Teaching with Technologies

If it ever was, a course is no longer contained within four walls of a classroom or two points on a clock. Technology is an increasingly powerful tool for extending that teaching and learning space, and it’s important that technologies used for this purpose, including course management systems like Blackboard or Canvas, are integrated into the very design of the course.

What kind of engagement or interaction are you hoping to promote through your use of technology? What possible challenges do you foresee, and how will you address them?

Georgetown Professor Jason Tilan on using mobile technology in the classroom.

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. Ask yourself: What are my students’ learning needs? What (if any) technological tools would help me meet these needs?

Exploring Your Options

Students learn in different ways, and their learning can be better supported by the use of multiple teaching methods and modes of instruction. 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 types of technologies you use will depend on the type of course you are offering.

  • In some courses, whether lecture- or discussion-based, technology that assists delivery and note-taking—like a chalkboard or an instructor computer connected to a projector—might be sufficient for supporting a successful and interactive classroom.
  • That said, interaction can also be aided by more recent technology; for example, personal response systems like clickers can be used to enhance student attention and learning, especially in large courses.
  • Technologies can be incorporated into the very design of a course. For example, by moving parts of a course to an online environment—this is called flipping the classroom—you can free up precious class time for collaborative face-to-face activities and discussion. Is the class session 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, Canvas, or a course blog. Having students do this thinking before class can help further focus the class-time conversation.

To explore the wide range of instructional technologies available to you, visit our Tools page.

Social software, such as blogs or Google Docs, allow for student collaboration and student authorship in the course. Indeed, they may well foster a community of learners within the class. You may find that your students have a helpful familiarity with the technology at hand; if so, take advantage of that familiarity 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. However, asking students to draft in Google Docs, for example, can make the research and presentation process much richer and more visible.

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.

One final consideration is the balance between the cost and benefit of adopting new technology in the classroom. The point is to enhance rather than detract (or just distract) from the learning experience. There may be a learning curve for you and for your students in taking on the new technology, so be sure that the benefit of using it outweighs the investment of effort that the technology requires.

Georgetown Professor Nora Gordon on making room for one-on-one time with students.

Promoting Student Engagement With Technologies: Four Examples

Below are four common forms of student engagement that can be promoted through the use of technology, and examples of how each might be reflected in the integration of technologies into course design. Each of these outcomes can be achieved without technology, but using technology can help facilitate the work.

Example 1: You want students to do a lot of individual learning outside of class and to bring thought-provoking questions to class to discuss together.

  • As they read, give them a purpose for reading. For each section of the text, you could ask them to identify one key question, or answer a question that you give them.
  • If you want them to make a strong connection between the work they do outside and inside the classroom, it can helpful to make the tie between the two very explicit. Here’s one way to do that:
    • Before class, students post their question/observation to the related thread in the discussion board. Other students can respond and rate the questions (with stars in Blackboard or a “like” in Canvas.)
    • During class, discuss the top 4 or so questions/observations.
    • After class, students journal briefly to reflect on their connections between the text and the in-class discussion.

Georgetown Professor Jennifer Lubkin-Chavez uses technologies to take learning outside the classroom.

Example 2: You want more students to participate.

  • You could use a discussion board in Blackboard or in Canvas as a space for sharing and reflecting, especially for students who have a hard time contributing in other ways.
  • Explicit instructions on your syllabus about naming and posting threads can help keep the discussion board organized.
  • Giving each student a clear role for each week, either as an author, commenter, peer reviewer, or summarizer, can help promote participation.
  • To encourage deeper reflection, you can model a “good” post and “good” comment, and create a rubric for the students that gives points for depth.
  • Letting the authors choose the topics for the week will promote student ownership.

Example 3: You want your students to work more collaboratively outside of class time.

  • You could show students how to use a Google Doc to write and communicate collaboratively.
  • Even if you think most of them have used Google Docs, it’s a good idea to do a short in-class activity to introduce the tool and double-check their ability to use it. You can have them collaboratively write a paragraph in groups without speaking (though they could use the chat function). Afterward, they can debrief the experience and you can give them time to plan how they will collaborate outside of class.
  • Having them respond to a short Google form each week to update you on their progress will motivate them to contribute to the group and to feel some personal accountability.

Example 4: You want students to share their work with someone besides yourself. (The hope is that an authentic audience will help them feel more invested in their projects.)

  • To help students understand their purpose for writing and creating, you can ask them to define an explicit target audience and tell you why they are choosing this audience.
  • Students could then share their work via a Wordpress blog or e-portfolio. This way, their work can remain private for now, but they can also make it public if they want. Perhaps they could write in a specific genre and describe its relevance to the audience so that the form fits the function.
  • If students get feedback from their classmates on just part of their project—perhaps a place they are struggling or a place they could use input—it will make peer assessment more authentic.

Georgetown Professor Sarah Stiles talks about using technology to deepen and share learning.

There are, of course, other possible situations. What challenges do you face in integrating technology into the design of your course? Or how have you responded to these or other challenges? Share your questions and ideas here!

Please reach out to us at cndls@georgetown.edu if you'd like to have a conversation with someone at CNDLS about these or other teaching issues.