I am a member of the WCET community and receive their very well researched bi-weekly article digests per email. This week, glancing through the names of the articles being researched, I decided to pull three that seemed to present differing views on the same topic, that of using technology in the face to face classroom. Given my job duties, I only teach online right now, quite happily, but I have very fond memories of my face to face days and like to keep a finger on how those classrooms are evolving.
I have to admit, the titles of the articles had me ready to align them neatly on the “anti technology on one end, distracting technological bells and whistle use on the other” continuum that comes up in my head when the topic of classroom technology use comes up. When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom in the Chronicle of Higher Education tripped my Luddite alarm (which turns out to be a false alarm, no Luddites in the whole article), Classrooms Go High-Tech to Engage Students (US News and World Report) brought on a “I hope they did it the right way and didn’t just sink tons of money into difficult to master toys” internal commentary, and Online and Interpersonal (Inside Higher Ed) gave me that happy, Goldilocks “just right” feeling.
I like it when I’m wrong on all counts and still feel validated! First off, I encourage you to check out SMU Dean Jose Bowen’s mission in When Computers Leave Classrooms—what it really talks about is getting away from PowerPoint (or, PowerPointless as some like to call it) in favor of using technology to force students to be active learners. Bravo! The best, fully online instructors have been doing that all along; the essence of online learning for a student is the shift to active learning. Bowen promotes using technology as a preparation mechanism (some of us call this the “entry ticket” strategy)—students view video or listen to podcasts of the info to be discussed (not lectured on, as the lecture is contained in this prep) in class, then take a short assessment to make sure they listened to the material. (I would use the assessment as a mastery quiz to help them gauge their understanding of my main points—there are still points to be won by those who spend the study time in the lecture, but this is less punitive for those who don’t “get it” the first time and, given ample feedback and resource suggestions in the quiz, they can go back to the lecture and work on understanding these points….) I have to admit, I like the catchy “Teach Naked!” call to arms. Hybrid instructors and instructors who use companion classrooms will be right at home in this article and will likely have other great online to classroom strategies of their own to share.
In Classrooms go High-Tech to Engage Students, Professor Beth Simon (UC San Diego) encourages whispering to your neighbor in class—as long as that whispering is texting, tweeting, or research on the web. Where some instructors in the Computers Leave Classroom article comment that the most resistance to the idea of lecture-free classroom comes from students who don’t know how to be active learners, the professors quoted in this article say that students expect technology and lots of it. This is more than a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality because the instructor is party to the whispering and it informs the class discussion cum lecture. One of these profs, Scott McLeod (Iowa State, Ames), has an established “backchannel” (I gather that it is through Twitter) for students to use amongst themselves during his class times. This is in stark contrast to schools that, “have an Internet kill switch in the classrooms and some professors ban laptops altogether” (which, by the way, I would complain about as a parent—my son has small motor issues and types much faster and more legibly than he writes. He is encouraged by his teachers to use a keyboard note taker in his middle school classes. In this context, banning laptops is akin to discrimination, eh?).
The third article, Online and Interpersonal, which I thought would be my “happy place,” was actually just OK. I almost didn’t read it because it began with the sentence “It may seem paradoxical, but educational technology as a supplement to face-to-face learning could personalize the educational experience.” Nope, this shouldn’t seem paradoxical in 2009. The rest of the article presented an interesting pilot program at the University of Westminster that acknowledges student need for voluminous feedback (isn’t the desire for feedback, on every little thing, a huge part of what social media is all about??). Anyhow, the profs surveyed in the study think the students don’t want feedback. The students surveyed said they highly value feedback. So, how to get feedback to them without overwhelming the prof?
The solution involves a little more in the way of backup than most online instructors have and we still manage to give voluminous feedback. But yes, if you have access to tutors or TAs, this article is an interesting study and something to consult if you want to move to using online resources to increase feedback to students. The results of the (ongoing) study provide assurance that your plan will likely meet with success: “They like [sic] the fact that they were getting this feedback, but that it wasn’t replacing face-to-face contact. They don’t see it as a process whereby we are trying to avoid them.” Indeed they don’t, because today’s students understand that technology does personalize their world, quite nicely. Being able to access that feedback anytime, anywhere is equivalent to making yourself available, not to avoidance.
Vicki Galloway Harsh
Sr. Academic Training Consultant