Guest post: Dr Ehsan Gharaie, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University.
It seems like there’s a compelling new technology available for teaching every day. New teaching platforms, new software, and more recently new apps. Add to this, new hardware such as tablets and smartphones. As educators, we face a huge realm of possibilities and a big confusion, if not a headache: how to keep up? For some people, the question is more profound: should I keep up at all? And if yes, which technology should I choose?
Reflect and decipher
Before you answer these questions, you need to decipher what happens in your teaching practice. Without reflecting on your own practice you will not be able to make active decisions. And I assure you, without you making these decisions; the decisions will be made for you.
Wait another few years and you will find yourself with a tablet in hand without knowing how to make use of it. The new movement towards MOOCs is one example of the technology changing and leaving us to follow the trend instead of making active decisions.
To explain what I mean by deciphering your teaching practice, I reflected on my own class to see what exactly happened and then I listed what my students experience. Here is the list, in no particular order, or rather, a list that I could order or rank in many different ways:
A space for their voice to be heard
A space for them to think and learn
My body language
Their body language
The human interaction between me and them
The human interaction between them
The learning environment/atmosphere/space
The lecture slides
Oral answers to their questions
Written answers to their questions
Feedback on their written work
Discussion within their groups
Written communication within their groups.
Mix and match
After the deciphering (and I would encourage you to do a similar audit of what goes on in a typical class) you need to look at the technology offered and see what the technology can do for you. And what it may prevent you from doing.
If you are a lecturer and the only thing that your students get from your class is your voice and lecture slides, then you could use PowerPoint with your recorded narration, and save yourself and your students, time and hassle. But if your teaching style is based on your personal relationship with students and the learning that happens from students collaborating, then narrated PowerPoint slides would kill your teaching practice.
If you are good at responding to emails and using written explanations of things to students, then an online platform may help your workflow. But if you prefer a teaching style similar to Michael J. Sandel’s (view a lecture from his ‘Justice’ course here) and believe in conversations and discussions during the class, then perhaps moving to an online platform would limit your practice.
The point that I want to make here is that before making any decision for the use of technology, reflect on your practice. Think about how you want students to learn, then look at the proposed technology and see what can be gained. Then it will be a matter of mixing and matching to get a good combination of technology-enabled and traditional teaching.
And remember, technology is not always there to replace the current practice and make life easier. Sometimes it gives new opportunities and opens new frontiers but this might come at the cost of an investment of time.
We are all confined in time and space. I can only be at one place and one time, but students can play lecture videos anywhere and anytime. In a modest way, even this particular post expands my existence; my audience. These words reach places I would never be able to visit in a single lifetime as an academic. Look at the picture on the left: it shows the country of origin from every viewer of this blog yesterday. Lecturers like Sandel are now reaching tens of thousands of students!
Thus, it is not all gloomy or geeky. Just as we express to our students, learning involves thinking, trying, and even failing at some attempts to succeed in the long run.
Share your comments on deciphering your own teaching and using technology in the comments!