Virtual Handouts

It's time to retire the copy machine

View examples of skill-drill/quiz vHandouts from Dr. Kling's AP Statistics course or AP economics course (the "comparative advantage" quiz has some questions that use a diagram).

View examples of homework hints vHandouts from Dr. Kling's AP Statistics Course. If you are ready to try using this in a real class, then go to create a diagram or create a skill drill/quiz

August 2012, version 1.0 (or less)

Let me try to explain what is going on here. Obviously, it is a work in progress.

Virtual handouts, or vHandouts, are free for teachers to create and for students to use. There is no advertising--no revenue stream at all at this point. I have vague hopes of turning this into commercial-grade software and licensing it to textbook publishers or other education-related companies, but it is a long way from being ready for that.

I am a classroom teacher, not an online educator. What I envision is what is known as a "blended learning" environment, in which teachers and computers both may be present in the classroom, and by the same token students may use computers in or out of class. What I want teachers like me to be able to do is create simple interactive virtual handouts, meaning handouts that a student can work with on a personal computer, smart phone, or tablet.

I am betting that tablets will become ubiquitous in high schools. The most famous tablet is the iPad. A less expensive tablet that recently debuted is the Google Nexus 7. Tablets are cheaper than personal computers, and, because they do not require a data plan, giving your student a tablet costs less than giving your student a smart phone. I know that over the years many devices have been touted as great educational tools, so we should be wary. But I think we are seeing some evidence that tablets really are helping students. If nothing else, they can make a student's backpack lighter--the tablet has the potential to hold a student's planner/organizer, calculator, and textbooks.

vHandouts are similar to apps. Students interact by tapping icons on the screen, with no need for a keyboard. However, vHandouts are not in an app store. They are on the Web, where they can be used on computers (where students use mouse clicks instead of tapping the screen), smart phones, or tablets of all kinds.

The typical vHandout provides drills in quiz format. I encourage you to View Examples of Quiz vHandouts to get a better idea. A vHandout can be used to reinforce basic concepts, such as verb tenses in a foreign language, facts in history, or characteristics of elements in the periodic table in chemistry. vHandouts are not tools for helping with complex analysis or critical thinking.

vHandouts are designed to provide useful feedback to students. When you create a question, you are expected to type in an explanation of the correct answer. After the student answers the question, the student sees your explanation.

The other feedback mechanism is a progress bar. If a student answers a question correctly, the progress bar moves forward. Wrong answers move it backward. The idea is that a student should keep answering questions until the progress bar moves all the way to the right. When it comes to basic concepts, our goal is nothing less than total mastery.

I have been teaching high school courses (primarily AP Statistics and AP Economics) since the 2001-2002 school year. Often, when I sense that most of my students grasp a basic concept that I have been teaching, I feel impelled to move on, even though a few students may not be ready. I want vHandouts to address this dilemma. A vHandout will keep asking students questions until they show mastery. The fact that some students arrive at mastery sooner than others should pose fewer problems.

vHandouts have no grades attached to them. There are no administrative tools of any kind. You do not get reports on whether or not your students used the vHandout.

vHandouts are easy to create. You do not need to go through training or get set up by your IT person or anything like that. All you need to be able to do is type. (Having said that, the current version could use better explanations of some features.)

Next steps in development:

Right now, students have to be on the Internet to work with vHandouts. We want students to be able to download vHandouts when they have a connection and then use them without a connection. For example, they could download a semester's worth of vHandouts at home, and then work on them in the back seat of the car, or during lunch period, or whenever. Again, it is something we know how to do.

Also, we want teachers to be able to re-use one another's vHandouts. Right now, all diagrams go into a single shared library. We want to facilitate sharing of vHandouts, also. Creating a vHandout is a lot of effort. The mechanics are not hard--it's just typing. But you really need to put time and effort into thinking and planning, just as you would with any lesson. If we can create an effective sharing library, we can reduce the amount of work that any individual teacher has to undertake.

We want teachers to be able to upload image files so that they have an alternative to using our diagram editor.

If other teachers like the "homework hints" format, we would be glad to make that tool available. I just was not sure if anyone else would want to use it.

--Arnold Kling; contact me at arnold (at sign) arnoldkling (dot) com. Thanks for any comments, questions, and criticisms that you have to offer.