Use of digital technologies

Computers, digital devices and the Internet offer many ways to make your teaching and supporting learning practice more inclusive. However, it is important to bear in mind that these technologies can also create additional barriers to learning. It is therefore important to make conscious, informed decisions regarding the use of any digital technology with your students.

Pre-session

Action.

First, ask yourself whether it is really necessary to use digital technology to accomplish a task. If you or your students can complete the task without using digital technology then give all students the option, as this will remove potential barriers to learning.

If you do want to use technology, ask yourself what aspect of students’ learning you are attempting to enhance and identify appropriate technologies. For example:

  • Presenting information: you might use PowerPoint, Prezi, video, images, audio, web pages etc. Try to use a range of approaches during a session as this will provide different ways for students to engage with the content.
  • Group work: you might consider using Google+, Edmodo, Prezi, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, group blogs etc. to enhance students’ ability to collaborate.
  • Managing information: you could encourage students to use Evernote, RefMe, Diigo, Zotero, Google Drive etc. to help them manage their work more effectively.
  • Assessment: you might suggest that students submit their work for assessment as a video, PowerPoint with voiceover, essay, blog etc. to provide a range of ways for them to evidence their learning.
  • Feedback: you could try using blogs to provide formative feedback, or use the voice recording feature in Grademark to provide a short audio commentary on students’ work.

Importantly, you should be confident with the technology that you intend to use. You don’t have to be a master, but you should be able to answer basic questions from your students. If you want to explore a particular technology, meet with your Learning Technologist before the session so that you can ask questions to help you build your confidence.

Very importantly, ask yourself whether all students will be able to access and use a specific technology. Determine whether the technology presents additional difficulties for students with specific learning differences. Check whether the technology can be accessed from both Macs and PCs, and if not whether it is available to students from the UCA Library.

It is also a good idea to have a back-up plan in case the technology doesn’t work in your session. For example, what will you do if students cannot connect to the Internet? You might consider printing off some key discussion questions relating to the topic so that the session can still continue if disaster strikes.

Lastly, it is advisable to try and get into your allocated teaching space at least 15 minutes early so that you can set up the technologies you are using. This might just be a projector, or it might involve you logging in to various applications. If you intend to ask students to use computers, use this time to switch on all the computers as they can often take a while to start.

One more thing – if possible, make sure you have a number of the person to call if you can’t get things to work. The UCA Technicians are usually able to respond within a few minutes, so keep their number handy so you can call if you need urgent assistance.

In-session

During the session, make sure that technology is not getting in the way of students’ learning. This can occur both through practical difficulties and through unnecessary distractions.

Action.

Circulate the room and check that all students are able to use the designated technology to accomplish the task. Resolve any problems quickly so that they can continue, or if the problem appears terminal (e.g. a computer won’t work or they can’t log in) ask the student to work with another student or group.

While you are circulating the room, make sure that students are not using technology for things not related to the task. Many students find it difficult to resist the urge to check social media, but this will distract them from learning. If you notice that students’ attention is starting to wander, use strategies to refocus their attention such as asking them to summarise what they have learned or setting them a new task.

You might also consider ways of enabling students to use their personal technologies to contribute to the session. For example, you could ask them to work in small groups and use their phones or laptops to look up a range of perspectives on a given topic.

Post-session

Depending on the technology you are using, your students may be grappling with it after the taught session has ended. This is often the case with group activities involving blogs or other collaborative tools.

Action.

Make sure that your students know what you expect them to use the technology for during their self-directed learning time. Provide clear instructions and examples.

Make sure your students know what they can expect from you in terms of online engagement. For example, if you are asking them to use blogs give them an indication of how often you will be looking at their blogs, and whether you will be using them to provide feedback.

Make sure your students know who to contact if they have a technical difficulty. This may be you, your Learning Technologist, a member of the Technical team, or the IT Services team.

You might also like::

Further reading:

Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (2013) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age New York: Routledge

Laurillard, D. (2009) ‘The pedagogical challenges of collaborative technologies’ In: Computer Supported Cooperative Learning 4, pp.5-20

Passey, D. (2013) Inclusive Technology Enhanced Learning New York: Routledge