Sadly, classroom technologies are often adopted, not because there is strong evidence that they are useful, but because they are shiny and create the appearance of a more modern and progressive university. However, as an educator, some of these tools provide powerful new opportunities to overcome classroom fatigue and allow new kinds of teachable moments. Here are five ways to make the most of educational technologies.
1. Utilize Real-Time Feedback
It can often be difficult, in a traditional classroom setting, to know whether or not your students understand the material you’re teaching. All of us have asked ‘any questions?’ at some point, and been faced with a sea of blank eyes and no reaction at all. One way around this is to employ some form of classroom technology, be it laptops connected to a web form or traditional i-clickers to have students be continuously participating. Assign a few points to solving simple problems, and have them try one out after every concept to gauge how much of the class is grasping the material. This helps you calibrate how much time you’re spending on each subject. Even in academics, there is no substitute for cold, hard evidence.
This level of required participation has an added benefit – it helps to keep students engaged. If you are constantly being asked to apply what you’ve just learned, it is more difficult to drift away.
2. Provide Real-Time Homework Feedback
Homework can be frustrating if you’re behind in a class. If you don’t understand the material, having to wait a week or more to find out you did all of the problems wrong is frustrating, and leads to students getting further behind. One powerful tool that online homework solutions provide is the ability to provide instant feedback on homework questions. If they do it right, you can let them know. If they didn’t, you can provide detailed instructions on how to correctly solve the problem. This helps to overcome ‘ugh’ factor and show your students habits to emulate.
3. Get Students to Conspire
Often, peer education is the most effective. You don’t have time to tutor each student one-on-one, but if you can relay a concept to half of your students, they can teach the other half much more easily. The feedback techniques in section one become even more effective when you allow the students to talk amongst themselves when solving the problem. While a few will simply announce the answer, most smart people like to feel smart, and succinctly expressing their reasoning is a good way to do this. As a result, when debating and explaining amongst themselves, far more students will come out understanding the material than if they were struggling to solve the problems in isolation.
4. Teach and Test Under Realistic Conditions
A classroom is very much an artificial environment in many respects. In the real world, a student doing a job has access to calculators, computers, books, Google, and Wikipedia. While there is value to learning things the hard way, it’s important to weigh that value against the sheer amount of time sunk into teaching students skills that will instantly be replaced by the internet once they graduate.
So, embrace the modern world. Provide your students open-everything classrooms, and open-everything exams. In short, that which can be Googled, should be. Focus on what makes your subject truly challenging – not the rote memorization, but the hard problem-solving tasks. At the end of your class, your students should be able to beat the pants of any class of students who spent the first half of the semester memorizing material that your students can simply read. That provides real value in the real world.
5. Encourage Student Involvement
Not all students are interested in what you teach. It’s sad, but it’s true. However, some of them are, and you should encourage that. Keep up dialogs with your students over email. Talk to them about the topics and assignments. Find out how many of them actually care. If there are topics in the field that interest them, offer them extra credit to make presentations. It teaches them, it teaches your students, and it breaks up the monotony of listening to your voice three times a week all semester long.
The important paradigm shift here is a simple one: that, while in principle a classroom is an environment in which information flows from teacher to student, such an environment works best when there is flow of information in both directions – such information is useful to you and empowering to students. There is a lot of potential here, to educators who are capable of taking advantage of it.
Author Info: Sameer Bhatia is the founder of ProProfs.com, a provider of online learning management system software.