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Innovating with Simple Technologies

In a recent faculty discussion about technologies that can help encourage students to ask questions, one instructor came away with a very simple solution using a very simple technology.  During the group conversation, we covered many high-tech solutions: Twitter for backchannel conversations, audience response “clicker” systems, live edits on Google Docs, live online survey tools, and collaborative online whiteboards, but it was index cards that grabbed the attention of his instructor.

This solution was recently highlighted in a recent ProfHacker post by George Williams, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina Upstate. The students all bring index cards to class and are encouraged to use the last few moments of class to submit cards with questions or feedback. Partway into the semester, it appears to be working.

I have seen similar uses of index cards to enhance classroom discussions, especially when used as a method for encouraging everyone to contribute to a conversation or group exercise. Individuals are given a prompt and asked to write responses on a card before the discussion begins. This means that participants all have time to prepare their ideas, and there is less pressure to contribute on the fly in front of the whole group. When I have used this personally in workshops, the discussions appear to be much more active (or at least the room is much louder, and the conversations harder to stop). I have also been able to collect the cards and sort them into themes and prepare topics for the next session.

This simple solution required no technical training for the students, and only a little preparation on the part of the instructor, yet it may end up helping him address a longstanding challenge. This is a good thing to consider when evaluating innovative tools. If the tool is simple enough that the students and faculty can focus all their energy on learning the topic of the class, not the tool, it is worth a look.
Read the full post (including links to Professor Williams’ other simple innovations): A Simple Way to Get Student Feedback Regularly,” by George Williams in ProfHacker – Chronicle of Higher Education, February 16, 2017.

Photograph of index cards and Post It Notes