Technology and Teaching
More and more, technology will be a part of your students' lives, even if you are not currently interested in using it in your classroom. The following summary describes the outlook of two education scholars on how technology can enhance good teaching practice. If you do use technology, maybe now is a good time to re-assess why and how you use it.
Adapted with permission from Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever," AAHE Bulletin, October, pp. 3-6.
- Good Practice Encourages Contacts Between Students and Faculty
Frequent student-teacher contact in and out of class is a most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Communication technologies that increase access to faculty members, help them share useful resources, and provide for joint problem solving and shared learning can usefully augment face-to-face contact in and outside of class meetings. By putting in place a more "distant" source of information and guidance for students, such technologies can strengthen faculty interactions with all students, but especially with shy students who are reluctant to ask questions or challenge the teacher directly. It is often easier to discuss values and personal concerns in writing than orally, since inadvertent or ambiguous nonverbal signals are not so dominant.
- Good Practice Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students
Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. The increased opportunities for interaction with faculty noted above apply equally to communication with fellow students. Study groups, collaborative learning, group problem solving, and discussion of assignments can all be dramatically strengthened through communication tools that facilitate such activity. The extent to which computer-based tools encourage spontaneous student collaboration was one of the earliest surprises about computers. A clear advantage of e-mail for busy students is that it opens up communication among classmates even when they are not physically together.
- Good Practice Uses Active Learning Techniques
Learning is not a spectator sport. Students must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. The range of technologies that encourage active learning is staggering. Many fall into one of three categories: tools and resources for learning by doing, time-delayed exchange, and real-time conversation.
- Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
Students need help in assessing their existing knowledge and competence, frequent opportunities to perform and receive feedback on their performance, and chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how they might assess themselves. The ways in which new technologies can provide feedback are sometimes obvious, sometimes more subtle. Teachers can use technology to provide critical observations for an apprentice, for example, or faculty (or other students) can react to a writer's draft using the "hidden text" option available in word processors: Turned on, the "hidden" comments spring up; turned off, the comments recede and the writer's prized work is again free of "red ink." Computers can provide rich storage and easy access to student products and performances, including keeping track of early efforts so instructors and students can see the extent to which later efforts demonstrate gains in knowledge, competence, or other valued outcomes.
- Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task
Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. New technologies can dramatically improve time on task for students and faculty members. Time efficiency also increases when interactions between teacher and students, and among students, fit busy work and home schedules. And students and faculty alike make better use of time when they can get access to important resources for learning without trudging to the library, flipping through card files, scanning microfilm and microfiche, and scrounging the reference room. For faculty members interested in classroom research, computers can record student participation and interaction and help document student time on task, especially as related to student performance.
- Good Practice Communicates High Expectations
Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. New technologies can communicate high expectations explicitly and efficiently. Significant real-life problems, conflicting perspectives, or paradoxical data sets can set powerful learning challenges that drive students to not only acquire information but sharpen their cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis, application, and evaluation. Many faculty report that students feel stimulated by knowing their finished work will be "published" on the internet. With technology, criteria for evaluating products and performances can be more clearly articulated by the teacher, or generated collaboratively with students. General criteria can be illustrated with samples of excellent, average, mediocre, and faulty performance. These samples can be shared and modified easily. They provide a basis for peer evaluation, so learning teams can help everyone succeed.
- Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning
Different students bring different talents and styles to college. Students need opportunities to show their talents as well as to learn in new ways that do not come so easily. Technological resources can ask for different methods of learning through powerful visuals and well-organized print; through direct, vicarious, and virtual experiences; and through tasks requiring analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, with applications to real-life situations. They can encourage self-reflection and self-evaluation. They can drive collaboration and group problem solving. They can supply structure for students who need it and leave assignments more open-ended for students who don't.
Georgetown Examples of Technology in the Classroom
Here are some ways professors are using technology in the classroom:
- A Philosophy professor has placed Dante's Inferno online and has students type annotations and comments next to passages that capture their attention. He also has his own annotations on the page.
- A Government professor, using Blackboard, arranges his students in groups according to expressed interests in a certain topic. Then he has these groups discuss issues surrounding that topic more deeply using the discussion tool.
- An English professor has her students take a passage from a text and amplify it through hypertext. The students build a webpage that explores the meanings of terms in the passage and their representations and implications for themes in the text.
- A Biology professor uses a CD-Rom to illustrate how mitosis occurs in real cells. She is able to stop the process at any point and discuss what is happening with her students, and then easily resume the video of the magnified cell.
Always have a backup plan. the only aspect of technology that you can count on is that it will fail. If you're giving a Powerpoint presentation, print out the slides. If you are showing a film clip, have a synopsis of the clip handy. Make the technology work for you; don't fall prey to it!
On to Issues and Ethics >>