What happened to the art of note passing?

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Daniel Schneider is a professor in the bachelor of public relations program at Humber College. He enjoys sailing, longboarding and strong espresso. When playing Kahoot!, he goes under the alias, Sam Manella.

Note passing is a dying art. For the millennial of the digital age who might not have truly experienced the act of note passing, I will take you back to my teen-tween years as a student in the mid-1980s. During class, we would write a note on a scrap piece of paper (usually something quite unrelated to the learning outcomes of the day), fold it and pass it to a friend. If we were unfortunate enough to get caught, we were asked to share it with the entire class. “I’m so happy that Johnny and Becky are hitting it off,” the teacher said. “Now I will see you in detention.”

What happened to the art of note passing? It went digital; the scrap of paper was replaced by the iPhone, and messages are constantly passed through texting, instant messaging and even live streaming. It’s common knowledge in the teaching profession that digital technology in the classroom is an enormous distraction and challenge, because we need to jump through hoops to keep the students’ attention. For the most part, when the technology has the ability to bring communities together from all corners of the Earth in real-time, it has ironically made this generation feel disconnected.

At Humber College, the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has identified an opportunity to integrate this digital technology into the learning experience. We could tap into a world of games, apps and interactive platforms all for the purpose of education. Furthermore, it provides a medium that students understand. CTL is doing a research study to identify how effective it is as a teaching tool. Firstly, does it help students to engage in the curriculum in an enjoyable way? And secondly, does it help them to learn anything?

As part of my Teaching Excellence Program (TEP) training, I sat in on the classes of two exemplary faculty from the bachelor of public relations program, Lydia Boyko and Anne Marie Males. I specifically observed their use of the digital platform, Kahoot!

Kahoot! is a polling tool. Basically, the professor projects a question onto the large screen, and the students must log in on their mobile device to answer them. As part of the entire package, there is upbeat game-show music, a time limit for each question, a gong when the time is up and even an element of competition. However, if you’re topping the chart one minute, you can just as easily get bumped the next. That’s showbiz kid, or better yet, that’s Kahoot! From my experience, class engagement is 100 percent every time; I’ve never seen anything like it.

Lydia used Kahoot! to engage students in a test review for her class in marketing communications. Test reviews are a challenge to make interesting at the best of times, but she managed to create informative questions that spark memory, understanding, application, analysis, evaluation and even some creation. Her quiz served every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which will lead to the heart of this essay.

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Anne Marie used Kahoot! for a different purpose; she is a program co-ordinator always looking for ways to serve the students better. In her internal communications class, she related the exercise to team building by asking questions like, “How long is your daily commute to school? How many hours do you work a week? How did you learn about our program?” These questions are pertinent to understanding the needs of our students so that we can create a more tailored curriculum and maintain a personalized connection with them. That addresses the second point of this article, the importance of creating a community in the classroom.

Something that I have been struggling with lately is how to get students to engage in more analytical and applied knowledge. They remember information; they understand it well, but they struggle to relate prior knowledge to new learning and to real-life situations. So, if we look at Bloom’s hierarchy, the students are strong on the first two levels, but how can I encourage them to move up the ladder? How can I get them to build on the information they are taught? How can I get them to be the creators of information? One answer is digital technology, and I’ve been using it.

The students know digital technology more than most of their professors do, and I’m OK with that. It empowers them when they can teach me a thing or two; that creates a higher order of learning. Furthermore, let’s look at the skills they are developing when engaging in a game of Kahoot!; in a multiple-choice survey, for instance, they are comparing and contrasting, weighing possibilities, exercising judgement and working as a team. When there is a time limit for each question, it forces the students to think quickly and rely on instinct. But most of all, when we learn in a state of play, our guard is down; we are more relaxed and our creative channels are open to the free flow of information.

The platform is doing exactly what digital technology was meant for us to do (before we lost that personal connection); it’s bringing us together as a community. When we see our pet names (or pet’s names) posted in the top five, we not only feel a sense of accomplishment, but we are connecting with everyone else in the classroom in real-time. It is a true online and offline experience all wrapped into one; we can’t distinguish where the virtual world begins and where the physical world ends.

There is an opportunity for class discussion between each question. I might ask, “Why is A correct and B incorrect? Why did you feel that the answer is all of the above?” I’ve even told the students, “You were actually very correct answering B; it’s just that A is a better answer in this particular context.” Sometimes on Kahoot! the questions can be a little black and white, but it opens the opportunity to discuss the grey areas. Somehow during a fun activity like Kahoot!, people are open to contributing ideas.

As for the note passing, I must confess that I feel a sense of nostalgia and a longing to bring it back old-school style. We could even turn it into a game of Kahoot!-gone-hardcopy. But, I will have the students create the rules themselves; it will make for a stronger learning experience.

As for Johnny and Becky, I wish them my very best in their new relationship. And I hope those who endured many hours of detention have finally seen the error of their ways. Now, I turn this discussion over to my fellow colleagues out there, “How do you engage your students?”


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