Sara Sanchez Alonso
Technology infuses classrooms with new devices, such as iPads and tablet computers, and it expands course offerings with a variety of online resources. It also provides new ways to enhance student engagement through innovative instructional techniques such as the “flipping the classroom” model or “blended learning” opportunities. However, the introduction of technology into the classroom may pose important challenges to instructors: how can instructors find time to learn these new techniques while simultaneously trying to integrate them into the classroom? Will they need to rethink and redesign their course’s objectives?
These are some of the questions that will be explored in this year’s Spring Teaching Forum (STF), organized by the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, on April 24th. The discussions will revolve around the two-way interaction between technology and learning: first, how do learning goals shape the use of technology in the classroom? Second, how does this wide range of new tools enhance learning goals? In this post, instead of providing an answer to these questions, I will try to begin the conversation and motivate readers to start thinking about the topic. In particular, my goal is to make the concept of “technology” more concrete and accessible by presenting some ways in which new technological devices can impact the classroom.
An online search for “teaching and technology” provides so many results, it can be overwhelming at first to choose where to start. The large number of results, however, shows that technology is already having a huge impact on our teaching, and it is worth exploring this interaction. Here are some of the ways in which we can start thinking about the impact of “technology” on teaching:
1. Collaborative Tools
Collaborative tools, such as blogs, wikis, Twitter or new platforms, such as “Piazza” provide new opportunities for interactions between students and instructors, as well as promote student-student interactions. Collaborative work, whether in pairs or small groups, increases learning gains, in terms of recall, critical thinking and application of concepts to new situations. With these new tools, teaching is not limited to class meetings, but active learning and feedback can happen outside of traditional face-to-face meetings. For example, blogs encourage online writings and threaded discussion groups, and the use of wikis, i.e. a webpage that anybody can edit, can help in creating group projects or group brainstorming.
2. Information Visualization Tools
Whether it is a small data set or complex data, technology offers tools that can help users visualize and structure information as well as analyze and manipulate that information in new ways. One of the most common tools is Geographic Information Systems (GSIS), which allows users to manage and interpret geographically-reference data by showing the different patterns and trends. Another example would be JMOL, an online platform that allows users to view the chemical structure of molecules in 3D.
3. Flipping the Classroom
This new teaching approach consists of giving students a first exposure to the material before class and using in-class time for interactions that require understanding the concept through active learning activities. It does not require the use of technology, but tools such as online videos, podcasts and quizzes are becoming more prevalent in flipped classroom settings.
4. Tablet Computers
Tablet computers offer many possibilities for teaching. On one hand, they allow for better course management by providing gradebooks and annotations to mark up PDF files with highlights and texts. They can also enhance content creation in class through applications for concept mapping or music composition, such as “Mindomo” or “Symphony Pro”. Students can also use tablets as presentation tools with slideshow viewer applications, timers and or even digital whiteboards to draw or graph.
5. Online Courses
Despite the challenges posed by the lack of face-to-face contact and the additional prerequisite of computing skills, the number of online courses is growing. In addition, several online platforms have been created to support learning management online, such as “Sakai” or “Blackboard”. Here are several great websites with tips for creating an online course. Be sure to check them out!
There are many other ways in which technology can enhance learning, such as podcasts, and presentation software tools, but I hope this guide has served as a snapshot of the many shapes that technology in teaching can take. If you want to hear about the pros and cons of technology in the classroom and learn how to achieve a balanced technology-integration of your own, come to the Spring Teaching Forum on April 24th!
In the meantime, I want to close with a quote that I recently came across online:Colleagues sometimes ask if a specific technology will enhance student learning. That’s a bit like asking whether a chalkboard or book will. Low-tech or high-tech, a tool’s learning benefits depend on when, where, how and why you use it.
- Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon
Have you used technology in the classroom? What was your experience? Let’s get the ball rolling on a great discussion! J