Technology in the Classroom- Use of Laptops, Notebooks & Smartphones

The issue of whether students should be allowed to use their laptops, smartphones, notebook computers, etc. while class is going on has been a hot topic for many professors for a long time now. This is a topic for which there is no one perfect solution, as use of these devices can make total sense for some courses but not for others. While more and more professors seem to be finding ways to integrate the use of these devices into their classes in a way that is acceptable to both them and to the students themselves, it still remains a challenge.

David Gooblar recently published an article in his Pedagogy Unbound blog in which he cites a method used by two professors at the University of British Columbia. At the start of the semester, they have the students themselves collaborate on a usage policy that everyone in the class will be expected to follow throughout the term. This approach has the advantage of making the students be part of the solution to the problem, thus increasing the probability of their buying into whatever policies are decided upon. (The solution that seems to be least-successful is the one in which the professor dictates the terms of usage to the students. That seems to light the fire of student ingenuity as they then try to find ways around whatever you’ve dictated.)

In a lecture class of roughly 70 students, I prefer a more hybrid solution. I would address this issue on the first day of class. A colleague of mine who is a psychology professor had polled her students about what they found to be the top five most annoying classroom behaviors exhibited by fellow students during class. Number one on their list was “side conversations”, closely followed by “laptop and cell phone use”. For each point on the list, I asked my students to articulate why they thought that item was on the list. What made that behavior particularly annoying?

They determined that, in the case of laptops and cell phones, it was the distraction factor, I then gave them a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves possible solutions. They spoke up and in the end agreed to try to minimize disruptive use of technology.

I went on to tell them that they would have plenty of opportunities to use both laptops and smartphones during class time, as there were times that I would expect them to conduct in-class research or to participate in online polls, take notes, etc. But I also told them that there would be times when it would not only be inappropriate but unnecessary to be on their devices and that, at those times, I would require that they be put to sleep or turned off.

I am convinced that this kind of open conversation on the first day was the reason why  the use of technological devices never became a problem in that class, despite its size. It also helped that I asked them to use their devices at minimum in every second class, even if only for a few minutes. This seemed to diffuse some of the pent up need to power up a screen and allowed them to focus better for the remainder of the class.

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“Life Happens”

It’s easy to forget sometimes that my class is just one of many that students are taking and that it might not be their first priority. At the start of each quarter, after explaining my expectations and policies, I always tell my students that sometimes “life happens”. By this I mean that something might happen to cause one or more of them to fall behind in some way. In this case, I ask them to let me know that something big is going on and I then work with the student on a case-by-case basis to accommodate them so that they can complete the course satisfactorily.

One year, a student’s house burned to the ground a few weeks before final projects were due at the end of the school year. Another time, a student’s mother fell terminally ill. A few days ago, one of my students came to let me know that her fiance had just been diagnosed with cancer, and today another told me that she had just been laid off from her job.

Such events help me to stay realistic about what I can expect from students, and are a constant reminder of what is truly important in life.

Syllabus for Teaching TAs How to Teach (Quarter version)

Any Fine Arts or Art History graduate student who wants to teach a class in the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art must successfully complete the “Graduate Teaching Workshop” course before receiving any teaching assignment. (This is true for TAs who assist a professor in the classroom, as well as for TAs who are assigned full responsibility for the teaching of a course.) This is the syllabus for that course.

Because UC is currently on the quarter system, this syllabus reflects a 10-week experience. When UC moves to semesters in the Fall of 2012, the syllabus will be revised to reflect a 14-week experience. In semesters, more time will be spent on pedagogical theory, guiding and evaluating group work, and how to effectively critique art work. I will post that updated syllabus in the Fall of 2012.

Elements of a Syllabus

Most universities and colleges have requirements of some kind for what should be in a syllabus. Some even require faculty to use a certain format. Before writing yours, inquire as to the requirements of your institution. Generally, the following elements are contained in most syllabi. Keep in mind that the syllabus is a contract between you and your students.

Top of First Page:

• Instructor name and contact information

• Course Title, number and section

• Time of course (days, quarter), room location

• Prerequisites of the course, if any

Course Learning Outcomes

• Give a clear and brief description of the overall educational outcomes of the course.

• Describe in general terms what the students will be able to do as a result of

having taken the course. Use action verbs for this. (e.g. by learning certain

skills, making presentations, etc.). In other words, by doing certain things,

they will learn to do something that will allow them to achieve the goals of

the course.

Course Description

• Can include general thoughts about the character or “philosophy” of the course. 

• Includes content of the course and a general description of activities/projects.

 

Course Projects & Activities

•  Major projects/assignments/activities are listed and described, including their purpose and due dates. (If you hand out separate instruction sheets for an assignment, project, or activity, then this section needn’t be too detailed. If not, then include those details here.)

• Briefly describe homework exercises, and activities such as field trips, presentations, working in groups, etc. as appropriate to the course.

Materials and Supplies List

• Include all materials needed for the course (textbooks, art supplies).

• Include costs of materials, if possible. List any supplies provided by you that are paid for from their materials fee. Recommend sources and list prices for these materials, if you wish.

Course Schedule

• Create a schedule of topics/activities for each class session. Include project names and their due dates, homework, critiques, demos, lecture, etc. Note that it is subject to change.

Evaluation

• Clearly describe how the final grade will be determined.

• Clearly describe any policies that might be important to you when  evaluating student performance. These might include how or if students can earn extra credit, any “do-over” policies for exams or assignments, etc.

• Often contains clearly described general grading criteria. This means that you describe what an “A” means, “B”, “C”, etc.


Class Policies (Attendance and Class Participation)

• Describe your attendance policy. When is someone “late” to class? Will there be consequences for coming to class late or leaving class early? Is someone who sleeps during class going to be counted as present?

• Describe classroom rules–what types of things do you allow or not allow in the classroom? Are iPods/cell phones/computers allowed? What will you do if someone is disruptive or sleeping during class? How do you feel about talking during class?

• If you are giving them a class participation grade, explain what will count towards that grade. (Talking in class? Doing homework? Going on field trips? Volunteering? Etc.)


Other Miscellaneous Items:

• A reading list

• A description of technology to be used in the course and why

• Additional expectations or activities not already addressed

• Inspirational jokes, quotes, poems, images, etc.

• Safety information

• Contact info for help with learning disabilities

• Policy on academic honesty