• November 23, 2014

Teaching With Twitter: Not for the Faint of Heart

Students are emboldened, but they can also hijack discussions

Maybe Sugato Chakravarty should wear a helmet to class. The professor of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue University repeatedly attempts the instructional equivalent of jumping a motorcycle over a row of flaming barrels.

OK, asking 250 students to post questions on Twitter during a class doesn't risk life or limb. But it can cause ego damage if the mob of students in his course on personal finance gets disorderly online.

He has given them the power to do just that. As Mr. Chakravarty paces the front of a stadium-style lecture hall, wearing a wireless microphone to make sure his lecture reaches the nosebleed seats, some students crack jokes anonymously in an official Web forum. The course is one of two at Purdue that are testing homemade software called Hotseat, which lets students key in questions from their cellphones or laptops, using Twitter or Facebook.

A constant stream of comments, often tangential, accompanies his talks. An incident of cheating came up early in the semester—a student asked classmates for a quiz answer. During one session this month, students took over the back channel to ask the professor to cancel class Thanksgiving week so they could have a longer vacation. "So with 41 votes are we not having class that monday of Thanksgiving?" asked one hopeful student after others had endorsed the sentiment. (The class is still on.)

The moment is telling. Opening up a Twitter-powered channel in class—which several professors at other universities are experimenting with as well—alters classroom power dynamics and signals to students that they're in control. Fans of the approach applaud technology that promises to change professors' role from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side." Those phrases are familiar to education reformers, who have long argued that colleges must make education more interactive to hold the interest of today's students.

The unanswered question, though, is whether that theory can work in practice, in a room packed primar ily with 18- to 22-year-olds who can seem more interested in high grades than in high-mindedness.

That uncertainty actually excites Mr. Chakravarty and other daredevil professors attempting this teaching trick. "You are vulnerable out there," he said when I talked with him in his office after class. "Students really don't hold back. If you say something wrong or something that they don't agree with, then they'll let you know, and everybody else will see it."

Many colleagues are watching such experiments with a mix of curiosity and disbelief to see how the professors land.

Students seem to love the chance to make their voices heard in class without having to actually speak. About 75 percent of the students make use of Hotseat, even though it is not required.

Emboldened Students

As one student, Ben Van Wye, told me, "I'm not that outspoken in class, so I would never ask a question out loud to the professor. But you can type it in as anonymous, so nobody really knows if what you're asking is a dumb question."

That anonymity leads to questions the professor says he never heard before in a course he has taught for years. But it has also raised new issues of classroom management.

Early in the semester, for instance, there was the cheating incident. While students were taking a short multiple-choice quiz, a student asked his classmates—anonymously, he thought—for an answer via Twitter. But the way Purdue set up its home-built software, students must log in to use the system. Mr. Chakravarty could identify the student, even though the tweet was labeled "anonymous" in the view that students saw. Busted.

"So I called him into my office and said, 'Don't do that, it's cheating,'" said the professor. "And he started crying and said he'd never do it again."

At other times, lecture topics have been pulled in unexpected directions. On the day I sat in on the class, the topic was car insurance. Mr. Chakravarty was telling students that getting married usually lowers your insurance rate when a student typed in a clever question that caused one of the teaching assistants, Adam Hagen, to laugh out loud. The professor stopped his lecture midsentence to ask Mr. Hagen what the students were up to.

"There's a question here that says, 'What happens if you get married, and then you get divorced at 24—would your insurance go back up?'" said Mr. Hagen, prompting laughter from students. The answer, apparently, is no, as the TA explained aloud to the class. "So if you want to get married for the sake of having lower insurance, go right ahead," he said playfully.

Though the lecture then turned to other issues, students in the course continued to joke on Hotseat about the idea that someone would get married for an insurance discount. Wrote one anonymous student: "I drive a mustang and need cheaper insurance, any lucky ladies need a husband?"

"That happens," said Mr. Chakravarty after class, when I told him about the chatter that had been going on under his nose. "You have some meaningless stuff, but it's followed by some very good questions that would never be asked."

He usually stops his lecture a couple of times during class to address questions on Hotseat, he said. At first he stood at the lectern glancing at the screen frequently as he spoke, but that proved too distracting.

I asked him if he thinks the system shifts too much control to students. He said students in class are online or texting on their phones anyway, so why not try to channel that energy to class discussion? "To force them to behave in a certain way is not respect," he said. "If you want respect, you have to earn it. To mandate respect is stupid."

I asked Mr. Van Wye, the student, whether some students end up derailing class sessions thanks to Hotseat. "Yeah, perhaps, because sometimes you have people writing funny comments, and we have to stop and kind of acknowledge that it happened," he said. "And sometimes that takes away from it a little bit."

On balance, though, he would vote to keep the software: "It does more good than it does hurt."

Potential for Disaster?

Monica A. Rankin, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Dallas, ran a similar experiment last semester, using Twitter as a back channel during an American-history class with 90 students.

"There is certainly the potential for disaster," she agreed when I reached her on her cellphone last week. During one class session about abortion, for instance, students began an argument on Twitter that Ms. Rankin characterized only as "nonproductive and nonacademic." She said her teaching assistant quickly brought the flame war to her attention, and "we basically kind of changed topics at that point."

The university produced a video about Ms. Rankin's class that makes Twitter seem like the next great revolution in teaching—it conveniently leaves out any downsides.

Ms. Rankin made clear that she approached Twitter cautiously—this daredevil professor did wear a virtual helmet. The class met three days a week, but only one part of one session each week involved the back-channel discussion. "The rest was a traditional format," she said.

Only two or three out of 90 students in the class said they had used Twitter previously, so some time was sapped helping them sign up for accounts and get used to the technology. And because some students did not like to bring laptops to class, and some had cellphone plans that charged them for each tweet, the professor decided to offer a decidedly low-tech alternative: Students could write their questions or comments on slips of paper and hand them to the teaching assistant, who then typed the messages into Twitter.

The details of the experiment are available on Ms. Rankin's blog.

Her conclusion is that the experiment went pretty well (no real disasters), but that setting up a back channel is not for every professor, or every course.

"Instructors in the classroom really have to teach toward their personalities," she said. "Colleagues have told me there is no way they would do this in their class—this would make them uncomfortable."

For now, they'll leave it to the daredevils.

Comments

1. derekbruff - November 23, 2009 at 09:43 am

Two lines in this piece stood out to me:

"That anonymity leads to questions the professor says he never heard before in a course he has taught for years." This indicates to me the power of this kind of backchannel during class. For better or worse, students aren't always willing to share their questions in front of their peers. Surfacing those questions via backchannel means greater student involvement in the discussion at hand.

"Fans of the approach applaud technology that promises to change professors' role from 'sage on the stage' to 'guide on the side.' Those phrases are familiar to education reformers, who have long argued that colleges must make education more interactive to hold the interest of today's students." This sounds somewhat like a mischaracterization to me. I believe that most "education reformers" believe education should be more interactive not because doing so helps students pay attention but because active learning experiences lead more students to learn more deeply. Sure, attention is part of that, but the end goal is better learning, not just keeping students interested.

2. skelen - November 23, 2009 at 11:02 am

Yeah, but you can do the low tech equivalent by passing out blank index cards and giving students the option to pass in anonymous questions at the end or middle of a class period, or to ask questions about the homework anonymously at the start of class. I'm not AGAINST using Twitter, but I don't see what it brings to class that couldn't be done otherwise.

3. jhengstler - November 23, 2009 at 11:41 am

Using Twitter in a class is a behaviour that should be supported with some scaffolding--establishing an etiquette, that sort of thing. We have made this a "standard" for online discussion forums.
Personally, I like the idea of having the students rotate being a "Twitter jockey" for the class. Set up a secondary projector w/connected laptop to run the questions while instructor/teacher on main "stage". I adapted Educause's "Google Jockey" activity for this. See how-to here http://www.viu.ca/education/ed_tech/canadamoot09_01.asp We cut too many people loose on technology without teaching some behaviour to go along with it.
I appreciate instructors and professors like the one's cited here who make an attempt to experiment and share their experiences--both the good and the bad--with others. Thank you for your contributions to the profession.

4. laoshi - November 23, 2009 at 03:02 pm

I'd let my students tweet if Twitter weren't firewalled here.

5. pwiener - November 23, 2009 at 03:41 pm

You ever wonder why those tea party cranks have contempt for academics? Prof. Chakravarty and his ilk pave the way: they are a great example of educated dunces caving to techno-trends and ceding reason and authority to the power of immature, hormone-deranged, uneducated kids who can't bear to be away from a keyboard, however tiny.

6. ndwiley - November 23, 2009 at 07:45 pm

To Pwiener,

Would you rather students remain entirely disengaged by a PowerPoint presentation? Information should be one-directional of course; what could "uneducated" kids contribute to a classroom anyways?

I hope my sarcasm isn't lost in your cynicism.

7. triumphus - November 24, 2009 at 06:24 am

The professor could also work on becoming an engaging lecturer who gets students to think, feel, and respond. It has been done before without any technical assistance. But darn it, by lecturing well you couldn't reach them on their cell phone while they are walking around campus fixated on the device and bumping in to each other.

8. smartinos - November 24, 2009 at 06:48 am

Very interesting article indeed.

I am a TA at the Technical University of Athens, Greece, dept. of Architecture.

We don't use Twitter in class here, but we have an alternative that seems to work: one 'official' php forum, hosted at a Univerity server, where students and staff (or recent alumni) can post under their name, combined with a second layer of backstream - an anonymous forum set up by the students themselves. Feedback and comments are usually very valuable to all - specially those posted at the student forum, under the guise of anonymity. All of this is complemented by the School website, where educational material (.pps presentations, links, announcements, events etc) can be uploaded after class.

For the moment, this seems to leave enough space for class lectures to go on smoothly, and for faculty to better organise feedback, afterwards. Besides, .php leaves more space for larger comments (140 characters is too restrictive), plus enough time to think, away from the heat of the moment.

What particularly struck me in this article though, is how Twitter seems to liberate students with a problem of confidence (who, on the other hand, might indeed have a lot to contribute!); as a matter of fact, yesterday, right after a .pps presentation at an auditorium, there was a discussion why students weren't so keen on making questions on the spot, while they'd rather do it in a more restricted circle, afterwards (in our case, at studio).
Also, I notice that the anonymous forum that we use here is usually more to the point than the 'official' one.

How does anonymity work for you? I'm not that keen on the thought myself...

9. 22228715 - November 24, 2009 at 07:43 am

Hmm... sounds like what I do RIGHT HERE. (Except I read the article above, rather than watched/listened to it.) The tweeting is cool... except that the process of thinking up and typing comments necessarily distracts and breaks up a student's focus on the lecturer's story or logic. So, it probably decreases the quality of engagement for good students of lecture, and increases the engagement of poor students of lecture, so that everyone's experience is pretty mediocre at best. Is it worth that, to catch the attention to those who would rather not be there? Perhaps, at least for some classes/courses, on some campuses. If the good students figure it out and just cease to tweet, they are still affected because the poor students have used their tweets to redirect the lecture to their level and topics.

10. nacrandell - November 24, 2009 at 08:24 am

"That anonymity leads to questions the professor says he never heard before in a course he has taught for years. But it has also raised new issues of classroom management."

This comment raises three issues:

1. Is anonymity a good trait to reward?
A normally quiet student may feel bold enough to ask a question, but to whose benefit? Drawing out an introspective student is rewarding, however, does the use of anonymity help the student in the long run? Seriously, how many people attend college to become a whistle-blower?
Does the anonymous student's question inspire other students? If so, then the teacher should have already had this question or topic track noted in their lecture.


2. Is technology, for technology sake, a good thing to introduce into the classroom?
A previous commenter brought up PowerPoint presentations and suggested students becoming "entirely disengaged". This is accomplished by poor presentations and not PowerPoint. It is the suggestion that anything new and technological improves the classroom setting combined with technological inexperience or academic meritocracy that creates these poor presentations.

3. Of course the big issue that this raise is why attend a traditional school, if they are just becoming a University of Phoenix - "Our unique student experience means you'll get personal attention in your classroom."

11. speterfreund - November 24, 2009 at 08:59 am

The discussion thus far, with the exception of nacrandell's comments, seems to assume that the purpose of any college course is to purvey "content," and of course "content" is what electronic media are so good at disseminating, in whatever debased fashion they disseminate it.

But many college courses are about process--how to think through an issue, analyze a problem, approach a text, etc. Electronic media, which encourage brief, shoot-from-the-lip exchanges and quirkiness more generally, are particularly ill-suited to courses of this kind.

One of the purposes of courses in the social sciences and humanities is to cultivate habits of attention that are of use in groups and individually in approaching social issues, philosophical problems, historical cruces, and difficult texts alike. Such habits of attention are at once subversive of and enriching for a technical and/or professional education focused on "content." And when that "content" becomes obsolete five years downstream, such habits are of immeasurable help for the graduate to reinvent her/himself. So-called social media subvert social and communal interaction such as that which should take place in the classroom. Before I would sanction the use of back-channel twitter as a means of eliciting questions and commentary of 140 characters or less (big thoughts!), I would ask the instructor planning to use such technology to think about making his/her classroom presentation as question- and discussion-friendly as possible, and I would suggest peer visitation by one or more highly successful instructors in field to provide feedback toward that end.

12. jung_gt - November 24, 2009 at 09:29 am

I've been contemplating using twitter or text messaging in my intro biology class with 200+ students, so I'm very interested in this article and discussion. On the one hand, I'm attracted to the possibility of capturing at least some of the students tendencies to check email, facebook etc. during class for productive engagement with the class topic, and getting a better read on student reaction or understanding. I use clickers, but I can't anticipate every point where students may harbor important misconceptions, or may not be getting something fundamental. On the other hand, I can see this creating even more distraction and lack of attention.

Has anyone done a study of whether this is actually effective in promoting student learning, engagement, or attitudes? The article talks about the possibility of disaster in vague terms - what real issues or problems have arisen?

13. madsend - November 24, 2009 at 10:02 am

Does anybody else have a concern with the statement that "students in class are online or texting on their phones anyway, so why not try to channel that energy to class discussion?"

I'm a new college instructor, so maybe I'm being somewhat naive...but why not say online activity during class is not acceptable? This might be hard to do in these very large classes, but at our college, where we may have 15-30 students in class, it should be easy enough to say close the laptops and put away the phones.

14. chemmilt - November 24, 2009 at 10:09 am

This idea is basically akin to letting the prisoners run the jail or inmates run the asylum. Anarchy, while maybe good in theory--provided one has a 100% altruistic poplulation--just won't cut it in what should be a structured learning environment.

Without an enforceable system of "netiquette" this idea--like many ideas in modern eductional reform--is hogwash.

15. vanguarded - November 24, 2009 at 10:15 am

I'm particularly taken by comments 9 and 11.

In the courses I teach (English writing and literature) my hope for class sessions is sustained and focused discussion, where comments and questions build on one another, where give-and-take shapes a process that moves back and forth between short "lectures" and discussion. It would seem to me (and I hasten to admit that I don't Twitter and therefore am hypothesizing) that composing a Tweet would take the writer's attention away from the flow of ideas, and structuring the classes to mobilize Twittering would shift the focus from the community of the class to the stream-of-consciousness of the individual. The one large class I've taught recently, where inclusive discussion was difficult, would not, I think, have been helped by Twitter. Students were invited to submit questions on cards at the beginning and end of class, but few asked anything not already planned for inclusion; and the guys in the back rows (dedicated time-servers and Core-fillers) were so busy dealing with their e-mails and Facebook and games and other computer distractions ("taking notes" they'd tell me when asked, to the amusement of their neighbors) that I doubt they'd have had time to Twitter a question or comment relevant to the class. The front section of the room did manage a number of interesting discussions over the course of the semester--I don't want to leave the impression that student participation was not desired or achieved.

Some students come to us already having struggled with diagnosed A.D.D.; others seem to be developing a form of it thanks to the riches of the electronic world. I wonder whether a Twitter back-channel would help or exacerbate such problems.

16. padraigc - November 24, 2009 at 10:46 am

"Only two or three out of 90 students in the class said they had used Twitter previously, so some time was sapped helping them sign up for accounts and get used to the technology. And because some students did not like to bring laptops to class, and some had cellphone plans that charged them for each tweet, the professor decided to offer a decidedly low-tech alternative: Students could write their questions or comments on slips of paper and hand them to the teaching assistant, who then typed the messages into Twitter."

This is ridiculous. Why is the *university* driving the *students* to use Twitter and laptops in class? Why not simply have the students turn in the handwritten slips and have the TA read them aloud if they're pertinent? And yes, as someone above said, ban laptop use in class to begin with? If students come in from high school accustomed to texting during class, that's too bad. If college instructors pander to their inclinations for four years, they'll be in for a rude shock when they enter the workplace still thinking there's never any need to buckle down and keep their personal life and clever wisecracks out of meetings, and that the world starts and stops for them. If this is supposed to be higher education, the future is bleak, bleak, bleak.

17. rreo22 - November 24, 2009 at 04:13 pm

There is a distinction between using Twitter as a backchannel and other ways it can be used in and out of the classroom -- see this blog post for some links to a Twitter uses matrix: http://www.samplereality.com/2009/10/07/twitter-is-a-snark-valve/ Mark's post is an example of backchannel use; Monica Rankin's use was not backchanneling. I think Monica's use as a replacement for in-class discussion was complicated and not easily sustainable (though I appplaud the experimentation). Many of the low-threshold activities listed along the middle row pprovide more straightforward uses of Twitter to accomplish learning goals that are not easily done with other tools.

I second the idea of creating a backchannel etiquette as suggested in the post by jhengstler in #3 above. And thanks for the interesting Twitter back channel activity.

18. psjuvin - November 24, 2009 at 04:43 pm

I have to say, ignore, dismiss or even call the back channel names it still exists. It may take on different forms like ratemyprofessor.com or a even a local pub but it still does exist. We live in a generation whose understanding of the permanent nature of comments in the digital world just doesn't exist. If higher ed technology doesn't help bring subject matter to students in a relevant way then I'd have to ask why are you there?

I'd admit this doesn't work everywhere, I tried it in a small classroom, but seeing this at Educause '09 in the twitter debate spoke more about the dynamics of including this in a classroom than even the talk. Chatter did exist, but was self correcting. I would assume it works in some contexts and not in others, but patently dismissing such technology and the potential for learning it brings is foolish.

19. dollardogs - November 24, 2009 at 06:01 pm

ONE SIMPLE FACT most professors here are ignoring: if your material can possibly be digested by students who are checking facebook pages and twittering during your lectures, then you are not teaching challenging enough material.

What we impart to the students and what they do with it is supposed to be challenging enough, nuanced enough, that it cannot be multitasked.

To say otherwise is to put the TWIT back in Twitter.

20. km_peachpit - November 24, 2009 at 08:26 pm

Hi Jeffrey,

Great article exploring the benefits (and possible detriments) of having a backchannel on Twitter that facilitates discussions during classroom lectures.

Peachpit Press/New Riders just released a book, 'Backchannel, The: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever,' that addresses the very issues mentioned in your article. You and your readers can find more information including a downloadable chapter here:

http://www.peachpit.com/store/product.aspx?isbn=0321659511

21. ccalb - November 24, 2009 at 11:20 pm

I like this teaching style. Whether it's with Twitter or any other teaching mechanism, fostering student engagement in hte classroom is important to me. I am sure that I would have liked Mr. Chakravarty as a teacher because I believe that a teacher who is able to connect with students (even the shy seemingly apathetic ones) is magnetic. If teachers decide to start using Twitter to foster class involvement, then more power to them. However, the most important thing is to foster the student-teacher exchange, regardless of the medium.

22. marcus704 - November 25, 2009 at 03:59 am

It does seem like texting is too distracting to be safe to do while driving. So it seems like it would be too distracting for learning as well, especially when the concepts involved are very complex. I'm thinking that the students benefit from the lecture ... enough to where the lecture is actually worth their full attention. If so, focusing on twittering would actually be a disadvantage to the student. I'm also wondering if the benefit of getting unheard of questions actually outweighs the cost of the distraction.

23. nutgsnu - November 25, 2009 at 10:17 am

DB is right on target, as usual. Twitter "makes sense" in ways that index card don't, for visual and kinesthetic reasons. As a developer, it's very interesting to me how difficult it is to get faculty to move from established practice. The tension between content - coverage and experimentation lies at the heart of a lot of these posts.

24. andrewmaxwell - November 25, 2009 at 01:18 pm

I am surprised by several comments in the article, particulalry the ones that relate to student multi-tasking. In todays environments students learn in a multi-tasking environment. I do not feel that as educators we should condone or constrain this, merely accept that it is a reality and identify how we can harness this technology and approach to learning. I am always frustrated that I have more tools available to facilitate interactions when I am doing webinars, than when I am in the classroom.

I am planning to use twitter in a technology entrepreneurship course to 120 students. It will help make the class more interactive in the following ways:

1. It will encourage students who do not understand a concept to raise questions and allow me to judge engagement levels.

2. It will encourage quieter students to engage in the classroom discussions (particulalry important as I wear hearing aids and am challenged by quiet students sitting in the back row).

3. It will allow me to select questions from students, on the basis of the quality of the question, rather than who puts up their hand first.

4. It will foster collaboration between students when responding to other student's presentations.

5. It will allow interesting discussions to continue outside the classroom.

I am of course concerned about distraction and how the use of twitter enhances, rather discourages, a high rate of interaction. I am fortunate in having TAs willing to experiment with me, and strong support from a centre for teaching excellence. I look forward to hearing from others that try to use this technology, so that we can all share our own learning experiences.

25. dollardogs - November 25, 2009 at 06:51 pm

To Andrew Maxwell: I think your arguments for the benefits of increasing distractedness in the classroom are incredibly naive. A couple points:

1) In a multitasking environment, students don't learn in the richest possible sense. They pick up bits and pieces. Facts. Data. Not ideas. And the constant interruptions prevent them from drawing deeper conclusions on their own. What you are doing is the return of the Gradgrind model of education, only in a broken down form.

2) actually encouraging multitasking as a professor sets a horrible example. did you learn that way yourself? Did you tweet your way thru a PhD? Part of our job is to model an intellectual life. And shame on all of us who don't practice what we preach.

3) What you're doing creates a slippery slope situation. If students feel they can "tweet" then they will also feel they can check email, facebook, movie times, program my DVR, etc etc. When you show disrespect for your own classtime, the students will always follow suit. Take my word for it: they're not listening.

So instead of being part of the problem, why not raise your grading standards? Why not make every word of every lecture fair game for exams? Set the bar higher. And let students know early on that if they multitask, they will likely miss important information that will hurt their grade.

Bottom line: if students can do well in your class while "learning" this way, then you are failing to teach challenging enough material.


26. emmadw - November 26, 2009 at 08:24 am

I'm sure a lot of this is dependent on the lecturer, the students & the subject.
Dollardogs has suggested that students, when multitasking, can't form deeper conclusions of their own. I'd generally support that view - though I'm not sure that the lecture theatre is really the place to draw those conclusions. Generally the amount of material covered just doesn't give you the time then. YOu need time later to absorb etc., the ideas.

What about those students who use Twitter (or, indeed anything else on their laptop), to summarise the keypoints that you've made - which mayn't be the same points that are on the slides - but those points that are key to them, questions they want to research afterwards. If students were writing those on paper as personal notes - I doubt that any lecturer would mind. However, when they're using an electronic media to do that, it seems that some academics can become twitchy.

Surely, what we should be doing is looking at those staff who are using newer technologies - do the students like the class? Do the grades seem to be improving - though, of course, that's v. difficult to measure, as the lecturer might have changed several things & the class is different every year. (What are those who have pen/paper writing anyway???)

I'm sure that the subject being taught must have an impact on how feasible this is - is it a fact heavy science course, or a course that's much more dependent on views, opinions - to which there's no "right" answer - it's how you justify the view that's critical.

27. samueloulrey - November 26, 2009 at 11:10 am

Learning is the priority. If what you want them to learn is the scientific method, or logical analysis, then that's the knowledge the "sage" should be imparting, explicitly and by example.

If profs can't take time to draw out shy students by asking and answering questions, then the curriculum and the class-room are too packed. But if more than 5% of classes are bull sessions you're cheating the students by not imparting more objective knowledge (oh, the agony of my days and hours and money that were wasted in such).

Having TAs in the loop creates noise and miscommunication and the simple barrier of failure to pass on apt questions, especially if American English is not their native tongue, but even if they're the ones translating between the non-fluent prof and students. Someone said that the ignorant, naive students should not be controlling; neither should the only slightly less ignorant, naive TAs.

Interaction with a "sage" is what the students and/or their tax-victim parents have been paying for. If we could get all of the information via a dead-tree text, or via hyper-docs, we wouldn't need the "sage". (But the e-docs and hyper-docs I've seen these last 10 years are didactically rotten. They lack a sequence of building from concept to concept that strongly links the knowledge students bring with them to the class to the new material, lack needed repetition, fail to describe the same notions in multiple ways so as to avoid lacunae.) So, we need to make sure that the profs facilitate learning by appropriate interaction with students and do not hamper it.

I don't see lap-tops being any good for taking notes, yet. There's just no decent way, yet, to do diagrams and sketches at class-room note-taking speeds. OTOH, a key-board is much faster than a pen for writing text, and an 11"x17" digitizer tablet with software that merely recorded the vector data into an image that could be incorporated into an rtfd file would work... if the desk space were doubled or more. Of course, the other purpose served by note-taking is simply to hold off from going stir-crazy by taking some form of physical action.

28. jjfair - November 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm

As previously state, “they are a great example of educated dunces caving to techno-trends and ceding reason and authority to the power of immature, hormone-deranged, uneducated kids who can't bear to be away from a keyboard, however tiny.” Education in America has fallen to the depths of functioning illiteracy. Technology is the most fascinating invention ever to hit humanity. We are able to reach beyond boundaries, libraries, medicine, and people; yet, one must remember we (people) must personally interact. Prejudices, bias, and misunderstanding of others develop. Children are uneducated, try asking basic historical event questions regarding past and present. They do not have a clue. Mind you, this is not for all, especially those that have a strong support system through family, friends, and educators.
Prof. Chakravarty may have a PhD, but it appears he lacks an ability to face-to-face teach, so looking into a webcam is sharing his educational knowledge. Real education is a merger of technical & physical (face-to-face) for a successful learner.

29. timebandit - December 09, 2009 at 02:24 pm

Hm. Although I do appreciate the solicitation of more shy students and comments in a huge lecture class, I think the points mentioned about the problems of multi-tasking are quite relevant. I don't think it's too much for us to ask students not to check facebook in class, and asking them to use twitter is just increasing the chance that they'll then go look at lance armstrong's twitting, then maybe obama, then maybe look at some webpages and check email and so forth. So there are both costs and benefits to this technology approach. (NB #11 on the subject of attention.)

So then the question remains of how to solicit questions without further tempting their attention to non-class items, and I think that asking them to write questions before/after class on blackboard is a reasonable strategy. On principle of course I see that twitter and co. are a good idea, it's just that they can cause so many other distractions....

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