#ITActive – first ‘students completely decide what’s going on’ class

interactive IT class

This past friday I finally had the time to realize a class I was dreaming of for a long time. A completely student oriented and student steered IT class. It was a success on some levels but also a little disappointing on others. However the disappointments also let to some ‘aha moments’ that will help me to improve this kind of class or my teaching style in general. Hopefully.

Intro to IT class

Let’s break down what happened past friday. Fridays I teach a class called ‘Information Technology And Its Applications’ for students from all different kinds of major subjects. This class is part of their ‘general education’ program and kind of mandatory. Hence there are not only IT students in class but also International Business, International Relations & Development, Politics, Asian Business Management, etc….students in class. Therefore I figured it is even more important to make those IT classes ‘cool’ and fun in order to keep the attention span of those non IT students up.

This, obviously, doesn’t work every single day but kinda seemed to work out quite ok. We talked about Augmented Reality and other cool IT stuff and when it came to some more ‘boring’ topics like Databases I asked some of my friends who do this stuff professionally to give interactive online lectures via skype. Also a great success. It’s all about being different and even making those boring things fun.

#ITActive – interactive student steered class

On my quest on finding fun and new teaching approaches one idea popped into my mind and I was waiting for a long time to give it a try. Since my IT classes on Friday are pretty cool though I thought I can give it a try there.

Class description:

interactive it class

interactive it class

Students had to gather in groups and think about IT topics that they are interested in and what they would like to understand. No matter how strange, weird or futuristic it might be.

Every group had a few minutes to think about their topic and prepare an initial presentation in which they should describe their topic briefly and explain why it would be beneficial to learn something about it. After those presentations we would have 3 minutes to vote (electronically). The group with the least amount of votes would be the ‘biggest loser’ and have to separate and join forces with the winning teams.

Those winning teams then would have some more time to dive deeper into their chosen topic and try to convince the audience in a second presentation of the necessity to study about this topic.

In the end there would be last group standing. This ‘winning’ group would then be declared the representative of each course (I give to courses in the same subject due to a huge amount of students). The same would then happen in the second course.

Every winning team of each course would then have to create a short promo video in which they explain and introduce their topic and once again try to convince the audience (this time users of my facebook page facebook.com/SaschaFunk) to vote for them. The video with the most votes would then be chosen as final topic for our final class this semester. Meaning I would have to prepare this topic and teach students how those things they want to understand work.

Right now I am waiting for the videos to be finished so I can put them up on my facebook page. Once it’s done there will be a few days of voting and then I have to prepare the final class. I’m already excited to see what the audience will choose.

Pros and Cons

Like I said in the beginning there have been pros and cons to this approach. The biggest negative point: Students aren’t used to this kind of ‘freedom’ and hence didn’t work very well in the beginning. It took quite some time to make them understand what I want from them and how they should work and prepare.

The pro side however is also interesting to see. Firstly I saw how students work with so much ‘freedom’. Usually teachers work the other way around and set them under pressure (I do that to sometimes of course) but this newly gained freedom was something they had to learn to handle first and it was interesting to see how they do it.

Secondly the teamwork spirit needed to be implemented and it was also interesting to see how that took place. Finally, by researching their topics of interest briefly they showed each other many different aspects of IT and figured out that there is so much more to IT than boring Excel….

Why?

There are so many reasons why I chose this kind of class at that time. One example is that I’m teaching a basic IT class there and see that students are very often not even able to use search engines properly. Hence this assignment to make them use Google or vertical search engines the ‘right’ (more academic) way. Furthermore students have to learn to work without ‘immediate pressure’ and stop only learning by heart. They have to understand how things work and not just study that they work. That’s something, especially in Thailand, that is quite hard to realize.

Bottom Line:

Would I do it again? Yes! I would change some things of course, give the assignment in a slightly different way but I am still convinced that giving students freedom is the way to go. The obviously need guidance and even some pressure once in a while (since we don’t live in an easy going wonderland out there in the real world) but freedom and creativity shouldn’t be forgotten.

The group that had to present at first was so scared to make mistakes that they didn’t dare to start and to go out on stage. I had to get quite angry with them until they finally went out and presented the first topic of the day. Afterwards the students said they were just to scared to make mistakes and say something wrong…..that’s something that is, especially over here in Asia, a big problem. Students are entitled to mistakes. It’s their job to make them. They just shouldn’t be scared of it.

Be creative, take risks, fail, learn from your failure, take risks again, fail again,…,succeed!

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