Sharing Whiteboard Work with Mathematica and Instagram

I love using portable whiteboards for group work in class, but the ephemeral nature of the students’ work means that students will not have a written record to refer back to later.  One solution I tried last semester was to take pictures of the whiteboards with my phone.  Then after class I would upload the pictures onto Google Docs that contained the corresponding questions.  That was workable but a little less efficient than I would have liked.  

This semester I am preparing my notes and in-class activities on Mathematica slideshow presentations.  In trying to figure out efficient ways to upload pictures to the documents, I discovered that Mathematica integrates with Instagram.  With just a couple lines of code I can import any image I want.  So here is the plan: at each point in the presentation where I want to insert pictures of student work, I write a couple lines of code that search Instagram for photos with a particular tag (a tag that I can remember and that is unlikely to be used by anyone else).  Whenever I take a  picture of a whiteboard, then, all I have to do is put that particular tag as a comment for the picture.  Then I hit Shift+Enter on Mathematica and the pictures instantly appear!    

Thoughts?  Is there a better/easier way to do it that I am missing?


As a teacher, I have always struggled to strike a balance between “teacher knows best” and “you are old enough to take care of yourselves”.  For example, do I require attendance or not?  Do I require homework or not?  I have experimented with varying degrees of each, but I have tended to favor the hands-off approach because I think that students should have some measure of control over their learning experience.  On the other hand, I have also seen the negative effects of the hands-off approach; it usually ends up that the students who most need to attend class or do the homework are the ones who choose not to do it.

I recently read a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.  One part that I found particularly interesting was a comparison of organ donation rates in two particular demographically similar, neighboring countries.  One country had a very high donation rate, while the other had a very low donation rate.  The difference seemed to stem from the fact that organ donation was “opt-in” in one country and “opt-out” in the other country.  In both cases, people had a freedom of choice, but the default option was a strong determining factor for that choice.  Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago have been studying this effect to see how organizations can help people make better decisions (they even wrote a book about it called Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness), and they have given the name Libertarian Paternalism to the practice of taking advantage of this effect.

I’m wondering whether this could be leveraged in the classroom.  For example, telling students that attendance is not mandatory is likely to yield different results from telling students that they should email you if they aren’t going to show up to class.  Or suppose I want students to take more advantage of office hours.  Would I get better results if I scheduled specific times for each student and gave them all the option of opting-out by sending me an email?

What other sorts of practices could benefit from this approach?  Does it sound like a bad idea?  I’m interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.