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Innovations: Teaching, Learning and Technology

By jnugent on December 1, 2017

Jeff Nugent

While course design, development, and teaching are complex and highly individualized based on subject and faculty teaching style, there are some common practices that are shared almost universally. For example, it is hard  to find a course that does not include some form of in-class presentation, whether chalk on blackboard, whiteboard and markers, or electronic content on the screen. In addition, many courses routinely include papers and writing assignments, where instructors offer written feedback as a means of assessing student performance and learning. In both of these examples, faculty members find themselves annotating, writing, illustrating, highlighting, erasing, and demonstrating. So commonplace perhaps, it may be difficult to imagine how digital technology might make these activities more engaging, efficient, or interesting.

For the past couple of semesters, a small group of Colgate faculty members and staff have been exploring digital inking. Digital inking is exactly what it sounds like – good old-fashioned writing, using digital “ink and paper” through the use of a tablet like an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil stylus.

Meg Worley (Writing and Rhetoric & Film and Media Studies), Ian Helfant (Russian and Eurasian Studies & Environmental Studies), Ryan Solomon (Writing & Rhetoric), Jenn Lutman (Director of the Writing and Speaking Center), and Cory Duclos (Director of the Keck Center) have collaborated to share ideas for the use of digital ink and related apps to enhance what they do in their work with students. Driven initially by an interest in exploring what the technology could do, they each discovered both efficiencies and creative uses that have changed how they provide feedback on student papers, annotate articles they read, take notes, and deliver in-class presentations.

Meg Worley shared that “the Apple Pencil has sped up my marking by perhaps 30 percent. Not only does it glide over the glass faster than my favorite grading pen over paper, but changing colors or nib width [i.e., moving back and forth between writing and highlighting] is the work of a split second. My paper comments are more organized and less taxing to write out, with only a slight degradation of penmanship compared to paper.”

Ian Helfant has found that maintaining student documents in a digital format and managing them in Google Docs/Drive avoids printing and provides a streamlined way to return papers with enhanced feedback. “I have found one of the most useful aspects of the iPad Pro is the ability to utilize its touch screen, stylus, and Goodreader 4 to mark up my students’ papers. I combine the ‘handwritten’ annotations and comments with an overall reaction to the paper in typed or audible MP3 format as an attached comment, then send the students the modified PDFs with their grades.”

In addition to offering new ways to provide feedback on student work, the digital ink technology affords new opportunities for supporting in-class presentations. There are a wide range of apps that have been developed specifically for tablet and stylus use that allow for inking on diagrams, images, texts, and webpages, as well as the capacity to be used as a virtual whiteboard…all of which can be saved and shared as class notes if desired. Director of the Keck Center for Language Learning, Cory Duclos, commented, “I can use the iPad to control a Keynote presentation running on my laptop. With the pencil, I can even draw right on the screen. I find it especially useful for studying poetry with a class or being able to point out certain grammatical elements of a foreign language.” The digital inking capability opens up new ways for thinking about interacting with and sharing rich media sources in a classroom setting. To further support in-class presentation options, ITS is currently partnering with interested faculty members to explore wireless projection options for use with tablet/ stylus technology.

While the potential for the use of this technology may be exciting, perhaps one of the most compelling things that has emerged is the shared exploration and collaboration it has encouraged among faculty members. Providing context, access to resources, and support are things ITS continues to engage in to enhance teaching and learning at Colgate, and we welcome ideas for expanding these opportunities among faculty, staff, and students.


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