The current surge in popularity of tablet computers (most popularly in the form of iPads) has caused a buzz of excitement over the potential application of tablets in the classroom. But how exactly would this work? Dr. Julian Parris, lecturer in UC San Diego’s Department of Psychology, regularly uses a tablet as part of his lectures.
Dr. Parris uses his tablet to annotate his lecture slides during the course of lecture. He uses a program called OmniDazzle, which allows users to make marks over any other application with ease. With OmniDazzle enabled Dr. Parris can use a stylus with his tablet to move the mouse cursor, write notes, or draw formulas on top of his prepared PowerPoint slides. This creates a more visually dynamic experience for students rather than only using slides.
The ability to call students’ attention to information in the slides is one of the primary instructional benefits of using a tablet in the classroom. “One thing I find is really powerful about this is I’m standing up there and I’m lecturing and what I want to do naturally is just point to something so that I can notate where it is and [using a tablet] gives you that ability. I’m now often just notating where students should look,” Dr. Parris said, “From what the students tell me they can follow what I’m trying to indicate their attention should be directed to.”
Being able to direct student attention in such a manner dovetails with natural human behavior. “It is really important as far as interpersonal attention direction,” Dr. Parris said, “That’s a really important feature of how we teach people or just indicate things. We like to point. We’re a species that is built to know where people are looking or pointing.” Using his tablet with a stylus to draw on top of his slides has felt much more natural than using a laser pointer, the mouse touchpad, or PowerPoint animations. “One thing I don’t have to do all the time is now make slides that have, ‘Okay, a circle appears over this,’ before it animates next, because I can do that in real time.”
Using his tablet to annotate his slides allows Dr. Parris to seamlessly pivot in the middle of lecture to respond to areas where students are having trouble. “I can also change paths,” Dr. Parris said, “If somebody has a question I can go back and actually work something out.”
Dr. Parris also has his students use the tablet to apply concepts they are discussing in class. One example was having students estimate the next point in a graph based on a model developed over the course of a lecture. Dr. Parris sometimes connects an iPad Mini to his tablet through VPN, allowing students to do work the entire class can see from their seats rather than from the front of the room. “That was a boon to their confidence because they’re still in their little area, they have their computer around them. They’re not staring at everyone’s faces. They’re just in the crowd still. It’s much less intimidating,” Dr. Parris said, “In a big class like Pysch 60 with 300 people there’s no way anyone’s going to come to the front.”
Using his tablet also provides Dr. Parris with a way to centrally provide students with lecture notes that reflect everything discussed in lecture via screencasting. Screencasting records material projected during class. As a result, notes made on the blackboard are not recorded. However, all of the annotations Dr. Parris makes via his tablet are captured in a screencast. “I think that [screencasting] is a wonderful pedagogical tool and I haven’t seen declines in attendance, which is what most people’s concern seems to be,” Dr. Parris said. In fact, he’s found that students use his screencasts, provided through a private link on YouTube, as a way to review material, not skip lecture. “I have a class of 29 right now and the lectures from two days ago probably have 90 views on them, which means that most of them have gone back to it several times and watched particular parts and my students even tell me they plan to go back in parts of slides and really take notes.”
With such high enthusiasm for using a tablet to supplement his lecture, Dr. Parris has no intention of discontinuing using one in his courses, especially given how much students tell him they benefit from the practice.
Faculty Feature is a series of articles highlighting faculty and their creative use of technology in the classroom. Check back regularly to find out how UC San Diego faculty are moving the future of education forward!