Tips from the Pros: Using Air Sketch in Hybrid and Online Courses

The flipped classroom reverses the traditional teaching formula by putting the “lecture” online and using class time for engagement with the material. But many faculty trip up when trying to find activities for the face-to-face component of the class, and often end up reverting to lecturing.

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The flipped classroom reverses the traditional teaching formula by putting the “lecture” online and using class time for engagement with the material. But many faculty trip up when trying to find activities for the face-to-face component of the class, and often end up reverting to lecturing.

I solved this problem in my math classes by using an iPad and the Air Sketch app. Air Sketch allows you to pull up a PDF on an iPad and annotate it with your finger or stylus, while sharing what you are doing in real time with others. You simply give your students a unique URL assigned to the session by the app, and they pull up what you are doing on their own machines. Students do not need to use an iPad to see it. They can view it on any device with a monitor, such as a laptop. The only requirement is that everyone be on the same wireless network. 

I use Air Sketch to have students solve problems in class. I put them into groups, give them a problem, and let them work on the solution. Once all the groups have a solution, I hand the iPad to one of the students to demonstrate to the rest of the class how they solved it. Students can watch the solution on their own devices, or on a screen at the front of the class. Students can then ask questions or make comments. I can even hand the iPad to any other group that wants to add something to the demonstration or offer a different method. I hand the iPad to different students over the course of the class, allowing all students to not only work on problems, but also demonstrate their thinking to others. 

One of the advantages of Air Sketch is that I don't have to spend time writing the problems on the board. I create a PDF of each problem before class to use for the demonstrations. This is also convenient when I want to solve problems myself because I can pull those up and solve them on the iPad.

Air Sketch is also ideal for making online content for your class. Much of mathematics instruction is demonstrating how to solve problems. I do this by making a screencast of myself walking through problems. This is not easily done on an ordinary computer, as it is hard to draw elegantly with a mouse. Air Sketch solves the problem by allowing me to draw on the iPad while recording the screencast on another computer. 

In my case, I start Air Sketch on my iPad, pull up the problem on it, and then open a browser window on my other machine using the URL provided by the app. Now what appears on the app also appears on my other machine. From here I open the screen-casting software on my other machine—you can use a system like Screencast-O-Matic—and start the recording. I talk into the computer's microphone while drawing on the iPad, and both the drawing and my voice get captured by the screen-casting software. The results are saved as a video that can be uploaded to a video hosting system like YouTube, or to an LMS. 

Air Sketch also allows you to save the annotations that you make on a PDF. This can be helpful for making handwritten comments on a student's work as part of your feedback, or marking up a sample problem that you want to send to the students. Simply save the PDF when you are done with the annotations and email the file to yourself, or transfer it via a system like Dropbox. 

Finally, Air Sketch is an ideal way to capture the processes that students use to solve problems. I always ask students to show me their work when solving problems. This is important not only to identify problems in the process, but also to provide partial credit. 

Capturing processes is difficult to do in an online or face-to-face environment. A written assignment shows steps, but not the student's thinking in choosing the steps. Using Air Sketch, an instructor can learn about a student's thinking by having those with access to an iPad make their own screencasts demonstrating how they worked through a problem. Because the student talks through each step in the process, the instructor can identify where his or her thinking went awry. 

I have learned that incorporating interactive tools into my practice has yielded more dynamic teaching and learning. Students are more likely to engage with each other through collaborative problem-solving. They are better able to communicate their techniques and thought process, and explain creative approaches to analytical thinking. This approach has made a dramatic impact not only on my instruction, but also my students' response to that instruction. 

Jason Price is an associate professor of mathematics at Nichols College.