Managing the digital workspace triple of Schoology, OpenStax, and Desmos in Algebra and Trigonometry

This summer MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry is running a pilot experiment where the course is supported by an online triple of technologies. The course is using the OpenStax Algebra and Trigonometry text, homework is being done with the support of the Desmos online graphing calculator, and submitted using Schoology Basic. Working on homework requires that students juggle three digital workspaces.

I have chosen to reproduce the homework in Schoology using both text copy and screen image capture techniques. This is made particularly easy on the ChromeBase running ChromeOS at home as well as the iMac I use at the college. Generating screen region captures on a Windows machine seems to be one step more complex as this requires use of the Snipping Tool.

(Note that Angelina Wacngin is a fictitious name)

For word problems I copy and paste the text. Bear in mind that the text is licensed under a Creative Commons -by 4.0 license, thus as long as I provide attribution this is legal under the license.

Recommendations for student management of the technology triple 

Although the pilot is in the very earliest of days, the students and I are already finding ways to leverage screen space real estate and the capabilities of the technologies. 

The students have found that using the Create tab in the Schoology assignment submission system allows them to save work in progress as a draft, and easily resubmit assignments where permitted to do so. When the student clicks on "Submit assignment" the dialog box opens to the "Upload" option which encourages students to attempt to do their work in an external package such as Microsoft Word. 

The upload option does not work well because during work on the assignment the external document has to be saved to detachable hardware such as a flash drive. I recommend that the students use the Create tab in the assignment submission dialog box, the second tab.

Create is a mini-word processor allows the students to type answers to the questions. The Create dialog box even has the ability to generate superscripts and subscripts. At any point the student has the option to Submit the assignment or Save Draft which saves a draft copy in the Schoology cloud, no detachable hardware (think flash drive) required. 

Note that Desmos can save graphs as images...

...which can then be incorporated into the submission in the Create assignment tab.

The Schoology Create assignment tab also includes, among other tools, a mathematical equation editor for inserting mathematically typeset equations into a student's assignment.

There is effectively no need for a student to turn to outside tools to get an assignment done.

If a student has saved a draft of their assignment, the student can reopen their draft and continue their work from the "Edit Draft" button at any time from any Internet connected computer. 

After an assignment has been marked, if the student used the Create tab to produce the assignment then the student can generate a New draft which retains the work in the earlier submission. The student can then edit the New draft and re-submit their assignment. These capabilities to save drafts to be worked on later and to generate new drafts from submitted and graded assignments make use of the Create dialog box a far more powerful tool than any externally generated document system.

I teach the students to use the Windows-right arrow and Windows left-arrow keys to split their screens so that they can see at least two screens at once. Ideally one would want a "3x1" screen to allow triple splits.

Some of the students have downloaded the Desmos app to their smartphones and do their calculations and graphing over on their phones, effectively increasing the available screen space. Other students have opted to download a PDF version of the text to their smartphones and use that as a second screen.

As I noted to the students, Larson eighth edition retails for $165, the tenth edition is now $237 without shipping, and a TI-84 graphing calculator is retailing around $104. The screen shot above was taken on a Motorola Moto G4 Play that cost $161 with shipping. Think of a smartphone as an algebra and trigonometry textbook combined with a graphing calculator that happens to include a cell phone.

An algebra and trigonometry with built-in telephonic capabilities

Thus I encourage the students to use what funds they have to acquire technology - smartphone, tablet, or ChromeBook. The textbook, the graphing calculator, all come free with the technology. The smartphone also then becomes an additional screen. 

Students can also learn to use keyboard shortcuts such as alt-tab to switch among their open windows more efficiently. 

Managing what is effectively a three to four window digital workspace can be challenging. Students are likely to have open Windows to display the homework assignment in Schoology, the Create dialog box in Schoology, Desmos, and the OpenStax textbook with the explanation and examples. Younger students are perhaps more familiar with managing multiple windows, switching between SnapChat filters, Instagram stories, Messenger, and FaceBook. Older students often have less experience with managing multiple open windows and find the experience more challenging. The students are predominantly younger and more tech savvy. Maybe the older students would benefit from 21:9 monitors, providing the screen real estate needed to lay out all of the key materials.


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