For Senior Lecturer and DELTA Faculty Fellow James McConnell, learning has been a lifelong passion.
“My earliest memory is when I was 3 years old and would wait for my sister to come home from kindergarten so I could see what she learned that day. I’ve had intellectual curiosity since then.”
At the age of 5, his family moved to Panama, and he developed a love for Spanish that has carried him into his role in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at NC State, where he’s been teaching since 2005. His job allows his relationship with the language to steadily broaden and evolve.
“My courses alternate each semester, and there are always new students, so everything is fresh, and I feel like I’m continually learning as well.”
Just a year after joining the university, he began teaching with technology and has stuck with it for more than 10 years. Not only does he love to instruct with online tools, he’s also benefited from taking online courses as a faculty member, with courses like Teaching and Learning with Digital Video (ECI 513) and Teaching in the Online Environment (EAC 539) under his belt.
Through both instruction and study, McConnell has shown profound dedication to bettering the online learning spaces at NC State, so it was only natural that he applied to become a Faculty Fellow during the 2018-2019 DELTA Grants cycle.
“I was encouraged to apply for the grant because I use a lot of technology in my teaching, and I was looking for a way to both share information and help support the teaching community.”
As a Fellow, he’s already helped others in plenty of ways, developing surveys, questionnaires, an informative video and presentations about engaging learners with technology. In addition to these accomplishments, he collaborates with his class of Faculty Fellows to promote DELTA’s faculty resources to instructors across campus. In doing so, he’s become familiar with how DELTA works to transform future education and actively contributes to this goal.
“At our university, DELTA is really in the vanguard of technology implementation for educational purposes. They understand the importance of utilizing technology in the classroom in order to reach today’s students as well as the need to make the job of the instructor streamlined. By being a productive Faculty Fellow, I feel that I’m truly assisting in this mission.”
It’s crucial to determine what strategies and platforms are most effective for students when bringing technology into the curriculum, assessing which tools are best for a particular course and adapting to the needs of students. McConnell strives to include technology that engages them in their learning, as it has proven to be powerful. Interactive applications are among his favorites.
“There are some apps I really enjoy using in the classroom, such as Kahoot and Quizlet Live, but never underestimate the power of a properly placed GIF in a presentation.”
Throughout his years as an educator, McConnell has learned the importance of reflection; people succeed when they consider what they learn. He makes sure to use technology to assess how well his students reflect on lessons, incorporate their feedback and reinforce key material. He also makes sure to use online learning in meaningful ways. If it doesn’t enhance the class or help students learn, it shouldn’t be there. This perspective communicates McConnell’s thorough comprehension of technology’s role in education.
“It’s important to understand what you are using and why, so you don’t end up using technology just for technology’s sake,” he says. “Working backwards by first considering the outcome can minimize those situations where you find yourself trying to include a game in class when it really isn’t necessary.”
In the future, McConnell sees instructional technology replacing brick-and-mortar classrooms. Online learning offers the convenience for students to learn whenever and wherever, a level of flexibility that surpasses traditional educational settings.
“There will always be the desire to have some type of face-to-face content because humans are inherently social creatures, but that face-to-face interaction will happen more and more in a digital environment.”
As online learning grows, so will its challenges, but McConnell’s prepared to face them. “The most important piece of advice I can offer anyone is to always have a backup plan, and sometimes a backup plan to backup your backup plan!”