Occasionally you will get a conference keynote that lives up to its billing. Professor Matthew Collins’ enthralling overview of how he uses technology to drive his teaching and research is one such example. As well as being a seasoned and clearly highly engaging teacher, who is in a position to report his experiences from the “front line”, Matthew’s approaches exploit everyday, freely available technology and after an inspiring 40 minutes in his company there was more than one person in the room who left thinking “I could do that”. In fact I think most of us left thinking “Why aren’t I doing that?”
Matthew has moved away from developing ever more sophisticated (and time consuming to produce) presentations and resources that occupy the entire screen (and supposedly the capture entire attention of your audience) to a far more lightweight and interactive approach to the lecture. Taking inspiration from the “flipped classroom” approach to teaching which suggests that face to face time should be used for engagement, discussion, collaboration and other activities that people are good at when they sit in a room together, Matthew encourages students to use technology in his classes. And if they don’t have access to a tablet or laptop he hands out Chrome books so they can participate fully. With everyone connected, students can explore links and resources and collaborate on small group activities that feed into the session. To demonstrate this in action we were encouraged to add questions to a google doc as he delivered his keynote which were then translated into a mind map using the free text2mindmap.com tool.
There were several other examples of how he uses simple, freely available tools to facilitate student engagement and creativity, such as Google Apps “Fusion tables” which support analysis and visualisation of large datasets. While this has proven successful at getting students to engage with data collection and analysis tasks, his use of Google communities has shown how this engagement can be maintained throughout a module (and beyond) as students benefit from the functionality and slickness of presentation that students expect, within a protected closed environment. The example that Matthew gave us of how the communities have been used to support students to organise, chair and deliver the 3rd year student led seminars seemed to typify the student led approach to teaching that his uses of technology was focussed on.
While Matthew conceded that such high uses of technology may not be appropriate for information driven, large group, first year modules and as soon as wifi breaks down there could be a problem, I would strongly urge you to take inspiration from his approaches where you want students to engage, be creative, discover and work together to learn.