What matters most to you in your teaching?
How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?
How have your students responded to your use of technology?
What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?
How could the university better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?
Class website (Moodle)
Giving Students Total Control over the Learning Process
What matters most to me in teaching is that my students feel empowered as learners. I want them to take away information from my classes, but I also want them to feel like they are active participants in the generation of knowledge. In my field that goal is particularly germaine, because we study identity formation and racial formation and how those processes are expressed in literary form. For the most part my students are experiencing identity formation first-hand--whether they are Anglo, Chicano, African American or another background, they are very much invested in identity formation writ large (and for the most part they are twenty years old). They're all grappling with issues of racial identification and creating their own narratives of race, ethnicity, and identity. Because those issues are the content of the classes, they relate to them on a very personal level. I want them to feel like they are knowledge makers as well as knowledge absorbers.
I want my students to feel that they have total control of the learning environment and to take responsibility for their own acquisition and processing of information. I don't want to be the person who's controlling and dispensing pieces of information at my pleasure. Instead, I put it all out there on the course website and say, " You can access this at any time, you can go back and review it at any time, if you're not understanding things, you can listen to the lecture podcasts, watch the slides, read everything, explore links to other resources. It's all there for you, so you need to figure out what you're not getting, and you need to contact me and make sense of these things." It's almost like I'm providing students with an information overload and challenging them to be their own filter.
In Moodle I use the assignment feature to give students feedback on their papers and assignments as they work. I find that students are just so used to accessing and interacting in an online environment, that I can say, "You have to submit your thesis draft online, or you have to come see me in person," and it's generally a 50-50 split of who does one or the other. But the point is it engages them in the writing process.
I also digitize films so that they are available through Video Furnace. I try to create an online environment where students can control their own access to information and learn at their own pace, so if they really want to watch John Wayne's The Alamo at 3 o'clock in the morning while they're eating microwave popcorn in their underwear, they can. They can assimilate the information in whatever way makes them comfortable. I'm no cognitive psychologist so I can't really say why, but I feel like that must have an effect on the way students relate to the material.
The reactions to the technology are a 50-50 split. All of the students have responded positively, and they like it, but for some of them it seems totally natural rather than innovative. Some students, especially those from the English Department, say, "Wow, this is so great! Lecture podcasts! Who knew? You're so awesome." The other half are just not phased, because it's totally normal for them. They respond well and they use all of the information. There's a great feature in Moodle that lets you can see exactly what your students are doing and how long they spend doing it. I can see that they're accessing the different resources, contributing to the class notes wiki, and so on. They use it in part because they have to, but some of them go above and beyond.
I would like to be able to incorporate more technology in my teaching. I feel like Moodle is an amazing tool, but anytime I try to use discussion boards or blogs I haven't been satisfied with the results. I think that's because I don't have clearly defined goals for those tools, so they don't dazzle me. As my own teaching develops, and as the technological capabilities of the campus increase, I'd like to have those pedagogical goals develop hand in hand with technology. I would like to be able to find even more ways to generate student involvement. I would like to be able to have students create webpages in addition to papers, but in a quarter system it's really difficult to do that, because you don't have a lot of time. In an English class you have to write a paper because there are real pedagogical goals that you achieve with that assignment that you can't achieve with a website, even though it's cool.
Another thing that I would like to do, and haven't quite figured out how, is to expand the class notes wiki. Right now it's just a way for students to earn extra credit. But I would like to be able to harness that technology and use it to have my students create actual wikipedia pages for some of the authors that we read. Many of the authors are understudied and not very well known, but significant, especially in the context of immigration and other issues. I feel like there would be an audience for these pages, but I'm not sure what that assignment would look like. I would like to find ways to have my students do more web-based work that would achieve similar pedagogical goals as writing papers, but I'm not sure if that's possible in the confines of the quarter system.
I think the Copenhaver Award is great for inspiring the use of technology in instruction. Everybody likes to win an award! There are things that the university already does to faciliate the use of technology, like provide course improvement grants. Perhaps at the department level, there could be some kind of reward structure in place for technological innovation. We do get teaching points for developing a new course, but there's no credit, as far as I know, for working to develop a technological component of your course. At the level of a cost-benefit analysis, it's not worth the time for people who already have courses prepared and lectures set. There's little reason why they would try something new if there's no material remuneration for it. I think money, credit, or course releases would motivate some instructors to explore technology, because as much as they care about pedagogy, their time and resources are limited.