Monday, October 27, 2008

Reflections from the League for Innovation, CIT 2008 in Salt Lake City, Utah

Technology has many more potential uses for improving student success, integrating classes together, enhancing academic challenge and developing lifelong learning skills. Too often technology is merely viewed as an instructional aid than a pedagogical alternative. It is easier to view technology as a device to help the instructor present curricular materials or to limit the use of technology to a specific time and place, such as a classroom, than to begin to view the unlimited uses of technology.

Technology has potential uses for enhancing collaboration, developing learning or social networks, promoting connections or networks to the boundless array of instructional resources. It is the newer uses of technology that provide then greatest potential to ensure future as well as present success for students.

Collaborative technologies do not merely provide venues for students to work together, they provide instructors the opportunities to teach from a project-based or problem-based perspective. Curricular work that would normally be completed in a classroom can now be extended beyond the walls of the classroom.
  • Collaborative technologies, such as Google Groups, Google Documents, Google Notebooks and Google Sites, allow students to develop and explore team dynamics.
  • The technologies allow students to learn both in and outside of the traditional class and begin to emulate work teams found in business and industry.
  • Creating a history of contributions, the technologies provide evidence for both instructor and student of the development of the project, individual contributions, and the group process.
  • As students collaborate, their perspective on both their abilities and the abilities of others should increase. They will begin to develop critical thinking skills, evaluating digital information for example.

Networking technologies are not only the “physical” network connections, wireless and wired, but are also the resources available for learning. To build a network, in the physical sense, involves wiring connections, and access points. In the virtual sense, networking technologies allow students to connect to resources on an as needed basis, identify and locate others with shared or similar interests. Networking is seen from the business and industry as a necessary element for success. Students likewise must begin to network to resources for learning success, both in and outside of the classroom.
  • Networking technologies, such as Google Reader, Google Books, Google Scholar and Google Groups, allow students to make the connections to others for support, assistance, and exposure or access to resources.
  • Networking technologies allow students to develop a sense of the structure of knowledge, and a sense of a community of experts as their personal networks become more and more extended.
  • As students continue to network, the opportunities for collaboration will increase.

Social technologies may provide the greatest opportunity for students to connect with other students, friends, acquaintances, faculty and others. These technologies may at first be dismissed as having little value or impact on student learning. However, these technologies provide the greatest opportunity to explore, develop and maintain many of the ad hoc communities so essential for student engagement.
  • Social technologies, such as Google Groups and Google Chat, allow students to develop social groups, or communities centered around a variety of interests. It is the development of these social groups that promote continued engagement for students.
  • Social technologies will allow students to belong to a community, a virtual neighborhood, and provide them with a venue for interaction.
  • As students grow in their social communities, the opportunities for networking increase as well as the opportunities for collaboration.

The specific uses of technology, whether social, collaborative, or network, should not be viewed as discrete uses. The technologies may blur depending on instructor use, student use or instructor and student use. It is not the technology alone that impacts learning, but the use and application of technology.

The uses of technology should focus, whether directly or indirectly, on improving or enhancing the quality of the instructional experience. We do not use technology ‘just because’ it is available, we should use technology to improve the quality of instruction, to enhance student success, to foster greater academic challenge and to prepare students for the workforce. Technology is fast becoming an expectation of students, whether in the classroom or the institution.

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