Beyond the e-textbook

Just came back from a conference presentation at the Campus Technology Forum in Long Beach, CA. Lisa Lewis, Aaron Miller, and I argued that current models for mobile learning and e-books are not well-suited to the liberal arts classroom. We previewed work we’ve done that tries to fix some of the problems we see in emerging mobile applications. Here’s our Prezi:

As I mentioned during the conference, large parts of my project are an attempt to do, in mobile form, what paper and pencil always did quite well. The trouble is that my students are not writing in their books as they used to, and in some cases they aren’t bringing the books to class. I think this is a change in reading habits that may get worse as more people move to an e-book format. Another problem is that poetry is typically carefully formatted for things like size and line breaks, all of which carry meaning, while e-books are generally built around an adjustable model. This is more suited to trade publications than to poetry or even to more serious fiction.

Video documentary assignment

We just finished watching the documentaries produced by our first-year seminar students in the Equus class I’m co-teaching with Bille Wickre (Art History), and we’re very happy with the results. There were some technical problems, but far fewer than there would have been a few years ago, and the outcomes are far superior to the usual run of PowerPoint projects. Students had to think in terms of visual argument, something they don’t always remember when coming up with often text-heavy PowerPoint slides, and many presentations were extremely creative and touching. Here are two representative pieces, one from each section:

Marissa Cloutier: YouTube Preview Image

Peter Blair: YouTube Preview Image

Bleats, not tweets

For the most part, Twitter seems to me a sometimes amusing but mostly useless tool.  Following people’s tweets gives the impression of being in a large sheep herd with a lot of bleating. Mostly the bleats boil down to “I am here.”  However, I’m nevertheless thinking of ways to use Twitter in teaching.  It could either be a writing exercise for students (they tweet) or a you-should-always-be-thinking-about-the-course-material tool (I tweet).  Either way, unless there’s significant penetration of Twitter among students, I can’t see using it for any all-class assignments. Given my experience with blogs, online forums, etc. asking students to express themselves through an unfamiliar medium is unlikely to have a lasting effect. The trick is to keep it optional but useful enough that students will come to it on their own.