Thursday, September 8, 2011

What this project is all about

We realized that there is nothing up here about this project in general.  Now I feel a little caught up, and can take a moment to describe the project overall, so you know what you are reading about.

Last semester, a group of staff and faculty at Parkland hatched an idea. The idea started in several places:
1) Distance and Virtual Learning wanted to give a handful of tablet mobile devices to faculty to see how they work, if Parkland can support them (as they are showing up in students' hands more often), and if Angel, Parkland's current course management system, works on them.
2) Faculty in Computer Sciences and Information Technology (CSIT) Department wanted to create a course that would have students writing apps for ipad and/or android mobile devices, with faculty and staff suggesting possible apps.
3) In order to bring computers into the classroom and lab, faculty in Natural Sciences (Nat Sci) Department wanted to give each student in a science course a mobile device. The department teaches many online science courses that use a lot of technology, but the on campus science classes are low-tech.  Requiring devices for each student would bring technology into the classroom, reduce the amount of paper we use in sustainability classes, and see whether or not using mobile technology would encourage a seamless interaction between students' daily lives and the classroom.
4) Campus Tech wanted to obtain some devices to work on the support requirements so both students and Parkland staff and faculty could use them unhindered on campus.

These groups banded together to write a modest proposal for Parkland's annual Innovation Fund awards, and were awarded the money. We spent several weeks looking at netbooks vs mobile devices vs tablet computers, weighing the pros and cons of ipads vs android devices, and slogging through reviews of mobile devices.  We finally decided upon the Acer Iconia A500 for the CSIT and Nat Sci classrooms, and a combination of the Acer and iPad 2 for the faculty pilot and support work.

This blog is mainly meant to record the experience of using the devices in a classroom setting to remind us of the joys and challenges of this semester, and to help others who might be attempting to use mobile devices in their classrooms.

I will describe the class, which even without the technology, is a pilot. Curtis Shoaf (Physics) and I (Biology) both teach sustainability-oriented lab science courses. He teaches a course called "How Things Work" which focuses on energy and energy sources.  I teach Environmental Biology. We decided to link these two courses into a hybrid learning community that is simultaneously team-taught by both of us. Students must enroll for both courses, which will fulfill both their life and physical science courses in one semester. For all the reasons listed above, and to attempt to "go paperless", each student is loaned an Acer device. No textbooks are required, but there are readings and many assignments using the device. Students meet for six hours a week in the classroom in which we plan to lecture and have discussions, do some hands-on labs, and go on field trips. The online portion of the course includes "lectures", discussion postings using Google+, and labs.  We will also be having the students do a service learning project that involves a local Childrens' Science Museum energy exhibit. We have a good plan for the linked course that meets all of the objectives for each of our courses, but removes the redundancy and merges the content nicely.

So, that is what we are doing. A big pilot class. The students, Curtis, DVL, Campus Tech, and I are all learning together how to make these devices work in the classroom!

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