Technology = Frustrations

September 18, 2009

Today I write on behalf of both myself and my students when I say that the technology these past couple of weeks has been a huge frustration.  Morningside just this year allowed students the choice between a mac and a pc (we are a laptop campus and issue all students a computer).  Many people knew of the change, but few of us were really prepared for the trickle down effect of the change.

Personally it has affected me in two classes that I teach.  In one class the program will work fine with a splitter on a mac, but does have times when it becomes buggy, but at least much of the time it works.  In the other class the pc software will not work at all on the mac os.  So now my mac students are having to borrow a friend’s pc with the software on it to compelte much of the course work.

At least this has opened up new discussion at least in our department of how to best deal with these macs (which in and of themselves are not evil, but many students are cursing their macs).  There are many coulda, woulda, shoulda’s in how we could have better prepared ourselves as a campus for this.  But we just got so used to most students having pc’s and having our software work on them that it just wasn’t an issue.

So, with new choice comes new frustrations but also new opportunities.  We must learn to work around them as most other campuses do.  We have just honestly been a bit protected from the platform compatability issues for several years.

This was more or less a rant, not against macs (my grad school advisor would likely dis-own me if that were the case!), but just that we needed as a department and as a campus to have been more prepared for these issues.

A long first couple of weeks

September 4, 2009

Here at Morningside we are often spoiled in that we start with a short week of classes, have a long Labor Day weekend, and then one more short week of classes before we get into the M-F drill.  Because Labor Day is late this year, we had our first full week right away, and BOY were people feeling it.  Both Faculty and Students alike were complaining.  But I have managed to get most of my important work complete so that I have little grading to do over the long weekend.

The other issue this week that has irked me is that some school districts are caving into what I believe to be conservative paranoia about Obama’s scheduled web cast to US school children next week.  I have recently heard that the Grand Forks, ND system will not be showing it….I will not be surprised if districts here also cave.  Much too bad because the message will be an important one….challenge yourself, get an education, and become a productive member of society.  How is this a bad thing.  Our country has become too polarized and perhaps we need to get parents who DO want their children to hear this message call into the schools!

Some of you may be aware that there are a few tablet computers available for loan through our educational technologist Marlene Jacobson.  I have requested one to use for most of the semester and this week I graded my first assignments with it.  All I can say is WOW!

Though I am a bit of a technology geek, I have been hesitant to move to a paperless classroom.  In the past I have required students to turn in hard copies of all assignments and papers.  My primary reasons for this is that I could not mark assignments electronically as I would with a paper and pen.  With a tablet I now have no excuse other than perhaps I do not prefer reading on a screen (something that honestly I am able to deal with more and more).

I know that some people on campus have a tablet as their issued work computer and given my own experiences I believe that Morningside should give the option of a tablet to any facutly member who requests it.  I understand that they are more expensive, but the ability to treat my screen like a piece of paper is truely worth it.  I wonder how much could be saved from printing costs just by going as paperless as possible.

This semester (as long as I have access to a tablet) I will have very little paper in my courses.  My students seem pleased by this overall.  Most are tech savvy and most of us are aware of the dismal printer situation in the dorms (constantly breaking down).

The tablets are easy to use, and once you know the trick to marking up a non-MSOffice document you are able to use one of these tablets as you would one of our Smartboards on campus.

So perhaps I am lobbying for more accesibility of tablets for the faculty.  Perhaps we will find tablets useful for other offices and even students.  But I think the faculty would benefit the most right now (but perhaps I am biased!).


August 20, 2009

Today was the second day of faculty workshops and today we had the great opportunity to have Diane Pike from Augsburg College speak to us on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).  I enjoyed these workshops very much because it addresses my empirically driven approach to teaching and my own research program.  I found it very encouraging to see so many of my colleagues also show interest in this field of research. 

Morningside is a place that is nearly perfect to be conducting SoTL.  One colleague, Patrick McKinley, noted that we already have a few groups that are really ready-made collaboration groups on campus and that we as a faculty just need to take the next step to begin a more systematic approach to some of the questions that we have been asking each other and discussing for years. 

I also liked that Dr. Pike noted a distinction between doing scholarship of teaching and learning and being scholarly in one’s teaching.  The metaphor that she used to describe this was perfect.  In music there are conductors and there are performers.  Someone needs to create the music, and someone needs to actually perform the music.  Some of us want to and can do both, others can do only one or the other well.  However, there is a place for both individuals to make music what it is. 

I find myself being both a conductor and a performer.  I do not claim to be the best at doing both, but I do know that I am very intentional about how I teach my courses and I also conduct research in teaching and learning. 

I am very encouraged at the recent focus on SoTL in my field of study and within my own institution.  Teaching sessions at regional and national conferences are well attended and have good submissions, APA and APS give financial support for new faculty to travel to these conferences, Excellent teaching awards are awarded by both my professional organizations and my home institution, and today Morningside confirmed to me its support for this field of research though our workshops. 

Teaching will never be fully explained through research and science, but we can certainly help to improve this activity and to help dispel myths and poor practices through systematic research.

Today was the first day of faculty meetings and workshops before the school year starts up.  As I had written in a previous post, I look forward to the first day of school, primarily because I get to see my friends that I have not seen all year.  Between meetings me and a couple of my colleagues were talking some shop (often teaching, technology, and complaining) and Dr. Robson said that she was being interviewed by a journalist from the Sioux City journal about the use of electronic textbooks.  I said that I often will suggest to students about this often cheaper option and she invited me to the interview.

This was my first interview with a member of the media.  It went pretty well and generally both Dr. Robson and I feel positively about the use of electronic books.  Yes they do come with their downsides but generally they serve their purpose as well as a traditional paper book.  This semester I have decided to see how many of my students choose to use an electronic version of the book and to ask their opinions of their experience with this form of the book.

There are those that are very anti-electronic books, and they do have some valid points.  But generally e-books are a great way for students to save some money and to be able to use unique features such as electronic searches (vs. looking something up in an index) and access to more up-to-day materials and link to pertinent sites.

E-books can potentially provide more flexibility for students, but I choose to allow students the option to use either format they prefer.  I can see the e-book becoming more popular with college students, but I honestly do not believe that print is necessariy dead.  There are still enough people who prefer a physical book in their hands than a computer or kindle in their laps.  But as instructors we should keep this option available for our students.

As the month of August approaches I get a very familiar feeling within myself…giddiness.  Ever since I was a 6 year old I have always been excited for the first day of school.  I have to honestly say it is probably one of my favorite days of the year.  Things have certainly changed from when I was in grade school to college to graduate school to now professor, but the underlying reasons for my giddiness are quite the same.

  1. I get to buy some new school clothes and supplies.
  2. I get to learn about all sorts of new things over the next year
  3. I get to see all my friends that I have not seen much over the summer
  4. I get to meet all the new people coming to school

Yes I have been made fun of for the way I feel about the first day of school, but I do not believe that I am in any minority when it comes to people who are in the same business as I am.  I love that I have not had to give up this special day as I have grown up into a well-functioning and responsible adult with a job.  Academia is great in that there is a definite pattern to the year and each year often feels like a new start.

So in a few weeks I will once again be saying hello to good friends (colleagues and student alike) enjoying great conversations over good food and drink (or at least cheap food an drink on some occasions!) and once again getting to talk about and teach the subject that I love!  I have a feeling that this is going to be a great year (I usually have that feeling, and it is usually true!) and I feel that I am truly blessed to have found a career that I truly love and frankly am sometimes astonished that they actually pay me to do this!

It’s just a tool

June 29, 2009

This past year I have conducted a research study using the student response system technology.  If you are unfamiliar, this is an easy to use technology that is basically like the ‘Poll the Audience’ life line on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” I have used this technology in the past a I really enjoy it.  It allows students to respond to questions in an anonymous fashion and also gives me feedback as to whether or not my students understood  concept that I was teaching.

This technology has really boomed and several major universities have dedicated to using the technology.  They have purchased the systems, installed them in the classrooms, and spent a large amount of money on the software, components, and training. This is great for those that enjoy to use the technology and use it well, however, it can be a source of pressure for those that do not wish to use this technology in their classroom.

When I presented my work at a couple of recent large conferences, I had many people praising me on my work and the design of my study.  I compared two of my own classrooms, one used the clicker system, the other did not.  I found no significant differences in course performance (exams and final grade) or student engagement (an admittedly poor questionnaire from a previous author).  These people were prasing me because I was taking the stance that it is the PEDAGOGY of the instructor, not the method of delivering it that might created differences in classroom.

The research that does suggest that using clickers increases course performance all have evidence that the pedagogy is somehow different from the comparison group.

So I feel vindicated in my stance and attitude toward the use of technology.  It is simply a tool.  However, it can be a tool that makes it easier or more quick to use the effective pedagogical techniques that have been hailed for years (immediate feedback, quick corrections of mistakes, active participation, etc).  I am currently trying to publish this work.

So yet another blog for me to update.  I have one other blog right now that is mostly me just describing my experiences in life, but perhaps I can use this blog to publish some of my more professional thoughts, experiences, and ruminations.

Let’s start with rumination #1:  Working in a world of ideas!

I absolutely love the job that I have.  I have always been that odd person that would ask questions that probably did not have an answer (yet).  I love bouncing around possibly solutions to complex problems or creative ways of looking at an issue.  I enjoy speculating on the causes of events, often contradicting myself in the process.  Working within a college allows me such freedom to ask questions like this of others and what is even more great is that my colleagues here love to think about ideas as well.

I have learned that this way of thinking about the world is probably not the norm.  In my own family, I find that when I ask weird and complex questions about topics that are sort of off base, I often will get a funny look or the simple response of “I don’t know!  Why would you even ask a question like that?”  And then the fun ends…

I have always been a very curious person.  I am a skeptic at heart often looking for other explanations for events or ideas.  This approach can often frustrate others.  It seems that I am always against them, when in reality I am just thinking of the possible alternatives.  I am a believer that you can fully entertain and think about an idea without actually subscribing to the position that you are taking.

This is why I love my job.  I am paid to get others to think about ideas in ways that they may not have otherwise.  I also am in a field where ideas are put to the test empirically.

So this is my first post.  I hope that I am able to better update this blog than I have others in the past.