I conducted observations at lectures for ECO 101, COS 340, COS 436, and PHY 211. I arrived early and sat at the back of the rooms in order to get a good understanding of what students were doing. Here are my findings:
- The behavior of early students is dependent to some degree on what type of class they’re at. Students in a small seminar are much more likely to spend time with material related to the class (e.g. checking over notes, talking with the professor, sitting attentively) than are students in a lecture (who are more likely to check emails/facebook/reddit and chat with the people around them).
- In the classes I looked at, 50% of the students arrived about three minutes before the start time, with a very long tail of students arriving as much as 10-15 minutes early. The teachers/instructors arrived an average of 10 minutes early, and tended to use that time entirely with getting the projector up and running properly.
- There’s frequently classes one after the other, and sometimes the previous one can run late. So, there’s no guarantee that there will be 10 minutes in the lecture hall available between classes.
- Most students (>75%) in lectures have laptops with them, unless they were explicitly banned by the professor. The proportion in seminars is much lower, around half.
- Most of the classes I observed had a projector and sound ready for use (with the exception of the broken sound in HCI lecture).
- Students tend to sit next to people that they know.
- Students tend to sit closer to the back of the lecture hall.
Brainstorming (with Peter Grabowski and Mario Alvarez):
- Interactive quiz show on lecture material beforehand. Correct answers win extra credit
- Soothing and/or energetic patterns to get you in the mood for lecture
- Survey about what you want to see in the lecture
- Slideshow of interesting topics in news or inspirational videos related to the topic of the class
- Everyone fills out a questionnaire, and an app directs you to sit next to someone new each day and gives you icebreakers
- Guided meditation – give instructions on how to meditate, play relaxing music
- Summary of previous content
- Physical art supplies, and the class together creates a communal piece of art
- Digital doodle-board, only available in the 10 minutes before class
- Digital collaborative music – an online sequencer that gets played over the speakers
- Parallelizable puzzles/challenges/problems for people to solve together. Precepts compete against each other
- Anonymously ask and vote on questions for the lecturer to answer, Reddit-style.
- Aggregate websites that people are looking at
- 10 minute lesson series (potentially related to course material, or not at all). Could be student taught or prof taught.
- Organized back massages. Odd rows give massages to even rows, then the reverse.
My two favorite ideas are the digital doodle-board and the organized back massage system. The digital doodle-board is fun because it gives the class a place to work together towards a common goal in a lightweight and self-rewarding way. The back massage system is similar in that it requires no external pressures to participate, and can serve as a useful icebreaker between classmates (as an added bonus, professors will like it because utility-maximizing students will prefer to sit in the front so that they receive massages but don’t have to give them).
I demoed my ideas with three students (James Martino at PHY 210, Jen Siegel at ECO 101, and Clay Whetung at COS 436).
I received some useful insights from the testing:
- The description on the splash pages could be made more informative to people who aren’t quite sure what the apps do
- It would be useful to have a list of other people doodling.
- People could be assigned different colors, which would make it clear who drew what, and also force collaboration (you draw the leaves with your green, and I’ll draw the trunk with my brown).
- Maybe there could be a room where anyone can draw even if they’re not between classes. However, that kills the artificial scarcity of limiting when people can play
- There’s a slightly weird big-brother effect of forbidding people from using the app while lecture is happening
- Back Massages
- Not everyone likes back massages – how to deal with people who don’t want to be involved? Maybe set aside a separate zone for them to sit in.
- Having two different times displayed is a bit confusing – maybe just show the time left for the current rotation
- For a big lecture hall, it’s easy to lose track of whether rows towards the back are even or odd. The professor could optionally input the number of rows, so that the app can count from the front and the back.
- The idea doesn’t work too well for some seminars, where students sit side by side
Images can be found here: