Monday, May 31, 2010

Using Twitter on Field Trips

The other day I went on a field trip with a few classes of students to experiment with using Twitter to communicate. Here are a few of my thoughts.

  • Twitter is a good tool for allowing text message communication between teachers and students, and among students, without having to exchange mobile phone numbers.
  • Students are generally comfortable with the communication style dictated by the 140 character limit.
  • Only about a third of students signed up for Twitter accounts. Perhaps with more notice and class time this could have been increased.
  • Of those students, only a handful actively used it during the day. They mostly used it communicate with each other rather than with their teachers.
  • A number of students continue to use their Twitter accounts, in a similar manner to how they would use Facebook.
  • Not all students had mobile phones with text messaging plans, but a quick show-of-hands survey showed that most did. Students without text messaging plans were encouraged to be in a group with someone who did and had set up a Twitter account.
  • In a loud environment, users sometimes missed the notification of a text message.
  • HootSuite was a good tool for teacher use, allowing for the monitoring of multiple accounts and hash tags. As well, the pending tweet function allowed us to set up messages such as "The bus will be leaving in ten minutes" that would automatically post at the appropriate time.

It probably would have worked better for the classes to have been using Twitter earlier in the year for questions and/or backchannel conversation. Hopefully this would increase the number of users, and increase the students' comfort level.

In general, I think using Twitter to communicate with students on a field trip is a good idea, especially for field trips where the students are not generally together as a single group. I think it also has potential for use in class as a communication channel for student questions or comments during lectures, class work time, or even while students are at home working on assignments.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Document Camera From a Lamp and a Webcam

Not sure why we didn't think of this years ago, but it's quick and easy to attach a webcam to a balanced arm lamp (from Ikea or Walmart) in order to use as a document camera.

You could also use a flexible arm lamp such as this one.

In both cases I just drilled a 1/4" hole in the hood of the lamp. This allows us to use a 1/4" inch bolt to attach a camera that uses a standard threaded tripod mount. In the above pictures there is just a screw driven into the bottom of the webcam. We have two different higher resolution cameras on order, and we're going to see if we can fit a smaller camera inside the lamp hood for aesthetics.

It's nice to have the option of lighting your subject with the lamp part of this. We use compact fluorescent bulbs, so the hood shouldn't get too hot.

Feel free to comment if you have other ideas for cheap hardware hacks.