Sunday, November 28, 2010

Teaching with Technology

Guest blogger: Maribel Charle Poza

Teaching with Technology

When one looks around Lincoln University these days, there is little doubt that, as far as technology is concerned, we are in a new era. As new buildings rise and others are renovated, we find our classrooms equipped with the best and the newest that instructional technology has to offer. Our old blackboards were replaced by smart boards. We went from maybe having a television monitor in the classroom to having unlimited access to a computer connected to the Internet. At the language laboratory, we moved from cassette tapes to digital files and from CDs to streaming audio from the Internet. Next semester, the university will migrate our online content from obsolete WebCT to new and exciting Desire 2 Learn.

This technological transformation offers a world of possibilities, but also comes with great challenges. Many find themselves wondering if the benefits compensate for the expensive and time consuming nature of teaching with technology. The learning curve can be steep for some, while for others it is hard to find useful ways to incorporate the new tools into their current teaching. Finally, appropriate use of the technology by students can become an issue, especially in those classrooms that double up as computer labs.

It is my hope that the answers to the two questions that I pose in this posting and the comments from the faculty will help those who find themselves at a loss when it comes to integrating technology. The premise of this posting is that while I acknowledge the challenges that come with technology, I believe that it is after all only a tool and that it is the user who determines if it enhances or hinders the teaching and learning process.

Why should I use technology in my teaching?

There are many possible answers to this question. Some would say that if technology is available and a great investment has been made, then it must be used. Others may say that technology is present in the student culture and that we should capitalize on that fact to motivate our learners. A few may point to the fact that there is a great deal of pressure in academia to use technology, as shown in the majority of position announcements in our profession.

These are all valid answers, but they miss the real value of technology integration: We must use technology to provide better learning opportunities to our students. In other words, technology must always be at the service of good teaching, either enhancing our current practices, or allowing us to teach our students in new ways. Therefore, before we decide whether to use a specific tool we must always ask ourselves this question, will this technology improve the teaching and learning process or is it just innovative but non-essential?

How are you using technology?

These are a few examples of how I have used technology at the service of my teaching. I use the communicative approach to language teaching, so my main goal is to provide additional opportunities for my students to communicate in Spanish:
Course Management Software (WebCT): I have integrated this technology to create computer-mediated communication opportunities to my students through the use of tools such as chat rooms and bulletin boards. I have also used WebCT to expose students to authentic input in Spanish through the integration of audio and video files in the language with myself and teaching assistants as actors.

Language Laboratory Technology: Elementary and intermediate Spanish courses include weekly laboratory sessions where students are exposed to different varieties of the language in different formats. Students listen to different varieties of the language, they view educational and authentic videos, and they record themselves speaking in Spanish.

Smart Boards: The addition of this tool to our classrooms has helped me to provide high-quality visual aids to improve student comprehension of the Spanish language. It has also served to increase student motivation and knowledge by becoming a window to the culture of Spanish-speaking countries.

These are by no means the only ways that I could have used the tools available and I am constantly seeking new methodologically-sound means to enhance my teaching through the use of technology. However, I know that most of us on campus are making excellent use of the technologies that we have available. It would be very helpful for all of us to share our ideas in this blog for others to read and maybe adapt to their classes. Please write your comments to this posting and add your ideas on how to make the best use of technology and how to overcome some of the challenges.


  1. I think you are right that technology is "only a tool and that it is the user who determines if it enhances or hinders the teaching and learning process;" but it would be a good idea to have independent evidence or assessment which "determines if it enhances or hinders the teaching and learning process." It may be that while technology can be useful, the way it is introduced and used may be unhelpful or, even, counterproductive.

    The new or revised Middle States report of 18th November 2010 suggests a need to provide "evidence that student learning assessment data are analyzed and used to improve teaching and learning." In this regard, we need to show that (1) the technology that was acquired was based on (prior) assessment, and (2) its utilization is being assessed and "used to improve teaching and learning," after (3) "assessment results have been shared in useful forms and discussed widely with appropriate constituents." Maybe we can start that assessment here and now or, at least, start a serious and fruitful discussion about it.

  2. I too was interested in your (true) statement that technology is "only a tool and that it is the user who determines if it enhances or hinders the teaching and learning process." While my example that follows won't satisfy Kwame's strict Middle States standards--though I agree with him that we do indeed desperately need that--it is something I have observed in my own teaching and I wonder if anyone else has.

    First a disclaimer: I love my SmartBoard and can't imagine not having it. However, one thing that I have been noticing is that it seems to be gradually enticing me more front and center (where it is located in the room), and I wonder if that is giving me too central a focus. I believe in the "guide on the side" style of coaching, and worry somewhat that I am spending too much time in front of the students playing with my new toy. Anyone else have that sort of reaction/reservation? If not, how are you using the Smartboard?

  3. I guess the SmartBoard was designed with that conception of a teacher "spending too much time in front of the students." After all, the SmartBoard is merely an electronic version of the chalk board. One solution will be to get your students to go to the Smartboard more often. They also like to play with electronic toys.