Teaching with Technology

Learning goals can vary for different courses. Some are focused on student understanding of basic content, others want to improve student skills associated with the discipline. But instructors don’t list “playing with cool educational technology” as one of the main learning goals in their course.

Technology, as the saying goes, is a good servant, but a bad master. When considering a new technology, think first about your teaching goals, and any difficulties you may be having. Notice the difference between these two statements:

Slide 1a

The second instructor is going to be a much more effective user of the technology, since they are trying to solve a particular instructional problem. But even better is to think more broadly about what your goals for the course are, and how a strong teaching technique can be made possible by the technology:

Slide 2

We have used clickers as an example here, but the principle is the same for any technology tool. Let’s talk about a few more common educational technologies to make this principle clear.

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As you can see, sometimes less is more when using technology. If the use of social media is not an important learning goal for your course, it might be simpler to avoid using the tool directly, and consider simpler solutions with the same interesting constraints.

Now that you have seen some examples of why focusing on the tool itself isn’t a great idea, let’s instead list some common teaching “problems,” try to determine the actual learning goal underlying the problem, and then see if there might be a technology that would make that goal more effectively reached.

Problem: Students won’t engage in class

Actual learning goal: What is the skill you are hoping students will practice by talking in class? Do they need to learn how to use the vocabulary of the discipline? Do they need to solve equations? Should they be able to give examples of the theory you just explained? Try to determine what this skill is, as this will guide you in encouraging participation.


Technology support:

One of the primary benefits to using technology in the classroom is that you can hold students accountable for an activity without having to grade paper submissions. For the activities above, you can use tools like clickers or Canvas quizzes to have students (and student groups) submit their responses.