Teaching a Course

Using Technologies in and Beyond the Classroom

There is a wide range of classroom technologies—from chalkboard or whiteboard to recent multimedia and collaborative environments—all of which may have a legitimate place in today's classroom.

For generations, classroom technologies changed little, mainly serving to assist the instructor in delivering his or her lecture efficiently. Today the range and purposes of technologies are highly diverse, and creative appropriations continue to grow. Technologies can be used for any number of learning-related activities, from supporting the delivery of a lecture to engaging students in discussion between lessons. Whatever the technologies chosen, they should always serve the purpose of advancing the course goals. To that end, it is useful to apply the principles of backward design to the integration of technology when designing a course. Students learn in different ways and their learning can be better supported by the use of multiple teaching methods and modes of instruction (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and read/write). When judiciously integrated into the course, multimedia technologies can be crucial for extending the range of ways in which students acquire new knowledge and skills.

The type of technology you use will depend on the type of course you are offering. In lecture-based courses, technology that assists delivery—like a chalkboard or an instructor computer connected to a projector—might be sufficient. For a more interactive approach to technology, personal response systems like clickers can be used to enhance student attention and learning. More advanced technologies can be incorporated into the very design of a course. By moving parts of a course to an online environment, you can free up precious class time for collaborative face-to-face activities and discussion. Is the class based on a pre-class reading? You can distribute the reading online, and you can also ask students to answer questions or post comments on the reading using a tool such as Blackboard or a course blog. Having students do this thinking before class can help further focus the class-time conversation.

Current social software, such as blogs and wikis, allow for considerably more advanced forms of student collaboration and student authorship in the course. Indeed, they may well foster a community of learners within the class. Take advantage of students' familiarity with technology by allowing them to co-design activities or models of assignments based on their expertise and communicative habits. When students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning, they are more likely to develop higher-order thinking skills.

Technology can also bring a new dimension of nuance to drafts and early/intermediate work. When students turn in a polished assignment, the research and editing process that brought them to that stage is invisible; the final product offers little evidence of the iterative process that brought it to life. Giving each student a research project blog or asking students to draft in Google Docs, however, can make the research and presentation process much richer. A research project blog would give students a venue to exhibit their emerging work by posting drafts and status updates, while Google Docs allows sharing, commenting, and synchronous editing, all while maintaining a detailed history of edits. Throughout the semester, you might comment on students' projects. You might also encourage students to offer ideas for each other's developing research projects or to engage in formal peer review. The practice of peer review helps students develop critical reading skills, learn how to assemble constructive criticism, and learn how to receive feedback on their ideas. Students can learn how arguments are constructed, and work on making their own arguments stronger.

You may also want to think about how technology can help make the impact of your lecture both greater and more lasting. By using lecture capture software to record your lectures and a course site to distribute them afterward, you can make course material accessible to students beyond the class period. Providing lectures online lets students access this information multiple times after a class, increasing their chances for retention. In addition, this archive of work can be especially helpful in cases of weather-related closures or other events that prevent classes from meeting physically.

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