Faculty Tech Showcase: From Moodle to Tablets

I held our annual faculty tech showcase at today’s faculty meeting. Each year, I invite a few teachers to demonstrate to their colleagues how they are using technology to support teaching and learning in their practice. This nicely emphasizes a driving theme in our program: technology as a supportive factor in the design of curricula and pedagogical strategies.

Most innovation is happening in the area of web technologies these days. Most teachers’ use of blogs and podcasts is still evolving, so I chose to stick with our strongest teacher tool, Moodle. The three teachers all spoke about different aspects of Moodle, underscoring the versatility of this tool to support a variety of teaching objectives.

First, Annie demonstrated some basic editing features of Moodle, such as editing items and sending email notifications to students through the News forum. Then she showed how students could download, view, and print PowerPoint files she had posted. (Earlier in the day, Annie learned how to reduce PowerPoint file size by changing picture resolution (see the tutorial).

Then, Alex demonstrated her implementation of journaling using the assignment module. Students write periodic reflections and Alex responds to them within Moodle. At the end of the semester, Alex can review a semester’s worth of student growth through the saved history.

Raleigh rounded out the presentation with an explanation of the discussion project he undertook with his Globalization class. First, he had student groups choose one of three divergent opinions on the definition of globalization. Then he created forums so that the students could post “columns” outlining their positions and then compare and debate them. Finally, he created a wiki in which the students attempted to write, together, a joint statement on globalization. The students succeeded wildly in the forum and failed spectacularly in the wiki. We concluded that it was a little unfair to expect students assigned divergent points of view to write a common statement. Perhaps wiki is better suited to an activity with a better chance of producing consensus.

After some comments on the teacher presentations, I closed the meeting with our first demonstration of tablet PC technology. Naturally, many teachers were quite excited by the potential for this new toy! The questions they asked touched on many potential uses for laptops that I had read about previously: taking notes, drawing chemical or mathematical symbols, editing written work, producing art in stylus-friendly applications, and annotating PowerPoint slides during class. There was even one I had not heard before. The language teachers were interested in replacing overhead projectors with tablets. For example, they typically teach word parts by annotating transparencies prepared ahead of time. This could be accomplished with a tablet, with the added benefit that the pen could be used to drag and rearrange the word parts.

Thanks to the generous in-kind donations of two parents who work for HP, I am able to provide each academic department with one tablet loaner to share among its teachers. This should lead to a lot of experimentation this spring and perhaps a few converts over the summer.

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