Teaching

Applications for Tinderbox in Teaching abound. Its role in making notes and assisting student research is easy to understand. Other tasks are more surprising, but no less essential.

Keith Peter Burnett uses Tinderbox for experimental curriculum design. The Tinderbox map (background, above) provides a workspace for exploring core ideas and conceptual linkage, permitting the instructor to reformulate student's conventional trajectory.

"By refactoring the Maths topics ruthlessly, I can get to a set of small hard nuggets of Maths (a sort of irreducible set of base vectors) that can be rearranged and strung together in different combinations to suit the learning styles of all the various students we see at College. To continue the analogy with Extreme Programming, I hope to associate a class time factor with each note so that you can price a route through a topic quickly."

Professor Charles Nelson (Kean University) finds Tinderbox valuable for keeping track of his students through the years.

As a professor, I have trouble remembering my previous students', their faces, and their names. So, just a few weeks ago, I created a Tinderbox file called classes. I take pertinent information (name, student ID #, and email address) from the class excel file, drag it into Tinderbox, and explode it, thus creating an individual note for each student within the "all classes" note. For those classes and students for which I had photos, I dropped them in the notes. All the class notes are contained in a general note called "classes," and I also created agents for different classes and an agent that sorts all students of all classes by their names to have different ways of finding particular students.

I haven't done it yet, but I'm considering adding other information such as grades and other information in the student notes. I sometimes get requests for references from students who took my class four years ago, and additional, specific information on what they did well in class will make it easier to write an appropriate reference letter.

At Miyazaki University, Prof. Hugh Nicoll faced unexpected complexity in managing his large American Studies lecture course. One exercise asked the students to form four or five-member research teams, and to collaborate in preparing a ten minute report. That meant, in the end, planning a small symposium with 33 reports! The Tinderbox map excels at conference planning, making it easy to try out session topics and experiment with different thematic arrangements.

"I took the schedule notes (on paper) back to my office, and created Tinderbox notes for each group including the leaders contact info, topic, and presentation date. Then in another one of those trivial but terrific Tinderbox moments, I created agents for each of the presentation dates (9 June through 14 July), and had the 33 groups sorted by weeks. Sending reminder emails to the group leaders, and keeping my notes on the student presentations will be wonderfully simple, and I can even use Tinderboxs linking features to remind me of the location of student group Powerpoint files, [and] add research recommendations."

Teaching

Tinderbox's adaptability in the face of unexpected change is highlighted in Interdisciplinary Approaches to Teaching Art in High School (Pamela G. Taylor, B. Stephen Carpenter II, Christine Ballengee-Morris and Billie Sessions, National Art Education Association, 2006). The new art classroom is a place of laptops and hyperlinks, populated by students to whom New Media are, quite simply, the media they have always known. One high school student writes that

I'll start something in the computer hypertext and then I discover something really exciting that may have influenced the artist in a particular work or something. So, I go to a book or the Internet and research that and then invariably I find something else that takes me in an entirely different direction. I just dont feel that I can know enough or find out enough anymore. I just doesnt stop! Elizabeth, p. 99

Taylor et al. emphasize that the question is not merely the shift to more use of electronic media, but the fundamental way that hypertext tools encourage students to draw new connections and to move fluidly between creative and critical modes.

The difference in our new scenario is that the flurry of activity is not limited to the making of art. Now, the activity also requires students to think about and link artworks with ideas and other reals of experience.

"As I work to evaluate my art education students' Tinderbox units," Taylor wrote during Finals Week, "I am constantly amazed at the power of hypertext to provoke them to think, create, and plan with so much more depth than they had before. They leave the class now with twelve super quality units and I can't wait to hear their teaching stories."

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