Plugged-in Pedagogy

IT in the College Classroom
Journal #2
As a long-time user of IT, I consider myself an early adapter and a skilled user, at least compared to non-professional IT experts! My mother was a computer programmer in the 1960s, and we had a computer at home while I was still in high school, so I have been surrounded by, and comfortable with, IT for a long time. As such, I tend to be a member of the “if it’s IT-based, it must be better” school – if we can toss something on-line, and make it more widely accessible, then why not? I haven’t changed my mind about the immense benefits and awesome potential of IT; however, I have learned to be more aware of the pedagogy that informs my IT designs, and to consider whether or not the IT tools that I am comfortable with are the best ones for the job.

There are some very obvious advantages to using IT in the classroom: first of all, at this point most of our students are wired – some even come to class with laptops rather than notebooks. Asking students to collaborate on-line has proven to be no hardship; in fact, most of them are happier collaborating on-line than trying to coordinate face-to-face meetings with group members. The tools available on-line, from multiple-choice quizzes to complex wikis, provide near-infinite possibilities for the instructor to create learning opportunities. On the other hand, using these tools often means teaching students how to use the tools effectively; while most students are very comfortable using the Internet, for instance, they generally don’t apply rigid evaluative analysis to web-based resources. It becomes part of the educator’s responsibility, to one extent or another, to model and teach effective Internet use. Some might consider this a disadvantage – after all, given all the other stuff I have to teach my students, can I really afford to spend time teaching them how to use Google better? However, I maintain that, at least at the Cegep level, one of our prime directives is to teach effective communication and research skills. Where once we would have taken our students to the school library, shown them the card catalogue, taught them how to read call numbers, and maybe even wowed them with the microfilm reader, now we need to take them to the computer lab, show them how to use Google effectively (i.e., with domain limitations, Google Scholar, etc.), teach them how to read URLs and source code, and maybe even wow them with a podcast.
Using IT at the college level – and any other level, for that matter – has untold potential. Every year there are new advances and new tools; colleges that promote and encourage exploration of these advances and tools will make a name for themselves as places of modern learning. Colleges cannot afford to ignore IT; schools that are not wired now or in the near future will soon fall off the face of Google Earth. IT is a reality, and whether we like it or not (I do), educators have to get on board, because our students need to know how to use IT academically and professionally. Yes, they are comfortable with IT, for gaming, facebooking, downloading music and chatting; we need to show them how to take a bigger byte of the IT pie. Distance learning is an obvious area in which IT can be extremely useful, but on local campuses and in actual classrooms, IT can be used to make subject matter more accessible, to present material in different ways in order to reach different learners, to make classrooms more interactive, and to make large classrooms smaller through IT-based collaboration. Outside of the classroom, IT can provide virtual learning spaces, opening up the possibility for more small group work, and above all, can make student-teacher communication smoother and more effective.
Obviously, I am already a fan of IT. I have already integrated IT in to my teaching in several ways; I am excited about future developments! One thing I take from this course, though, is the notion that I need to consider more carefully the pedagogical implications of the IT resources I am using. I don’t think there’s anything I would drop from my IT repertoire, but there are certainly some areas for improvement, such as more detailed criteria and better models so students have a clearer idea of how to use the tools and how the tools are contributing to their overall learning. It was a useful and interesting exercise to reflect on the IT I am using in terms of instructional design, Bloom’s levels of thinking and the different types of knowledge. With this reflection, I can see what areas do need improving, and I can also see why certain resources are helping my students learn – it’s not just a matter of using technology for the sake of technology; they really are getting more out of the material because the technology makes it more accessible.
Ultimately, as I said, IT is here to stay and we need, as educators, to embrace it. Having said that, I think most colleges would be well-advised to invest in more training for faculty – two Ped Day workshops a year is not enough to get us all up to speed; typically, these workshops focus on the tools and how to use them, not why to use them. Furthermore, given the omnipresence of IT in the working world to which we’re sending our students, I think we should at least investigate the idea of creating a course for first-semester students, regardless of program, on how and why to use web-based resources academically. For instance, I have created a handout on effective e-mail communication which I give to all my students, detailing the do’s and don’ts of e-mailing, in response to my growing frustration with informal language, incomplete ideas, gr8 2 rd mssges, unbelievably vulgar e-mail addresses, and useless subject lines. What it comes down to is this: if we teachers don’t lead the way by learning how to use IT and in turn teaching our students how to use IT, then who will?

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