoon general session as I needed to get some class prep work done and frankly I needed a break and a short nap.  This conference is so good, that you actually want to attend every session and NITOP does a good job in offering multiple presentations of the same topic.

Today I attended a fantastic talk on how to make teaching “stick”, how to use popular press writing on scientific research as a tool for teaching research methods, and a great general session on taking risks in teaching by James Gross.  All of these session were inspirational and I was able to walk away with some concrete examples for my own classes or ideas for how to improve the experience for our students.

I am left with only one poster session to attend and then I am done.  Unfortunately we need to leave early in the morning and will miss the sessions tomorrow including the concluding talk entitled something like “Making students eat Earthworms” which is an interesting topic and I wish I could hear what Bill Henderson will be talking on.

In addition to the sessions I have had a great time talking about teaching strategies and ideas for our department with my colleagues.  I believe that attending this conference with them has made this that much more of an enriching experience.  We can talk right away about the ideas we were presented with and we also each tend to take our own angle from the mateirals presented.

I will soon be off to my last poster session here at NITOP (I’m sure snacks will be provided!) and am a bit sad to be done.  However, I am also ready to be done so that I can go home and hopefully implement some of these ideas into my courses yet this semester.  Attending these teaching conferences often makes me feel more energized and excited about new possibilities for my classroom.  I know that my other colleagues feel the same way as well.

For anyone else that reads this and is a teacher of psychology (high school through university) I’d highly recommend NITOP.  If you are in another field I hope you are as blessed as I am to have a National Institute for teaching for your discipline as well.  It is well worth it!


January 3, 2010

I am writing from cold and cloudy St. Pete’s Beach Florida at the annual National Institute for Teaching of Psychology (NITOP).  One would think that an early January getaway for Florida would be nice: sun, beach, water.  But this year me and four of my department colleagues were met with clouds, cold, and even a frost warning in the Tampa Bay area.  But don’t get me wrong, the conference is great, the weather has little to be desired except that it’s not as cold as home.

NITOP is a great conference for those of us who are dedicated to the teaching of psychology.  I have wanted to attend this conference for several years, but it was quite cost prohibitive (nearly $450 for registration alone, not including air fare and hotel).  But this year our department applied for a grant for faculty development and our college has graciously allowed us to attend this conference.

Today I attended a couple of very good sessions.  One session will be of great use immediately.  The session on examples and exercises for Statistics and Research Methods was fabulous and we all came away with a packet full of possible things to use in our courses.

The other interesting session was on Evolutionary psychology. This session was probably best for those that have little to no background in this newer field of psychology (like me).  I must admit to not having much of an idea of what this field is about and have been reluctant to include any discussion of evolutionary theory in my courses because of my ignorance.  But Michael Buss was a fantastic speaker and really made this very interesting field accessible.  I think I will probably try to incorporate some of these ideas into a couple of my courses (general psych and possibly developmental during the discussion of genetics).

I also attended a couple of other sessions for those who are teaching introduction to psychology and using online social communities in the classroom.  These I did not get as much from, but this is only because the speakers covered information that I was already aware of.  These were likely good session for a person very new to teaching or who has little to no experience in using online social communities in the classroom.

Finally there was a poster session that was pretty good.  Unfortunately by this time of day I was pretty tired and was not really in the mood to interact much with folks.  I did pick up quite a few handouts and hopefully these will be useful for some of my own research interests, particularly the use of student response systems or ‘clickers’.

All in all a good first day.  Next there is a reception with complementary nibbles and drinks and a dance with a DJ.  I’m sort of interested to see how the dance goes.