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Sticky Notes and Small Groups: Digital Work in the Classroom

I’m one of those humanities professors who is increasingly introducing technology-intensive assignments and activities into what would otherwise be more conventional, analog courses on writing and literature. And if you teach a large or largish class that involves in-class, hands-on work with digital tools, you would do well to come up with teaching strategies appropriate for that particular situation.

I recently stumbled across a very useful post from Miriam Posner about this very topic: “A better way to teach technical skills to a group.” Posner describes an all-too-common scenario for workshops that involve introducing participants to new and unfamiliar technologies:

The instructor issues directions while students try to keep up at each step. Some students accomplish each step quickly, but some students take a little longer to find the right menu item or remember where they’ve saved a file. No matter how often you tell students to please interrupt or raise a hand if they need help, most students won’t do this. They don’t want to slow everyone else down with what they’re sure is a stupid question. Eventually, these students stop trying to follow along, and the workshop becomes, in their minds, further evidence that they’re not cut out for this.

Posner writes that after trying a variety of possible solutions to this problem, she finally decided to take advantage of the “detailed, illustrated tutorials” she was already creating anyway and have her students go through the tutorials together in small groups. In this way, she writes, students can pace themselves without worrying about how far along the rest of the class is, and they can quietly ask questions of the others in their small group instead of raising their hands in front of the entire class.

But wait! There’s more!

The final missing piece was Post-It notes, a strategy I borrowed from Deb Verhoeven. (Thanks, Deb!) Every student starts with a green Post-It note on her laptop. That means everything’s OK. Run into a problem that they need me for? Swap it out for red. Finished? Swap it out for white.

I haven’t had a chance yet to give this technique a try, but I plan to experiment with it in future courses.

What are your favorite in-cass teaching strategies for introducing students to unfamiliar digital activities? Please share in the comments.

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Karen Chappell]

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