The rapid proliferation of digital learning tools has outpaced our ability to properly evaluate them. There is great temptation for faculty of modern colleges and universities to embark on expensive, time-consuming, and pedagogically dubious technology initiatives for the sake of a “21st-century learning” label on student recruitment, institutional reporting, and tenure evaluation materials.
In 2014, Carroll College stood on the precipice of such an initiative after administrators visited Apple representatives in Cupertino, CA. Naturally, Carroll faculty were reticent to get on board with an extremely expensive (and unvetted) initiative. In response, our Academic Technology department secured grant funds to provide ten faculty with personal iPads as well as a classroom set for student use. Those faculty then participated in eight in-person training sessions, deployed ipads in their classes, and evaluated them using LMS-based collaboration tools. The group then made an official recommendation to the college regarding the 1:1 iPad proposal.
The feedback was clear: technologically enhanced pedagogy can have a positive impact on teaching and learning, but iPads are not necessary to achieve that goal. The faculty team concluded that Carroll would be better off with BYOD or a 1:1 laptop initiative.
The most important part of this initiative was not the investigation of the iPads we undertook, but the realization that the device didn’t matter. When it comes down to it, student engagement and success happen only when the lesson is well-designed. No device can replace skillful lesson design and careful attention to student engagement.
So what should instructors do to create this authentic engagement? Here are a few starting ideas:
- Encourage peer-to-peer learning activities whenever possible. Humans are built to learn in social contexts – our memories are made stronger when they are attached to other knowledge about the world and the social groups we move in. Let your students use those structures to succeed in your class. Encourage online interaction outside of class. Create collaborative assignments. Let your fear of student distraction go and focus on using their social nature to push your content to their minds.
- Make all of your materials available online. I hear many teachers insist that their job is teaching students to be responsible with their course materials. This is often cited as a reason for not putting materials online – if the teacher puts them online, they are allowing students to continue being irresponsible. Somehow, making it difficult for disorganized students to get access to their materials will be good for them in the long run. Nothing could be farther from the truth – your intransigence only alienates your students and will make you a less effective teacher. The answer is simple: put your course materials online where students can access them regularly.
- Leverage the internet. Your course text is not the only source of valuable information. Insisting that students ignore the vast resources available to them on the internet makes you look obsolete and your course look poorly researched. Modern students rightly expect exposure to multiple sources of information. Do your research and weed out the bad ones, but give your students the freedom to incorporate outside sources in their learning.
- Demand higher-order thinking. You may have had to memorize long lists of facts, but that does not mean your students have to. Remember that we assimilate facts by using them, not reciting them. In other words, if your students analyze the significance of the Apollo missions, they are more likely to remember them all than if they simply recited them. Our brains evolved to discard information that isn’t used. Make your students use information, not just recite it.
These are just a few ideas to get you started thinking outside of the device. Remember: your goal is to get students so involved in thinking about your content that they no longer notice the device. No wonder iPads aren’t the educational game changer Apple claims they are.
Ryan Hazen – Instructional Designer at Carroll College (Guest Blogger)