Teaching with Apps

Saira Mall–Educational Technology Liaison, CTSI

In early April, UofT launched Mobile Learn, Blackboard’s app through which students can receive course notifications and information about their courses.  With the launch I was wondering what apps are especially useful in supporting teaching.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Jeffery Young (2011) who identified the 6 Top Smartphone Apps to Improve Teaching, Research, and Your Life.  Young based his app suggestions on scenarios people mentioned most often: taking attendance (Attendance ), reading scholarly articles (Dropbox, Evernote and Goodreader), reading notes (JotNot Scanner), using textbook tools (CourseSmart), and mind-mapping for planning lectures (Mindblowing and MindJet).  A few are free some may require a fee to purchase. Young also noted:

Some of the most innovative applications for hand-held devices, however, have come from professors working on their own. They find ways to adapt popular smartphone software to the classroom setting, or even write their own code. (January 2, 2011)

Mobile UofT (mobile.utoronto.ca) has been launched for all faculty, staff and students to submit ideas for developing mobile apps.  If you have an idea for an app contact Mobile UofT and connect with mobile experts who can help you develop it.  You can also showcase your app project on the web site or view current mobile projects at the University.  A range of UofT apps are available for download from the web site that have been created by instructors and students including MyVoice, U of T Map, UTM Mobile, UTSC Campus and UTL Mobile.

If you are searching for ways to incorporate apps that enhance teaching and learning, MERLOT has created the Mobile Learning Apps Collection. Their catalogue consists of open educational resources and commercially-produced apps.

We want to hear your ideas on developing apps that support teaching! Once you’ve assessed your app needs contact Mobile UofT at http://mobile.utoronto.ca/contact.  We’d love to feature your project, find resources and help you with mobile development platforms.

Focus on Faculty: Engaging Students with Extra Credit Projects

For many chemistry students, organic chemistry is a course that forms the basis of the rest of their program, and can be an intimidating and challenging subject. To Lana Mikhaylichenko and Effie Sauer, however, it is a subject filled with creative potential. So for them, finding ways for students to enjoy organic chemistry was about more than just fun: it was about turning around traditional course anxiety into true engagement with the subject.

When choosing the song assignment, some students create an original song, and others take a Pop song and adapt the lyrics. The major criterion to be satisfied is that the song must relate to a course topic: pi-bonding, nucleophilic reactions and resonance are popular topics to translate. There is now a large enough repository of songs produced that Sauer and Mikhaylichenko can play a different song video for each week of lecture. When students see the clips, “they light up”, says Sauer. “When they realize they’re watching their peers, it’s extra delight.” Word of mouth has travelled within the UTSC community and both Lecturers often hear second- and third-hand comments from students and faculty about the videos.

As a result of the improved engagement with the course material and their faculty, more students say that Organic Chemistry is a course they enjoy, which is what Sauer and Mikhaylichenko were hoping for. For them, the payoff has far exceeded expectations, resulting from a very small change in their curriculum. Mikhaylichenko puts it in terms of seeing teaching as a two-way process that should build relationships. “I didn’t change myself, just the way they see the learning.” Having previously worked with CHM B41, Sauer looks forward to teaching CHM B42 this summer because of the different topics to offer students. “I’ve been blown over,” she says. “I’ve learned that our students are awesome.”

Read more about the CHMB41/42 initiatives, and view more videos at CTSI’s Focus on Faculty.