I have entered my third decade of using technology to support learning and teaching. I was a bit startled to realize this while sorting through two big stacks of research materials: the Fall Term student learning and evaluation data I’d collected for a course offered in a Science Teaching & Student Services (STSS) classroom built to support technology-enriched and student-active learning, and the accumulation of course syllabi from my first 1982 course onward. From 1984 onward the files evidence making use of electronic technology to support learning and teaching.
So, two aims shape this post, published on the first day of Spring Term at my home university, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and written at my home away from home university, the University of Salford, in greater Manchester:
- to tell a bit of a story about technology supporting learning and teaching across 3 decades;
- to gather from colleagues a sampler of technology that we might might try out – whether as teachers thinking about technology for the first time or as part of their own on-going history of infusing learning, teaching and technology; whether as scholars thinking about ways in which technology can be of use as we innovate in our teaching or research or community engagement work.
I. Teaching with Technology – a third decade
In Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education & Ways People Learn, John Seeley Brown – now an independent researcher and consultant, then Xerox chief scientist working on radical innovation, digital media & new forms of communication/learning – notes that electricity became “a transformative medium for social practices” only in the 25 years after its introduction. And, interesting to note in this season of film awards, that it took 20+ years for film makers to discover “capabilities of their medium,” especially those “radically different from what had been possible in theater.”
Given that context, I shouldn’t be surprised that teaching materials from 1984 to 1994 – my first decade of teaching full time, while also a graduate student – show forays in teaching with technology that are rather like early uses of electricity and film. Initially, I required students to use word processors (in an Apple lab at Mankato, at mainframe “dumb” terminals at the University of Iowa) for formal assignments and provided resources to coach this skill development in drafting and revising, while also teaching students how to produce transparencies for overhead projection of excerpts for peer review.
My second foray into learning and teaching with technology happened at the UIowa where students across my sections of American Values: Introduction to American Studies and in the History of Feminism and Activism special topics course were engaged in, essentially, weekly blogging via UIowa’s mainframe computer. As the assignment sheet described it:
All students will contribute to a class journal [online] as a forum for sharing idea, insights and questions related to readings, discussions and observations – in-class and out-of-class experiences may provide you with ideas for writing. Minimum entry, one page per week. Maximum entry, two pages per week. You may enter your writing all at once, or return to the terminal for several short entries so that you can extend and comment on others’ entries.
From 1995 to 2010, my uses of technology to support learning and teaching have moved from the realm that John Seely Brown describes as “Internet / Web as a Network of Computers” (place to find others’ research) to the realm of “Internet / Web as a Medium” (place that honors multiple forms of intelligence as students gain access to wider net of resources and viewpoints) to “Internet / Web as a Medium of Learning, Action and Knowledge Creation” (my mashup heading based on a section of his article).
II. Teaching with Technology – a Sampler
So much is possible that beginning to make use of technologies – or to take next steps in the use of technologies – to support learning and teaching can put us off making moves and taking steps. This is difficult even for blog writing/reading folks like you and me who know we like and continue to want to enhance learning and teaching through appropriate, innovative selection of tech tools.
So, I asked around, gathering ideas from a couple dozen teaching colleagues in the US and UK – what tools do you find indispensable? what do you recommend when colleagues seek out your counsel?
The listing below is a distillation of their responses into a Top 12 – the first nine of these focus on the tools they cited most often, or most persuasively; the final three set out ways of thinking about why and when and how to select technology tools that will support your teaching and your students’ learning. In each case, I’ve supplied a link for starting out to “learn more about it.”
1. Creative Commons – discovering pictures/visuals to use in presentations, and thinking while ahead or and in creating presentations
2. Diigo – bookmarking of web resources provides a way to pre-select, annotate, and then share resources for a specific course, session, event, workshop, presentation
3. Dropbox – syncing all types of files across multiple machines via storage “in the clouds,” facilitates sharing files in the process of collaboration
4. Flickr – serving as the companion to a digital camera in sharing/archiving images for future presentations or of classroom activities
5. Moodle – forums allow learning community formation among students and of teachers with students; wiki feature allows students to think together; upload assignments provides absolute “date due” and sustainability in moving toward “paperless course”
6. Photo Booth (the Mac video producer) – for giving students verbal/visual instruction and for feedback/responding to groups or individuals
7. Slideshare – storing presentations with accompanying notes/handouts with capability to share with colleagues new and known
8. Smart Phone – tap tap tap on the keyboard and I have a note to remind me of an idea; click click click on the camera button and I have a photo to trigger a memory.
9. Twitter – keeping tabs on select public conversations (what’s going on out in the world that students should be informed about/involved in? what academic resources are being generated that they should have?), and for amplifying value of resources posted/ shared via other tech tools.
10. On Tools that Support Learning and Teachers/Students
- Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator Blog
- 10 Ways Technology Supports 21st Century Learners in Being Self Directed
11. On Technologies Fostering Student Engagement with Scholarship
- Ryan Cordell, director of Writing Across the Curriculum at St. Norbert College, on learning to use primary sources, practicing real scholarship and collaboration
- New Technologies to Get Your Students Engaged
12. On Selecting a Set of Tools
- Chrissi Nerantzi, UK-based teaching consultant, Bits and Pieces Blog
- Tools I Used Most in 2011
This is the bit my journalism teachers would call the portion that could be edited away, the pointy bottom of an inverted pyramid – the very specific details, the extra layer of the story, the curly-cue at the end that could be cut away.
And I remember doing a fair bit of that sort of editing while paying for my undergraduate education by working three jobs while also being a fulltime student between 1975 – 1980. I worked at an industrial spray painting job on the weekends where my dad was the foreman; I held editorial roles at the college newspaper; and I ran the Compugraphic Typesetting machine that allowed us to produce our own page and advertising layouts.
Technology was part of my everyday life – it allowed me to do the work that paid the bills.
The factory work with technology also taught me how a technology scheme worked to make a more efficient whole. The editing taught me to see what my staff needed in terms of technology for supporting their reporting and writing. The typesetting engaged me in learning in a hands on way with the word processing technologies and practices I could see would become a electric transformation into the 21st century. That learning with and through and about and because of technology kept me in school, providing me with tools for organizing my research and writing as well as with pay checks to cover tuition as a first generation college student.
That alone could be the conclusion to this piece, but it’s not. The whimsical part I like best about Ilene Alexander working with computers and learning, technology and teaching in 2012 is that while I am entering into my third decade of doing this work, I enter knowing that two Ilene Alexanders before me made this, in part, possible. In the 1940s another Ilene Alexander worked as a “human computer”
at the Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, making innovative use of her maths training, one of the few women doing such work. A more recent Ilene Alexander was a ground-breaking computer entrepreneur. I like to think that the teaching and learning with the support of technologies during this third decade will foster some future Ilene Alexander’s learning – and maybe her teaching.
Photo Credits –
All photos – except of the Gandalf modem and the photo at the bottom of the page – are by this Ilene Alexander. The photo of the 1940s Ilene Alexander at her computing post, in the back right corner of the photo, is provided by NASA. The Gandalf photo is from Wikipedia. The sculpture at the top of the page is part of the Manchester Art Gallery permanent collection.