My experience as a tech fellow has been mixed. I applied, knowing that I was behind many of my colleagues in using online tools. My approach to technology at Chatham has been gradual – I never used PowerPower in my first few years of teaching here. I believe that switching my presentation notes to a PowerPoint format was my first foray into “technology.” Then I began to “embed” clips from the Internet into my PowerPoints – not without technical difficulty. Somewhere along the line, we posted our courses, and PowerPoints on Blackboard. Then more recently the switch to Moodle happened. I thought using a course shell was a great way to post required readings – ever so much more accessible to students who were not incorporating using the library “reserve” as a part of their class preparation. And that’s about as far as I had come, for a variety of reasons, until online classes were introduced as part of our curricula.
One of the reasons I approached technology as a minimalist had (and has) to do with a lack of time to really learn how to make use of new strategies – even those that came with Blackboard and Moodle. It seemed to take me more time than it was worth to incorporate new strategies when I do it faster using my own way of keeping track (for example, of completed assignments, grades). So I came into “technology” with the perspective of it as mostly an organizational tool and not an adjunct to my actual teaching and students’ learning.
I have come to notice though, that using PowerPoint turned me more into a lecturer than I had been, and than I am really comfortable being, really. While after the fact the PowerPoints may have helped students organize the material, I have had the suspicion that when students actually had to take notes in the days before PowerPoint, they were more “involved.” One of my colleagues had a great strategy of preparing two PowerPoints for class: one was the one that she used with all the details; the other presented only the barest outline of the material and students’ had to fill in as the class went on. To me, if a posted PowerPoint (with or without VoiceThread) or a Panopto lecture simply highlights text material, it really only serves as a kind of short hand. Of course there is no doubt some additions of explanatory value in these. To my way of thinking, reading the material before the class was the original flipped classroom, with class time free then for discussion, answering questions, and involving students in hands-on activities to reinforce major concepts. But the sad fact is that many students don’t prepare for class by reading the material themselves, and still others are. And so to some extent, these tools may actually reinforce their passivity.
I pushed myself to apply to be a tech fellow because I wanted to know more about technology from a perspective other than the one that had guided me thus far. I wanted to explore the use of technology, not only as an organizing tool, (for me and for students) but as an adjunct to enhance actual teaching and learning. After 40 some years as a teacher of students from preschool to graduate school, and whose pedagogy is grounded in what I have learned from psychology about human development and motivation, I have some strong opinions about teaching and learning. If there is ground to be gained here in becoming more effective at educating, I want to see it for myself. I want to know how to use cool tech strategies to make my classes better. I want to learn how to teach online in a way that does not compromise my pedagogy in ways that I think will not serve students well.
And so, I ventured warily into the program. What I have been doing on the micro level is what many have already done: I have been learning more about Moodle features; I have been exploring techniques that students can use to talk to each other (This is really important to me because I do a lot of group work in my classes and I have observed that when students talk to each other and in front of others – orally – they become more articulate about and better able to critique what they think); I have been a voyeur in my colleagues’ online classes (with their permission, of course!); I have learned to use an iPad.
My specific classroom project changed over time. At first it is was to implement a way for students to have synchronous conversations in order to plan a presentation in my Critical Thinking in Psychology Course. I gave up, partly because this was a fall course, and I needed more time, but also because I was encouraged to think that this was not perhaps the best use of my time – that is I might better approach my macro goals by what various online strategies and tools could do, before bending them to my will! I’ll get back to this. Instead I opted for something far simpler: to assign my students in Theories of Counseling to do their interview (practice in communication skills) using Panopto within Moodle – a small step in the scheme of things but a big step for me.
I remain firmly invested in exploring the macro level related concerns to technology in the classroom and online teaching and learning. I look forward to more in depth discussions of pedagogy. Just before Chatham’s tech fellows program, I attended (as an online attendee!) a conference organized by Ms Magazine and the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Maryland. It was sobering in that the technology to facilitate the “conference” was rough, but I was comforted by knowing that this whole endeavor is really in its infancy and far from systematized. I was thrilled that the conference connected the exposure to various tools, best practices in online course design to feminist pedagogy. I highly recommend the following article to those with similar interests.
“Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Virtual”: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom
NANCY CHICK and HOLLY HASSEL
Feminist Teacher, Vol. 19, No. 3 (2009), pp. 195-215
Published by: University of Illinois Press