Strategies for using technology effectively in the college classroom

by Naa Amponsah Dodoo
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Teaching with technology is in and it’s in to stay.

Most if not all educational institutions have jumped on the use of technology in the classroom bandwagon with a passion in an effort to ensure that they are keeping up with the trend of incorporating technology into the classroom. Universities also want to take advantage of the benefits that technology is thought to achieve both for the instructors and the students

The phrase “Teaching with Technology” might evoke different views of technology use in education which could include the use of PowerPoint presentations, clickers, Skype for guest speakers, discussion boards, video and audio when appropriate to complement the lesson for the day, or the use of social media for assignments or topics.  My colleague Ginger Blackstone’s blog Lectures come alive: Using technology effectively in the classroom provides great resources for different technologies that can be used in and out of the classroom that takes the teaching and learning experience to another step.

When integrating technology into the classroom, the four components to consider according to the system’s approach described by Mckeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and Theory for College and University Teachers:

  1. The instructor (this refers role as a teacher and technology skill level)
  2. The student (this involves a consideration of the access to technology and the student’s skill level)
  3. The course (this consists of ensuring that the technology employed for the course is relevant to the course objectives and the learning outcomes for the course)
  4. The technology (this refers to the specific kinds of technology that can be used for the course).

According to McKeachie’s Teaching Tips specific advantages of using technology with teaching include:

Technology provides new opportunities for enhanced student learning

Through technology, instructors and students have opportunities which include the use of course or learning management systems which facilitates especially for large classes, the posting of study questions, guides and other resources which undoubtedly cuts time and costs. Online and distance learning are other opportunities that are enabled by technology.

Technology addresses specific learning goals more effectively

Through the use of multimedia cases such as video clips, images, and text information tied with questions that students can use to ascertain problems, and  propose recommendations after the discussion of possible solutions, instructors across disciplines can foster critical thinking. For instance, incorporating an appropriate video that can serve as a center of discussion in an ethics class is one way of helping students address particular learning goals more effectively. Furthermore, discussions that are facilitated outside of the classroom through the use of e-mail lists, chats, and blogs to name a few, can help students be engaged well beyond the walls of the classroom which is great when it assists the learning outcomes of the course.

Technology takes advantage of rich information now available online

The cornucopia of information that is available to students in the online world can be a resource for the instructor who can use the information online to integrate real world applications into his/her courses that can help encourage learning and retention that is enduring.  Resources include searchable databases, government documents, reports and primary sources that can be employed as tools to assist students to participate in research.

Technology prepares students to succeed in the 21st century

While it might be reasonable to assume that students in this age of technology are able to use technology and have at least come across colleagues from different backgrounds, it’s still important that students develop skills that they need to succeed in this century. Students need to cultivate skills which will help them effectively collaborate with people from various backgrounds and cultures. Another skill that students need is how to effectively shift through the variety of information available online in order to critically evaluate what they come across.

The plethora of technologies that can be used to complement teaching can be categorized according to McKeachie’s Teaching Tips into easy which includes examples such as email, listserv, course management systems, chat, and blogs; moderate exemplified by multimedia presentation, audio/video clips, websites and social networks among others and complex which includes examples such as complex animation, simulation/game and interactive databases.

While it has been hammered into most instructors the need to incorporate technology into their teaching or courses, the emphasis might sometimes be lost on how to ensure that technology is effectively used as an instructor while keeping in mind how to ensure that a student has the same experience both in and out of the classroom.

Although there is no guarantee for an entirely successful use of technology, there are some tips that you as an instructor can employ to minimize the various technological glitches that you may encounter in and outside of the classroom.

Helpful Tips for Using Technology in Teaching

Prepare for using technology in your teaching

The first thing and perhaps the most important thing one can do in order to prevent technological glitches in the classroom is to plan well ahead of time. No matter how technologically savvy or smart you are, things can go wrong at any point in time during your lesson. Ensuring that you have made excellent groundwork by way of understanding whatever technology you plan to incorporate into your course or lesson for the day as well as determining a plan to deal with any foreseeable problems is essential to safeguarding what you have planned for your course or lesson.

Seek help in using technology if you have questions or problems

One efficient way of reducing any technological issues is to take advantage of resources that are at your disposal. Knowing when to request for help can be a virtue especially when faced with problems with technology. Whether through online/offline training workshops, students, teachers or the assigned IT workers from your institution, there are always numerous sources you could utilize in order to reduce unforeseen technology glitches.

Stick With What You Know

Incorporating technology into the classroom might be exciting to think about especially when you are trying to bring dynamism into the course/lesson. However, a good way of minimizing the technological hitches that might arise is to employ technology that you already know or are comfortable in using. Attempting to use something new that appears to be easy but that you have not explored could dish up more problems than it’s worth.

Double Check Peripherals

Sometimes the key to reducing the problems with technology could be as simple as changing cables or putting on a switch. Ensure that you review all the peripherals that are needed for whatever technology you wish to incorporate (sockets, cables, speakers etc.). Be sure to also have spares of extra equipment you might need to use when teaching.

Check technology compatibility

Knowing details such as which software you are using can factor into curtailing problems with technology use in class. Be sure to keep in mind that different devices operate with different software therefore a program that works one device might not work on the another or might perform poorly.

Be sure to update software and hardware regularly

Another way of lessoning problems that could occur when using technology in the classroom is to ensure that computers that will be accessed or used have regular updates. Preferably, program your devices to run regular downloads of free upgrades. Upgrades that come at a price should be carefully considered in terms of pros and cons of the decision taken to upgrade or not to upgrade.

Back up your files

Though you might have taken every precautions against technology fails in the classroom, as previously mentioned, there is no guarantee that technology will work smoothly. In the event of such technology problems, a great asset to have would be a backup lesson/plan. Prepare for instance, by having hardcopies of materials for lesson that would facilitate a smooth transition in the lesson without the use of technology.

Problems that could come up when incorporating technology into one’s course are not limited to classroom settings. Below are other issues that could arise and steps to help deal with them.

Data Loss – Yes, this could happen to you. Services such as Dropbox and iCloud act as online backup providers that will help you to prevent information loss. These are also good ways of ensuring that student information, grades, and assignments remain confidential and protected.

Copyright & Online Plagiarism As an instructor, you have an obligation to inform students when incorporating online activities such as social media into your course about various issues such as copyright, and online plagiarism. With the amount of information available online, students have easy access to other people’s intellectual works and properties. As an instructor, be sure to inform students about copyright laws in using other’s work as their own. Also be aware of possible plagiarism and use services such as Turn it In to curb online plagiarism.

Boundaries – Whether you decide to provide your students with your phone number (home or mobile), Skype name, personal email address, or social media links, you must establish boundaries that are clearly stated (in your syllabus) in order to minimize instances where the teacher-instructor lines are crossed.

Responsibility to Students (Privacy & Safety) Technology has permeated the lives of many individuals, especially students in the 21st century. As an instructor, you have a responsibility to students to teach them skills in using technology properly in terms of privacy and safety. For instance, providing information about proper behavior both online and offline and consequences that could happen with when they put their personal information, views or opinions online.

Lastly, here are some few tips to guide you in the use of social media as an instructor. Remember that no matter how private you think your social media activities are, there might be ways that your activities could be traced back to you. Hence, don’t post inappropriate activities, don’t insult your students, keep confidential information confidential and always, always utilize privacy settings (Facebook appears to frequently change its privacy settings so be sure to keep up with that).

Overall, the benefits of technology use in education are numerous and taking steps to ensure that both you as an instructor and the student have experiences of technology use in teaching that generally contribute to the overall student learning objectives for the course. Technology is a great tool that we can all use effectively when used right, so let’s be the ones that create great learning experiences for our students through technology.

Resources

Sources

Larson, E. (2013, July 29). The teacher’s guide to social media. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2013/07/29/teachers-social-media/

Glencoe (2005). Using tech lessons when technology fails. Retrieved from http://www.glencoe.com/sec/teachingtoday/weeklytips.phtml/228

Grinvalds, J. (2007). Technology in the classroom: How to reduce the glitches. Retrieved from http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/2382

Roblyer, M.D., & Doering, A.H. (2010, July 20). Top ten issues shaping today’s technology uses in education. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/ten-issues-shaping-today-technology

Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (14th edition).

Naa Doodo is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

 

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