Thoughts on Education – 3/9/2012 – Using technology in the classroom

I’m going to try and get back to some of the education issues that have been coming through my Evernote lately.  I’ve got quite a backlog over the last couple of weeks while I have been grading, so I should have plenty to write about over the next week or so.  Today, I want to concentrate in on the general category of technology in the classroom, as I have been accumulating quite a bit on that recently.  Of course, the recent Apple announcements and developments are relevant to this as well.

I’m going to start here, with a general article about what teachers think in general about the use of technology.  As the article itself says, the results are not particularly surprising, but I will put up the general infographic here, as it illustrates what I think is not too far off from what I see, especially among the younger faculty.

I hope that you can click on that to make it bigger, but the basic message here is that the majority of teachers surveyed thought that technology in the classroom would help both the learning of the students and their engagement with the material.  In fact, the two questions that refer back to the older “technology,” namely textbooks, got the lowest Agree responses and the highest Disagree responses.  Again, I don’t think there is anything surprising at all about this, but I wanted to start here.

In a similar vein is this article from The Washington Post, which discusses how textbooks are failing to engage our students and help them learn.  He notes that textbooks are not effective at engaging students because that is not what sells textbooks.  We don’t choose a textbook (me included) because I think it is going to be some sort of magical panacea to solve all of the problems for my students.  Instead, at least in history, we look at them primarily in terms of coverage.  Which textbook covers the material we want to cover is more important than which textbook students will like.  In fact, I have often found that if you talk to a group of instructors about choosing textbooks, the textbook that is most likely to be appealing to students is often dismissed out of hand as not being what works for us as instructors.  So, there is a fundamental disconnect there.  My feeling about this is echoed in the article as well, where one teacher is quoted as saying, “Even when adoption committees include content specialists, these people typically evaluate the accuracy of the content, rather than whether the instructional strategies are effective.”  In fact, the author quotes another educational administrator, who noted, “The educational community was quick to respond to the (legitimate) criticism of textbooks but quicker still to adopt their horrific replacements: excessive use of lecture, worksheets, movies, poster making, and pointless group work.”  We are flailing around as far as I can see.  I feel like that myself, where I am just trying so many different things all the time without ever knowing what I’m doing.  That’s why I’m doing this, so that instead of trying new things at random, I am trying to plan things out.  Anyway, there’s a lot more to this article, and I do recommend it as very interesting reading when we think about how the old technology options are failing us.

And, when I read this article from the Chronicle, I saw myself and how I use technology a lot of times.  Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way.  As it says, in online courses, especially at the community college level, “the professors are relying on static course materials that aren’t likely to motivate students or encourage them to interact with each other.”  While I get a lot of compliments from students about the way my course is organized, I know that I use few real tools, and I certainly do not effectively encourage interaction in my classes.  The article goes on to talk about a study where the results came from.  That study concluded:  “It found that most professors relied on text-based assignments and materials. In the instances when professors did decide to use interactive tools like online video, many of those technologies were not connected to learning objectives, the study found.”  I certainly would say mine fits this completely.  My course, is completely text-based.  There is little to no video or interaction in my own materials.  I have adopted some from McGraw-Hill that I use in conjunction with my textbook, but that is actually in a completely separate classroom from my own in Moodle.  While the article does note that technology is again not a panacea to solve all of these problems, I think that in the online environment, a failure to be innovative in technology will cause the students to treat the course as a chore to get through.  Of course, I may just be thinking some fairy-tale thoughts here that a student could really feel completely engaged by an online course, but I think I could do better.

As we think about the future of technology in the classroom, there are a lot of directions it could go.  I’ve been exploring some of those in this blog as I have gone on here.  I am trying to keep current on what’s going on out there, and trying to see what ideas might work for me.  This article from Mind/Shift talks about the future of technology in the classroom.  The article considers the near, medium, and long term forecast for technology.  In the near term they consider mobile apps and tablet computing as the center piece of where we are going.  We certainly are thinking about that at my community college.  The faculty work group that I’m on has been given iPads to explore and the task of finding apps that can be used in the classroom to enhance learning.  As well, we will be buying classroom sets of iPads to use.  So, nothing new there based on what I have seen.  The mid term is going to be gamification and the use of data to influence education.  I have also been exploring gamification in this blog, so I guess I’m right on top of that topic as well.  As to the use of data, if the big assessment push we all seem to be on is any indication, I think we’re already on this path.  I don’t know how far it will go, but it is certainly a trend that we are involved in.  The longer term is going to include gesture-based computing and increasingly ubiquitous connections to everything.  I certainly agree that those are both technologies that could come into play.  What is interesting about the article though is that the so-called future of technology in education includes little that I’m not already engaged with.  I guess that means that instead of looking to these things to come out in the future, I need to figure out how to use them now and just get on with it.

So, where am I going with this.  Still thinking, but moving along.  I want to incorporate technology, and I want relevant change.  I don’t want change for the sake of change, as I feel like that is what I have been doing for quite a while here.  I think that more is needed, which is why I keep working on this blog.  I need real change that comes with solid thought and evidence behind it.  It will still be an experiment, of course, but I would like it to be an experiment that is directed in a productive manner.  So, I shall keep thinking and planning.  It’s hard to do more in the middle of the semester.  Let me know what you think?  Those of you who teach, what are you thinking of doing?  Are you looking to change something?  Those of you who do not teach, what would you like to see?

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of four, student of life, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all-around guy.

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