An Effective Use Of Technology In The Classroom

I’m one of three librarians at Champlain College teaching 21 sections of our CORE-210 classes. I have finished five so far and have five to go. In this session we are talking about plagiarism, and more broadly, the ethical use of information. Often sessions on plagiarism can be pretty boring and come off as preachy or authoritarian; but this session, with the help of some technology, elicits thoughtful discussion and is now probably my favorite session.

The technologies that we are using are a wiki,YouTube videos, and a digital projector (new school) and a white/blackboard and post it notes (old school). The videos that we show are examples of possible instances of plagiarism or possible unethical uses of information. After showing an example of possible plagiarism we draw a continuum on the board with one side being completely ethical and the other being completely unethical. Students then have to decide where they feel this situation falls on the continuum by placing a post it somewhere along it and then justifying their answer.

I see this as a perfect example of technology working well in accomplishing an educational goal. It works for several reasons:

  • The technology isn’t the focus – We are not highlighting a database or our OPAC. We’re not teaching them a technology. The technology is an afterthought. We’re using a wiki, but simply as a place to embed multiple videos. We’re using videos, but thoughtfully. They’re not just haphazardly thrown in. We are using these technologies in the way they should be used – as tools. When you forget you are using technology is usually the time when it is most effective.
  • A mix of old and new – We have some variety in the technology that we use. We don’t limit ourselves to only new shiny technology, nor do we eschew the new. We use the correct tools at the correct times. Using post its and the blackboard can be just as effective (if not more) than showing a video.
  • Physical element – Having a student write their reasoning on a post it and then physically walk up to the board and place it somewhere works well pedagogically. It helps people who are¬†kinesthetic¬†learners. It also makes students commit to a position and then justify their reasoning behind it. They can’t hide. They have to put their brains on the board so others can see them. Humans are physical beings and because of this we need more than just a screen. We need to touch things, move, and interact with the real world.

This session works really well because it has variety, a physical element and uses technology in a purposeful way. When the teaching librarians here are designing information literacy sessions in the future I want to remember the lessons that we have learned from this CORE-210 session.


Beer Fests and Planning for Success

Wooden keg of Paulaner beer from Munich

Image cc on Flickr via StrudelMonkey

Last Spring I went to the Montbeerlier festival at the Three Penny Taproom with my girlfriend Heidi, my colleague Sarah and some other friends. The festival consisted of a medium sized tent thrown up in a parking lot behind the bar. There was music, free cheese samples, house made sausages, and 12 different “extra special” cask conditioned kegs of beer. By all accounts it was awesome. And apparently a lot of other people thought so too.

After a while it began to get fairly crowded (for Montpelier) and about halfway through the festival they remarked that they were running out of beer. Some people had already purchased tickets to get a beer and were getting upset that they would be out of luck. Fortunately the organizers announced that they would bring out a couple kegs from the bar. Moreover, people would be able to continue the party inside the bar and their tickets would be accepted there as well. A beer crisis was averted and overall it seemed to be an extremely successful event.

What does this have to do with libraries? More than once I have heard the concern at different institutions about too much success. “What if too many people come?” “What if we are overloaded with questions?” At our institution we recently added an IM widget to every course in Angel, our LMS. One of the concerns raised when deciding whether or not to put it in was, “what if we get too many questions?”

This type of question is a legitimate concern, but not one that we should spend much time on, especially at the start of a planning process. This question boils down to “what if we have too much success?” And I would answer “great!” If we spend too much time on this question while planning events or services, then we handicap ourselves. We’ll begin planning ways to limit our success. It’s an easy way to kill good ideas before they even have a chance to incubate.

If the Montbeerlier festival said, “hey, what if too many people come” they may have promoted the festival less, or limited the number of people that could take part. As it was, the festival was a huge success. There were a few problems along the way, but they were quickly adjusted for and everyone was happy.

In your initiatives, plan big. If there are some problems you can adjust along the way, and through some failure learn from your mistakes. But don’t worry about too much success. There’s no such thing.


Technology, Reflection, and the Good Life

slide to power off

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania went on a social media blackout this week starting Monday in order to get students thinking about their use of technology in their lives. This seems like a very interesting experiment, especially for a technology school. Depending on how it is executed it could be an educational success or a failure in which students are simply trying to thwart the university’s efforts.

Whatever the outcome, I like the sentiment behind this experiment. As librarians and educators we should be teaching students to be thoughtful, reflective individuals and to integrate technology meaningfully into their life. These skill are integrally tied to information literacy and are ones that they will desperately need as connected citizens in this society.

The value of digital fasts such as the one at Harrisburg are debatable (found via Librarian By Day). As we all know email can pile up, and important messages could be missed. Steven Bell suggests that simply taking time occasionally to power down and leave the screen for a while can be useful for reflection and rejuvenation. Like anything, I feel that it is best to maintain balance. Completely shutting down for a week and then playing catch up will have you stressed that whole week.

We realize that there is value in disconnecting sometimes. I recently started reading the book Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. Powers draws on philosophers of the past to gain practical insights into our present technological age (ironically I’m reading this book on my iPad which is another piece of connected digital technology). He says that in order to make meaning of our digital interactions we need to create gaps in between them for reflection. These gaps allow for “epiphanies, insights, and joys.”

This makes sense. This has happened in my life and happens to everyone. My colleague Sarah is constantly talking about the great ideas that she comes up with in the shower. Periods of reflection allow us to create meaning. But do students feel the same way? Do they see the value in unplugging and taking time for reflection? In one of our information literacy classes at Champlain College we devote time to this. We talk about how research is not just finding information and throwing it all together. It is necessary to take time to think about how different pieces fit together and what your next steps will be. We actually give students five minutes to reflect in class. I like this lesson and want to flesh it out more and improve on it.

We don’t have all the answers ourselves as professionals. Some of us over-tweet, are buried in emails and are constantly re-acting when we should be acting. I don’t think a social media blackout is the answer for everyone, but I do appreciate additional attention to this issue. We should be creating more dialogue on our campus that discuss this issue of technology, reflection, and the good life. Librarians could be thoughtful leaders in these discussions.