More on Electronics in the Classroom

Following up on my post from last week, I discussed the use of electronics in the classroom with each of my two classes, today.

I told students that I used to ban electronic devices, and why I thought I needed to do so, but noted that I lifted that ban when I switched to problem-based learning: the internet can be a valuable resource for groups grappling with practical problems . . . though the trick is to know when and where to look.

I told them they should make sure to bring some kind of internet-capable device with them to class, so it’s available if they need it. I added that we would try out and reflect on various ways of using electronic devices for collaborative work, since some are likely to be more fruitful than others.

I went on to say that there might be particular activities and assignments for which I would ask them to put away their electronics, but that there would be a good pedagogical reason for it. For example, I might want them to see what they can make of a particular problem using only the resources of their own minds and bodies, and perhaps of a paper book.

In my environmental ethics class, I gave each of six groups a single no.2 pencil – a classic yellow Ticonderoga, as it happens – and asked them first to write down everything they already knew about no.2 pencils or could find out from physically examining and using the object itself. Then I told them to go to the ‘net to find out what else they could learn.

(I’ll have more to say about that exercise and the point I was groping toward in a later post, which will probably show up on Thursday morning.)

In my engineering ethics class, I gave each of six groups a single paper copy of a case study – a fictionalized version of a fictionalized version of a real-life case from the early 1980s, involving a TV antenna outside Houston. I asked them to consider and talk about the case without any electronic help, explaining that the point was to draw on what they already know and perceive and feel.

Then, after the discussion, I showed them video of what happened to that antenna, which is available in several versions on YouTube. (Fair warning: the video may be distressing.)

The antenna case – a more complete fictionalized version of which is also available online – was the basis of the exam I discussed in the earlier post about the need for attention to the implications of engineering work for other people.

(That’s also a theme on which I plan to expand, later.)

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