August 5th, 2006

krazy koati

So I'll pretend I'm leaving

While I want to be a good teacher, I tend to be old-fashioned: I try to lecture well and give imaginative homeworks and tests. But the computer centre offered a seminar on using a new interactive technology and I gave it a try. The interactive piece is ... a large remote control, with a left arrow, ``jump/search'' button, right arrow; the numbers 1 through 9 (sharing keys with letters A through I); a +- key, a zero/J, and a ``sym'' key; and clear, send, and power/join. The remotes are tied in to the receiving computer's operating system, so (I assume) they can get Word macro viruses too.

The company representative demonstrated teaching interactively with the problem: if one man can drink a barrel of beer in six days, and one woman can drink a barrel in twelve days, how many days would they need together to finish the barrel? We punched in the numbers and hit send, and got a chart showing the audience's response, with answers from 2 through 88, with the most popular answers being 9, 4, and 18. He then told us to discuss our answers with our neighbors, but my neighbors and I had (correctly) picked 4, so our discussion was shrugging and silence. Then we answered again and many more had it right, though someone picked 88 again. I think they weren't taking it seriously.

He used the interactive system to ask what the audience knew about interactive technologies (a little), and what we knew about pedagogy (its spelling), which I think over-applyies the technology. I'd have accepted a confused grunt. Much of the presentation focused on the economics of the device and how many patents they had -- and how one competing system had a manufacturing defect on one installation, and another was being sued (by them) for patent infringement -- as though we were going to approve the purchase the university already made. I appreciated their pointing out some quirks of the design, like the recessed panel for all the buttons. They found many students had a habit of putting the remotes down upside-down -- they don't know why -- and the recessing avoids mistaken button-pressings.

I don't know how I'd use it for my courses this term, but I could see it for lower-level courses. After the introductory seminar I asked what ``sym'' stood for. I was hoping for ``Symmetry'', that the main function of the button was to match the one on the other side. He wasn't sure. At the hands-on session the woman leading it insisted several times the button was for ``symbol''. I like making a difference.

Trivia: Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, and Rutgers were made land-grant colleges by their respective states following the Morrill Act of 1862. Source: Rutgers: A Bicentennial History, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: War for the Union, 1863-1864: The Organized War, Allan Nevins.