Teaching with the Lonely Tablet

Recently I set out to design some information literacy lesson plans for a classroom scenario where the instructor has an iPad (and a way to project it) and students have a variety of their own devices–mostly laptops with a sprinkling of tablets. I wanted to create lessons that ran smoothly in a BYOD classroom (or a traditional library desktop/laptop classroom), while also:

  • Engaging students and encouraging active learning
  • Using the iPad differently than a regular instructor computer, as opposed to just reproducing browser-based instruction.

tabletAs we all know, the thing about using any kind of technology in library instruction (especially of the one- or few-shot variety) is that tech hiccups can cost you valuable time and shatter your attempts at creating a quick rapport with students.  Most of what I’ve been reading about BYOD classrooms is geared toward (K-12) teachers who have the same students for a semester or a year.  They can ask students to download apps, and ten minutes of tech meltdown, while not great, doesn’t rob them of twenty percent of their total time with students.  So, as usual, library instruction adds a level of complication to the teaching scenario.  All of the activities I share in the post are designed so that students can participate instantly, without having to download an app or sign up for an account.  At most all they have to do is click a link.

I designed the following activities for a “guinea pig” session with my colleagues (except for #5, which I thought up after the session).  I haven’t tried them out with actual students, but they worked with a roomful of librarians.  I’ll provide more details and discussion below (as well at the libguide I made for the librarian session)  But if you’d like a quick glance, here is a slideshow that outlines each type of activity:

Ok, so more deets.  The first two are pretty obvious, but it gets a little more wild after that.

1) Instant Whiteboard (or Chalkboard)
This is a super-simple way to record a class discussion.  Use a whiteboard app just like you would a normal whiteboard.  There are tons of whiteboard apps out there, but I’ve experimented with Lensoo Create (best backgrounds, but the only way to save your work is a screenshot), Inkflow (most natural writing tool, but no extra colors or backgrounds), and Baiboard (lots of colors and pens, weird erasing tool). (See screenshots of each app here).

This would be a good activity if you’re using the iPad for the entire class and you want a way to move seamlessly from one activity to another.  It’s easier for students to see than a normal whiteboard, and if you don’t have an actual whiteboard in your classroom this is a good replacement.

2) Instant Class Feedback
Use the iPad to display results from a poll or quiz that students respond to on their own devices.  These three apps have different functions, so I’ll talk about them each individually.  To participate in any of these quizzes, students just need to click a link (which you can embed in a Libguide).

Poll Everywhere – The app is less robust than the web-based version, but also quicker.  Students can respond easily long as they have a link to your Poll Everywhere page (which is always the same and you can see on the poll).  The app only does “on the fly” polls at this point, so you have to give students the question orally and they respond based on the answers choices you’ve created.

Socrative – Socrative makes it easy to design quizzes, ask a quick question , turn your quiz into a race game, or give students an “exit ticket” asking what they learned and how they felt about it.  You can create and save all your quizzes right on the app (or on the website).  To participate, students just need a link to the student login page, where they must enter the name of your classroom (which you can choose) and their name (unless you have chosen to do an anonymous quiz).  Socrative also produces data about class and individual perfomance each time you run a quiz.  You can view it in the app, or have it sent to your Google Drive or email.  You could even send the professor a spreadsheet of student responses.  Basically, Socrative is robust, well-designed, and classroom-friendly.

Kahoot – Kahoot is not an app, but it runs well from a tablet.  It is the most game-like of these three.  As students answer the questions, it gives them points and displays a leader board.  You design a quiz in Kahoot, then start it from your account.  Students go to kahoot.it and enter the unique game PIN that appears on your quiz (it’s different every time).  I think Kahoot is the most fun and visually interesting–it’s easy to add pictures to your questions and the design encourages competition.

3) Paper to Digital
During the librarian session this seemed to be the favorite activity.  It was easy, seamless, and successful.  Give students any kind of paper-based activity–a worksheet, or preferably something more visual like a keyword brainstorm or a mind map.  For the demo, I blatantly stole an exercise from Silvia Lu (see a picture of her work here on pp. 10-11).  For this activity, students are in three groups, each with a different set of evaluation criteria (time to write, ease to read, research used to support argument).  Each group has the same set of sources, the usual suspects (news article, scholarly article, blog, tweet, Wikipedia, etc), but with a screenshot of an actual source.  They have to arrange them in order of least to most (easy to read, time to write, amount of research).

It’s a great exercise in and of itself, but the iPad added another dimension to the discussion. Each group took the iPad, used the camera to display their arrangement on the big screen, and discussed their decisions for the class without having to come to the front of the classroom or anything scary like that.  It’s a great way to share classroom power with students.

A word to the wise: lock the screen in one direction before you start the activity.  One librarian guinea pig commented that it “got a little Blair Witch” as the tablet was being passed around.  We don’t want anyone to get motion sick and barf.

4) Collective Writing and Editing
This exercise involves using a collaborative whiteboard so that the whole class or small groups can write on a document together.  This was definitely the trickiest exercise during the librarian guinea pig session, but I would still try it with a class.

The app I used for the demo was Groupboard, which allows you to create an unlimited number of shared whiteboards.  It works well within the app, but it will also work on any web browser.  Groupboard generates a link for each board, which you can paste into a Libguide to give students access. Tricky things about Groupboard include: it’s limited to five simultaneous users, it doesn’t work on a tablet without the app (meaning that students would have to use regular computers only to access it), and once you erase something you can’t get it back.

I thought of two activities to do with Groupboard:

  • Works Cited Race (Full Class)

On a single Groupboard, have groups of students race to identify the most sources by type on a real works cited page (example).  Upload a picture of a works cited page to the Groupboard, then give students a small card with a list of “codes” for each type of source (J for journal article, BC for book chapter, etc).  Give each group a different color to write with (based on the ink colors available in Groupboard).  Set a timer for two minutes, and have students identify sources in their group’s color.  Tally up who got the most right, and discuss any mistakes.

  • Title Page IDs

Make a Groupboard for several small groups, each with a different journal article title page uploaded to it (example).  Give students a card with different types of info and a corresponding color (author’s name = yellow, journal title = blue, etc).  Have students circle each piece of info on the Groupboard with the right color.  Show each group’s work on the big screen to discuss.

5) Collective Mind Mapping

After the librarian demo session I found another collaborative whiteboard that I like, A Web Whiteboard.  It’s not an app, but it works well on a browser on any device.  It’s like Groupboard, but I think the interface is easier to use.  The only difference is that you can’t upload a picture to it, which means the two activities in #4 wouldn’t work.  I was brainstorming other types of collective writing activities and came up with this:

  • Group Mind Mapping

Use A Web Whiteboard to draw a basic mind map about a topic, with one subtopic per group in the class (example).  You could do this before class, or during class using student-suggested topics.  Assign each group one of the subtopics and give them a link to the whiteboard.  Have each group add to their subtopic on the mind map, then come together for class discussion.  During discussion you could make connections between different parts of the mind map, identify good keywords, talk about narrowing a topic, etc.

6) Original Content from Students

Have students use their own devices to take pictures of themselves exploring library resources, perhaps in response to a list of open-ended prompts.  Ask them to email the pictures to you, or (better yet) have them post the pictures to Instagram.  The Instagram option would involve one of these scenarios:

  • Have students use their own Instagram accounts and give them a unique hashtag to assign to all their pictures.  During discussion, use Instagram on the instructor iPad to search for the hashtag and look at the pictures.
  • Have students log out of their own Instagram account and log into the library’s, then post pictures directly to the library account.

I think the second scenario would be more doable, and I’ve talked to librarians who have adapted the activity this way with success.

I developed this activity at my old library and it was really successful (although student groups each used a library iPad).  For more info, see this presentation, blog post, and (coming soon!) an article in IRSQ (which I’m happy to say includes several citations from Urban Dictionary).

I thought a lot about other ways to have students share original content, but I haven’t come up with anything else yet.  The wheels are still turning, though.  Stay tuned.

7) Using Apps to Prompt Discussion

Display an app on the big screen and use it to prompt class discussion.  Here are some of my ideas, but I’m sure there are many other options:

  • Search for a hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.  Ask/discuss how hashtags are like controlled vocabulary in the library catalog or a database.  Demonstrate what happens when you click on a subject heading or descriptor (spoiler alert: it’s similar to hashtags, except you can discuss the difference between crowdsourced organization and the organization predetermined by the library gods).
  • Pull up your local Yik Yak.  Ask/discuss how Yik Yak is similar to scholarly conversations (ex: upvotes are like peer review, original thought is valued (as shown by general disdain for reposts). There are lots of simultaneous conversations in different communities (on Yik Yak these are literal geographic communities, but you can compare it to different disciplines or schools of thought within disciplines). Along those same lines, different communities have ongoing conversations or use words or ideas that outsiders wouldn’t recognize (on the CNU Yik Yak students love to talk about columns, our president they nicknamed P-Trib, and a student they call Violin Guy who roams campus playing violin).  Students might come up with more once you get them started.  And it will blow their minds that you know what Yik Yak is.
  • Compare a database app (like Article Search or JSTOR) or one of the Wiley Spotlight apps (I heart these bigtime) to a regular library database.  Use the comparison to sneakily teach search strategies, and also to have a discussion about issues of accessibility and the Open Access movement.

8) Apps for Flips and Follow-ups

This is another category where I think there are endless possibilities, but so far I’ve only come up with one thing.  ThingLink, to be exact–a great app that allows you to create interactive pictures.  You could create one that’s a screenshot of a database with explanations of different functions, or a page of an academic article identifying the main argument or different pieces of a lit review.  You can add text, video, and urls to the pictures–so if you were feeling really fancy you could even make videos of yourself, or link to existing library videos.

You could use this in a flipped classroom as a tutorial before class, or you could embed it in a Libguide as a point-of-need reference for students after class.


So, that’s a lot of ideas.  Overall, I’ve found The Lonely Tablet conundrum to be quite inspirational.  It’s led to exercises that I would never have considered if I had a whole class set of tablets for students to use.  I can’t wait til classes start up next semester so I can try some of these out!