Teaching and Learning with Technology

In this month’s Provost Report at the University of Washington, “Putting Learning First: How Students Learn and How Technology Can Help“, the focus was on strategies for teaching and learning with technology. Although technology in the classroom is something that is fairly widespread, it is still something that needs careful planning and consideration. The report is a great guide of ideas and “best practices” when taking steps toward a tech-friendly classroom.

The report first mentions that a course shouldn’t be organized around a technology tool. The entire purpose of educational technology is to enhance learning through the use of technology…therefore, the technology used should fit in naturally with the course and there must be a purpose for it. All too often, instructors make the mistake of using a technology tool just for the sake of using it. If it’s not helping students learn the course content, it may simply serve as a distraction, or even hindrance. Therefore, it’s important to ask questions like, “what technology could be more effective at getting the point across?” or “How accessible is this technology, both in and out of the classroom?” This reminds me of a graphic Edudemic posted last week in their article “5 Features Technology Must Have Before Classroom Use“:

It is also important for the instructor to have a certain environment and to strive for certain goals in the class. The report suggests that good technology integration will form a pedagogical foundation and apply the educational technology to that.  Great examples of this practice include, as mentioned on page 2:

  • Acknowledging that “prior knowledge affects learning”
  • Understanding that “how people organize their knowledge affects learning”
  • Motivating students by engaging them
  • Metacognition
  • Allowing “scaffolding and deliberate practice to develop mastery”
  • Providing a “climate that fosters learning and inquiry”
  • Providing and giving feedback

Once there is room for the technology, the instructor needs to form strategies to implement it…or really, activities that make the technology aspect and the learning aspect work! The report gives some great examples of tools and activities that University of Washington instructors have been using in an effort to do this:

In terms of pedagogy…

  • Use concept mapping and outlining to help students work through and collaborate on difficult topics.
  • Assign low-stakes free-writing assignments that let students get all of their ideas out.
  • Digital discussion spaces–Blackboard & Canvas discussion boards, using a Google Doc to ask opening questions on the first day of class, Twitter for real-time micro-discussion, etc.
  • Working through problems while explaining your process in front of the class, so the students can really see what steps you take in the process.
  • Use artifacts! Show the actual pieces of history when discussing it.
  • Treat students like professionals–hold them to high expectations.

In terms of technology…

  • Social media tools like Tumblr and Twitter can promote sharing and participation from students within a course.
  • ePortfolios allow students to actively show their learning and understand the “how” and “why” of their work.
  • Use current examples and apply what the students are learning in class to the real world. Take advantage of the fact that news sources around the world are available at our fingertips!
  • Link content to videos. Videos are a great way to grab students’ attention and tools like Canvas and Google Sites support video sharing and embedding.
  • Poll the class with clickers. Clickers allow students to be engaged, actively participate…and are fun to use!

Teaching with technology can be fun and rewarding–however, an instructor needs to take the extra steps to make sure they, the students, and the course itself are all ready for it. The report also suggests that instructors should integrate technology into their course gradually, rather than all at once. For example, rather than completely changing aspects of the entire course, first change a few small portions–such as individual units.

Although this post is long, there is still so much more to read in the Provost Report. If you are interested or curious about teaching with technology, we encourage you to read the full report here.