Article #2 from an ongoing Series
As with all classroom teaching strategies, the question I focus on is how a certain activity or tool will facilitate learning. It is not a question of electronic usage; it is a matter of a way of teaching that reflects the student as the center of learning.
In using technology in my classroom, I have found it to be most valuable when it is used over time, to build on and then extend traditional teaching methods. This strategy is used partly because traditional methods are proven effective (and I donít wish to abandon them), partly due to my own limitations of time and technical expertise, partly due to my fear of what new tools and methods will do to my teaching effectiveness, and partly due to a fear that using these technologies will eat my valuable time up after getting caught in a web of technical difficulties. After all, I have put a lot of energy into my classes and embracing all these tools is a lot of work. But at this point I can assure you that it has a payoff.
The primary tool I use for my lecture classes are digitally prepared slides projected on a screen. I further expand each slide with explanations, stories and examples. The slides also carry with them numerous images that reinforce concepts and examples. For example, I may be lecturing about the production of steel. This slide may contain the basics of production facts, but it will also show images of actual steel beams being produced as well as series of images that show how an I-Beam is formed. While I donít refer to these directly, they reinforce my lecture and take a bit of the mystery out of what actual production looks like. This alone has raised my capacity to present visual and textual information simultaneously. At present, I am trying to introduce live access to websites with streaming videos to enhance, supplement and possibly even replace my own explanations of certain concepts or processes.
The most valuable realization I've had is that this technology offers additional opportunities for students to learn the material. Each student now has a minimum of 5 opportunities to learn the material by:
- reading the assigned pages,
- listening to the lecture and take notes,
- reviewing the classroom slides after the lecture from my website,
- taking the test and
- reviewing the test in class after grading has occurred.
Knowing the lectures will be posted allows students to actively listen instead of frantically taking notes. The students recognize this is not the last time they can see the lecture so they relax during class and have opportunities to ask questions. In fact, after switching to this system, questions from students dramatically increased. The combination of PowerPoint slides and access to the files to download from my website creates an environment with less emphasis on the classroom lecture as the only opportunity to get that all-important faculty delivered information. I find this to be particulary effective in a classroom where many students do not speak English as a first language.
There are challenges to such use of technology. The design of a ďtechnology-readyĒ classroom is critical; presently most rooms on campus don't completely support the use of available technology. Most often, the classrooms get in the way unless they are specifically designed for such a set up as in the excellent classrooms in Rosenberg Library. In 95% of the rooms right now, itís inevitable that a computer cart will have to be rolled in. First, you have to get a computer cart, not to mention a computer and an LCD projector! Desks will have to be moved and then moved back. Often the desks for students who are disabled will be front and center where the projector needs to be. Cords stretch across the floor to electrical plugs. Cables stretch across the cart to a desk to place a mouse or keyboard on, restricting movement across the room. A cable stretches across the floor to the network port to access the Internet. (and hope you have a cable long enough to reach!) Lighting is always less than optimal. Finally, it is never a question of IF there will be a technical problem but WHEN. So you must also be prepared to have the classroom set up to revert back to standard chalkboard situations. Despite all this, the benefits of how I work my lecture classes with this technology outweigh the trouble and risk it involves.
The process has not been overnight, but evolutionary in nature. I began by using PowerPoint in one or two lectures. Over time, I created slides for all my classes. That took a couple of years. I then incorporated videos or website resources into the lectures, if the classroom had the equipment. I used to provide handouts for my students and now I post them on my website. Learning to create a website was difficult as I donít have any real understanding of how they are created. After some helpful discussions and tutoring from the Technology Learning Center, my lectures were posted. I hired a student to assist me with this since I didnít want to spend my time wrestling with learning the process. My next step is to eliminate the student help and do it myself. Another possible next step is to make this course an online course, allowing for a greater audience and increased enrollment without really increasing my workload too much. When this will happen is up in the air. Iím not in any particular hurry. There are a thousand things to be done and they will happen one at a time.
In conclusion, I am positive that this ďfolding inĒ of technology over time into my teaching has been valuable. I am sure that the way I have used PowerPoint and other technologies has increased my studentsí opportunities for learning course material. It hasnít happened all at once and it wasnít done perfectly the first time. Administrators, staff, faculty and students understand the ultimate value of such steps and are both supportive and patient with the process.
Editor's note: The equipment challenges Andrew speaks of will be mitigated in the coming semesters as more laptops and projection systems become available for classroom use.