Sep 20 2012

5 Important Technologies College Professors Should Understand

Not all technology is beneficial to learning. Here are a few things to be wary of, and a few to embrace.

By now, most professors have accepted that technology plays an important role in classroom technology. Some professors have embraced it totally, while others are slowly implementing the technology that enriches pedagogy.

Not every new gadget or website should change the way you teach, but every now and then a technology arrives that is ripe for the higher education community. Consider the following:

One Step at a Time


Is Wikipedia enemy #1 for professors? Despite its reported accuracy (3.86 errors or omissions per article, on average, compared with 2.92 for Britannica), the crowd-sourced encyclopedia hasn’t gained traction in higher education, because articles can be biased and the sources don’t have to meet the same high standards that a traditional encyclopedia or peer-reviewed journal does. Most students will use Wikipedia, if only to gather background information, but you don’t have to allow your students to cite its articles. If you’re willing to let students use online resources, have them use Google Scholar instead. Or ask them to update and, if necessary, correct existing Wikipedia articles.

Mobile Devices

They are great for communicating, and in the right environment, they can be learning tools. But smartphones and tablets in the classroom can also be a distraction, according to U.S. News:

This is a fear of Vassilis Dalakas, a marketing professor at California State University—San Marcos, who used to allow smartphones in the classroom but has restricted them because of the distractions they have caused.

"I used to think that [the students] are adults and they can make their own choices," Dalakas says. "But it got to the point of being distracting, not only to the person using it but to multiple people in the classroom."

Read the full article.

College students are obsessed with their phones, and while some professors are finding creative ways to integrate the devices into the learning process, it might not be a bad idea to ask your students to turn their phones off during class. We could all benefit from disconnecting, especially when it’s time to focus on learning.

Almost Yesterday’s Technology

We don’t move that fast, but here are a few ways technology is making a big impact in the classroom.

Social Media

There is only one word to accurately describe social media: unavoidable. But rather than being a distraction for your students, social media can be a great learning tool and communication platform. We’ve already discussed using Google+ Hangouts for your office hours, but engaging with students on Twitter also can be beneficial. You can point them to timely news and resources and encourage them to connect with other thought leaders in your field.

Digital Textbooks

Help your students (by lowering costs) and the higher education community at large (by initiating change) by encouraging the use of digital textbooks. But don’t toss paper textbooks aside, because many students are not yet equipped with tablets. Electronic textbooks are poised to offer students myriad engagement tools, such as video and audio. It may seem as if digital textbooks contradict the previous suggestion to limit mobile-device use, but because textbooks are largely used outside the classroom, which is when students are connected anyway, the two recommendations can both succeed. Students are embracing the move. Are you?

The Flipped Classroom

You don’t need to change your entire teaching philosophy to implement a flipped-classroom model. You will, however, need to adapt the technology to make video lectures part of your regular routine. See what kind of support you can get from your university. Perhaps you can first try it with just a handful of classes per semester to see how it affects engagement and learning outcomes. (Check out this infographic to see how the flipped classroom works.) Most reports show that the results are positive so far, and both students and professors are benefiting.

Are there other technologies that you are ready to embrace or are planning to avoid at all costs? Let us know in the Comments section below.


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