Here at Teaching, Learning, and Technology part of our mission is to support, develop, and educate faculty in the integration of educational technology into pedagogy and assessment. Our goal for doing this is that it will enhance student learning and promote effective or innovative practices. Lately, I have met with several members of the College of Charleston faculty who are interested in getting started with incorporating more technology into the classroom or starting to look at it for the first time. It can be daunting when faced with the choices of technology tools that are on the market. Which one is the best? Can my students use it? Do I really HAVE to use technology to get my point across?
Here are our top 5 tips to consider when you are looking at implementing educational technology into your courses:
- Above all, technology should be chosen to ENHANCE instruction. Too often faculty members find a new tool and try to come up with a way to use it in class, which is not necessarily a bad thing and can lead to some innovative instruction. However, trying to force a tool to fit into your course simply because it’s new and shiny may not be the best way to introduce technology into your courses. Remember, the instruction should be used to structure tool choice rather than using the tool to structure your instruction.
- Define what you want the tool to accomplish and the relevant features. There are tons of tools out there to achieve your goal for any action. Just do a quick Google search for apps for managing a to-do list (http://bit.ly/1oquZP2)! The first step to a purposeful integration is to reflect on your current teaching practices to see where your lessons could be enriched with a technological tool. Next, define what you want the tool to be able to do and what are your “deal breaker” features, or features that the tool absolutely must or must not do. This will help to narrow your search. Of course, when it comes to this, you can always have a conversation with your neighborhood, friendly Instructional Technologist to help with the narrowing and research process!
- Plan ahead and test it out. Whenever you are trying a new instructional technology tool, it may take a while for you to feel comfortable with using the tool or to get it set up the way that you want. Like anything, this comes with practice and exposure to the product. Make sure that if you want to use a new tool in your courses that you give yourself at least 2 weeks to really get to know the app or tool before implementing it with your students. Also, try the tool in multiple locations and using multiple platforms. For example, try using a web based tool both on and off campus, in the classroom where you want to work with it, and on Chrome/Firefox/Internet Explorer/Safari to make sure everything displays and functions the same way. Nothing is more frustrating than getting in front of your students to facilitate a wonderful lesson planned with technology and have it not work the way that you intended. Which leads me to our next point…
- Have a backup plan just in case. In a perfect world, we would all be able to walk into any classroom and have every lesson go smoothly…the students are actively learning, all of the technology functions perfectly, and you leave class with the high of knowing that you have helped to mold young minds into the way of the future. Snap back to reality! There are too many variables to have that utopian classroom be a constant, so as effective instructors we need to be prepared with various instructional strategies to help our students meet the end objectives for the lesson.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new! Yes, things can go wrong and it’s scary to change from the way that you may have done things for years. It can also be amazing and you can see growth, access, and engagement with material that you never thought possible. Be honest with your students about your new endeavors and ask them for their feedback. When the students know that you are learning and that you value their opinions about what is going on in the classroom, it creates a sense of ownership within the cohort of learners in your course.
One faculty member on campus told me that he tests his material for his online courses in his face to face course and has his students rate them. It helps to shape the instruction and trouble shoot for the next running of the course. Another faculty member in the Department of Communication told his students that they were going to try a new tool in the class and that it was the first time he had ever tried to use this tool, so they were going to experience it together. The students responded to his openness and they ended up learning from each other and allowing this particular faculty member to branch out and try more technology tools to engage his students.
When you start to look at integrating new tools into your lessons it may seem like there are so many options and only one of you, but keep in mind that there is always safety in numbers. Talk to your colleagues to see what they are doing and what they have found to be successful and what has not. You can learn just as much from a failed attempt as you can from a successful one. Attend workshops and training sessions to help with your comfort level. In addition, you can always contact your Instructional Technologist to help with an individualized plan of attack!