Technology in the Classroom

Our last faculty workshop of the semester is approaching, where we will be discussing strategies for implementing more creativity in the classroom. An aspect of this workshop involves the use of technology. But whether and how to use technology in the classroom is certainly not a settled debate.

There are broad disagreements over whether any sort of active learning (including technology) detracts from student development of the comprehension and reasoning skills required to digest a lecture. There are also disagreements about the extent to which technology can effectively be used to deliver course content. In particular, the trend toward “flipping the classroom” is largely premised upon taking advantage of available technologies for the explicit purpose of increasing student engagement with course materials. In a flipped classroom, lectures are delivered electronically outside of class, and in-class time is reserved for student synthesis, application, and discussion. Some faculty have even attempted the flip in large lecture hall situations, encouraging student accountability for completing required readings. Proponents of the flipped classroom model have developed many different types of resources for using technology outside the classroom in order to facilitate more active learning before, after, and during class. Ted-ed is one example.

But what about technology in the classroom itself? This can take either the form of technology used by the instructor (e.g. powerpoint, video clips), or technology used by the students, namely laptops. There are many elements to consider when deciding whether to allow students to use laptops. On one hand, research suggests that students demonstrate better understanding of concepts and applications when they take notes by hand. On the other hand, permitting the use of technology may foster a more inclusive learning environment, allowing for more alternatives to the traditional lecture. Chris Buddle at McGill, for example, allows students to use the internet to fact check him during class, which often leads to spontaneous discussions and new avenues for student engagement. It can also expand accessibility for students who require accommodations for varying sorts of disabilities.

WAC philosophy and pedagogy offers a robust defense of active learning. That said, it can be overwhelming to try and integrate so many new and different strategies and resources into a classroom. It may certainly be the case that using technology in new ways does not immediately yield the expected outcome. That need not be a reason, however, to shy away from it. It does not mean that you have to drastically change your curriculum to make it more fun or accessible. But it does mean that there may be ways to deepen student engagement with both your course, and with the pursuit of knowledge more broadly, which might fall outside the traditional lecture format, and may involve writing and reading in more creative styles and venues.