Chapter 11

Classroom Management Tools


The international biotechnology firm, Ecodiversities, Ltd., was looking to hire someone with a unique combination of skills and knowledge. They contacted the employment service PersonalProfiles who met with the manager in charge of hiring for this position. At a company workstation they input an initial profile of the knowledge and skills that they were looking for. No one was found that matched the profile in the current set of individuals seeking employment. Since they were looking for a person who might be a recent graduate or possibly about to graduate, the consultant from PersonalProfiles suggested that they use a new service that linked in with records of universities and colleges called "HyperRecordsware." This service matched the skills and knowledge profile with the academic programs and courses offered at each institution. They quickly found three graduate programs that sufficiently met the job requirements and fourteen universities that had the appropriate courses and would met the requirements if a student had happened to have taken that set of courses.

With the permission of the universities and the students involved, PersonalProfiles found that no one was available from the three graduate programs but that there were four individuals who had recently completed the appropriate course sequence for the job. After contacting and interviewing the four individuals, EcoDiversity Ltd. decided to hire Karitsa Norman, who accepted the offer. During the first six months of employment, Karitsa would receive training on company procedures and additional training to meet the requirements for the job. EcoDiversity Ltd., contacted LearningOnline, Inc. to generate the materials. LearningOnline took the knowledge and skills profile that had been previously generated by PersonalProfile, Inc., accessed the transcript for Karitsa from HyperRecordsware, and finally pulled all of the course materials and products from HyperCourseware for the courses that she had taken. From these, they determined three areas of knowledge that were lacking and pulled HyperCourseware materials generated at other institutions to complete her training.

Meanwhile, the educators at all of the institutions supporting HyperRecordsware were accumulating information on the knowledge and skills profiles of individuals sought by business, industry, and government. This information was dynamically used to generate new academic programs, consolidate or eliminate obsolete or redundant courses and programs, and to re-engineer course offerings as a function of current and projected need. Depending on the institution, programs varied from being highly market driven to scholastic driven. In the later case, educators emphasized the liberal arts, humanities, basic science, and the well-rounded education.

A central theme of this book is the idea of taking an overall, integrated view of the educational space. This involves much more than the integration of materials with a course; it involves the whole curriculum and ultimately society's need for educated men and women. These lofty ideals and the possibilities described in the scenario above cannot be achieved without a certain degree of design of software and databases to support the educational environment.

Consequently, this section ends with a discussion of tools for managing the mundane: class lists, files, and course information rather than with some innovative new teaching method in the switched on classroom. The problem is that if we cannot get past the drudgery of record keeping and relieve the instructor of the time consuming activity of maintaining information, there will be no time for innovative teaching. Probably about 25% to 40% of a typical teacher's time is spent, depending on the grade level, maintaining the class roster, taking attendance, recording assignments, recording grades, posting information about assignments, filing papers, retrieving notes and examples, filing course materials, etc.

There is a larger picture as well. The scenario above introduces the concept of HyperRecordsware, an integrated, on-line, accessible, complete database of information on courses, students, grades, etc. The totality of the educational process should be there for the instructors, administrators, students, and other restricted, interested parties. The conceptualization and generation of this database from K-12 to college and beyond requires careful thought. One cannot retrieve in the future what one did not think about storing in the past. Furthermore, the records must be easy to manage and impose no undo burden on the instructors, students, or administrators. The vast bulk of the information should be automatically and transparently collected and disseminated.

In this chapter we will look at only a tip of the iceberg. We will consider only the management of course materials, student records, files, and grades by the instructor. Ultimately, the whole picture must be considered all the way up to academic programs and institutions. Nevertheless, our journey will begin in one class in one classroom. We will consider a number of management and record keeping activities and what happens when they are hosted in an electronic environment. Unfortunately, it has not always been a pretty sight. Database programs, spreadsheets, and a host of programs have dealt with parts of the problem. Files, documents, and programs have been stored in folders and directories in hierarchical files structures. Things can get lost; things are hard to find; and the sheer burden of navigating through files can be frustrating to those who are not experts in computers and networks. To make matters worse, most programs have been one shot attempts to tackle one problem in isolation from everything else. For example, programs for averaging grades are wonderful but only after one copies in the grades output by another program. Simulations are compelling illustrations in class, but only after one has input all of the necessary input data and initial parameters.

Despite the added complexity of computers and electronic files, one of the goals of the switched on classroom is to facilitate the organization, storage, and retrieval of course materials and information. In principle, the electronic environment should be better and easier to use than the file cabinets, folders, grade books, indexes, and piles of materials in the paper based classroom. The compelling facilities and abilities of the electronic environment presented in Chapter 3 must be brought to bear in creating an educational environment that will achieve this goal. The following objectives and principles will seem obvious to many but are unfortunately absent in most educational systems:

* Minimal Entry Requirement: An item of information should only have to be entered once at most. If possible, it should be generated automatically from other information in the system. Information and records that are already in electronic form that are needed in some other part of the system should not have to be re-entered or even copied and pasted. At worst, they should only have to be confirmed. In a system based on hypermedia, this requires that there should not only be links from one node to another, but there should also be dynamic data exchange between components.

* Automatic Propagation: Changes and updates in records should automatically propagate themselves throughout the system where they are needed or stored. For example, when the instructor grades an exam and enters the grade on the electronic copy of the exam, that grade should automatically copy itself to the instructors grade list, and to the students list of his or her grades. When an instructor makes a correction to the lecture notes, that change should be propagated to any copies of the notes that the students have.

* Ease of Access and Retrieval: Information should be easy to access. It should not be buried at the bottom of an extensive hierarchical database; it should not require cryptic search commands; and it should not require leaving one environment to open up the information in another.

* Accessibility and Relevance: Information should be most accessible at relevant points in the course of traversing the materials. For example, as one is viewing the seating chart with the names of students, information on the students should be easily accessible by clicking on the student's names. Or when viewing a exam, the instructor should have access to the grades on that exam. When viewing the lecture notes for a class, the instructor should be able to access the students' feedback on that lecture.

* Relevance of Display Format: Records and other information should be displayed in a form that makes sense from the instructor's point of view. It should be organized according how the instructor is likely to scan the information. For example, if the instructor is looking up a student's record, it is likely that he or she will be accessing it alphabetically by last name rather than by the student's identification number.

In this chapter we will explore tools specifically for managing course materials, class rosters, attendance, and seating charts in HyperCourseware.

Management of Course Materials

Course materials include lecture notes, examples, exercises, readings, assignments, and exams. Each is organized as an interrelated set with links between them. Rather than accessing files and information using a file manager, HyperCourseware seeks to organize and access course material by its function in the course and its relation to other information.

Instructors vary greatly in the way in which they prepare for teaching a course. At one end of the continuum, some instructors generate only an outline of the topics to be covered in a course. Lectures are fairly impromptu discourses on each topic. At the other end, some instructors compose detailed notes, extensive sets of examples, and a number of presentation aids for each lecture. At either extreme, the information conveyed originates from the study of the material.

In the switched-on classroom, course preparation can be facilitated in a number of ways. Access to information, references, examples, and demonstrations should be faster and more extensive as more and more materials are available in electronic form. Vast amounts of materials are rapidly being switched on-line in nearly every subject from physics to English and from Japanese poetry to art history. Both commercial and noncommercial sources abound with materials on available on disk, CD-ROM, and over the Internet. It is becoming easier and easier to access and retrieve these materials. As always the problem has been how to organize and present the material in a logical, coherent, and seamless way that positions the material and the learning process in center stage and keeps the software, links, and cues backstage.

As indicated in Chapter 5, the course syllabus is one of the major organizing tools in HyperCourseware along with lesson plans for each day. The switched-on syllabus links the dates of class sessions to lesson plans, lecture material, readings, assignments, and exams. Figure 11.1 shows the hypermedia links that provide this organization.

Figure 11.1 A model of course preparation in which course material is organized around the model of class lectures represented as a nodes in the hypermedia database.

Material may be located by navigating any of these links. In addition, it may be possible to find material using a string search in text fields. For example, the student remembers that somewhere the instructor mentioned Pascal's Triangle in a lecture. The string "Pascal" could be input as the search string and used to find screen showing the use of Pascal's Triangle for finding combinatorials in a lecture on the binomial distribution. Moreover, as material is developed, the authors may generate indexes and keywords to provide access to the material from other directions. In the long run the management, cataloging, linking, and retrieving of course materials at the individual, institutional, and world wide level will be a formidable task and well be the work of digital librarians of the future.

Management of Records

The next type of management that must be switched on in the classroom has to do with all of the record keeping that is a part of the educational process. Some of this was addressed in the previous chapter. This includes the class roster, information about the students, attendance records, and grade sheets. In the switched-on classroom additional records may be required such as account names, passwords, names of student directories, and usage records.

HyperCourseware maintains one master file of student names. It contains: last name, first names, common or nickname to be used in class, pseudonym for anonymous input, student ID number (generally the social security number), account name (when required by the server), password, and directory path to student file space. An example of this file is shown in Figure 11.2. Once this master file is set up, it is used by HyperCourseware to find information, link information to the student's file space, and access information in class roll, grade list, etc.

Figure 11.2 Screen for entering master file of accounts.

The master file can either be generated in a very controlled manner by the instructor (or by the records office of the school) or it can be generated on the fly by students who input their own information once they have been assigned an account name, password, and student file space. In either case, the students themselves must input their own nickname, pseudonym, and password.

Once this information is stored in the master list and also disseminated in the student file space, it is used whenever the student logs into the switched-on classroom, submits work, or interacts in any way with others in the classroom. For example, when each student logs in, his or her name appears on the class seating chart. The instructor can see the names of all of the students at each workstation in the classroom as they come on line. Furthermore, teachers and administrators can view all of the classroom seating charts, as well as students logged into remotely or in computer labs. Seating charts in the classrooms can be viewed either from the instructor's perspective (Figure 6.11) or from the student's perspective (Figure 6.12).

Managing Attendance and Seating Charts

Seating charts can be used as hypermedia links to additional information about the students. For example, if a student clicks on the name of a classmate, HyperCourseware can display the picture and personal statement of the student from the class roll (Figure 6.10). If an instructor clicks on the name of a student, an option is provided to either view the personal statement, the current grades of the student, or other record information on the student. Thus, the seating chart is can be used a navigational link to student information.

Finally, seating charts and spatial location of students and instructors in the classroom are important concepts not only for the instructor but also for the students. In many classes it is difficult to get to know the students by name. While some instructors have either an uncanny ability to remember names or make a very concerted effort to do so, others struggle with it. The seating chart is one tool to facilitate the use of names in the classroom by the instructor and aid in the association of faces and names.

The seating chart is an important tool for the students as well. We are very much creatures of space. We need to know where people are, who's around us, and where we are located in the midst. In a survey on classroom activities of students (Norman, 1993), students spent a lot of time scanning the classroom, seeing where friends were sitting, and deciding were to sit. Creating a electronic copy of the classroom seating chart and making it available to the students is an essential part of the switched-on classroom.

Instructors are also very conscious of the physical layout of the students in the class. Since students generally sit in the same spots, the instructor and scan the room with an expectation of seeing who is there and who is missing. While attendence can be charted on an individual basis, it can also be viewed as a pattern of class composition. The seating chart can be retreived for each day to view the students present in their seating position; or attendence charts can be viewed over time similar to the login chart seen in Figure 10.3.

It is well known that most learning is context dependent. The retrieval of information is dependent on the context of its original storage. If a student learns an association between the Baroque period and the artist XXX in course ART 301, in room ASC 2140, from Dr. Holstein, sitting between Tom to the left and Suzy to the right, retrieval of that association will best be achieved in that same situation. While it may be difficult to recreate that context years hence, it can be partially recreated in a virtual sense by displaying the seating chart and other related course context. Stepping into the course material through HyperCourseware helps to re-establish the context of the material. The spatial location of the class is a key component to this context.

We can also use the association between a course and the classroom to further enhance the relationship. When a student or teacher goes at certain time to a certain classroom, it is for a specific course. Course information can then be retrieved by slots on a weekly schedule (2:00 to 2:50 MWF) and the spatial location of the classroom (ENG 3140) as well as by its name (Cognitive Psychology) and course number (Psyc 440). One would find information about a class by starting with a campus map, clicking on the building, then clicking on the classroom, and clicking on the time. This would be very time consuming if one had to consider all buildings, all classrooms, and all scheduled times. However, since instructors and students are only concerned with at most 6-8 classes, each step can be highly abbreviated by displaying only the buildings containing the classrooms in which the instructor or student is scheduled.


As the mass of information accumulates that can be gathered and stored in the switched-on classroom increases, the methods of organization, storage, and retrieval of that information become extremely important. School libraries with catalogues, stacks, and reference rooms will be replaced with mass storage and servers. Course catalogues and schedules of classes will be on-line. Course materials, textbooks, and lecture notes will all be electronic. Grades and registration records are already computerized. Over the coming decades, the amount of this information will be incredible. It will be a problem for administrators, faculty, students, alumni, and the general public.

In this chapter we touched on some of the issues relevant to managing this mass of information. First, there are a number of players from students to administrators interested in this information. Second, there are a number of principles that should be used to guide the development of this systems. Finally, there are a number of aspects in addressing this information. The information may have to do with course content (e.g., the syllabus, lectures, assignments), student information (e.g., the class roll, grades), and events in time and space (e.g., the seating chart). Similarly, the information may be organized and retrieved around such themes. The educational environment will ultimately succeed or fail as a result of how it manages information.

Exercises and Projects

1. Security of records is an extremely important issue in academics. Who should have access to the records and materials.? What are the concerns from the viewpoint of the students, the viewpoint of the instructors, and the viewpoint of the school administrators? What safeguards are needed in the system to protect the students?

2. Do you think that there should be a national/international standard for academic records? What are the pros and cons to standards?

3. Design a user interface. (a) Organize around degree programs: design a user interface for the course catalog for your school that would allow students to start from a selection of a degree program and go to required and elective courses; (b) organize around student course schedules: design a user interface to allow students to access course material from their schedules; or (c) organize around the physical location of classrooms and buildings: design a user interface to allow anyone to select a location and time and access information in a classroom.

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