Using technology in the classroom

I was recently in touch with a friend whose company specializes in supporting schools to integrate innovation and new technologies into their teaching processes. It made me think about my own teaching methods and take stock of how and when I use technology in the classroom and beyond for educational purposes and whether it has added value. Most lecturers have little formal training in how to lecture, they learn how to teach on their feet, through trial and error, from feedback from students, and so when it comes to the use of technology this is something that has come to many of us only relatively recently.

Here are some of the technologies that I use and for what purpose.

  • Internet use: After the initial formal lecture part of the class I tend to ask the students to do some group work which might include doing some internet research. The students are asked to feedback to the class on their findings, some of them will come up with video clips from YouTube, Vimeo or other to illustrate their findings.
  • Yammer: This is BSL’s platform for internal communications, its very own social media site. Each lecturer sets up his or her class at the beginning of the term, each student in the class joins the group and has access to documents uploaded by the lecturer. Students can post to the class “noticeboard” and thus the class outside the class can become quite interactive. Yammer can be used for messaging students individually or to the entire class, which is a less formal communication than by traditional e-mail.
  • Google docs: BSL email addresses are hosted by Google, which means that automatically students and lecturers have access to Google docs and Google Drive. This has a number of uses, Google Drive is a cloud-based “disk” drive, this means you can set it up to manage your documents as you would file manager on the desktop, you can then share files and folders with other Google account holders i.e. your students. Where this gets really clever is that you can share a document and several people can work on it at the same time. For example, in a recent class I created a Google spreadsheet for the whole class to work on. I had 11 students filling in columns at the same time (x2 classes), we created a crowd-sourced document on the content of more than 20 CSR reports.
  • Turnitin: This is the anti-plagiarism website that BSL uses for “originality checking” student essays. I discovered this term that I could grade and comment directly on the Turnitin site, saving paper by not seeing any printed copies of essays and feeding back grades and comments directly to students (they receive an email asking them to login and check the status of their paper). I finally felt I was using technology to come closer to the elusive paperless office.
  • Reference managing programmes: Back in my student days, we laboriously typed out references, or copied and pasted them into documents and then laboriously edited them to make sure they conformed to particular journal requirements. Now there are literally dozens of reference management programmes available for download. I was recently introduced to Mendeley. I can’t say if it is THE one to use as I have yet to really test it out, but there is no doubt that life has improved for today’s student. You only have to open a Google Doc document, click Tools, and Research to have an array of readily available references from the web open up and be yours for the picking!

Back to the point about added value, what do any of these tools add to my teaching that couldn’t be done using traditional methods? The question is what are we going to measure? Do we measure the impact of teaching on students’ grades? That is to say student performance using different types of teaching methods. How do we account for other noise? Can we ask students for feedback on their classroom experience? What are we trying to give our students other than a diploma? What soft skills can they leave BSL with that will be useful to them in their professional lives e.g. using technology to convey a message. So many questions, so little space and time. I have sent a Google Forms feedback survey to my students to ask them what they thought of my various teaching methods especially the innovative technology-based ones. I’ll keep you posted on what they say.

In the meantime you can find out more by going to Twitter and using #edchat and having a look at this.

Author: Marina Martin Curran PhD, Professor at BSL


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