Cumberland Times-News

May 18, 2014

Technology helps with learning, but take care

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body. I have found this approach works, provided the students answer questions during the viewing. The teacher must preview the presentation and write his/her own questions that cover the ideas, processes, modes of thinking shown on the video.

If there is no task for the students during the presentation, many become groggy, go to sleep or use their concealed cell phones.

I have found that the response to these questions are better if I slowly read the question aloud, so some students are primed and focused on certain ideas or events.

If there is a key event, a chart or diagram, I will freeze the scene so students can better absorb it. Likewise, if some important words or an action are fleetingly heard or seen, I will back up the video so it can be repeated. (This is the academic version of instant replay, so important in football and baseball.) After the presentation is finished, the students discuss their answers to these questions.

Some students will have answers that are quite different from others, leading to some good class interaction.

The drawback of video presentations in class is that most students watch screens (televisions, monitors, cell phones, tablets, laptops) a number of hours a day.

Sometimes they watch several screens at a time.

During their screen watching, they often switch from sports, to their favorite celebrities or to their Facebook pages. This frequent switching has reduced their ability to focus on ideas, questions with no simple answers and complexity.

The media formula of good versus bad with the good winning at the end is just not present in many serious issues.

I think that the new Cosmos series, narrated by Neil Tyson will lend itself to classroom viewing.

A new episode airs each Sunday at 9 p.m. on FOX. (It is also shown on the National Geographic Channel on Monday evenings.) After tonight’s episode, two more remain. I hope that the series will be rerun this summer on National Geographic.

The second major use of technology is online courses over the Internet. I have taught online versions of two different science classes.

Online courses requite a higher level of basic skills (reading, writing and calculating) and concentration than regular classes.

I give medium length assignments nearly every school day (Monday through Friday). Ignoring such a course for a few days is risky.

Whenever possible, I make the questions relevant to each student’s experiences. I also give each student a unique set of numbers so correct numerical answers will vary from student to student.

As a considerable fraction of students don’t deal with numbers in their other courses, I also include worked out solutions with my numbers so my students can see how they can do the problems with their own numbers.

In spite of my warnings, online students are tempted to go on cruises or visit places where the Internet isn’t available. (I usually teach three-week online courses in January.) The real advantage of online classes is that they can be taken by parents taking care of their preschoolers or a student taking care of
an elderly person.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: The moon has retreated to the early morning skies. So this week offers a chance to see some fainter evening star groups (if weather permits).

The Big Dipper is high in the North. Above the handle area are a few faint stars called Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs) and even higher is Coma Berenices (the hair of Berenice). Coma is a dispersed star cluster of old stars.

You might also look for the Little Dipper. The two end stars of the Big Dipper’s scoop points down to the North Star, a modest star about half way between the Northern horizon and the top of the sky.

The North Star is the end star of the Little Dipper’s handle.

The Little Dipper’s handle of faint stars curves rightward and up to two modest stars called the Guardians.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. Email him at . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.