Using technology in teaching

How do you use technology in your teaching? Why do you use particular technologies? Which technologies do you dismiss? What are the drivers for using technology in your course design?

Thinking about these questions I am struck by the emphasis on technology and teaching as a starting point, whereas I have always thought that learning should be the starting point. What do we hope that learners will learn? As teachers we are first and foremost concerned with learning. So the first question is not ‘how’ do you use technologies, but ‘why’.

Quite a few years back the answer to this was quite straightforward from my position as the leader of a post-graduate distance learning progamme, which at the time we were running like a correspondence course supported by email communication. At that time the use of technology (notably the introduction of a VLE) significantly improved communication and ensured that all the information about the course was located in one place, which meant that we were able to avoid the mixed messages that were a characteristic of communication by email. Technology not only improved communication, but it also enabled a whole host of people who could never have accessed a full-time face-to-face course, to study at times and in locations of their choice. This not only increased our student numbers, but also led to great diversity in the student group – a really rich mix of students from widely different backgrounds, of different ages and ethnic backgrounds and with a huge range of life and work experience. It was very exciting! That was the starting point. Technology opened the door.

But that was nearly ten years ago. Nowadays students come to courses with greater expectations of the flexibility and diversity offered by web 2.0 technologies, but there are still many students who are not confident with technology. For the past few years I have only worked with post-graduate students, so my choice of technologies to use in my teaching is influenced by this. It is also influenced by the fact that I work 100% online – 100% e-learning – so I don’t meet my students face-to-face. In addition, I work with international groups, some of whom (for example those from Africa) have access difficulties. So I think very carefully about about the technologies I was use and try not to use them for the sake of it, and only if I think they will promote learning.

I don’t dismiss technologies, but I am cautious about what I use. For my post-graduate international learners I tend to use a set of technologies that includes

  • a VLE (my preference is Moodle, but I also work on Blackboard and WebCT),
  • Email,
  • discussion forums,
  • WordPress and Blogger,
  • a wiki (my preference is pbworks, but I have also used wikispaces and the VLE wikis),
  • Word,
  • Powerpoint (I only use this infrequently these days),
  • Wimbacreate (to convert Word documents into webpages),
  • Flickr for photo sharing,
  • Youtube (I haven’t yet created a video, but use video created by others in my teaching)
  • Audio files (I use an mp3 player to record these) 

For myself I also use

  • RSS feeds,
  • Delicious,
  • Googledocs,
  • Skype,
  • Internet Explorer and Firefox,
  • Adobe photoshop,
  • Facebook,
  • Elluminate,
  • Dimdim,
  • Survey Monkey,
  • Winzip,
  • Ning.

I’m sure there must be other things too, but these are the technologies that I use consistently.When I say use, I don’t necessarily mean that I lead the use of them – for example I am a member of a number of Ning sites, but I haven’t yet created one for myself.

I notice that on Jane Hart’s Top Tools for Learning, Twitter is at the top of the list. I haven’t dismissed Twitter, but as yet I haven’t needed to use it, just as I haven’t needed to use Second Life, Slideshare and many other tools that I am aware of and see others using quite regularly.

So the main driver for using technology in my courses is the needs of the learners I work with. If the technology can meet those needs and enhance the learning then I use it – if I can’t see the potential for this, then I don’t. 

I could never be a learning technologist – the use of new technologies does not come easily to me – but this means that I am cautious about what I expect from learners in relation to technology and I don’t make assumptions about what they will be able to cope with.

2 thoughts on “Using technology in teaching

  1. El mehdi December 24, 2010 / 12:20 pm

    This is a very informative article. I am also conducting my M.A thesis on the importance of using ICT in language teaching and learning. Teachers really need to be aware of the magical effect that an effective use of technology may cast on their practices.

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