My favorite (digital) things

Engaging the current generation of learners requires that educators understand and make effective use of digital media and technology. In a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, it was reported that 87% of all teens in the United States have or have access to a computer or laptop and 73% have or have access to a smartphone. While smartphones and computers can be a distraction in the classroom, they can also be a powerful tool in helping to interest and capture student’s attention. Utilizing digital resources is becoming a standard tool for teachers and I think it really is a valuable one.

I am a very big user of digital resources for my own learning, including youtube,, and most recently I find it very helpful to watch lectures and worked example problems in a video format that lets me pause and rewind so that I can keep up with my notes and actually understand what is being taught instead of just copying notes as fast as I can. I also like that I can take breaks if I am starting to loose my focus. This point was eloquently made in the article, “Four Things Lecture is Good For”

There are serious problems with retention and recall of information given in a lecture even if the lecture is rhetorically solid — and this is to say nothing about the disconnect between the length of the average lecture and the average human being’s attention span.

Robert Talbot, “Four Things Lecture is Good For”

One of my favorite youtube channels is called 3Blue1Brown and is dedicated to making very nice animations to show complicated math problems. Often times the concepts that we teach can be difficult to understand, especially if they are abstract and don’t have intuitive analogies. This channel does a great job of tackling complex math problems and providing animations and perspectives that make them much easier to grasp. I think one of the best parts of this channel, and a common theme throughout successful digital education materials, is that when I am watching these videos, I am actually being entertained. I first found the channel when I was trying to understand some difficult topics in linear algebra, but now I am excited to watch the new videos that the channel creates because it is entertaining.

Who cares about topology? (Inscribed rectangle problem) Click on picture to see the video

I am interested in finding out what digital tools other students and teachers are using. Please share if you have a cool youtube channel or website that you like to use.

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8 Responses to My favorite (digital) things

  1. Kaisen Lin says:

    Thanks for the post. I have the same experience in learning concepts in my field. Instead of reading textbooks and taking classes, I prefer to search online for materials, such as videos on or other websites. It is actually very effective to learn in this way because I can watch the videos as many times as I want or I can pause somewhere to spend some time understanding the contents covered before. But there is some limitation as well. For example, many times you will find it is hard to find a good quality video that explain the specific question you have in mind, especially for research questions. This is the time we use a more traditional learning approach to tackle the problem.

  2. Armani says:

    Thanks for sharing these digital tools! I believe these will be very useful for students to better learn new knowledge. And I agree with you that traditional lecture style -copying whatever the instructor wrote on the board- is very ineffective. How can we expect students can write, think, and listen at the same time!? On the other hand, we are worried students might fall asleep if they don’t keep their hand moving. Perhaps, more interaction between instructor and students in class or making the lecture more fun like that YouTuber you introduced will work better.

  3. coffeeseltzer says:

    This reminds me of the RSA Animate Shorts: I am very much a visual learner, so the visual presentation of a lecture through drawings holds my attention in a similar way as 3Blue1Brown does for you. Yet I think this similarity speaks to the importance of recognizing how each of us learn best. As graduate students, we should have some sense of this by now, because so much of our learning is often self-directed. At the same time, this makes me consider how to facilitate this exploration of different learning styles in the classroom. I am currently testing out including videos in our sessions to provoke student reactions and the engage different kinds of learners. I’ve been thinking about having students locate videos or images to best represent a topic of discussion in class. Your post makes me think that I need to explore how to do this with digital materials or through different platforms.

    • abramds says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that understanding the different types of learners and utilizing multiple approaches in teaching is really crucial to engaging all of the students in a classroom. I also really liked the RSA video you shared. Very interesting material and the visual animation is very engaging.

  4. D. Gupta says:

    Awesome post Abram. I do believe that engaging students through digital materials is going to be the way forward for education as an industry. I also feel more comfortable when I am watching online lectures which I can stop and rewind. It definitely helps me to learn more than a regular lecture. However let me play the devil’s advocate here. I have had professors at Tech to whom digital materials referred to sending a weekly class email. These professors however, were able to capture the whole class’s attention through their lectures and blackboard. Remember Michael Wesch from last week? He has had second thoughts about the extent of the use of technology in class. Here’s the link to the article :

  5. Lauren says:

    You’ve touched on some really great ideas and points for discussion here, and I think it is pretty unanimous that the digital platforms of communicating and teaching are taking the forefront. We, as the educators of the next generation, are eager to use these tools because I think we often have a greater personal connection and interest in some of these modalities. This may be in part because the average graduate student today (ages ranging from mid-20s to mid-30s, let’s say) grew up with the technological boom and navigated the strange world it presented at the same time. People in this age range represent a unique generation in the digital landscape: we were born without such pervasive technology available at our fingertips, but were forced to confront and deal with the boom as we grew up, equipping us as adults with the savvy to integrate it head on. I think our integration and reliance on technology for all aspects of life will only increase as kids born in the recent decades cannot appreciate or recognize a world or life without it.

    One of my concerns, though, is the subset of people (learners/students, especially) who do not have the same access as most of us. What about the 13% of students who don’t have or have access to laptops, and the 27% who don’t have or have access to smartphones? Webinars, tutorials, online videos, etc. can be great supplemental materials for those who seek further context or a deeper understanding, but I think it should never be the first and only way to communicate, for the sake of those with less resources.

  6. Yang Liu says:

    Thanks for the sharing channel. The website I always visit is, which is free to access the web and watch a lot of tutorial video. It is a great web for the self-teaching. Typing the name of the program you want to learn then there are series of playlist show. You would choose the learning level and find the comfortable the video to follow.

  7. mayadross says:

    Thank you, Greg. I like the part about using Quizzes, especially, as self-check tools as much as grading devices. Then students can use them as such and not fret too much about the grade part, and spend time searching for answers online. That time could be spent searching the text, in my classes, at least.

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