Teaching Technology

I have experimented with various technologies in my classroom workflow, and the ones I recommend are discussed here for the benefit of others who might be interested in using them.

Overview

I begin by creating a course site on Canvas, which acts as a central hub for the course. I put a link on Canvas to a separate course page hosted on my math department website, to allow for faster (and login-free) uploading and viewing of assignments and information. ITG can set up the Canvas page so that it connects to:

I lecture using an iPad instead of a white board, and I use this setup to post lecture capture videos. I have some LaTeX resources for producing exam and homework documents which have boxes for students to write their answers in.

*Gradescope integration with Canvas depends on whether the university acquires a site license. Until then, you can still use Gradescope separately. The students will have a separate login, and you can pull down spreadsheet files to calculate final grades.

WeBWorK

What

WeBWorK is a free online homework platform maintained by the Mathematical Association of America. Here’s a screenshot of a WeBWorK assignment.

Why

The problems are written by mathematicians and math instructors around the US and are therefore more diverse and deeper than problems available in a commercial software package. Furthermore, the resource is free and therefore reduces the financial burden of the course.

Relative to paper-only problem solving, the advantage of this system is rapid feedback. This can be invaluable, particularly for the students who need the most practice.

How

The Brown Instructional Technology Group has been working on getting the WeBWorK system hosted on Brown servers so that we can integrate it with Canvas as smoothly as possible. Get in touch with ITG if you want to get an instance running for your class.

Gradescope

What

Gradescope is a free resource which facilitates submission and grading of handwritten assignments. Students upload their homework directly to their account, and the graders can grade separate problems simultaneously and remotely.

Why

  • AI-assisted grading groups answers according to final answers (it reads the students’ handwriting in the final answer box), which saves grading time
  • Keyboard shortcuts for applying rubric items, also a major time saver
  • Feedback can be typed (with LaTeX math expressions) once and copied over to other submissions as needed; allows for more informative feedback
  • Changes to the grading rubric are propagated automatically to the whole class, allowing point changes without additional manual labor
  • More structured mechanisms are available for students requesting that specific items be re-graded
  • Detailed data are available on rubric items to help identify where students need the most improvement
  • Homework submission is more flexible since it’s decoupled from in-person class meetings.
  • All students are able to review their final exams
  • Removes some steps entirely (such as summing points)
  • No time lost handling homework papers

How

  • Contact ITG about setting up Gradescope in a way that is integrated with Canvas.
  • If we don’t have Canvas integration worked out yet, you can still use Gradescope on your own: visit Gradescope and press the “Sign up for free” button. You’ll get instructions to give the students for how to join the class, and it’s all quite smooth.
  • Check out the Gradescope tutorial if you want to look at various features (but the basics are pretty self-explanatory, so you can also just dive in).
  • You begin by creating an assignment in Gradescope. I highly recommend doing this with a template, meaning that you leave room for students to write the answers and tell Gradescope what the problems are and where. This process takes a couple minutes per problem set, and it makes grading faster because it allows the system to present the students’ work to each question when you’re grading that question. See worksheet class if you want to conveniently make templates with solution boxes and final answer boxes.
  • Students handwrite their homework and scan and upload it using their phones (note that students can get loaner phones from IT).
  • I use the department scanner to digitize completed exams. This takes the scanner a few minutes per 10-pack of student exams. Some tips:
    • Use a USB Drive. Don’t try to email items from the scanner, as it has bugs. The USB port is under the door at your right hand as you’re facing the printer, and you can navigate to the save-to-USB option from the main menu.
      • Make sure you have a “name” box on the first page.
    • Limit your number of page-sides to 160 or so. The auto-document feeder can’t handle arbitrarily large stacks.
    • Ask the students the remove staples once they complete their exams. I offer to do it for anyone who doesn’t want to, but most folks don’t mind.
    • Provide some additional pages for extra space at the end of the exam, so that everyone’s exam is exactly the same number of pages. This will allow Gradescope to auto-split the file into different submissions with no manual adjustment (though the manual adjustment is pretty smooth if you need it).
    • Use boxes so that students don’t write a lot of content against the edge of the paper. See the worksheet class below for a batteries-included LaTeX solution.
  • Once the exams are digitized, you upload them to Gradescope. The system auto-splits the files. It uses AI to read the names in the name box on the first page, and it defers the ones it has trouble with to you. The uploading process should take 5–10 minutes for a medium-sized class (50 students, say), and the name-matching process less than 2.

iClicker Cloud

What

iClicker Cloud is highly polished in-class polling platform that allows students to answer questions in class using their phone or a laptop. It supports a range of answer types, including multiple choice, short answer, and touch answer (the student chooses where on the screen to tap a graphic; see the figure below). You can review the students’ responses live in class and discuss. This is paid software that Brown has a license for, and it integrates with Canvas.

Why

Having to answer questions in class helps students stay engaged, and it helps them realize at an early stage what they don’t understand.

How

  • Visit courses.brown.edu and submit a request for iClicker Cloud.

  • Email ITG to set up a brief meeting to familiarize yourself with the software and make sure the rosters are syncing properly, etc.

  • My advice is to grant credit for answering the questions, irrespective of correctness. Requiring answers will already encourage students to try to get it right, and there is too much adjudication if their grade depends on getting the answers right.

Tablet lecture capture

What

Brown’s classrooms have A/V systems that can be used to project an iPad display, allowing the iPad to be used an alternative to writing on the board.

Why

  • The iPad’s screen recording feature can be used to record the lecture, including audio. Some students appreciate being able to hear parts of the lecture more than once, so the recording is valuable to them.
  • The writing on the projector screen is much larger and easier to read for students.
  • You can face the students at all times, making your words easier to hear
  • I find handwriting less physically fatiguing than board writing

How

Many variations are possible, of course, but I’ll suggest one route.

  • Buy an Apple-Pencil-compatible iPad. They’re now available for $329.
  • Buy an Apple Pencil.
  • Buy an lightning-HDMI adapter
  • Buy the GoodNotes app for the iPad. There are many note-taking apps, a few of which are good, but this is my favorite.
  • Connect the iPad to the room’s A/V and screen record.
  • Upload the recording to YouTube and make the link available to the students through Canvas or on your personal website. You can select “private” when uploading, so that only folks with the link can find it.

If you don’t want to buy the lightning-HDMI adapter, you can also connect your iPad to your laptop with the lightning cable and display it on QuickTime (just open the app and select iPad from the input pulldown). Then you can connect your laptop to the A/V system and screen share. This workflow also supports recording since you can use QuickTime in either preview or record mode.

LaTeX worksheet class

What

LaTeX class files for producing worksheets with boxes.

Why

  • Minimize boilerplate in your TeX source files
  • Convenient support for solution boxes and final answer boxes, which helpful if you’re using Gradescope
  • Put your problems and solutions in the same source file and conveniently generate versions with and without solutions.
  • Incorporate simple figures using Asymptote, if desired.
  • A macro for putting figures alongside text (one which is more robust than wrapfig)

How

The following files should be in your TeX path (e.g., ~/Library/texmf/tex/latex/ on macOS), or alternatively in the directory with .tex source being compiled.

To see what the capabilities are, check out

Website resources

Here are a couple static resources to consider posting. My website analytics suggest that these are reasonably popular.

  • Learning resources page [example]. A compilation of all available learning resources for the course, along with some brief advice about whom the resource is likely to be useful for, and how it may be used.
  • Concepts list [example]. A summary of the key ideas from each section. This is the sort of thing that a student would benefit from developing for themselves, but that consideration trades off against the quality afforded by the instructor’s perspective. My sense is that students benefit a lot from this kind of resource, and they usually don’t produce it on their own.