The 2016 UWB eLearning Summer Symposium: A Student Perspective

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Technology and education have close ties with one another, however, I believe it can be safe to say that technology seems to be utilized more to entertain, rather than to educate. The combination of the two has opened many doors to innovative ways of teaching to the generation of college students that interact with these gadgets and gizmos on a daily basis. I think it’s also safe to say that young adults of this generation love technology and social media. Students are constantly being exposed to a plethora of new games and apps that keep tech within their reach. With all these ‘lovely distractions’ threatening to forever hold the attention of our young minds, educators in higher education must find new ways  to integrate these ‘lovely distractions’ in a way that keeps students not only engaged, but actually building knowledge while in the learning space.

In July, I had the pleasure of being able to attend an event that took place at the University of Washington Bothell called the eLearning Summer Symposium. This event was focused on active learning strategies and ideas for creating more engaging learning spaces. There were several engaging presentations and opportunities for educators to share ideas with each other on topics ranging from tech tools, to active teaching and learning techniques, to OER (Open Educational Resources), and UDAL (Universal Design for Active Learning).

There were a two presentations that really stood out because of the utilization of technology and social media in a way the really engaged students.  The first presenter, Dr. Dan Bustillos, faculty in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, spoke about the importance of not only getting his students to learn about the mechanics of implementing health policy, but also that it was very important for students to experience the aftermath of putting policies in play and how it affects the overall situation. He explained that experience is gained by having to deal with making those tough decisions in the moment when the stressors are high and having to consider all cause and effect scenarios. Dr. Bustillos described that beyond just teaching these policies to his students there wasn’t really a vehicle in which he could simulate that experience to better engage his students. That led him to creating a game based course, which he built using an Excel worksheet. This game allows him to create simulations that put the players, aka students, in a position to decide amongst different strategies based on their coursework the best course of action for each stage of the game.  He claimed that this idea significantly increased student engagement because it was in the form of a game in which students are quite familiar with.

Another instructor, Dr. Jane Van Galen, faculty in the School of Educational Studies, integrates the use of Twitter into her classroom. Dr. Van Galen found it can be a valuable resource due to it being a sort of central hub of the Internet. Twitter connects policymakers, journalists, advocacy groups, professionals, and the general public in the same social space. She explained that Twitter users can share a variety of media including news, opinions, web links, and conversations in a publicly accessible space. She explained how the use of Twitter had several benefits in her classroom. She found that it draws students out into the ‘open’, ushering them into developing social networks for ongoing learning. She sees potential for connections beyond the classroom, and shared an example of how one of her student’s tweets was commented on by a well-known scholar, whose work the student had referenced in her original tweet. Dr. Van Galen also provided examples of how Twitter has the ability to amplify the student voice because tweets can be tagged by other groups or organizations. This ability to tag a tweet notifies members of the group or organization of the tweet and then notifies the potential thousands of individuals that follow that particular group or organization.  She found that engagement in her class skyrocketed when Twitter was used as vehicle for her class’s subject matter. From my perspective, a student perspective, these two presentations were the most exciting to witness because of the possible applications in other subjects.

Overall, it was a great time and I hope that these sort of events continue to take place. It is important that as we adapt to new technology we also adapt our ways of using and applying it not only just for entertainment purposes, but also to educate.

Tim Williams