Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane

Course Planning with Tinderbox: Looking Back

In January, I bit the bullet and bought Mark Bernstein’s software Tinderbox to develop and organize the literature classes I teach. I offered my initial thoughts a few months ago. Now as the semester draws to a close, I can say that Tinderbox has changed how I think about course planning.

I had three course sections in a sixteen week semester which meant 90 course meetings needed to be planned. Using adornments I recreated my tried-and-true paper and pen diagrams in map view and used them to layout the semester roughly and quickly. In all the other software I have tried to use for this task this is as far as the process has gone: initial work done, I have always ended up with an electronic document that I could have done as well on paper. In fact, I generally printed the file because a paper document was ultimately more flexible and more useful for the rest of the term.

With Tinderbox, things were very different. Initial rough planning done, I overlaid my adornments with containers, one per course meeting. I created notes for the scheduled readings and began to drop lectures, exercises and quizzes into the readings notes (which automatically became containers for these new notes). I populated my course meeting containers with aliases to the materials I would use each day. As I moved through the semester, I began filling in links, spreading out aliases. By midterm, I had decided to enter my student rolls into the file–one note per student–and was using agents to keep track of who had submitted work, what feedback I’d given on previous assignments and dozens of other small (but important!) details that made teaching easier for me and more useful for my students.

Ultimately I can say that Tinderbox has made my own work better. Just as importantly, it has introduced me to the possibilities of hypertext. I am astounded and inspired and very happy to have found it.

Posted May 15, 2013