I have keratoconus, which is a degenerative eye condition, and it’s flared up, resulting in a dramatic loss of vision, primarily in my right eye. This means that I can’t read, let alone write, for more than ten minutes at a time before fatigue and headache sets in, which is not very useful in my line of work. I have an appointment to see what can be done about this tomorrow, but for the last few days I’ve just be meandering around the world, trying not to look at things.
Which means I’ve been thinking a lot about my second love, teaching, and how I can integrate the modern into to the classical (if you will allow a blind man a little leeway in his similes).
I don’t know how many of you follow my Twitter account (@HORansome) but I recently found out that the course I helped redesign, PHIL105, has a a twitter feed, and that got me to thinking. How, I asked, can we integrate the twitter feed into the teaching of the class? At the moment the twitter feed is used outside of class, mostly to point students towards examples of bad reasoning, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be used in class by the students to suggest examples, in real time, to the teaching team.
The same should be true for the class’s bespoke e-mail address; why not get students to, say, submit their reconstructions of arguments in standard form via e-mail rather than the currently lengthy process of getting them to read out the reconstruction as someone at the lectern writes it out?
So, sometime next week we are going to experiment with the idea of integrating e-mail and Twitter into the class. It needs to be done with a certain amount of style; you can’t really have the lecturer constantly looking at incoming e-mails and tweets because it will disrupt the flow of the teaching, so a qualified assistant is going to be needed, one who can sort the good questions from the bad and know which reconstructions are going to be the most productive to put up on screen for the world to see. We also need to be cautious not to reveal who is sending us the questions or reconstructions; one virtue of going all ‘social media’ in the classroom is that people who might not want to raise their hand to ask a question might be willing to tweet or e-mail material if they know they won’t be outed.
I’m quite excited about this; I like teaching and I like making it easier for students to engage in the learning process. Now that wifi connections are pretty ubiquitous at the University of Auckland, and a lot of students have laptops of portable internet devices, this means we can make use of the technology1.
More, as I say, news as it comes to hand.
- Of course, it would be better if you could have integrated computers at each seat in the lecture theatre; that way you don’t have the problem of the person who might like to tweet a question but can’t because they have no tweeting device.↩