Teaching with Technology: Reports from the Frontline

As part of the May 2012 Summer Shorts in Instructional Technologies program, two guest speakers gave a lunchtime presentation titled “Teaching with Technology: Reports from the Frontline,” in D.H. Hill Library. While enjoying sandwiches and fruit salad, participants listened to Melissa Hart, lecturer for the Poole College of Management, and Diane Chapman, teaching associate professor in the College of Education, share their experiences developing and teaching courses with technology.

Melissa Hart and Dianne Chapman presenting
Melissa Hart and Dianne Chapman share their advice on teaching with technology.

Reporting both the good and the not so good, Hart and Chapman shared 10 tips to help other instructors with the problems they might face. Below is a condensed version of their presentation.

1. Learn to love being the middle child.

Hart: Being a middle child in teaching with technology means you should find somebody that knows a little bit more than you so that you can pick their brain. At the same time, it helps to talk with somebody who knows a little less because they will have enthusiasm, motivation and excitement for using technology to teach.

Chapman: Looking out for people who know a little bit less then you is a nice way to encounter some thinking that’s outside the box. Keeping the bigger picture in mind will definitely help. Sometimes people who are unfamiliar with the limitations can have really interesting ideas about how technologies can be used.

2. Ask your students what they like, or don’t like.

Hart: Listen to what they say and try not to be too set in your ways. In one of my classes, I decided to be the “Elluminate queen” but nobody ended up showing up to my office hours. The timing of the meetings was not the best, their frequency was too high, and their purpose was unclear. From what I learned from my experience I was able to improve my approach to Elluminate.

Chapman: It’s also really important to make sure the learning curve for technologies doesn’t make the focus fall on acclimating to them instead of learning class material.

I tried to use a 3-D virtual world as a way to boost student engagement. It was unfortunately a disaster. Most of the students had problems getting it to work, whether it was logging in, having the right bandwidth, or other technical issues. The technology became the focus and the lesson content fell into the background.

3. Know when to let it go.

Hart: Avoid hoarding information on your course websites. It can be tempting to upload everything you have on a subject but doing that can be overwhelming. Don’t make your students get lost in information – lead them through it!

Chapman: A good approach is to lead people based on their needs. If a student isn’t required to know but you still want to make it available, you can certainly make it available through some branching navigation.

4. Don’t build or add for no reason.

Hart: Look at what you’re adding to your course and ask yourself what problem it’s solving and what information it’s teaching.

Chapman: Most importantly, don’t make it inconvenient for students to find what they need. Use branching patterns for students who want more information. Supplemental sections should be available on a per want basis.

5. Attend seminars regularly for inspiration.

Hart: There are always plenty of new technologies to evaluate and they are constantly changing. When you start using a new technology, remember that your experiences aren’t necessarily identical to those of other users. It’s particular to what you want to do with the technology. Engaging with other scholars in your field can open your perspective and outlook on how things are and can be used.

6. Try to take a “fresh look” at your course every semester.

Hart: You are never really done developing a course. You can’t stick your course in a can. Try to have a fresh set of eyes when you take a look at it before each semester. The material and structure of a course are always going to change.

Chapman: Keep a beginning-of-the-semester checklist so that you remember to update everything you need to before the semester begins. This will help reduce your course preparation time.

7. Learn the value of course design.

Hart: This can be a hard lesson to learn. It may be tempting, but don’t run straight into using technology. First, plan out your approach to creating a course and don’t be afraid to cut some things to focus the direction of your course.

Chapman: While you teach your course for the first time, keep a running checklist of things like design inconsistencies and areas in need of improvement. Try to make your course’s design strategic and provocative.

8. Create a “next semester changes” file or folder.

Chapman: Inspiration doesn’t happen three days before the semester, it happens in the middle of the semester. Try to separate the things that need to change from the things that could be changed. Note any proposed content changes, adjustments, or tweaks that you think need to be made.

9. Get an office visit.

Hart: Have peers and colleagues come and see what is on your course’s website. DELTA provides instructional housecalls as well as course reviews based on the Quality Matters rubric. Both can be very helpful in shaping your approach to course design. Look at positive examples and get an idea of what a good course should look like. Having a second pair of eyes can be invaluable.

10. Be inspired by your work!

Hart: These aren’t just websites… creating an online course takes a lot of time and effort! That’s why it’s important to stay inspired. Seeing what other people are doing with their courses can be a great source of inspiration.

Chapman: That’s why it’s important to adopt technologies that streamline the teaching process. Cutting down on development time is very helpful because the workload of developing a course can be taxing. There are many things to do and change so I take any chance I get to cut down on time spent. One other thing that always inspires me is fostering better relationships with my students.

An attendee listens intently to the presentation
Attendees listened intently for tips and tricks that they could apply to their own courses.

Recommended Technologies and Approaches:

Chapman: narrated PowerPoint presentations so students can hear and see each other’s presentations and get a better sense of connection with their peers.

Notability, an iPad app, allows you to grade PDF files with a stylus. With it you can write comments on the PDF, attach a rubric, and send the file back to them. It helps personalize grading and builds the student/instructor relationship.

Hart: The “Choice” assignment type in Moodle allows you to add as many choices for students. It helped in expanding the number of available assignment topics, allowing students to pick their topics.  It’s also a useful way to have people self-select teams and Elluminate meeting times.

Read more about the Summer Shorts.

Register for other DELTA Workshops & Seminars.

View Mediasite Recordings of Summer Short sessions.