Thursday, March 29, 2007

UA Celebration of Excellence in Learning and Teaching

The 6th annual CELT at the University of Akron is upon us. Monday and Tuesday April 2-3, 2007 will see showcase examples of teaching and learning by faculty and support staff here at UA. For my part I hope to convince some that their next Laptop should be a Tablet PC in presentations on both days. I hope to see some Tablet PCs on display by the vendors too.

Day Two of the 1:1 Computing experience -- Engagement

The second class day with my graduate students and their newly acquired Gateway tablet PCs went fairly well. I still did not completely have some nuances of DyKnow down and made a couple of small errors. The students each seemed to log in quickly and could follow along with the presentation. I first spent time on our PBL assignment and then flew through a lecture that I have been trying to finish for too many class days so far.

The feature we tried this day was the submission feature. I had a panel that asked for their comments, each student wrote their comments and then submitted that panel to me. I was able to see all of their responses on my computer and quickly scroll though. I 'marked' them up later in my office and with one click sent each student back his panel as marked. Fabulous feature!

For some reason one student lost wireless connectivity and this created a bit of hassle towards the end of the class, but the most amazing thing of the day was the students wouldn't leave. One was getting up and I said at least 'he; was leaving and he said if h didn't have another class he wouldn't. So whether it is the Tablet, DyKnow or the task at hand, the word for today is engagement.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

1:1 Computing and Econometrics - 1st Monday

Spring break ended with my 8 graduate students having had 10 days to enjoy and learn their new Gateway M285 Tablet PCs. We started with some trouble as half the class did not yet have the wireless client, but Jay got them set up as we started. I started the class explaining DyKnow Vision and having them logon to DyKnow for the first time. Instantly, each student had my notes on their screen and they could see any annotations I made on their own screen, while making their own annotations that remain private to their own notebooks.

Once everyone was logged in and I began talking about their PBL (problem based learning) assignment, I casually unplugged from the projector and no one noticed that the screen in the front of the screen went blue. This is because DyKnow Vision makes projection unnecessary as every student was focused on their screen.

Their first assignment: I asked the students over spring break to run a SAS multiple regression with all the matrices turned on and to then mark up the computer output using their digital pen to show the mathematical representations in matrix notation for every number they find in the output. Earlier in the course, they ran a SAS two-variable regression and marked up the printed output with ordinary ink pen. I asked them to reflect on the two methods. Of course they indicated that this way was much more fun, new, and exciting. Each student used MS Journal. They could take the output from SAS and 'print' it to Journal and then use the pen and mark it up. Students remarked that the writing was very much like normal and it was so much easier to change if they made a mistake. I spent a couple minutes showing how they can select their handwriting and resize it and move it as an alternative to erasing and rewriting.

We used the polling feature to great advantage. DyKnow Vision allows for the anonymous polling (exactly like clickers) within the software. I pick a polling screen, decide what the possible answers are (A-E, T/F, Yes/No, etc.) and press request answers. In seconds all the students have answered and I can display the results.

So I asked. "Compare the two assignments and ignore as best you can the newness and excitement of the Tablet PC as a toy and concentrate on the learning for you in the two assignments. Rate the use of the Tablet PC for your learning in these two assignments on a scale A-E where C is exactly the same in terms of learning, D and E show progressively worse learning using the Tablet PC and B and A are reflect progressively better learning learning using the tablet PC." The results are in, the class voted and of the eight students, the votes were A-1, B-6 and C-1.

We voted again, this time on selecting groups for the PBL. I wanted to know if they would want to keep their last group together (2 groups of 4) and asked them to vote. This time three said no and 1 was a no vote. Because it was so easy and anonymous to vote I asked again whether their strength of preference to change the group was very high, that is vote yes if you REALLY want or need the groups to be changed. This time the votes showed 8 NO votes. Within a minute I know that while 3 of the 8 wanted to change groups, no one had a strong preference and all in a way to allow total anonymity of the students.

Wed, we will talk more about the PBL and perhaps a minute paper. I closed reminding the students that their part of the experiment is to separate the fun of having fast new Tablets in class from their effect on learning econometrics using Tablets as on tool.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Look Beyond the Whiz Bang paper

Myers and Talley. "Looking Beyond the Whiz-Bang Technology: Using Mobile Learning Technology Tools to Improve Economic Instruction" paper is now also available at ERN Educator: Courses, Cases & Teaching Abstracts, 5 (10) March 19, 2007. Look here.

Gateway M285-E and 1:1 Student Computing in Econometrics

Last week I finished the 9th week of classes with my students in graduate Econometrics. I have been using digital ink in classes for years, but on Wednesday asked the students to evaluate what they thought of the pros and cons of their instructor using a Tablet PC for instruction (reviews I won't see until the course is over). When they completed their surveys they handed them to the student carrying them to the front office. After they were turned in, I asked how many expressed at the end of the survey that they wanted to have a Tablet PC for their own use in this class. Over half the hands went up immediately. Shortly after that we passed out the contractual loaner agreement for their signature and gave them exclusive use of a new Gateway M285-E Convertible Tablet PC for the remaining weeks of the term. Their first assignment is to use Journal to mark up with equations some SAS computer output. This parallels an assignment they had earlier in the term using printout and pen. They will follow this assignment with a PBL assignment, another group project and of course their own research for their job market paper.

From this point forward the students will be able to use their Tablets in class as I use DyKnow Vision to complete the lectures and lead the discussion this term. they will be able to use DyKnow Vision to record their notes privately on the lectures as on my screen. No more haste to copy down all of the equations and keep up. They will be able to concentrate more on the meaning or so goes the hope. DyKnow Vision also has a polling feature just like the popular clickers, but can also "poll" in the subjective. You can ask all students to fill out a minute paper request and sweep up all the pages in one easy to browse and comment on file. Clickers are proving their worth and minute papers are well known for theirs. Add to this the ability for students to annotate anything on their screens and this has to help learning. If it doesn't bring efficiencies or enhanced learning it shouldn't be used.

I want to know three things from this trial. (1) Does access to digital pen technology and supportive software enhance the students perception of learning. (2) Does this enhancement depend on the digital ink, or might laptops do just as well, and (3) should we continue offering Tablet PCs to students in class. In the last case, is it sufficient to have a cart of Tablet PCs to borrow during class or do the students have to have ownership of their Tablets?

I for one have always fought a computer requirement for our students (we get subvented by the State of Ohio for selling credit hours, not computers) but I am slowly being converted from my view. Just as Tablet PCs are flourishing in some vertical industries, perhaps they also will in certain disciplines. Can the graph-drawing, equation-writing, problem solving economists be left out of this picture? While there is always money and interest in STEM and STEMM, should not economics be considered as quantitatively demanding as them?

One example: In my email this morning is an advertisement from Gateway about their 1:1 services. As my friend and coauthor Dan Talley knows well, the classroom is a different place when all the students have their own computers. And as we wrote in our AEA paper-presentation, of such things are the full exploitation of mobile learning networks (PowerPoint presentation here).

Online Textbooks

I do not often blog on what randomly shows up in my email, but this is a link from Gateway's 1:1 service that is called VitalSource Bookshelf. I downloaded the free app and searched for economics texts and was disappointed that their aren't more university level texts available. Consider the Tablet PC student with all their notes on and inside the Tablet PC and they still have to carry their books. I use Parkin Economics in my online classes and Addison Wesley allows a link via my econ lab to the full version, but the student has to be online and have a lot of patience to use it. VitalSource offers to put the full copy (under digital rights management) on the student's tablet. How cool is that? Anyone know of other companies offering this? VitalSource boasts of sales partners including Gateway, Lenova and Apple and an impressive list of publisher clients.
Online Economics Textbooks
It is worth noting the list of Online Economics Textbooks and Classic Works at Oswego, some of which can be downloaded into the Tablet PC. Other links, repec, econlib, businessbookmall, EconPapers, and another link at RFE.