Teaching & Learning Champions 24: Mobile Technologies to Support Teaching and Learning
April 27, 2021
Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Samantha Ackers, Adjunct Associate Professor of English & Student Development and Paul Williams, Professor of Physics as we talk about mobile technologies to support teaching and learning.
Thanks for listening to TLC @ ACC!
[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. I’m Matt Evans Director of Academic Technology in the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division at ACC. Before I introduce our special guests, a short announcement. Teaching and Learning Champions are ACC faculty and staff who contribute to student learning and student success. In the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division, we love celebrating and supporting our instructors. We feature these champion stories in a series of videos, blog posts, and in this podcast, TLC @ ACC. You can find this series and more on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by following us at ACC TLED. Today, I’m joined by Samantha Ackers, Adjunct Associate Professor of English and Student Development and Paul Williams, Professor of Physics, as we talk about mobile technologies to support Teaching and Learning. Samantha and Paul, thank you both very much for joining me today.
[Samantha Ackers:] Oh, you’re quite welcome. Happy day.
[Paul Williams:] Glad to be here.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, let’s jump right into it. I know we’ve got a number of things to talk about today. The first thing I think is interesting that I want to hear from both of you on is, “How did you get involved in starting to use mobile technologies in your courses?” And since there’s two of you, why don’t we go ahead and start with Samantha?
[Samantha Ackers:] Oh, well thank you. And that’s the best question to begin with because faculty will always wonder, “How do I get involved in anything that’s going on here at ACC?” because we have so many awesome initiatives happening, sometimes simultaneously. So, I was able to find out about the mobile technology in my class because I worked with the Teaching and Learning Division to find ways to help students succeed. So, we realized that having technology in their hands could make a difference and just starting to see that it did make a difference was actually the plan. So, once there was the call out for interested professors, I signed up straight away and have enjoyed it ever since.
[Matthew Evins:] Samantha, was there a particular goal in mind or a particular problem that you were trying to solve in your investigation into mobile technologies?
[Samantha Ackers:] Yes, in my situation, I needed to get all of my students in my English courses and my student development courses on equal footing, and it seems like having access to technology was the clear difference that all students didn’t have. So, my goal was to see if every student had the technology in hand, will they submit the assignments, will they be more engaging in the class, and will they succeed at a higher rate than my classes without the mobile technology in hand?
[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. We’ll talk in a little bit more about what the results of that investigation were, but thanks a lot for that context. Paul, how about you? What was your motivation in getting involved in using mobile technologies?
[Paul Williams:] For me, it really started with a very specific problem. And one of the practices I had incorporated into my class over the years was group problem solving around the whiteboard. But after my students had — sorry about that — anyway, after my students had solved the problem and maybe made whatever presentation they did in the classroom, they had a whiteboard of stuff and nothing in their notes. And so, it became this issue about, “How do we go from getting what’s on the whiteboard into your class notes?” And so, some would write, some would take pictures, some would actually invert the process, work it on the notes first and then write on the whiteboard, sort of undermining the whole point of the whiteboard as a way to facilitate group effort. And so, what I became interested in is their tools that students can, you know, do the kind of things we ask in physics, like draw simple stick figures, and do handwritten mathematics, and record it in a digital way that would be already in their notes and also could be projected as part of a presentation. And so, that was sort of my start.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. So, very similar problems for both of you. But at the same time, very different given the different disciplines. So, definitely great information. Let’s talk a little bit about after you identified what the problem was and you decided to investigate and implement mobile technologies in your courses, what type of a shift was it for you to actually implement the integration and the change, both on your side as the instructors and developing and delivering these courses, but also on your student side. Paul, why don’t you go ahead and start with this one?
[Paul Williams:] So, it was a big effort, right? So, of course, there was a semester-long digital fellows program that I went through for the training. So, there was a lot of training and assessment, development, and things like that. And then, there was a big effort on my part to actually develop the activities in a way that would be — that I could implement them through mobile technologies. And along the way, and getting in sort of specific mobile technology, was the iPad that we adapted. And in the process of learning to use the iPad, then a lot of other possibilities became apparent. And so, I ended up not just trying to solve one problem, but I ended up actually trying to use the iPad as a platform for the entire class. So, note-taking, assignments, data-taking in lab, you know, sticker questions, digital whiteboarding — that’s what I did — and so on. So, it was a lot of research, a lot of effort on my part, to sort of put that all together, develop the activities, develop the Google classroom site, which I felt worked a lot better with the iPad, and so on. From my students’ perspective, I think, you know, they walked into class first day and they’re just using the iPad, and I think a lot of them, just sort of their eyes was glassed over. So, I think it was — so, although some were very comfortable, some already had their own iPads, but for a lot of them, they said, “Okay, you’ve given me an iPad. Now what?” And so, there was a big adjustment for students in figuring out how to use that. So, I had sort of used an immersive approach and tried to get them using it right away. I had to do a lot of training with the students on how to use the iPad. And so, it was a big effort both for students and instructor to make that implementation.
[Matthew Evins:] Samantha, did you run into the same types of time commitments and level of effort for you and for your students?
[Samantha Ackers:] Oh my god, I could say, “Amen,” to everything Paul said. And I think the highlight of it for me as the professor, getting that training that we went through initially. We were supported. We had — as fellows, we had associates working with us every step of the way. So, that time we spent going to Apple, meeting at our meetings, developing our course, helped me deliver to the students with the level of confidence that was fake, but it was built. So, I definitely appreciated the opportunity to work with the program before we started it with the students. So, as Paul said, that training was ideal. Anytime I ran into any situations because I’m not a techno, but I always want to be what I need to be, I was able to get my instructional associate there. I mean, engaging. And in laywomen’s terms that I could actually understand and work with it. So, as the professor, I was saturated with all I needed once I realized it’s okay to not be as savvy as I should be. So, once that confidence came by the time this class started, I had developed a way to just make it comfortable for everyone in a way that I know worked. So, on the first day of class, when the students come in during the first week — but actually, it was the second day they came. We do introductions and all of that jazz on that first day. But the second day they came, I set them up for the technology in the classroom piece, and I did, like, an Oprah Winfrey 1984’s deal. I said to them, “Everyone’s going to get an iPad.” And then, I had it recorded, and I was like, “You get an iPad, you get an iPad.” So, it was a fantastic exchange of not only is this class different, but I’m equipped with what I need for the difference. And from that second day, we were just engaged. We had helpers. We had technos. We had novice. We had all of us together on this new pad working it out. So, all of the assignments were able to be adaptable to me thinking, “Oh, this is easy,” to a student that’s more techno savvy, saying, “Let’s submit it this way because it’s this way, this way, this way.” So, immediately, it formed that bond, that family unit, that all of us want as we learn and grow together with the fact that most of the students did not have access to technology. So, once they left campus, it was rough for them. So, it was just a blessing on top of blessing on top of blessing experience. And the integration happened on purpose. We knew that it was something that we can use. And once they knew that it’s theirs, they can take it home, their family can use it, per se, but the point is it gives them that confidence for this class and all of the other classes they had that semester.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. One of the things I want to summarize from both of you is that you both experience, specifically talking from the student standpoint, that there was a lot of training and support that needed to happen to ensure that your students have the skill set and the confidence to be able to use these devices in your course. Oftentimes, there’s an assumption that today’s students, whether it’s high school level, community college, university level students, all have this digital nativeness about using technology. And as you have both made clear, there’s definitely training that is required to ensure that all students have the same training and the same confidence in using the same technologies before they can really become successful in your courses. Is that an accurate summer summarization?
[Paul Williams:] Absolutely.
[Samantha Ackers:] Absolutely, absolutely. And it’s key in my classes for sure, and I’m sure likewise with Paul. We have to be confident enough to know that the space we’re in is geared for learning and growing, and that’s both ways. As the professor, I expect to learn and grow. As a student, you pay, and you expect to learn and grow as well.
[Matthew Evins:] Excellent, yeah. What did you find — let’s talk a little bit about after the implementation in terms of student success. What did you find was the impact around student success as a result of integrating this technology? And Samantha, I want to start with you because one of the things you said at the very beginning was you wanted to see what the levels of engagement were and the levels of student success were after integrating this technology compared to those courses where you did not integrate the technology. So, what did you find was the results of your implementation?
[Samantha Ackers:] The results were fantastic. And because I didn’t have a number, I went in totally blind as to what to expect. But in that semester, I used the same two classes, one with the pad, one without the pad. And I measure each assignment, major assignments and extra credit assignments. And in my iPad class, 100% submissions on the due date. In my non-iPad class, 87% submission, 66% on the due date. So, it clearly showed from the first three weeks of assignments, having that technology in their hands allows them to actually continue their procrastination, which we all do, yet have an opportunity to get it done when their juices start flowing. So, I was amazed at that quick review of just the submissions. Another deal I saw immediately was with that iPad, those students engaged with me a lot quicker. We had the same group chat, the same hangout, but I was engaged a lot more, 88% more, than in my non-iPad class.
[Matthew Evins:] Wow, those are some great numbers to share. So, I really appreciate that. Paul, from a physics standpoint, what was the impact of the technology integration on your end?
[Paul Williams:] So, I made a number of measures of student success. One was a specific research question I was trying to address, and that was, you know, “If the students use the iPad on a pretty much daily or x basis to implement data collection in lab, would they — and then, allowed to design their own lab, how would they — would they integrate the iPad in a meaningful way? And that I think was very significant, that definitely the students gained facility with the iPad, they designed a lab with the iPad and used appropriately, and that was really successful, okay? I did some other measures. I looked at ABC rates. I looked at conceptual games. I looked at — I did an attitudinal survey. The attitudinal survey was very positive. Students really liked using the tool. They felt it helped them learn. In terms of sort of raw data, like ABC rates or measuring conceptual gains through a sort of standard instrument that’s used in physics, I saw a little impact on that. So, although I would say in terms of the ABC rate, I was already doing pretty well. So, maybe I didn’t have a lot of room to gain there. And so, these various measures, I would say that — I would say that the iPad was pretty much a pretty successful tool in the classroom.
[Matthew Evins:] How has COVID played a role in your integration of mobile technology? And just to I guess clarify that a little bit more or provide a little bit more information, when you both participated in the digital fellows program, the courses that you were redesigning where you were integrating these technologies were face-to-face courses, if I’m not mistaken. And so, of course, as a result of COVID, all of the these courses were moved online. What impact did that have in your own personal use of mobile technologies, but also what you were expecting your students to be able to do? Paul, do you want to tackle that one?
[Paul Williams:] Of course, my initial response to that question is, you know, I was just hiding under the nearest couch and trying to get through. But actually, giving a little more thought on that, I realized that actually my experience with mobile technology was very helpful in sort of adapting to COVID. And because first of all, to model the use of Notability for my students as a note-taking app, I had actually taken to using — to lecturing in the Notability app and then projecting that onto a screen with an Apple TV in the face-to-face meeting. And with a simple piece of software, I was able to move that over to the distance — the synchronous distance learning model. So, the iPad is still my tool I use to deliver lecture. Also, the tools that I had developed to, you know, facilitate students turning in assignments with the iPad, well, they turned out to be very flexible. And the students could use whatever they had. So, like in physics, we’re doing a lot of handwritten math. And so, sometimes students will — and also figures, and students would sometimes just use tools that are in Google documents for drawing simple figures and typesetting equations or students would work on paper and take pictures and insert those into — insert the pictures into the assignment or students could just work on separate paper and scan. So, in sort of thinking about this question, it dawned on me that without being aware of it, I had sort of moved into the next model. And something we had talked about in the physics department, what we call — what we in the physics department — it’s called, “bring your own device.” And so, in a certain sense, I think what we’ve moved to in this synchronous distance learning is sort of a bring your own device model. And so, I think my experience with the mobile technology helped me get there.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah, I think, you know, as a result of COVID, that’s really one of the things that it seems like a lot of departments are moving to is that, “bring your own device” model where, you know, the device, the students are bringing it, but it might not be their own personal device because of the devices that ACC is allowing students to borrow from the institution to participate with online courses. So, I think a lot of departments are shifting to that “bring your own device” model as well. Samantha, how has COVID changed the use of mobile technologies in your English development courses?
[Samantha Ackers:] Well, that is something that was timing is everything, as people say, and I kind of agree at this point. In the middle of my iPad class, COVID hit. So, we had just set up our iPad curriculum. It was all going well. We were in our second/third week right before Spring Break, so we were already set up iPad-wise. So, as Paul suggested, I was hiding under the sofa drinking wine and wondering how was this going to work, and one of my students sent me an a video message saying, “So, we’re going to do this online now?” And it just opened all the doors to, “That makes so much sense,” because everything was set up online. We met face-to-face. We set up a Google link or a chat. And we had perfect attendance. We did our same situation just from the safety of our homes, and it was because we started the semester with the iPad. So, it was a perfect timing to have that transition go from, “Okay we’re doing this actually totally technology, no face-to-face, no learning lab, per se.” But yet, because ACC adapted so fast, we were able to get those services online. So, the timing of converting my iPad class to COVID worked fantastically, and it spewed over into my non-iPad class. And as Paul suggested, they were able to bring their own device. They were able to feel comfortable snapping pictures of assignments. So, it turned into a kind of iPad class because ACC provided technology for those that didn’t have it as well. So, it was a smooth transition simply because of the timing of it all.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah, it’s hard to imagine a lot of positives that have come out of the events of the last year-plus as a result of the pandemic, but I agree with you, Samantha, that ACC did an excellent job at the swift transition to fully online courses, and, you know, I’m glad to hear that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for your particular class just as a result of how you had the course designed.
[Samantha Ackers:] And I don’t think anyone would ever say that in the same sentence again without the context of what we’re saying.
[Matthew Evins:] Absolutely, I could definitely agree with that.
[ Laughter ]
Let’s talk a little bit about what the future holds. You know, obviously, the hope is — and emphasis on the word hope — is that, you know, COVID will be done in the near future, that courses will go back to being in-person, at least the opportunity for faculty to begin teaching in-person again. And so, what does the future hold for the two of you in terms of next steps regarding mobile technology integration? You know, where do you see yourself going in the next, let’s say a year, just for the sake of COVID still being an unknown? So, you know, what does the next year look like for you? Samantha?
[Samantha Ackers:] I would say, as I don’t know if you know, but you probably don’t, I have been on the list of being an iPad continual fellow for the duration of the program. So, for the next three to five years, I continue to want my colleagues to want to be a part of this because it’s fantastic, and there’s no more new normal after this. The students are — they’re reaching goals they never thought they’d reach and having a life in addition to attending our wonderful ACC. So, within the next three to five years, my goal is to have more hybrid, “bring your own device” type courses for core courses and for all of the courses that could get the students to their next step. So, in the next three to five years, I want to be on a list of professors that use the iPad in their class. So, students will look to be on that list to get in a class like that.
[Matthew Evins:] It’s a great goal to have. Paul, how about you?
[Paul Williams:] So, yeah, sort of two things I’m thinking about. One is I also want to go back to having an iPad class partly because I think I have unfinished business there. I think there’s some opportunities I had of using the technology that I haven’t taken advantage of yet. And yeah, so, that’s part of it. The other thing is sort of the long-term sort of sustainability thing. You know, iPads [inaudible] buy 40,000. Now, the ACC is going to buy 40,000 iPads. So, moving into — so, we’re kind of exploring more of this “bring your own device” model. And certainly for physics data acquisition, that’s doable because there’s already commercially-available centers and things like that that support that type of model. So, buying those centers and developing the curriculum, I think the big issue will be sort of the Wi-Fi access, but working towards that also.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah, and Paul, everything you just said is stuff that’s actively being investigated as part of the academic master plan, the one-to-one device initiative, “bring your own devices,” that stuff that TLED is actively working with the Provost Office to come up with a plan for implementation and support, Wi-Fi being one of the biggest contingencies, but that is what we’re looking at on an institutional scale as well. So, while it might seem like physics is doing this in a silo, I can assure you that it’s definitely not the case.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. So, let’s talk a little bit about other faculty members. You know, you’re both great advocates for using iPads in your courses and the success that you’ve seen in doing so. For those faculty who are interested in getting started with mobile technology integration, where do you suggest they start? How do you suggest they get involved or get training or anything like that? Paul, why don’t you go ahead and start?
[Paul Williams:] So, I would sort of say, “Go the route I went and identify maybe a specific learning outcome or specific classroom practice or an equity issue that you think can be addressed in with mobile technology.” So, start there. Start with a problem you think you want to solve. Then, get a device. If you don’t have one, buy one, check one out from TLED, but get a device and start playing. That’s, I think, really important to implement mobile technology. You have to become pretty good with it. Explore lots of apps. If there’s an available digital fellows institute, apply for that. Otherwise, work with your contact, the instructional designer at your campus, and work with them to come up with a course proposal. Apply for a TLED classroom or an iPad classroom through TLED. That’s would sort of be the process I would suggest someone follow.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. Samantha?
Samantha, you’re on mute, if you’re talking.
[Samantha Ackers:] You heard all the good stuff. [laughter] You missed it. So, I “Amen” Paul. He is exactly right in those steps as, you know, a first step to make sure you’re confident, comfortable. You have a problem, we’re here to solve it. What I did, and I’m sure it’s the easier way to do is, I sent an email to TLED saying, “Hey, what about that digital technology in a classroom?” And straight away, I got a response. And then, I was connected, connected, connected. So, that was my easier way of doing it because at ACC, which I love being here in a community we have, nothing is hidden. Everything is in a newsletter. TLED is fantastic in advertising their resources, and it’s just a click away. So, I actually did that click, said I’m interested, and then the rest came to me. The time worked out. It’s just a fantastic opportunity to get in what’s already going that you don’t have to reinvent a wheel. So, our problems may be uniquely to us, but once we collaborate on them, we’ll realize that there’s a wheel rolling, and we can make it unique to our situation with the technology piece. So, short answer, email TLED. They have you hooked up.
[Matthew Evins:] When in doubt, email TLED, that’s a great tagline.
[Samantha Ackers:] Absolutely.
[ Laughter ]
[Matthew Evins:] Well, Samantha and Paul, that brings us pretty much the end of today’s episode. Before I let you both go, though, there’s one question that I do ask all of our guests that is not related to, in this case, mobile technologies, but is there anything giving you Riverbat Pride this week? And with it being Friday, I’m sure we have a lot to be proud of before just this week alone. Samantha, why don’t we have you go first?
[Samantha Ackers:] Yes, and the spirit of Happy FriYAY, what gives me Riverbat Pride today is knowing that — and it may sound cheesy — that my workplace is providing an opportunity for me to get all of the safety, the vaccinations, the opportunity to continue living my best life working and contributing to the community. It warms my heart to know the efforts that the college is doing as a whole to make sure, not only faculty, staff, students, all of us, our community, is safe during this time. And I feel pretty prideful on this Happy Friday about being a part of the community that’s making a difference in this trying time we’re all living in.
[Matthew Evins:] I completely agree. It’s going to be awfully hard to top that, Paul. What are you prideful for this week?
[Paul Williams:] I had a different take on that. So, a couple things, actually, I just wanted to mention is, one, you know, about a year ago, the founding member of our physics department — many people know John Cise retired, and we haven’t really had a chance to [inaudible] but recently in Physics Today — and I’m sure everyone has it on their coffee table — they did an interview with John about his 50-plus years as a community college physics teacher. So, I’m really excited about that. And then, the other thing is that our A&M Engineering Academy at ACC, it looks like we’re going to have record enrollment of possibly as many as 200 students in the fall. I’m pretty stoked about that.
[Samantha Ackers:] Well, that’s fantastic, Paul.
[Paul Williams:] Yes.
[Samantha Ackers:] Yes.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, great. Samantha and Paul, thank you very much for your time today. This was a wonderful conversation. I really appreciate the insight and the results and your continued efforts in integrating mobile technologies for the success of our students. So, thank you very much for joining me today.
[Paul Williams:] Glad to have been here.
[Samantha Ackers:] Yeah, I had a fabulous time. Thank you for considering us. We had a tight fellow cohort, Paul. So, yeah, definitely. Good, good, good learning we did together.
[Matthew Evins:] Well, that wraps up another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. Don’t forget that you can read episode transcripts on the TLED blog and find links to any resources we reference during the show. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC District Podcast on any of your preferred podcast apps or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. You can learn more about the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division and keep up with everything relevant to the faculty experience at ACC by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. Simply text A-C-C T-L-E-D in all caps to 22828 to subscribe. And of course, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at A-C-C T-L-E-D. Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll chat next time on TLC @ ACC.