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Twitter in the University Classroom: Live-Tweeting During Lectures

January 3, 2013 3 comments

My second blog post reflecting on teaching innovations of 2012 is dedicated to my use of Twitter during one undergraduate module in the year just passed. My original intention, in embedding a Twitter widget within one of my Moodle pages, was merely to issue the occasional message to students to aid communication of, for instance, my progress with marking of their assessments. However, when I announced our ‘official’ Twitter hashtag to the students, to my surprise and delight, they started to use it not just for my module but to tweet about other areas of the programme as well. Even students not on the module started using the hashtag!

A few weeks into my module, I discovered that students who brought to class mobile devices that were connected to the wireless network (see my previous post on BYOD) had been tweeting on the lecture during the lecture, prompting me to tweet back during the break. At this point, with the help of several colleagues from the Learning Development Centre (thanks are due to Neal Sumner, Siân Lindsay, and particularly Ajmal Sultany), I investigated a means of live-tweeting during lectures without interrupting the rest of the teaching such as my use of PowerPoint and audiovisual examples.

Chris Wiley - Live-Tweeting During LecturesHaving looked into a number of different desktop-based Twitter clients to see whether they would meet my rather specific requirements, I found that Twhirl worked perfectly, with a search set up for the hashtag. I needed to increase the number of seconds for which the desktop alert is displayed, to give the students sufficient time to read it before it disappeared (I have to confess that since the alerts are only visible for c.15 seconds, a student and I had to mock up the photograph, right). I also found it necessary to lower the resolution on my laptop, because otherwise the alerts would have appeared off the far right-hand side of the screen when projected through the teaching pod.

It took a little while to get it just right, but having found workarounds for the various technological and logistical challenges, in several classes (with the aid of my trusty iPad) I provided a running Twitter feed before, during, and after the lecture, which helped keep students’ attention focussed on the key points and issues particularly when audiovisual examples were playing. A few students (though perhaps not as many as I’d hoped) followed my lead and tweeted their own thoughts too, all of which were displayed in real-time on the projector screen at the front of the classroom. We also received tweets from former students who have taken the module in the past, from staff elsewhere in the University who picked up news of the lectures via Twitter, and even, occasionally, retweets from users unknown to us – an ideal reminder that we were discussing real-life issues that have a bearing on the real world, beyond the confines of the University.

Disadvantages to live-tweeting include that the author of a given message is publicly identified rather than anonymous (perhaps this was why some students were using the hashtag only outside the classroom, rather than having their tweets appear on the projector screen during class), and that the tutor cannot anticipate the appearance or content of a tweet so there is a danger that it might interrupt the flow of the lecture. Nonetheless, although an ambitious undertaking it did seem to be an effective way of using Twitter to enhance teaching, without placing it at the centre of teaching. It also provided a novel means of engaging the students – including some who might not have been quick to contribute to face-to-face class discussion.

Were I to take Twitter back into the University classroom in the future, there are a couple of additional possibilities I might seek to implement. One is to pass a mobile device or two round the class and appoint specific students to be responsible for providing a running Twitter commentary for a given lecture. Another is to embed tweets within my PowerPoint presentation via add-in Twitter Tools, such that they are automatically posted (and the alert received) upon reaching the associated slide. Using these Twitter Tools, it is even possible to include a tweet cloud in a PowerPoint presentation, and to embed a real-time Twitter ticker feed at the bottom of each slide, which might ultimately obviate the need to use a desktop-based client. Much to think about for 2013!

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): How Staff are Responding to the Mobile Technologies Their Students Bring With Them to Class

December 23, 2012 2 comments

The end of the year yields an opportune time to reflect upon various teaching innovations that have been discussed, written about, and presented earlier in the year, but which have not yet been included on the Educational Vignettes website. In this, the first of a series of end-of-year posts, I offer some thumbnail sketches of initiatives implemented in my teaching during 2012 to embrace mobile technologies with which students have been engaging to support their in-class learning – but with which, crucially, I was myself comparatively unfamiliar.

It can certainly be offputting to a tutor for the students’ attentions to be apparently divided between the lecture and their mobile devices; but this year I have seen evidence that, far from being a distraction, even the unsolicited use of mobile technologies by students can actually lead to their being more engaged in class. For example, in one lecture, when discussing crossover between classical musicians and popular music, I alluded to a Los Angeles-based string collective, the Vitamin String Quartet, who have released a fascinating series of albums of arrangements of popular music. Moments later, the whole class heard the unmistakeable sounds of a string quartet emanating from one corner of the room – one of the students had looked up the group’s website on her laptop, but had forgotten to ensure that she had turned off the sound…

Another such instance seems rather appropriate to this time of year : I was chatting to a student after a lecture who rather impressed me by dropping into conversation that Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was the only track ever to have reached the UK singles Christmas No. 1 spot twice, in 1975 and 1991. When I asked him how he knew this, he reminded me that during the lecture, I had mentioned that the Spice Girls were the only act to have attained three consecutive Christmas No.1s (1996-98). His interest had been sufficiently piqued by this piece of information that he had used his mobile device to call up a list of UK Christmas No.1s, and noticed the double appearance of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ there.

Versions of the two case studies below were previously presented at the School of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching and Learning Fête on 20 March 2012, and I am indebted to several colleagues at the Learning Development Centre without whose input and advice many of my endeavours this year simply would not have been possible.

Impromptu lecture-capture

Punk rock lectureIn a lecture on punk rock earlier in the year, a few students and I re-enacted the infamous interview between the Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy broadcast live on primetime Thames Television back in 1976. Reconstructions based on archived footage are available, but we decided that it would be more fun and interactive for the students to come to the front and recreate the experience for themselves. Given the relatively large number of people involved in the task, one student remarked that at this rate there would be nobody left in the class – to which I responded that this was very much in keeping with the belief-system at the centre of punk rock: the idea that anybody can get up on stage and be a performer.

Perhaps most interesting was one student who declared that she would be playing a role I had not even considered – that of the cameraman. She filmed our entire reconstruction using her mobile device (from which the screenshot, above right, is taken), thereby taking the notion of student ownership of their teaching and learning to a whole new level. (More recently, another student has written to me that his participation in the role-play was one of the most enjoyable parts of his educational experience – which is particularly revealing in that although he was indeed a part of the scene, and appears in the screenshot above, he actually had no lines to say!) The footage is now being uploaded to Moodle as a helpful reminder of the endeavour, and of the wider points it raised about punk’s do-it-yourself aesthetic.

Video podcasting of lecture summaries

Earlier in the year I was loaned an iPad by the School, and set the intriguing challenge of finding innovative ways to incorporate it within my teaching. Personal research soon led me to the Wired Educator blog in which a compelling case is made, albeit in a different context, for using the iPad for podcasting (see here). I have been audio podcasting since 2009 but switched to video (not a medium with which I am particularly comfortable) this year. My rationale for the change was that, while the pedagogical function of podcasting may be largely fulfilled by audio-only resources, images are more engaging for the students, encouraging a greater level of concentration and enabling them to see and interpret the speaker’s gestures and body language. I was also mindful of recent experiences within the institution with lecture-capture, which I have been increasingly using as the year has progressed, and of wider innovations in education such as the implementation of flipped classes.

My mode of operation was to record a podcast of 8-10 minutes in advance of each lecture, providing a summary of the key material and concepts of the associated class as well as discussing the set reading, and to release the recording via Moodle. Each podcast was intended to give the students some grounding in the content of the lecture (as well as to act as a ‘trailer’) and to provide some context on the preparatory reading, but they had an unexpected secondary function as a resource for the end-of-module examination. In the module evaluation, completed one week before the examination took place, one student wrote that “The weekly podcasts which were made were very helpful for revision” while another commented on the “Helpful podcasts on Moodle for revision purposes”.

As noted, many students already owned mobile devices upon which the podcasts could be played, downloaded, and re-watched at their convenience. For the others, I came to class every week with the podcasts pre-loaded onto my iPad (see screenshot, below) and students who did not have the opportunity to watch them in advance, or appreciated a second viewing to refresh their memories, were able to borrow my iPad for this purpose before the lecture or during the break.

Podcasts - screen capture

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