I really enjoyed teaching this semester. I think I learned a lot and was able to field-test many of the tools and educational technologies I recommend to educators in higher education and in K-12 settings.  I had some successes.  I had some flops.  But I know, from the debriefing with students at the end of the term, that we all learned a great deal from each other.  Me included.  What a great testimony to the concept of pre-service and in-service learning communities of educators.  To all of my co-learners, I say a hearty and heartfelt thank you!!

This reflection …. and some subsequent posts …. will attempt to debrief current and near-current practice (along with some mention of theory) in educational technology for pre-service teachers.  The good.  The problematic.  And the adjustments I would  make for future courses.

The Good

The course met in one of the University’s teaching labs, naturally.  This was a boon to just-in-time instruction since I would show the students a technique or tool which they could immediately implement on their own.  Great experiential learning.  Good way to bridge the well-known digital divide that does impact some of our students (some of whom had non-functional or inadequate personal computers) with state-of-the-art hardware and software.  And I did ask them to run some substantial programs such as Photoshop and Second Life.  So having reliable computers for experience and completion of assignments made the course a success.

The Problematic

And yet, those huge monitors on top of rows of tables definitely posed numerous challenges.

They did made it difficult to establish rapport between teacher and student by blocking the faces of the back half of the class.  I was not able to read their expressions to see if they were engaged, confused, bored, tired, or thinking hard.  While I could “read” the students in the front rows, we all know that students tend to self-select into regions of differing engagement with the material and the teacher.  I knew I was missing the feedback of half of my students …. and often the harder-to-engage half at that.

The computers hampered the ability of the students to see me and the visual portions of my instruction.  I still tend to use the whiteboard while talking, especially to draw charts, give the correct spelling of terms, and reinforce major ideas.  Even when I used the SmartBoard and computer combination (typing up notes or showing how to use a piece of software), I had to remember that the back half of the class literally could not read the bottom half of the projected screen.  This was a frequent problem whenever I was demonstrating a technique to the class.

The computers, and rows of tables upon which they rest, hindered interaction among students.  I tend to use constructivist methods in teaching, but getting students moved into groups for discussion was a chore.  The tables could not be moved, and so groups larger than three usually could not move around enough to actually talk to each other.  As the semester wore on, and coats joined backpacks in choking the aisles, I reduced the sizes of groups and the amount of time we spent in group break-out sessions.

The Solutions

  1. The flipped classroom.  I intentionally lectured less and made classroom time centered on student experimentation, small group discussion and production of learning artifacts.  I used our course management system, Moodle as an organized repository of class readings, course assignments and resources, online tutorials and resources, and copies of all of my notes.  That way, if someone could not read what was at the bottom of the board or screen, they could go back and get the details after class.  This was especially important because I had students with visual impairments …. they could participate in class knowing that they would be able to listen to anything I wrote when they accessed the material in the course website.
  2. Twitter backchannel.  While students did not make much use of it, I did create a twitter backchannel for the course.  That way, they could send me a quick note during class if they desired to give me feedback.
  3. Google docs.  Once they grasped the concept that every member of a group could edit a single document, students became enthused about using Google as a collaborative workspace.  I turned group discussions into sessions where small groups collaboratively created opinion papers or summarized readings together.  Once done, they could share results with me and …. depending upon the assignment …. with the whole class.  This made group collaboration feasible in a room built for individual work centered around a computer screen.
  4. Online discussion.  I used this sparingly since many students already are burned out by the frequent use of online discussions used to augment face-to-face classes.  I do enough reading of these discussions in my research and hobbies anyway (e.g. the Jedi Temple forums as a – now defunct – example).

Future

If I had it to do all over again, and could not change rooms, I would be more explicit with the students about the changes required by both parties (teacher and student) in the flipped classroom.  While most students made good use of the freedom, some struggled and simply considered any time that I was not lecturing as “free time” with which to do what they wanted.  And Facebook generally trumped self-directed learning of educational technology.  (Not that Facebook wasn’t one of our technologies …. but that is for a later post.)  Some students needed more framing and guidance to be successful in this new teaching environment.  Given that some states (such as Texas) are encouraging teachers to lecture less and encourage group work more, it would behoove pre-service teachers to become more conversant with the theory and practice of this change in pedagogy.

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