For many instructors, determining when to use technology to increase efficiency or effectiveness is as challenging as knowing which technology to use. There are lots of options and the best choice may not be obvious or clear-cut. To help point faculty in the right direction to assess the benefits of technology and then decide what application might deliver the best results, here are some general guidelines.
Technology enhancements typically fall into these categories:
• Making the class more engaging or interactive
• Increasing the efficiency of administrative tasks (like grading)
• Implementing creative or unique approaches
Adding Variety to Foster Engagement
Whether you are teaching fully online or complementing your face-to-face classroom with an online component, technology can make the class more engaging. Consider including links to freely available internet resources, such as relevant websites, blogs, videos, or articles. Videos in particular provide an entertaining way to deliver essential information and offer an unexpected or provocative point of view. Depending on your needs and learning outcomes, videos can bring world-renowned experts into your classroom, guide students through step-by-step “how to” instructions, serve as a tutor to supplement learning materials, or transport the viewer to experience historical events. There’s a wealth of excellent third-party video resources available. Here are a few of my favorites: Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org), TED Talks (www.ted.com), YouTube (www.youtube.com), Google Videos (http://video.google.com), and C Span (www.c-spanvideo.org/videolibrary/about.php). Video resources are available on virtually any topic. Using these types of free resources allows you to add interest and easily expand your learning materials at no cost and with minimal investment of time.
The Global Campus recently conducted a faculty survey, including a question about factors that hinder use of technology. Of those who commented, 40% listed time as a barrier. I can relate; in fact, my previous blog directly addressed this issue. But used appropriately, technology can save you time. The learning management system has easy-to-use features and functions that streamline or automate administrative tasks, especially grading and feedback. My favorite is the electronic rubric, a powerful tool that clearly communicates assignment expectations to students. The step-by-step wizard walks you through creation of a customized form in a matter of minutes, guiding you to select preferences that define levels of achievement, establish appropriate weighting percentages, and enumerate individual assessment criteria. Once the completed table is attached to the assignment, essay-style exam question, or discussion forum, it semi-automates your grading process! The electronic rubric is especially helpful if you use TA's to assist with grading, because interpretive differences are minimized and the grading will be far more consistent for the entire class. The Global Campus faculty training session “Grading and Gradebook” provides a brief display and overview of this time-saving feature.
I believe that doing things differently or including an element of surprise can add “spice” to a class and revitalize learning. If you are willing, break out of the mold and stimulate student creativity and engagement with one of these ideas. In a typical online class, the tried and true “introduce yourself” assignment is submitted as a written discussion board post. This is predictable and – dare I say it – a little boring! Instead, ask students to record a short video or create a comic-strip style cartoon (www.toondoo.com) as an introduction. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s different! Or you might consider “flipping” your classroom. This approach has students view pre-recorded audio and/or video lectures online before a class meets and then uses the face-to-face session to discuss, analyze, debate, and engage with the material covered in the lecture. This is an interactive, highly engaging approach that will energize students and get them more actively involved. And finally, shift some responsibility for learning to your students. Surveys indicate that increasing students’ ownership for their learning tends to result in higher satisfaction. Activities to support this include student facilitation, peer review, creating sample problems or reverse engineering, explaining why wrong answers are wrong instead of only giving the right answer, and using reflection papers or journals for deeper introspection and self-assessment.
I hope this article sparks your imagination and inspires you to take a bold step. When you incorporate technology into your teaching, you will save time, increase efficiency, create more engagement, and boost creativity. And best of all, you might even have fun!