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Online Instructions March 18, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Writing.

furnace   This morning, the pilot light in the furnace went out and my wife asked me to restart it. Last year I had to do that over the telephone and my description of the process was so difficult and frustrating that we had to ask a neighbor to come and ignite the pilot light. As I was starting to light it, I recalled that I had a digital camera. I took three or four photographs of the process, wrote up some instructions, printed them to a PDF document, and e-mailed them to my wife. I know in the future she will have to do this, so I’m sure these instructions will save us some aggravation.

One of the comments to a previous blog entry reminded me of an activity I used to help a colleague out last year. It seems many of her students were having difficulty using a piece of software called SPSS, Statistical Package for Social Sciences. We used a new piece of software called Captivate. This software enabled her to record every keystroke she made in SPSS while setting up a new database.

After recording all of the keystrokes, the instructor then walked through a detailed narration of the steps required to create the database. Knowing she was about to go off to a new institution, she saved the software then installed it on a server for her students to access it.

In her comments in my blog, she noted that   her students were exceedingly happy that she had created this program for demonstration purposes. It reminded me of the time I listened to the 60-minute cassette tape repeatedly until I understood the concepts. In the same way that I created a set of instructions for my wife to read light the pilot light on the furnace, a Professor created a set of instructions her students would use for years to come as a review or as an introduction to using SPSS.

This technology has rendered almost obsolete the process of repeating instructions every time a student encounters difficulty with a particular concept. Of course, there is still a lot to be said for instructing students face to face or over the shoulder to determine if they truly understand the concept. This process of formative assessment is integral to good instruction and will never disappear.

I am currently in the process of making similar demonstration tutorials for faculty to access online anytime and anyplace. I am hoping that these practical examples will assist teachers in expanding their repertoire of pedagogical tools in the higher education classroom.



1. Zs - March 19, 2006

I hope one day it will come the time when excellent professors will be videotaped an entire semester every course they teach.
I would be thrilled to have Professor Joel Levin’s video of teaching us acorss the 5 years so many stats courses.
It is not so much about the class problems, the homework mistakes explained to us, or the math step-by-step of a formula. All might be found in really good stats books, or other tutorials. It is more about some little notes, short explanations, a response to a question asked in class (which question cannot be found in a book or tutorial), it is that moment in time. The human connection!
And now I wonder: would be enough to only watch a teaching video?
You see, that face to face connection would not be there. Professor Levin was not only our teacher, he was our mentor and friend!
I wonder if I would connect the same way with my former teachers if I would not be there in class? OK, now I would not mind having just a recorded tape or just a book to learn some other of the courses I took…
But definitely I would not miss couple of my professors courses, and if a choice is given I would now go back to their in-class sessions!
Perhaps I am the old generation… Perhaps in ten or twenty years technology will take over completely…
I still belive that excellent teachers will always have students in the classroom. In the end we are social beings, we like the closeness of a living being. :-)

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