Teaching with Tech
|Maria H. Andersen, June/July 2012|
Phone Cameras Handle Information in a Snap
Ideally, I compose tests in the comfort of my office, with many textbooks within arm’s reach to use for finding good test problems. But recently I found myself writing a college algebra test in an airport lounge. Happily, although I didn’t have a shelf full of texts nearby, I had the problems from the books packed in my purse. I had captured them with my cell phone’s camera.
In this instance, before I left my office, I spent a few minutes photographing a few pages from problem sections of textbooks I like. Carrying all those candidate test problems on my phone weighed a lot less than lugging the books. (While I could also use something like Coursesmart to access alternative texts, I don’t rely on finding dependable or free Internet access in airports.)
As I scrolled through the 1,000-plus photos on my phone, I realized that I use my phone camera in all sorts of ways that relate to my job responsibilities. The camera on my phone has become almost as valuable as my computer, and I think it can be for you too. Here are some suggestions to make better use of that camera phone you’re already carrying around (or more reasons to finally buy a smartphone).
Transfer an application problem from a text to the classroom projector.In a classroom that has no document camera—or to make sure the application problem you’re about to go over is visible to a recorded screencast on the computer (see “Become a Screen-casting Star,” August/September 2011, digital.ipcprintservices.com/publication/?i=80430, p. 19). You can transfer the problem to the computer in about 60 seconds (while the students are working on another problem). Take a photo of the problem, email it to yourself, and bring it up on the screen (or transfer the problem using Bluetooth).
Share your lecture notes from class.
Even in a low-tech classroom, you can easily share the lecture notes with the class digitally (or keep a copy to remind yourself of what you covered). Take a photo of every board before you erase. The photos can be shared in the online course shell—almost everyone can open a jpg image. They could be pasted into a document, but that’s more work. My students also take photos of the problems that they work on the boards (to refer to later if they want to see the steps of the problem).
Keep notes from a meeting.When our department is planning a schedule for a new semester or I’m planning a big research project with others, we often take over several whiteboards as we try to make sense of the big picture. At the end of the meeting, I take photos of all the boards and share the photos with the others who were there.
Similarly, when meeting with a graduate student about his or her research, you can photograph any suggestions you write down for research paths before sending the student off with the list.
Get a copy of that agenda/handout from a meeting.In a meeting where there aren’t enough handouts, ask to borrow one from someone else and take a photo. Now you have a copy too.
Share students’ work for discussion about good critical thinking or use of notation.
As you’re grading papers, sometimes you see an outstanding example of student work, or alternately, you see the same error over and over. Take out that phone and snap a picture of the student work (without the students’ names, of course) before you begin to mark it up. In the next class period, you can show that work as you talk about why it is particularly excellent or why the error is so egregious. It is particularly powerful to take several photos of the same error made by different students in slightly different ways, or several great examples of student work so that you can discuss the good points of many different approaches.
This approach could be very helpful in a class involving lots of proofs, as students find it difficult to understand what makes up a good proof. Seeing many student proofs side by side can help students distinguish the good from the bad.
Document common errors—and exemplary work—from students' assignments to display to the whole class for discussion.
Share a hint about a mathematical solution.If a student or colleague emails you about a particular mathematical question, consider writing out a few steps on paper, taking a photo, and emailing the photo for a prompt on what to do next. This can be faster than trying to responding in an email program, especially since you can include annotation easily (e.g., arrows, circles, highlighting).
Tips for ConferencesHaving a camera on your phone comes in handy at conferences as well. For example:
Most of us did not grow up with a phone constantly in our pockets. Just as we no longer treat long-distance calls as expensive, we should stop treating photos as an exotic resource. Challenge yourself to take more photos to streamline your workflow, improve your teaching, and help your students learn more. It’s a snap!
If you’re at a talk on unpublished work and the slides are flying by too fast to take notes, try snapping pictures of each slide instead. Try to sit off to the side so that you’re not too distracting, and don’t use a flash.
Receipts:If a restaurant will not give a group of you individual receipts, just take a photo of the one receipt for your records. For that matter, you can take a photo of all your receipts for your own records before you submit them.
Name badges:If someone you meet doesn’t have a business card, photograph the person’s name badge instead. I usually take a photo of my own name badge too, in case I show up for a session guarded by a volunteer and have forgotten my badge.
Wish list:If you find a book you want but don’t want to add it to your luggage, take a photo of it instead of writing down the title. This tip also works for articles you mean to read later (capture the title and authors with a picture).
Copying:Remember that your phone can act as a copier (of sorts) on the road. For example, I needed to share the handwritten exam solutions I wrote on the plane with the exam proctor. I photographed the solutions and emailed them to her.
In the airport parking before the event, take a picture of your car’s location (then, when you arrive home dead tired, you’ll be able to find it more easily). Take a photo of your luggage tag from the airlines before your luggage is sent off to the cargo hold. If your luggage is lost, you have all the information on that original tag and a photo of the luggage. A photo of the license plate on your rental car makes it easier to register it at the hotel.
This column appeared in the June/July 2012 issue of MAA FOCUS.
Maria H. Andersen is a Learning Futurist for The LIFT Institute and a Math Professor at Muskegon Community College. She is also president of Edge of Learning LLC (formerly Andersen Algebra Consulting LLC), an educational consulting business. Follow her on Twitter @busynessgirl or visit her official website.