#astd2013, Hijacking technology to increase participant engagement with @larrystraining

It is always a pleasure to sit in on Larry Straining‘s presentations. He puts a lot of time and energy into making the presentations unique and informative; this presentation was no different. He began by encouraging us to tweet to #tu314 during the class. 

Straining pointed out that students are already bring the technology into the class. What we needed to do was change focus from external tasks to in class tasks. During the presentation, he focused on five tools commonly used that could be used in the classroom:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. QR Code
  4. Foursquare
  5. Pinterest

Although, having nothing to do with technology, I really enjoyed his use of spider graphs or radar charts to assess participant tool usage . Basically, he had us plot out our usage of the various tools on one of these graphs and reassessed our positions at the end of the workshop. At least, I think he did; I had to depart early from the presentation.


Straining started his talk on tools by focusing on Twitter. He began by discussing the Twitter backchannel. A backchannel is a way to follow a conversation relevant to a specific topic. Often the topics are filtered through the use of a hashtag or other keyword.

In the case that Twitter is being used in a classroom setting, participants can be grouped by pairing Twitter users with non-users so that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Twitter does not require a smartphone, it can be used on a feature cellphone by using the 40404 number. Twitter can also be used on computers. 

Twitter can be used prior to a session as a means to assess skill level and set expectations. During a session, it can be used to poll participants, assess understanding, and receive instant feedback. Twitter can also be used post session to continue the conversation and follow-up on questions.

Straining conducted a novel exercise to demonstrate the amount of information received on Twitter and the importance of filtering. He had all participants (over 100) stand up and simultaneously begin telling him about themselves… pure chaos. And then, through questions about a hobby, he was able to filter down the participants until he was able to listen to only one or two people. In this way, he was able to better follow the stream of information. He pointed out that a hashtag was used as:

  • identifier
  • filtering
  • sorting
  • reference
  • searching

Straining also showed off some tools to get the most out of Twitter. Again, SAP Web 2.0 was used to engage with the backchannel. He also demonstrated

He recommends using Alt-Tab to switch between presentation and Twitter tool while giving a presentation.

Here are some final thoughts on using Twitter in the classroom. First of all, Straining believes a backchannel is useful for a course or presentation. During virtual sessions, he recommended a facilitator monitor the backchannel thus freeing up the presenter. Finally, he pointed out that you archive the backchannel for later follow up.


Straining moved on to Facebook, LinkedIn groups, Google+ and similar tools as a way to organize student activity and build community.

QR Codes

The last section I had time for was QR codes. Straining pointed out that if students have a cellphone with a camera, they then have ability to use QR codes. Naturally, a QR code reader has to be installed.

When creating QR codes, he recommended using bit.ly to shorten the URL which results in more easily decoded QR codes. Also, test QR codes on different devices and with different QR code readers.

Straining has a wealth of ideas for using QR codes. He quickly recommended using them to link to surveys, quizzes, reviews, polls, videos, how to videos, lectures, guests, etc. You can also use them to distribute lecture notes, copies of presentations, reading material, source data, etc.

You can get more ideas from his book, Learniappe: 111 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes.

Unfortunately, this is where I had to leave. This was another enjoyable and informative presentation from Larry Straining.