Technology in the classroom is one of the most talked about subjects in higher education. Everyone has opinions about whether it’s helpful or disruptive, whether it’s too expensive or delivers enough ROI and value to be worth it, and whether it can really help students. Whatever you may think, students are on board. More than 60 percent believe technology improves their learning. And administrators in higher education keep making investments, to the tune of about $6.6 billion in the United States last year.
“Technology” is a broad category, though. It’s much more helpful to speak in terms of specific types of technology that professors may consider using. It can sometimes feel like technology is taking over the classroom to the detriment of good teaching and strong student feedback, but the best educational technologies are merely designed to prop those things up. Here are a few types of technology that have made classrooms in higher ed stronger.
Skype is a free resource that can be used in a number of creative ways to enhance the classroom experience. Some teachers have turned to Skype to setup expert interviews—many of the people you’d love to have come talk to your class could more easily show up via Skype than in person.
You can also use Skype to connect with other classrooms. Microsoft has put together a website devoted to helping teachers make that connection. If you teach a foreign language, your students can talk to native speakers over Skype. If you teach art history, your students can hear how the perspectives on works of art vary across the world. Skype is a great tool for facilitating connections that would otherwise be impractical.
2. Streaming Video
A lot of lessons can benefit from a visual component that isn’t possible to create within the class itself. While video is definitely making a splash in higher education in online courses, it’s also useful as a teaching aid in traditional on-campus courses. Students in a political science course can watch how television debates have evolved over the years, while students in a nursing course can benefit from seeing a video of how different physical symptoms of injuries and illnesses manifest. Seventy-nine percent of students are already watching videos to learn more about various topics. If it’s working for them outside of the classroom, there’s no reason not to put the tool to use within it as well.
3. Library Research Tools
How often do your students turn directly to Google or Wikipedia when doing research? Your academic library invests in authoritative research tools every year, only to watch students forgo them for everyone’s favorite search engine. Google is great for a large number of purposes, but one of your jobs is to teach students better research habits and how to evaluate authoritative sources.
Incorporate lessons on good research practices into your courses. Talk to your students about how to evaluate the resources available to them and to trust in the authoritative research databases the school provides more than the results a simple Google search offers up.
4. Social Media Groups
For many faculty members, social media sounds like nothing but a tool for classroom disruption. Yet most social media channels offer ways for people to form groups that enable content sharing and collaboration. Anytime your students have a group project or are digging into research on a subject that may benefit from their sharing resources, having a Facebook group can help facilitate communication—and it will all happen on a platform they’re using already (in many cases multiple times throughout the day).
5. Computer-based Testing
Computer-based testing takes a task that most classrooms include at some point and makes it easier on almost every level. Creating your exams is simpler when you do it in software designed for the purpose, grading them is fast and easy, and if you keep the testing offline, most exam security concerns are alleviated. Good exam software also provides assessment data that makes it easy to recognize which students need help, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how student performance varies over the course of a semester or year. All of that data can support professors in doing a better job addressing student needs and provide students with insights into where to focus their studies.
As you well know, this is far from a comprehensive list of the technologies that professors can use in the classroom. But these offer a good start to help faculty better visualize the broad range of positive uses technology can have in their courses.
It’s important to keep in mind that the use of technology itself ultimately matters less than how you approach your courses. If you’re able to figure out a way for it to support learning, then it has an important role to play. But if you find yourself trying to incorporate technology just because you feel like you’re supposed to, then you’re missing the point. If technology is distracting your students or discouraging discussion and creativity, then feel free to go back to what our EAC keynote speaker, Jose Antonio Bowen, calls “naked teaching.”
There’s no one right way to teach. Every professor, subject, and student is different. Knowing what tools you have at your disposal is useful, but knowing that you have the option not to use them all is just as important. At the Examsoft Assessment Conference this year, our aim is to help faculty members and administrators alike learn as much as possible about not only what’s available, but also which choices are best for them. If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still space—but if last year was any indication, you may want to snag your spot soon.