Leveraging Technology for Learning
When strawberries are inexpensive and available, the creative chef delights
with strawberry-based recipes. Likewise, this is the era of technology, increasingly
inexpensive and available; technology is in season. Our students expect us to
How can we respond responsibly? How can we take advantage of students’
expectations and avoid using technology for its own sake? One approach is to
ask, “what can technology facilitate that was before more difficult, more
onerous, or more expensive?” Then we can ask, “What changes derived
from these practices will increase the quality of learning?” Below are
five areas where I have found technology to be an unusually effective tool.
First, I can provide students with a broader view. When a tax cut is in the
news, I can point them toward columnists representing both pro and con. Their
rough draft work can be critiqued by practitioners. Exercises developed by an
economist colleague at another university can be used. Student papers from previous
terms can be made available. In short, I can escape the role of being their
Second, I can individualize assignments and advice. Pre-med students can study
the supply and demand of organs for transplant. Theatre majors may study the
same topic by analyzing Broadway ticket pricing policy. Perhaps even more importantly,
I can answer questions that may be unique to a single student without taking
the time of an entire class. I can focus my probing questions at the core of
their confusion. I can more easily find time for each student, and let them
know I care about them as an individual.
Third, students can be asked to do more on their own. I can insist that each
student respond to a probing question. I can expect students to connect with
professionals in the field. I can have a student-manager-of-the-week summarize
the concerns of other students. I can expect term papers to include a treatment
of the subject in both text and picture. Students can be expected to archive
copies of their papers and routinely consult an ever-changing syllabus, to help
with course administrivia.
Fourth, it is much more realistic to expect students to collaborate on assignments,
to teach each other the material. They can more easily connect, even when separated
by time and place. I can more easily observe the contribution of each individual,
as well as the final result of the group work. The management and monitoring
of study groups is more feasible. Interaction between myself and these students
teams can become the norm.
Finally, my materials can be more timely. Weather data can be today’s
weather. Economic issues can be today’s news. Even in the midst of a class
session, the resources are available to support an unexpected turn in the discussion.
As many other professors find slightly different but equally compelling ways
that technology supports learning, it should be no surprise that students are
expecting more technology. No wonder that almost no professor who once incorporates
technology into teaching, later abandons it. We have more options and we’re
David Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president and dean of the International
Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.