A New Addition to the Syllabus

Perhaps a little late to the party, I decided my syllabus needed a section on interface technologies. Why? 1) I’m a big fan of digital distribution of course materials where legal and appropriate. Yet many of my students who access course materials via the course management system do not give much thought to interface technologies and subsequently fail to really engage (read, study, AND annotate) the course readings. 2) I’m tried of hearing a flurry of typing and looking at only the tops of my students faces as they peer over the wall of laptops. Not conducive into in-class discussion. (Note: The following policy is fore a graduate-level theory seminar. It would be different for other pedagogical contexts.)



Obviously, there are a wide variety of interface technologies available for engaging course materials. While the instructor is mindful that individual student preferences for interface technologies are the result of a range of intersecting aesthetic, ergonomic, and economic exigencies, it is, nevertheless, essential that chosen technologies also support student learning and minimize in-class distractions. Therefore, the following are requirements for course material interface technologies:

  • Annotation support: Students must be able to write on course readings. Annotations must further be accessible in class. iAnnotate and PDFHighlighter are recommended options for tablet users.
  • Flat-profile design: Students must have access to course materials in class via a device with a flat-profile design or configuration. This means no laptops, unless that laptop is a tablet-laptop hybrid with rotating touch screen.
  • Sufficient size: In class interface technologies must have dimensions of at least 4×7 inches. Small tablets are OK. Large phones are not.


*Note: Ink-on-Paper (IOP) technology meets or exceeds all of these requirements. With the added benefits of off-line and low-power accessibility settings, IOP may, indeed, be the ideal technology for learning theory. Furthermore, recent advances in Three-Ring-Binder Storage Systems provide impressive organizational and portability support. With the added affordances of Dog-Ear and Color-Tab Apps, it’s hard to go wrong with IOP. And, finally, it is worth mentioning that IOP has been out of beta testing for nearly 2,000 years, thus demonstrating impressive reliability.