iPad apps for academics (Part 2)

I wrote earlier about a few apps that I had found useful in my first weeks of owning an iPad. Well I’ve been actively pursuing opportunities to learn more about the learning applications for tablets like the iPad and wanted to share some of what I have found. A lot of this comes from a workshop by the brilliant Joe Moretti, who came to my university to run a workshop on iPads in education. I hope these are useful to you, too:Read More »


Flipping the classroom – how to make lectures engaging and interactive

I’ve been taking a teaching course that requires me to change the way that I teach to explore new techniques. At first it seemed like it was going to be a lot of effort, but it turned out to be a fascinating and enjoyable experience.  I was experimenting with a type of teaching called the “flipped [or inverted] classroom“.  Here’s how it works:

Flipped vs traditional teaching models

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Peer instruction – interactive teaching in a large lecture class

I attended a webinar before Christmas that was hosted by Eric Mazur, a well-known Harvard physics professor.  Setting aside how exciting it was to have a guest speaker talking live and taking questions from his office in the US, the subject of his talk was really fascinating.  Mazur has developed a series of techniques that can change the way we teach and here he was discussing “peer instruction”.Read More »

Blended Learning Techniques: Audio and video feedback

FeedbackOne of the biggest problems that teachers face is providing prompt and useful feedback to students.  When 200 students all hand in a piece of work at the same time, it can take over a week of solid marking time (9-5 for 5 days) to adequately assess all of those assignments.  Meanwhile the students would like to know what they have done wrong and how they can improve, and in an era of immediate communication over a week can feel like a long time!  What I will advocate here is a style of feedback that does not replace that in-depth marking, but can be a useful, complementary tool.  I suggest that teachers try to use audio or video recording as a way to provide general feedback immediately following an assessment.  This doesn’t have to be based on an overview of all the work that has been handed in, but can be indicative of some of the patterns that emerge as teacher works through the assignments.Read More »

Blended Learning Techniques: Blogs

Scientists have always been very good at jargon-filled articles, to the point that the academic literature itself can be almost completely inaccessible to non-specialists.  In more recent times, there has been a big push for scientists to complement those articles with simpler pieces that communicate that research to the general public.  In a similar way, we make a point of encouraging science students to adopt the more formal, technical aspect of science writing, but we tend not to focus on providing the skills that the students need to communicate science outside of academia.  Web logs (better known as “blogs”) can be a useful medium through which to develop these skills.

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Blended Learning Techniques: Using Google Forms for in-class quizzes

I was looking around for an alternative to “clickers” (Who-Wants-to-be-a-Millionaire-style audience response technology) for use in a classroom.  These tools really do help with classroom engagement, and the students seem to appreciate the opportunity to interact with the material while the teacher is present (rather than having to wait until the exam!).  This also allows anonymous recording of results, banishing the fear that many students have of putting their hand up in the middle of a crowded lecture theatre. There are a few options, such as www.polleverywhere.com, www.qidiq.com, and www.soapbox.com.  All of these sites use a web-based approach through an app or website to feed student responses back into a webpage or Powerpoint slide.  They work reasonably well, but are limited by either (i) not being free (a problem in this time of university cost-cutting), or (ii) being a tiny bit complicated to use at first (a major issue that reduces the adoption of new technology in teaching). I went looking for an alternative and found Google Forms to be quite a useful little tool.Read More »