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Prepare students early for course technology

 

Every semester as I head into my courses I have the goal to improve my courses using tech tools. Usually I have decided on particular goals for the delivery of the course and have chosen the technologies that will help me attain those goals. The technology, of course, is merely a tool to help deliver the material effectively. As such, it is important to me that the students not get bogged with the particulars of how to use it. 

Survey

Understanding my students’ familiarity with the technology helps me direct my training tools. About a month prior to the start of the Spring semester I surveyed the students to get a sense for their level of comfort with the specific tools, and to understand what hardware (ex. smart phone vs tablet vs laptop vs desktop, Apple OS vs Windows vs Chrome) they were coming in with. From this I knew which resources were going to take more effort from me to get everyone up to speed.

Unexpected results

Leaving room for discovery opens up new doors. I actually had not considered using Pinterest in any way initially but the survey revealed that over 75% of the students were already using this resource. When in Rome….

Tools I use:

  • Google calendar – the class calendar has a URL that the students can subscribe to for automatic updating whenever I change the events. The calendar is also displayed in the course for the half of the class that are not currently using electronic calendars.
  • Twitter feeds – I have provided links to feeds that I think are important, however the feeds are also displayed within the course Moodle site. The small number of Twitter users can follow directly but the other students will view within the course.
  • Google documents/presentations/spreadsheets – my survey indicated that most students were pretty familiar with these already so these will be set up when the activity calls for it.
  • YouTube channel – I have set up the class channel, invited each of the students to join it, and will set it up so that they can all contribute to it. YouTube is now under Google control so according to my pre-class survey, the login and channel subscription should be pretty familiar to most students. View the class channel below
  • PollEverywhere for in-class polling PollEverywhere allows students to use their personal mobile devices that I know from the preclass survey that all of them have. I’ve created a static PollEverywhere page for my class so students can use the same bookmark, twitter address, or texting number throughout the semester. I chose this approach so that we don’t have to communicate new input techniques every time I want to poll the class.
  • Pinterest – I have set up a class pinning board, invited all the students to follow it, and will set it up so that they can all contribute to it.
  • Flipboard– Students were not familiar with this reader aggregation application so I have developed pretty extensive instructions on setting it up. I have set up a class magazine that students can choose to subscribe to, or they can view a web version in their browser.

My last tasks for the spring semester setup have been to provide detailed documentation about use and setup of each of the tools, and plenty of opportunity for the students to get these tools set up in advance. The documentation page addresses all the tools noted earlier, and attempts to step them through a checklist of tools. I am also hoping to use the new Badges feature to add incentives for the students to work through the list, however, as a new feature, that will require more exploration on my part.

What technology tools are you using this semester? Share how you prepare your students for them in the comments below.

Antonio Izzo is the faculty technology fellow and assistant professor in Biology at Elon University.

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