PALS Book Club: Intentional Tech, Intro-Chapter 3

Here at PALS we are on a bit of a kick with the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education series from WVU Press. Caitlin Kelly recently wrote about Geeky Pedagogy, and I have been reading Intentional Tech by Derek Bruff. As, I mentioned in the first post, I want to turn my reading of the book into a book club of sorts. For this post, I have read up to chapter 3; I will highlight a few points about the chapters below, and then, I have some questions that I have been thinking about and would love a wider response on. Instead of providing an overview of the structure and format of the book, I will weave some of those bits into the chapter descriptions. Feel free to respond in the comments below, and we will also post the questions on our PALS twitter to open up the space for more reactions.

Chapter 1: Times for Telling

The first chapter in the book is called “Times for Telling” and it is about, well, times for telling. By this Bruff means that we have to create situations for our students when they are ready to hear what we have to say on a particular topic and/or are ready to absorb the information from the textbook or other classroom source. We might give them a task, do an experiment, or play a game to show them where their “mental models” need to expand, i.e. the places where they need to learn.

The tech in this chapter covers classroom response systems, games in multiple mediums, and good old fashioned activities like causing a coca-cola eruption with mentos. The explanations of tech highlight one of Bruff’s main arguments, which is that tech does not have to be the latest, greatest and fanciest digital invention, but can be simple instruments that we bring into the classroom with clear goals in mind. This approach allows the reader to think creatively about Question 1:

Question 1: What is the simplest thing you use in the classroom that you both would consider a piece of intentional tech and that you have used for times of telling?

Chapter 2: Practice and Feedback

While I think most teachers would agree that students need to practice the skills they are learning and get feedback on those practices, we don’t always set up our course with those things in mind. For example, in my own teaching, our courses are very focused on summative assessment. This is something that I cannot actually change because of the structure of the program that I work in, but this chapter helped me think about how to add places of formative assessment into my classes even if I can’t adjust the overall structure.

Bruff also introduce the idea of the “all-skate” in this chapter. The term comes from the roller rink of his youth when everyone would be invited to participate in the skate. He argues for making all-skate opportunities in the classroom where everyone can participate instead of just a few. This can include have students write blogs that can be responded to in and out of class or having groups work with their own mini-projectors. The term all-skate is definitely a big takeaway for me from this chapter. It is not necessarily a new concept but a nice framing of it that helps me remember why it is important.

Question 2: What classroom activities can you revamp to make them more of an all-skate?

Chapter 3: Thin Slices of Learning

The third chapter is about not just concentrating on getting your students to the final products but seeing the in-between spaces of learning–both catching where your students might struggle with something and also seeing their moments of advancement and learning. One of the examples that Bruff uses to illustrate this is an example from Margaret Rubega’s class on ornithology at the University of Connecticut. To encourage her students to engage with the topic of studying birds in their everyday lives, she has her students tweet about birds they encounter in their daily comings and goings. This helped students build their knowledge but also make connections across the school and “real life” divide.

In this chapter and through, Bruff uses a lot of examples from other teachers across the U.S. I appreciated that he had a variety of examples from a variety of disciplines, but I also thought it was noteworthy that he identified everyone in his examples by first and last name and said specifically where they taught. It shows that he really values the ideas of others, and one of our big talking points at PALS is about how important it is to have a community of other teachers. It shows a lot about Bruff’s approach to thinking about teaching that he was always so clear about where and who his examples were coming from.

Question 3: Who is in your community of teachers? If you don’t have a strong community now, how might you work on building more connections?

As mentioned above, feel free to ruminate on the questions and answer below–or pitch a PALS guest post on one of the questions or a related topic! Also, let us know what you think on twitter.

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