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Smart Classroom Strategies: Getting Faculty Involved

UWB ClassroomA recent article published by Campus Technology describes how higher ed institutions nationwide are upgrading to provide faculty with the latest technologies to use for teaching and learning. These technologies include hardware such as clickers, tablets, and video recording equipment along with software and web tools such as Google Apps. However, while many of these initiatives to bring the latest technology in to the classroom are ambitious and designed to enhance learning, what can occur instead is that the technology ends up sitting in a storage closet as faculty who are often willing to try new hardware and software are frustrated with not knowing how to use these tools effectively.

The article outlines five strategies to help faculty use technology tools effectively so that they don’t end up gathering dust:

  1. Create Peer Training Groups – “Instead of equipping classrooms with technology and expecting faculty members to use it, Shackelford said, the university trained a small group of “ambassadors” who help other professors get onboard with the new equipment, software, and applications. Facebook, for example, was introduced not only as a social networking platform for students but also as a communication tool for professors to use with one another and with their students. “
  2. Carve out time for Professional Development – New technology initiatives can be fast and furious as IT departments collaborate with campus academic divisions, network groups, and other entities to meet deployment deadlines. Faculty members can get swept up in the excitement and wind up with classrooms full of technology that they don’t know how to use.
  3. Align IT with academic instructional departments – “We can’t do what we want to do on the development side if we don’t have the IT support,” said Spataro, who often bounces ideas off the IT team.
  4. Create a link between technological innovation and pedagogical effectiveness. If professors know that the time they’re putting into professional development will ultimately help them teach better, then the odds that they will participate and be engaged will be that much higher.
  5. Finally, involve faculty members in the planning process. Getting professors to integrate smart classroom technologies into their lessons, lectures, assignments, and projects can be as simple as opening up the lines of communication early between those instructors and their IT and instructional technology departments.

Read more at Campus Technology: Tactics for the Smart Classroom: Getting Smarter About Faculty Involvement

Making Lectures Effective

There’s no doubt that lectures are often student’s and faculty’s least preferred method of instruction. After all, many believe that lectures are always long, boring, and bad for learning. However, this is not true, because when lectures work, they work well. But how do instructors make them beneficial for both them and the students? The answer is a mix of planning, interactivity, and student engagement. In the September 2011 issue of The National Teaching & Learning Forum*, Jason N. Adsit of SUNY Buffalo offers some advice on how to make lectures more effective and engaging. In this post, we’ll summarize the tips Adsit gives in his article.

First though, why lecture? The fact is, lectures have stood the test of time because according to Adsit, they have “been shown to be particularily effective for

• Setting the context of a topic or field for novice learners.
• Disseminating a common set of material to a broad audience.
• Providing a synthesis of information from various sources.
• Clarifying complex information.
• Transmitting conceptual and systematic knowledge.
• Offering students a model of professional practice, i.e., the lecturer and his/her approach to the subject.”

In other words, lectures are a simple way to reach everyone in a common and effective manner. However, to maximize these benefits, one must design their lecture in a way that effectively engages students and serves as a tool to help the learning process. Here are the tips Adsit gives to do this:

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The MERLOT Pedagogy Portal

MERLOT, an organization widely known for its collection of open source, peer-reviewed learning materials now has another invaluable resource for higher education: The Pedagogy Portal.

The Pedagogy Portal was designed for instructors, or anyone interested in instructional design and development. It is similar to the main MERLOT site, but rather than material that can make up the content of a class, the material found here is designed to improve and broaden one’s teaching skills. Also like the main site, everything is open source and peer edited…in other words, high quality and free!

The Pedagogy Portal has been well-received, and was even featured last March on Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology blog.

If you are an instructor with any questions about teaching, the Pedagogy Portal is a great resource for answers. Here are some of our favorite sections of the portal:

Chronicle of Higher Ed: Students Assess Their Professors’ Technology Skills

The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed four tech-savvy students to get their viewpoint on how professors use technology in the classroom. More information about the interview can be found here.

Audio, Video, and other Interactive Media Transforming College Classrooms

An article in the Harvard Magazine discusses how the increasing use of digital media such as video and the Internet is changing the college classroom. Lectures have been a staple of the college classroom since the Middle Ages where lecturing was developed from universities in that time period. The lack of books in that time period coupled with the expense of making copies made it practical and efficient to have a lecturer read to a gathering of students.

However, lectures are fast becoming a thing of the past with the increasing use of media to supplant lectures. While images and even video aren’t new to classrooms, the way students consume such media has changed.

The old-style classroom, grounded in spoken lectures and reading lists, is becoming obsolete. Images now dominate a new style of teaching in which visual, audio, and interactive formats rule, often trumping words as the dominant means of communication. Media enhancements aren’t exactly new: 50 years ago, one of Kelly’s predecessors, G. Wallace “Woody” Woodworth, prepared a 78-rpm record for a Music 1 class by taking a piece of blackboard chalk and marking an “X” on a groove at the entry cue. But new technologies, and a generation reared on them, are propelling the modes of teaching toward nonverbal media and briefer, more compact transactions. Communications—and pedagogy—are moving away from Tolstoy’s thousand-plus pages and toward Twitter, which limits its messages, or “tweets,” to 140 characters.

In the last two or three decades, Western culture has shifted its appetites toward images, film, and video. Word-driven media like newspapers are thinning out while video agoras like YouTube grow exponentially and threaten to eclipse even television. “The change has been so rapid that people and institutions haven’t been able to adjust,” says Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute professor of cultural history, who teaches in both the departments of history of science and East Asian languages and civilizations. “You have academic tenure, which works in a time frame of decades. Yet we now have technologies that are changing yearly.”

The student audience is primed. Thronging into classrooms is a generation saturated since early childhood with images and interactive media. Pictures, both still and moving, are their native vocabulary. “They don’t read books,” says Bernbaum professor of literature Leo Damrosch, who liberally lards his courses on humor and the Enlightenment with visual exhibits. “Even English concentrators finish high school having read The Great Gatsby, three or four other novels, and some short stories. I have three short novels on my reading list, and students ask, ‘What? Read a novel in a week?’ Many are not very good writers, either, and it is too late for Expos [Harvard’s required expository writing course] to fix it. Whenever I have had great writers as students, they were avid readers as kids.”

Read the full article at Harvard Magazine: Professor Media.