Experimenting with class objectives

Creating class objectives is arguably the most important part of my teaching process. If done correctly, I don’t really need to develop long, in-depth lesson plans (though I often do that anyways). Concrete class objectives allow for structure while also allowing for flexibility and the ability to respond to students on the fly. It really informs everything. I’ve typically stuck to a few ‘rules’ when creating class objectives. These include, having one action per objective, writing measurable (or observable) objectives, not having a laundry list of objectives (5 max), and using jargon-free language.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a new approach. Instead of the typical bulleted list, I’ve given students one overarching objective for my class and underneath I have broken down that objective into potential tasks students can undertake to achieve the overarching objective. Why make a big deal about such a subtle difference? Because a regular piece of feedback I’ve received from students is their lack of understanding of how my list of ‘measurable’ objectives fit together. How do they related to each other? And, it’s hard to argue with them.

Traditionally I’d have broken out class objectives into smaller, more manageable, bullet points. Let’s take the following as a hypothetical example.

“By the end of this class you will have

  • Located the class research guide
  • Searched two of the recommended databases
  • Found one peer-reviewed academic source
  • Cited one academic source using APA 7th edition”

Well, I can see how these objectives all lend themselves to conducting academic research and being successful in a research paper, but students might not. If I were to take my new approach, I might right something like the following

“By the end of this class, you will have made meaningful progress on your literature review assignment. This includes

  • Locating the class research guide
  • Searching two of the recommended academic databases
  • Finding at least one peer-reviewed academic article
  • Citing an academic article using APA 7th edition”

This isn’t a perfect example, since this is hypothetical. That being said, you can see the the bulleted list of objectives hasn’t changed much – except for the tense. The bullets are still measurable/observable from my perspective, but now they’re put in context by being placed under a larger goal or ‘theme.’ At this point you might be thinking “how much of a different could this possibly make in the classroom.” Well, originally I had a similar question for myself. Surprisingly, the difference in classroom engagement is quiet significant. Below I’ve provided a real world example from a recent class.

(Taken from one of my library sessions)

In this class, students did something different. I didn’t get one question like “what is the assignment again?” or “how do these help me with the assignment?” It was clear why they were in the library session, to get a start on their original research project. Framing the objectives this way also takes some of the pressure off students. Not everyone is at the same experience level, which is why checklist type class objectives are somewhat flawed in my opinion. The goal is to get a start on your research, and that ‘start’ may depend on how much experience one has with an academic database. One could do everything in the bulleted list, but not doing so doesn’t mean the overarching objective wasn’t achieved.

I’m certain others instructors have experimented with objectives or framed them in a similar fashion. There are several good texts on promoting class discussion and aligning what’s done in class with clear objectives. However, this approach to objectives is one piece of a larger teaching strategy. Ultimately, I want to be more explicit in my teaching and be more clear about why I’m asking students to do the tasks I’ve assignment to them. If teaching them strategies for completing an annotated bibliography is my task, then I will preface the lesson with a discussion about how annotated bibliographies are useful tools and how they can serve as a stepping stone to conducting literature reviews. If I can place the assignment in the context of a marketable skill (this is great for students going on practicum) then all the better.

I remember not ‘getting it’ as a student. I remember not understanding the value of some of my assignments. So, from now on I’m going to tell them the value and the application. So far, I see better engagement, more time spent on task, and good questions.

Some useful resources

Barkley, E., & Major, C. (2016). Learning assessment techniques : a handbook for college faculty . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Howard, J. (2015). Discussion in the college classroom : getting your students engaged and participating in person and online . San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Roberts, K. (2002). Ironies of effective teaching: Deep structure learning and lonstructions of the classroom. Teaching Sociology, 30(1), 1-25. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3211517

Zhou, H. (2017). Why does writing good learning objectives matter? Duke. https://learninginnovation.duke.edu/blog/2017/03/learning-objectives/

Bane, blessing, or just something different? iPadOS for multitasking and productivity (Tech Bytes post)

With the introduction of iPadOS, the iPad is now a viable productivity machine. But, its approach to multitasking and gesture controls are starkly different from the Mac. In this article I examine two things. iPadOS has been characterized as considerably more complicated than previous iPad versions of iOS. I compared iOS 12 and iPadOS to see how much gesture complexity has been added to the iPad platform. I also broadly compare the iPad and Mac’s multitasking gestures, number of keyboard shortcuts, and overall approach to app windowing to answer the following question. Is the iPad (and iPadOS) a capable productivity platform when compared to traditional desktop operating systems (OS), or is it simply a different take on how work should be done?

Read on tech-bytes.net/posts/2019/7/31/2ioz56z74ljae69ic3qs6ubxjugra5

Blog post: ‘Pro’ in name only? How the term has changed in the post-pc era

Excerpt: “Devices labeled with the term “pro” come with a lot of expectations. The idea of a pro user is well defined in the desktop and laptop computing space. But, pro mobile devices (such as phones and tablets) are less well defined. This is problematic because devices that support the pro moniker cannot separate themselves from consumer grade options except in price – making the term a meaningless standard. Unlike their PC counterparts, they mobile devices are held back by the limitations of their respective app software and operating systems.”

Article link: http://bit.ly/2JhWQa7

New Raspberry Pi Open Source Media Center setup

I’ve been using a Raspberry Pi as my media centre PC for about four years. I like the idea of having a computer hooked up to my TV for playing local media. For Netflix, I use my (now ‘obsolete’) Wii U.

Previously, I had a dedicated media server (running Open Media Vault). The Pi was a ‘front end’ of sorts for that server and it ran OpenELEC (a Pi variant of Kodi).

Unfortunately, I had to change this long-standing setup. The server bit the dust – likely an electronic short. This new setup is a less complicated replacement and kind of an experiment to see if I can function without the dedicated server. Also, OpenELEC, as a platform, has fallen out of favour so I’m using Open Source Media Centre (a fork of the ELEC) which has a slicker interface and better support.

Hardware

The hardware setup is pretty simple. I have a Raspberry Pi 2 and a 1TB WD Red Drive. For those at home, a Pi 3 will give you better performance.

The hard drive, which is designed for network-attached storage, has been put into a nice enclosure which doesn’t require any tools. This allows me to swap out the storage easily (say if the drive dies). The drive is formatted to exFAT so I can write to the disk using Windows or macOS.

Pi 2 (left) and drive inside the enclosure (right).
Here you can see how the enclosure works. Flip-top gives you easy access to the drive. This setup can’t really sit vertically. Also has a very smooth-feeling power button on top.
This is the external drive closed. Has kind of a cool look.
I control the system using a cheap wireless keyboard-mouse combo from Logitech.

The nice thing about this setup is how easy it was. Both the Pi and drive/enclosure have external power. To make them talk to each other, you just plug the drive into one of the Pi’s USB ports. Done.

When it’s all hooked up for the first time, it’s a little messy. Plugged into the Pi, is an ethernet cable (highly recommended over wireless), the keyboard/mouse dongle, and USB cable for the drive. For this Pi, I bought a power supply that has an on/off switch. I highly recommend this, as it allows you to setup your hardware without automatically starting up the Pi.

Again, you can see the dedicated power cables for the Pi (on the left) and the drive (bottom).
Looks a little leaner from this side 😉

When you boot OSMC for the first time you’ll get a blue screen (of life?) with the operating system logo.

To make this hardware setup more visually attractive, I put both the Pi and drive behind my DVD player. In the dark, all you can really see is the blue and red lights.

The interface is very intuitive and I recommend using the Kodi interface Estuary. There are lots of add-ons for OSMC for YouTube, TWiT, Food Network, etc.

Connecting over the network

Once you have the hardware hooked up, it’s pretty simple to connect to OSMC over the network using SAMBA. From my Mac, I can see the Pi and the external drive from the Finder. This is a great feature because it allows you to transfer new files to the Pi over your local network.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 1.24.55 PM

That’s about it!

Resources

OSMC using Raspberry Pi Guide

OSMC download