The Teaching Workshop

The Teaching Workshop: Digital Tools for Learning in Philosophy

Welcome again to The Teaching Workshop, where your questions related to pedagogy are answered. Have a question? Send it to PhilTeacherWorkshop@gmail.com, or participate in the APA Teaching Workshop on Facebook.

This is Mark Jensen from the APA Committee for the Teaching of Philosoph y; I’m the new editor of The Teaching Workshop, taking over for Jennifer Morton and Michelle Saint. At my home institution, I’m regularly asked about the electronic tools that I use in the classroom. With a new teaching season beginning soon for many of us, I thought I might share my answers with a broader audience. Toward that end, I’d like to introduce you to three tools that I use regularly in my classes*. The first, and most popular among my students, is Kahoot. Kahoot is an online quiz game that can be helpful for student engagement and formative assessment. In it is simplest iteration, it is a multiple choice quiz game. The instructor projects questions on the screen in the front of the class; students select among the answers using their computers, smart phones, or tablets. Kahoot awards points for speed and accuracy, so even though I don’t use Kahoot for any official grades, my students are quite serious about it. I use Kahoot in two ways. First, I use it at the beginning of class to engage reading comprehension. I’ll ask questions based on the assigned reading to see how many students have prepared for class and how well they’ve prepared for class. Since I can pause indefinitely between questions, I’ll occasionally entertain discussion on the question if students are especially perplexed. Second, I use it in the middle or end of class to reinforce concepts that we discussed earlier. For example, the conceptual structures of jus ad bellum and jus in bello (aspects of just war theory) are a natural fit for formative assessment using Kahoot.

The second tool that I use regularly is Padlet. Padlet is a collaborative online bulletin board. As a teacher who likes to assign primary texts, I’m always looking for new ways to invite my students into a rich critical discussion of passages that they find difficult. One of my go-to strategies has been to break the class up into groups, assign each group a different passage, and then ask them to reproduce (formally or informally) the argument of the passage on the board. For example, when reading Mill’s Utilitarianism, I’ll divide up the objections in Chapter 2 and ask students in groups to make sense of their assigned objection and Mill’s response to it and then put their accounts on the board. Padlet replaces the whiteboard in this exercise. Once I’ve created a new Padlet board for the class, I project it on the screen in front (the bigger the screen the better) and I share a link through which all of them can access the board simultaneously. Students can post just about anything, including text, drawings, links, images and videos. Among the advantages of Padlet over the whiteboard is that the board that they create is saved on the website so that they can reference it later. Before I discovered this tool, I noticed that students were taking pictures of our whiteboards at the end of class. Padlet provides a better solution.

The third tool that I make use of in class is MeetingWords. Meeting words is a short-term group-writing starting point.  Everyone in a group can work on the same document at the same time; contributions are color-coded to the contributor; all changes are saved temporally so that you can see where you’ve been.  (There’s a temporal slider you can manipulate to show the document at different stages in its development.) Unlike a GoogleDoc, there’s no need to set up an account and your work is not saved beyond seven days.  I like to hold writing workshops in class in which groups can begin their group writing projects under my supervision. MeetingWords provides a great environment for exercises of this kind. In addition to drafting papers, groups might use the tool to build a to-do list, prepare a review sheet for test, develop joint lecture-notes or commentary, write a poem or song, and so on.

Beyond these three, there are a host of other digital tools out there that you might find useful—tools that go beyond traditional MS Office-styled applications. If you’re browsing, here’s a short list of other possibilities: Todaysmeet, Chatzy, Tagxedo, Wordle, AnswerGarden, PollEverywhere, Quizlet, Mindmeister, Popplet, Cmap, Formative, and Socrative. Some of these tools do just one thing; others accomplish a variety of tasks. All of them aim to capture advantages of the digital environment and improve student learning; most of them invite active participation on the part of the students. Some of these functions have been captured by various Learning Management Systems (e.g., Blackboard), but others are new—the smaller outfits behind these tools can sometimes be nimbler than the bigger, more integrated systems in terms of developing useful tools for the classroom. Hopefully you’ll find some of them useful to you. If there are other digital tools that you find useful that I haven’t mentioned here, we’d love a comment below describing them.

*Two disclaimers: First, I have no interests, financial or otherwise, in any of the tools that I mentioned above. I was introduced to many of them at a handful of sessions at a Teaching Professor Technology Conference several years ago. Second, the views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force Academy, the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.

Can you also help answer this question? Join the conversation in the comments below, email me, Mark Jensen, at PhilTeacherWorkshop@gmail.com, or participate in the APA Teaching Workshop on Facebook. Remember, the best answers are constructive and specific.

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