Entering the Research Game – Computer Literacy Among Undergrads

My wife and I recently had a new baby, so I decided not to lecture my VBA course this summer and I ended up having only 6 weeks of layoff, which I am currently enjoying.

I go back to work August 25 and while due to certain complications I’m not sure yet if I’ll be lecturing a computer literacy course in September, I do have to get started on doing some more “professorial” type things if I want them to be done before classes start.

Over the past few years as a lab instructor I have been collecting data on my student’s level of computer skills and interactions at the beginning of the first year service course. The data I find is quite interesting, and I had it configured as a “quiz” in Desire2Learn so it will give students a “score” out of 100. It is interesting to see how their scores average less than 50, but really is to be expected considering it is based on material they are supposed to learn in the course.

But in order for me to be able to publish this information, I had to complete the TCPS 2 Core tutorials and will have to make sure my survey passes our ethics board approval. I’m a little nervous but since the data I collect will be anonymous and mostly for diagnostic purposes, I don’t expect there to be any problems getting approval. I just have to sit down and get to work on completing the proposal and updating the questions. Technically, this also means I can never post the data from the past 6 years I’ve been running the survey, but at least it will finally give me a base to start with, and I can always just look at the old data for fun 🙂

Today I stopped by to see my friend and colleague Karljürgen and we discussed his boat, among other things.

And then later today I spent time doing more of what takes me away from chatting and research, but I guess that’s ok too.

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Using Social Media in Higher Education Part I

I’ve been planning on putting a presentation together on this topic, using social media in higher education, and thought it would be good to put some thoughts down and perhaps get feedback from people.

I currently have a recurring part-time position as a lecturer for a second year university course. It is a computer programming course in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) – the language used to write macros in Excel and Word. I helped create the lab portion of the course when it was first created in 2007, when it was taught in Visual Basic (.NET). In 2010 when it was converted to only cover VBA, I did everything from choose the textbook (after some direct recommendations from my departmental Chair of course) to essentially re-write the labs and create lecture notes… the textbook did not come with it. So I now lecture the course and teach the labs, as no other faculty member usually wants the course. Besides, not many Computer Science PHDs write in VBA 🙂

Last year I tried something different. I started teaching the course and providing lab material through a WordPress.com blog (the blog is called CP212XLApps). My students are primarily second year students, some major in computer science, some major in business and most are finance and computer science double degree.

Some of you may find this remarkable, but of course most of my students did not post any blog comments or otherwise utilize the “social” aspect of the blog. I think partly it has to do with the fact that I never provided any marks for doing so, but also the fact that students in general don’t REALLY take part in blogs or the general miasma that is social media. All they really do is use Facebook. If you are an educator and attend all sorts of lectures or talks on using social media to interact with your students, check first: Do they actually use it, and do they want you to?

I also recorded every lecture using a voice recorder, and provided the .mp3 files to my students. I placed them inside our learning management system so only our students could access them, and provided very clear instructions that the students were not to post the files anywhere else.

As an added bonus, I created a weekly video update and started each video with a clip of me saying “If you missed class this week, here is what you missed,” and I included videos or PowerPoint slides reviewing the material that was covered. The students seemed to enjoy both the audio files and the videos and found them very useful. (FWIW, here is one of them dealing with consolidating data in Excel.)

I eventually got too frustrated with taking my original HTML teaching material and trying to fit them into the WordPress templates, so I just resorted to linking to my original files but all in all it worked out well. I’m very technically oriented (as you might have guessed), so for me putting together web pages in Dreamweaver is really the simplest approach that works the best for me.

All in all it was a good experience, but I didn’t do it again this year. Stay tuned for my next post in which I explain how things are going this term.

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