Misadventures in Teaching with Technology: Week 1

First Day Reflections

I taught my first class last Wednesday, and I’ve had a lot of time to consider what went well, what I want to change, and things that need to change going forward in order to make this class the most successful it can be.

My first gut reactions from moments after the class ended were that I talked way too much. I’m sure this is a common thing instructors feel after the first day. My introduction activity (say your name and your favorite childhood activity) did not take nearly as long as I thought it would, which is a blessing in disguise. Every week, I plan to ask the students a “be present” question — something that gets them thinking and ready to contribute to the discussion while also providing them ways to connect with each other in a low-stakes manner — so I was happy that it only took about two of my precious 50 minutes to do this activity.

Unfortunately, since I talked so much, they didn’t get much of a chance to talk — whenever I paused to allow for questions, I tried my hardest to leave some think time in there, but no dice. This is no different from the high school classroom. I did get questions from students at the end, though (not to mention the emails I’ve been getting since last Wednesday) so I don’t think they’re necessarily afraid to ask me things, but more so asking in front of their peers. We’ll work on that this semester!

Rolling With It

One thing that surprised me was that not all of them had laptops with them, which was not a requirement but something I just assumed they’d have. At about 8:15 on Wednesday morning (I teach at 9), I decided to tag on a writing activity just in case I had extra time at the end of class, and as it turned out, I did have about ten minutes to spare which ended up being absolutely perfect for a quick write.

My initial hope was to have them all upload their assignment into Canvas so that they’d understand the process. Of course, the laptop conundrum threw a wrench in that plan, so I had those who didn’t bring a computer just hand write to me and let them know to ask me if they had questions about Canvas later on.

The students got really quiet after I assigned this task, and wrote or typed in a way that appeared very engaging for the remainder of class. I took my first deep breath of the entire 50 minutes and appreciated how different this was from high school, where the students wouldn’t leave each other alone, didn’t stay quiet, and never stayed on task. It was blissful.

As a result, I was really excited to read their reflections. Our prompt for the day’s class was “What do you hope to accomplish and how…?” and their prompt options were: during their first year of college, during this class, or by the end of their Penn State careers (aka graduation).

Staying True to my Teaching Philosophy

Having had the opportunity now to read these, I’m so glad I asked the question. They took it really seriously. Some of them have great goals — dean’s list, building a community, maintaining high GPAs, choosing a major that fits their personality, etc. What I was more impressed with was the “how” part. They took the time to really think about the steps needed to achieve these goals, which was one of my personal objectives for the class. I’m hoping the trend continues.

Like the true nerd teacher I am, I took the time to write back to every student that night and praised their work. I scanned and uploaded the handwritten documents back into the system as well. My goal in this activity is to show them that I am paying attention to this stuff. In fact, to me, these reflective opportunities carry more weight than the major assignments. Anyone can follow directions and check off boxes, but even taking time to write a paragraph or two about your experience is where true learning takes place.


The Technical Stuff

On the technical end of things, I was really glad to see that the students were at least accessing the online content that I developed for the class in ELMSLN (an education-focused Drupal-based platform — learn more at elmsln.org). This is where all the “pre work” of the blended experience is housed, complete with questions about content, interactive pieces, video and external resources. This stuff sets the stage for the students to be successful in class, where I’m hoping to spend most of our face to face time working together.

We have successful xAPI tracking happening! All those pieces I mentioned above (the questions, videos, external files…) are “hooked into” a learning record store (we’re using Learning Locker). I can see who’s accessing what, watching which videos and clicking on what resources, thanks to the magic of H5P interactive content and the xAPI protocol. Right now I’m using it to make sure the students understand what is required of them, but I’m hopeful that at the end of the semester, I’ll have a good overview of their behavior with these resources and be able to extract some actionable data. Look for another post that goes more in-depth with the technical aspects of this later on, and maybe even a conference session or two next semester!

Justifying the Pre Work

I’m making the online component of the course a requirement for students to earn their participation points in the class. I read a great argument the other week (and I’m mad at myself that I can’t remember exactly where it came from, but it is a growing movement in light of Susan Cain’s work around introversion) that traditional participation grading strategies (volunteering, answering questions out loud, etc.) are biased toward the extroverted students, which is entirely true. My personal teaching philosophy always calls for multiple ways for students to show me they are learning, so to justify this online content aside from the fact that it’s important for setting the stage for our weekly meetings, the online content is a way for the quieter ones in my class to show me they are engaged with the content. It’s also a great way for the extroverts to practice learning in an individual method. Good for everyone in my opinion!

Of course, there have been some bumps, but I will touch on those in another post (some technical glitches, some students who aren’t quite with it yet, and other growing pains that are not unexpected). For now, I’m excited to see what week 2 brings as well begin resume writing and exploring the value that we already bring to the table — even without traditional professional experience. This also sets the stage for week 3’s topic of leadership.

Follow along with my misadventures in teaching with technology: my class hashtag is #psu6kw on Twitter!