Yesterday, I got the chance to sit in on a very interesting discussion between several colleagues in Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts. The topic? Technology in the Classroom.
Some instructors hear the word “technology” and barr the door to their classroom; for them, technology means students having their laptops or smartphones out in class, tuning into Facebook rather than the lecture. There are instructors who are optimistic about incorporating technology into the classroom.
Tim Hayes, a professor in the English department, and Jamie Kinsley, an English PhD student, encouraged other instructors to join them in a commons area for the chance to address questions like:
- How can we use technology to innovate within the classroom?
- What kinds of technology work best?
- And how do we maintain a balance between using technology and more traditional instruction?
Now, that’s a lot to address in an hour, but the goal here isn’t to walking away with a definite solution to those questions. This is merely a jumping off point.
Also participating in the discussion was George Littleton, a 15 year veteran instructor for professional/technical writing courses in the English department. Littleton when he first stepped out of the professional field and into teaching, he felt as though he was very adept at using technology. He eloquently described himself as having been “the big bad boss with all the hot sauce,” but these days he says he is often “faking it” when it comes to using technology in the classroom. But now, he wants to get back on top of his tech game, in the classroom.
Perhaps the individual with the most insight into the tech topic was Wiebke Kuhn, IT manager for the College of Liberal Arts, who has also served time as an English instructor. She came armed with an iPad and a plethora of ideas about the future of the classroom. Kuhn believes that currently, “literature classes are still very much 19th century; we have students read something, then we have them write papers on it.” However, she says, “that’s where the most changes will occur. In 5-15 years, we will see a radical shift in how content is created, what kind of content students will be able to create.” An example she gave is the e-portfolio: a digital tool that is gaining popularity in higher ed.
As the classroom comes out of the 19th century and catches up to the 21st, an English student’s e-portfolio would not necessarily be filled with your standard essay or paper. Hayes, Kinsley, Littleton, and Kuhn all seemed to agree that students should not be strictly limited to conveying what they’ve learned by writing papers.
There needs to be an emphasis on teaching young people to not just be successful writers, but to be successful communicators.
Implementing technology in the classroom can give an instructor the ability to accomplish that goal. Kinsley spoke of how, in the core English classes she teaches, she is trying to provide students with alternatives to writing papers. One idea that could be successful is submitting a video response to a particular prompt. Of course, instructors then have to figure out how they would evaluate the effectiveness of a video or another type of submission. But that issue would have to be put on hold for another day. The point that Kinsley and the others make is that “we express our knowledge differently, so we shouldn’t confine students to one medium.”
Technology gives students and instructors alike, multiple mediums.
I must say, it is very encouraging to see that discussions like this are taking place on campuses. For someone who often blogs on this topic and researches various ways technology is being developed in the classroom, yet sees very little of it being put into practice, well it warms my heart to happen upon individuals in academia who want to do more with technology. And I think the discussion format is a great way to approach it; your colleagues and peer can come together and swap stories, ideas and suggestions. I can blog until my fingers fall off, but it’s actual collaboration and discussion that is going to lead to innovation.
I’ll leave you with something Kuhn said during the discussion that really stood out to me:
“You are in this profession to learn new stuff - whether it be with books, research, or technology. Face it - you are very good at learning new stuff. We should be using this ability to learn at a high rate and apply it to using technology in the classroom.”
If you would like more information on how you can get a similar discussion started on your campus or in your department, you can email Tim Hayes at email@example.com or Jamie Kinsley at firstname.lastname@example.org. But I’ll go ahead and share their biggest secret to attracting participants: coffee and cookies.