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How Students Use Tech Outside of Class

ComputerThis article was published by EdTech Magazine on August 27, 2013.

Technology has made it easy for students to use their computers and mobile devices to continue learning outside of traditional classrooms.

The ability to take notes electronically during class results in the conservation of valuable study time. In addition, many students find they are able to use digital notes more effectively than handwritten notes by conducting keyword searches to locate specific information quickly.

Today’s college students are also able to annotate and share notes with study-group participants by using cloud-based tools such as Evernote and Google Drive. Undergraduates at Ithaca College in New York use Google Drive to create, edit, and share course outlines. These powerful tools enhance collaboration by allowing students to access their notes from any device, add comments and track changes.

Google Drive and Evernote are also ideal for collaboration on group projects. MBA students at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., use Google Drive to collaborate on projects and presentations. The students can contribute to the same document without compiling or emailing different versions back and forth. For students concerned about equal contribution of work on a project, Google Drive shows revision updates made by each contributor.

For research, students are using free tools such as Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook. While Wikipedia is typically not allowed as an official source, it is frequently used to find other resources, since the site tracks footnotes and bibliographies. Students can look up a topic using Wikipedia and then refer to an article’s cited works for additional source material.

Social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, are used to poll communities and connect with experts. Social media is used to share ideas, articles and other resources. These networks are also used to hold relevant and meaningful conversations across time and geography. Ithaca College’s course on professional development uses social media to host guest speakers who are unable to travel to campus. Instead, the guest speakers are asked to check the course’s Facebook and Twitter pages during a given week and then respond to students’ questions. These tools are beneficial because discussion can be continued outside of class, thereby opening up a broader learning environment.

Students are also using web-based conferencing tools, such as Google Hangouts, to interview experts about their work. Students in the Master of Arts in Learning Technologies program at Pepperdine University in California collaborate synchronously, or in real time, using Google Hangouts and Google Documents. The students are able to share their dissertation research and provide valuable feedback to one another in real time. Some students, such as those attending Pepperdine University School of Law, are even using this technology to interview for jobs or to work remotely while in school. Web-based conferencing is also a key tool used by students to hold team meetings for group projects. Stevens Institute of Technology management students also use web-based conferencing to present their final projects online and in real time to their instructor and peers.

Today’s learners are actively seeking content and tutorials on topics of interest.

Students and non-student learners alike access valuable online content from Khan Academy, TED, YouTube and blogs; they watch and read tutorials created by others; and they learn how to complete specific tasks, such as computing mathematical equations, writing computer-programming languages or using a feature in a software application, all without the guidance of an instructor.

Technology enables learning to take place outside of the classroom and the library. Students use technology to meet, collaborate and create content virtually. In many cases, technology helps students research subjects, share ideas and learn specific skills. Technology also helps students make valuable networking connections with others in their field of study.


Distraction or Opportunity? Embracing Tech in the Classroom

ComputerAn abridged version of this article was published by EdTech Magazine on July 25, 2013.

It’s common for students to bring laptops, tablets, and smart phones to class. But what happens when they’re turned on? From the viewpoint of the lectern, it’s hard to tell if students are using their mobile electronics for educational goals or browsing the Internet. And are their actions distracting their peers?

As a Manager of Instructional Technology, I’ve had the opportunity to observe several lecture hall courses ranging from 40-100 students. Sitting in the back of the classroom gave me a great view of the students’ computer screens. I was pleasantly surprised to find in a class of 100 students only one student was on a Web page other than the course Learning Management System, the downloaded lecture notes, or a Word Document. Pretty impressive.

These observations support the hypothesis that students are using computers in the classroom to aid in their instruction. How does it aid in their instruction? Professional students use the opportunity to make additions and annotations to downloaded class lecture slides or transcribe the lecture using word processing programs.

Yes, it’s more difficult to call your students’ attention away from the computers in order to get them to participate openly in discussion. Technology is not a distraction in the classroom, but if you want dynamic discussion and interaction with students, do just that, interact with your students and encourage discussion, don’t lecture “at” them. Minimal interaction during lectures results in students’
“hiding” behind their computer screens. They’ll shut the computer screens and contribute worthy discussions if the lesson is dynamic.

Alternatively, technology can be used as a teaching advantage. Students who are introverted may find it easier to participate in class if they can do so via technology. Incorporate tools such as polling technology and back-channel blogs to have students participate with the computers they are already using. These tools can allow for anonymous participation and contribution to the class without students’ feeling cornered or in the spotlight. Ideas can be free flowing with the disinhibition associated with anonymous contributions. Conducting lessons with anonymous participation means we need to rethink traditional participation grades.

In addition, using these online technologies to encourage participation can be beneficial in interacting with all students, not just the select few that raise their hands and speak up in the limited class time. Every student can contribute by answering polling questions and typing their responses into a class website. These tools can also be beneficial because the class discussion can be continued outside of class, thus opening up a broader learning environment.

It’s not just about how students are using computers in the classroom, but how the use of computers during class impact students outside of class. Students prefer to take notes electronically so that they don’t waste valuable study time transcribing hand-written notebooks to a digital notebook. Digital notes results in better use of students’ study time. Students are able to do keyword searches for documents and topics to locate specific information quickly, collaborate and share notes with their study groups, and prepare written work quicker by copy and pasting direct quotes from their pre-typed notes.

Students are going to use laptops and mobile devices in the classroom. Embrace the technology and work with your Educational Technologist or Instructional Designer to determine the best tools and methodologies to enhance your course with technology and support the course objectives.

Ooh, Shiny & New! Using a Project to Meet Colleagues

Pepperdine University School of Law spent several months planning and designing a classroom upgrade, fondly called the educational technology update (or ETU).

As a new member of the Information Services team, I joined the project in its initial planning phase. Funding had been approved but information regarding the ETU requirements needed to be collected. I spent the first couple months of my new job interviewing the School of Law Faculty. This was fruitful in two ways. The obvious, we received valuable input on what technology was needed in each classroom and thus secured faculty buy-in on this great change.

The less obvious reason why the Faculty interviews were fruitful is that it introduced me, the new Manager of Instructional Technology, to the Faculty.

There’s nothing like jumping in the deep-end to get to know your colleagues and gain respect.

I spent hours meeting with Law Faculty members interviewing them one-on-one about the classrooms, their expectations, their hopes, and their needs.

These meetings provided me with an opportunity to show the tenured and adjunct faculty that I was knowledgeable and credible in my field of Educational Technology. It also showed the faculty that I had a genuine interest in their opinions and skills. It also opened up conversation and started relationship-building. It showed my constituents that I was someone they can come to me for technical support, problem solving, and brain-storming.

As a new employee, I highly recommend communicating in person. Get out from behind the computer and off the telephone. Knock on doors, make your face and voice known, but above all, listen to what your colleagues say and follow-through with the best of intentions. Doing so will reiterate the fact that you a valuable part of the team.

An Instructional Designer’s Philosophy

the_thinkerI’ve previously wrote about Being an Instructional Designer and Instructional Design Defined.

I once read, and wholeheartedly agree, “Instructional Designers create easy-to-understand educational materials for training and development purposes. They understand the process of learning and use graphics & creative strategies to make the material effective and interesting.”

As I think about who I am and what I do, I decided to share my thoughts about my career passion. As an Instructional Designer, I have a philosophy to designing effective instruction.

My instructional design philosophy can be summed in a few points:

  1. Learning should be about connecting to the content and then sharing your knowledge and interests with others.
    • An instructional designer curates knowledge. We provide learners with valuable connections to subject matter experts and information.
    • Learners should be able to explain or repeat the lesson to a partner.
    • Learners should be able to share the knowledge with a group of people.
  2. Adults need to know why they need to learn something and how it benefits them. Making this transparent is the start to good Instructional Design
    • Learners should be able to discuss how they use the information, how it benefits them, and any issues they have with the information.
    • A good instructional designer facilitates this discussion and provides recommendations, best practices and suggestions for mitigating the issues.
    • Learners should establish goals. If learners are not driven to set goals for themselves, instructional designers must aid in the development of these goals. Once learning goals are set, instructional designers must create and facilitate instruction that helps accomplish these goals.
  3. Good instructional design allows users to experience and interact with the content.
    • It’s okay to learn by doing and learn by making mistakes.

    Instructional Designers don many hats, including that of producer, coordinator, and facilitator. Read more about these roles here.

Dynamic Online Education

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Although my current position doesn’t afford me the opportunity to work in online education, I have had many years of experience in online education. As an Instructional Designer, I assisted faculty in adjusting their traditional classroom pedagogy for online instruction. I have also taken over 60 credits of online courses in my pursuit of an MBA in Technology Management. And lastly, I have designed curriculum for an online course that I instruct. Stating these credentials is essential for the point I am to discuss because it illustrates that I have different perspectives of online learning as an instructional designer, student, and instructor:

Online learning needs to be more dynamic.

I don’t mean that online learning needs to have synchronous course sections (which it should and oftentimes does), but there needs to be synergy between the delivery of the content and the contribution of students.

Take for instance a basic online course structure in a learning management system such as BlackBoard, Moodle, or Sakai. Students locate the required reading materials and lectures in a designated folder structure. They then move off that page to a discussion forum or assignment submission page and contribute to the class discussion.

If multiple readings are discussed within a given course lesson, it can cause confusion to the students because their discussion is not being effectively curated as it would in a traditional class or synchronous web conferencing session.

In addition, students may repeat the same general comments as their classmates (after probably reading their peers’ comments), therefore, not effectively contributing to the discussion. This results in students not being able to command the subject or demonstrate their understanding.

What I believe online learning should strive for is a re-design of the online classroom structure.

Students should be able to comment on and discuss the content right on the content page. For example, a student viewing a video should be able to add relevant and important contributions to the video at the timestamp that is being referenced. A tool that I believe does this is Vialogues (I hope to research this further). Students should also be able to contribute to a reading in an in-text fashion, similar to Microsoft Word’s Comment feature, pinpointing exactly where the student’s insight is referencing. These tools exist, but how we can apply them to online courses must be championed and designed by Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers.

Online learning has advanced so much in the last 15 years: the stigma of online learning has abated, tools make it possible for students and instructors to connect in real-time, group work is possible with collaboration tools, and secure exam taking is possible without proctors.

However, we, as Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers, should keep online education advancing.

We must innovate and stimulate change for a more dynamic learning experience.

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