February 5, 2016
Today, I want to take some time to talk about incorporating technology in the classroom. I know many teachers do this, but a lot struggle with whether or not it is worth the effort. Perhaps I can illustrate how easy it can be. Below is a sample lesson, using smartphones and mobile devices in the classroom. In a sense, it turns any classroom into a computer lab, and helps break some barriers to student writing, namely lack of time and the fear of the blank page.
The Assignment: Ask students to write a one-page response to a prompt on their phone or tablet which they will send to you either via email or Dropbox or some other cloud service. I give students roughly twenty minutes to do this. View the submissions right there on the spot, offering quick comments to help them understand how they've done. Comments focus on the content, or formatting, or argument. The key, especially when first incorporating mobile devices, is to guide your students more. Later, you can have them more freely write, when both you and them have built up confidence in using the medium.
For one assignment, I had students react to Eveline, by James Joyce. Here's the prompt: It's twenty years after Eveline left Frank at the dock. She looks back on this, now as a forty-year-old woman. How does she feel about her decision? First, decide in your mind what has become of Eveline. Does she have a husband and kids of her own? Did staying with her father and rejecting Frank mean she ended up alone? Once you've decided this, write a journal entry as Eveline, on a day where perhaps she passed that dock and remembered that fateful night. How does she feel? Does she explain away her fear back then, or get angry because of it? She either regrets this, doesn't, or has mixed feelings. That's all up to you. The journal entry should be two to three paragraphs and give the reader a sense of her state of mind regarding her decision.
This assignment could have been written, of course, but I've always found that carrying around papers leads to disorganization. I set up folders for my email or on Dropbox for each class, then a subfolder for each week, or for a major paper. For instance, I have a folder called 'InClass Work' for each class, and this assignment would go there. I create a filter in my email program, and have my students send the mail with a specific subject line, like 'FCWR 151 InClass Work' and the mail automatically goes there. Similar things can be done with Dropbox, or Google Drive, or OneDrive, depending on what you are comfortable with. Feel free to email me if you want some guidelines. Later on, I will put a page up that will help. For now, try this site.
I'm advanced in using this medium and actually comment right in their document on my phone or using my tablet or laptop. This low-stakes assignment allows them to be more receptive to criticism and can serve as a confidence builder when they realize they did well and can use their mobile phone to write in their free time. All students benefit from this practice, whether they have a computer at home or not. By teaching students to use this powerful tool, they find they can have a page or two worth of work to start with when they sit down in front of a computer to write their paper, be it at home or in the college computer lab.