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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.

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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.

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