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As an instructional medium, IT does not necessarily cause changes or improvements in teaching and learning. This CDTL Brief presents the first of a two-part discussion on how instructors may utilise the options and opportunities in IT-supported Learning Strategies for improved teaching and learning.

August 2003, Vol. 6, No. 8 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Embracing Appropriate Technology in Teaching and Learning
 
Professor Elsie Chan
School of Public Administration
University of Victoria, Canada
 

Introduction

One of the most obvious trends on university campuses in recent years is the increased use of technology to support instruction and learning. Integration of technology into teaching and learning, however, remains the single most important information technology challenge confronting universities around the globe.

Simply attaching technology to existing classroom instruction or converting instruction to use technology may yield some benefits; however, it does not necessarily enhance learning. For instance, posting a syllabus or lecture notes on the Web may allow students to access the material in a more convenient manner, but the Internet is used only as a medium of delivery.

Instructors need to redesign instructional content to take advantage of the possibilities that technology offers. In other words, teachers should incorporate technology that can add value to the traditional classroom activities. To provide value added technology-delivered instruction, instructors might want to consider the following suggestions that use technology as a supplement to classroom activities:

  • Using computer simulations.

  • Connecting students from different universities in order to exchange information on group projects.

  • Using videoconferencing to connect people from the private or public sectors to interact with students in the classroom.

Technology can be used as a supplement or replacement to a traditional lecture course. This article will focus on the discussion of implementing technology as a supplement, using seven principles for good practice in undergraduate instruction. Lessons learnt about the use of technologies will also be discussed.

Implementing technology as a supplement

Any given instructional strategy can be supported by various technologies and vice versa. However, some technologies are better than others and add more value to the instructional strategy. Chickering & Gamson (1991) specified seven principles for good practice in undergraduate instruction that have been widely implemented in higher education and are now considered best practices in and out of classrooms. Using these seven principles as guidelines, the following are some of the technologies I use in classrooms:

  1. Good practice encourages student-faculty contact.

    It is important for instructors and students to have frequent interaction. This not only allows the instructors to know where the students are, but also enables the teachers to help the students when difficulties arise. As a result, students become motivated and involved in the coursework, knowing that the instructors care about their progress. Instructors usually have office hours during the week. Email can be used as a means to provide student-faculty contact outside these hours even if the instructors are not physically in their offices. I use email to facilitate questions from students in large classes or those who don’t have an opportunity to ask questions after class (e.g. students who need to leave quickly). In addition to email, listserv, chat room and videoconferencing are also effective technologies that can be used to encourage student-faculty contact.

  2. Good practice encourages cooperation among students.

    Learning is enhanced when students work cooperatively. Email again can be an effective tool to generate communication among classmates when they are not physically together. I also use threaded discussion forums via Web Course Tools (WebCT1) to generate discussion topics and have students post their responses when they wish within a deadline. Chat rooms allow students to interact in real time when they need to discuss a certain aspect of their courses. Videoconferencing permits students to interact in real time when discussing a project.

  3. Good practice encourages active learning.

    Students learn more when they are actively engaged in learning. Using computer simulations in or out of class engages students in a deeper exploration of the concepts and allows them to acquire a better understanding. I provide Java applets simulations on the Internet for students. I also require students to search for information on the Internet that is not available in the local library, thus forcing them to become actively involved in making choices and judgments about what they require for their projects.

  4. Good practice gives prompt feedback.

    Frequent feedback on small units avoids misunderstandings that could be addressed prior to feedback on larger units. Email allows person-to-person feedback, while listserv allows me to provide feedback to a group of students as well as comment on projects and other group activities. Instructors can put tutorial questions on computer programs that provide immediate feedback to students based on their responses to the questions.

  5. Good practice emphasises time on task.

    Good time management skills are crucial for both students and professionals. Technology can maximise time spent on studying by making the process more efficient. For example, students can learn some aspects of the course at home or work, and they can ask instructor questions or communicate with classmates without commuting to and from campus. This allows learners to fit more study time into their busy schedules.

  6. Good practice communicates high expectations.

    When instructors communicate their high expectations to the students clearly, students will try harder and learn more. Listserv gives me the opportunity to communicate my expectations to students on assignments, projects and exams clearly. Publishing students’ work on the Internet stimulates interest in working harder on a project because the students know that the finished project will be available for others to examine.

  7. Good practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

    Each student is an individual who possesses different talents and styles of learning. Learning is enhanced when instructors take this into consideration when implementing teaching strategies. Existing multimedia resources (e.g. graphics, audio, animation and video) can be used to support different methods of learning. Students can choose to learn in the ways they find most effective.

Lessons learned on the use of technology

When the use of technology is based on the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate instruction, it helps enhance students’ learning. However, it is important to ensure that the technologies are implemented effectively to provide the desired results. Some of the lessons I have learned on implementing technologies include the following:

  • Let students know how often email will be accessed. I provide fast feedback to students, and promise a fuller response later if required.

  • Personalise email communications by using students’ first names.

  • Inform students that having computer access to email and the Internet is important in the course.

  • Ensure that all students have some way to access the Internet and address any issues that might arise (e.g. hardware differences and software problems).

The following are feedback from some students on aspects of my approach that stood out as being most influential to their learning:

  • “Answers questions promptly and was very accessible as far as e-mailing questions.”

  • “She was easily approachable and responded promptly to e-mail.”

  • “Postings on the Net. Prompt in responding to questions and concerns.”

  • “She tried to encourage discussions online and answered emails promptly.”

  • “She responded quickly and readily to all online questions.”

Conclusion

When technology is appropriately used in instructional environments, it will have a strong, positive influence on students’ learning. Technology offers instructors excellent tools that can benefit students. However, not every use of technology helps enhance student learning. Instructors need to examine the use of technology as a supplement to their teaching strategies to ensure that it actually adds value to the course. By using the seven principles of good practice as a guideline to implementing technology in the classroom, teachers can be confident that they are creating a good learning environment for their students.

Reference

Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (Ed.). (1991). ‘Applying the Seven Principles for Practice in Undergraduate Education’. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Vol. 47. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Footnote:

1 WebCT is a multi-featured online course development and presentation server available to faculty at the University of Victoria at no charge.

 
 
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