I spent my last morning of the recent American Chemical Society meeting in a chemical education symposium on using mobile devices in the classroom. Not coincidentally, my father was speaking in the session, and aside from supporting family, I find Dad always has something interesting to say.
There was a gratifying audience present prior to the 8:30 AM start of the first talk, and Dad blandly threw out the grenade that according to the policies of the sponsoring society, audience members were not to take any photographs or videos or use any other electronic recording method during the presentations. As Dad no doubt expected, this announcement sparked a spirited discussion among audience members who were actively encouraging students to use technology to enhance their learning experiences. I’ve observed that when my own students want a copy of a question I’ve written down on paper or on the board for several, they just take a photo with their smart phones. Several students who were out sick and missed class have submitted smart phone photos of their homework to make sure that I received it on time. I think it’s a great habit, and I was aware that I’ve picked up that quick note capture habit. Earlier in the week, I was quite frustrated in one talk that was rather data intensive, I wasn’t able to take notes quickly enough to capture all the information, but I was not allowed to take a photo and solve the problem quickly and easily.
Before Dad’s talk began, he requested that I keep time for him to ensure that he wouldn’t run over. Of course, each time I signaled him, he made a comment about me or about needing to talk faster. When in spite of being out of time he decided to take a third question at the end of his presentation, I made a choking sign, which one other presenter thought was excessive. I felt that since I didn’t stand up and do chicken squawking imitations, I was still within the bounds of the acceptable. Besides, I know that sometimes speakers require strong handling, and I learned these skills from Dad himself.
One interesting detail that I got out of Dad’s talk was that that students use mobile devices (laptop, cell phone, tablet) to access content and virtually never use a desktop computer. Even further, students generally use a combination of devices rather than relying on a single communication mode. I was already keeping time via my cell phone, and I immediately couldn’t decide if it was extremely appropriate or quite inappropriate to get out my iPad to look at the pdf of the symposium schedule so I could stop Dad at the appropriate time. I eventually went for the double device strategy and figured I was bonding with the students.
Those of you who have read Ender’s Game will recall Ender working on an electronic “desk” that provided him with lessons and served as a communication device. Listening to all the talks suggested to me that what was a novel idea in the book has nearly become reality. We just don’t quite know how to integrate everything together yet. I saw how students who use exclusively an electronic textbook earn grades comparable to students who buy hardcopy (although honors students seem to be particular holdouts for “real” books.) I learned that students who use iPads to video their experiments in laboratory write much more detailed observations in their reports. As “flipped” classes, sections in which lecture is taught via a series of short videos prior to class so that lecture time may focus more on problem solving, become more ubiquitous, I started to wonder if my students who search YouTube for videos illustrating problem solving are starting to adapt to that new format and instinctively search for video help rather than reading the book. Some of the chemical modeling programs that are now being used routinely in class were outstanding reminders that a picture can be worth a thousand words. I wish I had had these ideas a few weeks ago for my Inorganic chemistry students. I also have a long list of apps that have been used effectively in various classes, and now I want to try them all!
I was only able to stay for a handful of talks, but my notebook (yes, a physical notebook- old habits from the Senate die hard) was full of arrows and flags identifying great ideas and ways that I might incorporate some of the ideas into my own courses. I’m not sure if coming to a meeting is more exhausting or if it is more tiring to try to work through all the great ideas I get and have to triage to figure out what is actually possible. I was disappointed that I couldn’t stay for more of the talks, but my list of Things To Do thinks it may have been for the best.