– Jeanne M. Slattery
When I was an undergraduate, my faculty used chalk and chalkboards: they were Sages on the Stage. That works well for some faculty and some students, but this strategy often falls short for students who are not initially engaged by the material. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
The new learning technologies, when used well, open doors for both faculty and students. When I first started teaching Abnormal Psychology, I used chalk, overheads, and a few videos – which limited the kinds of information I could share. Now I use PowerPoints to help me organize the vast amount of information we’ll discuss, YouTube to give my students a range of perspectives on a single diagnosis, and Discussion Boards so my students can continue the conversations outside of class. My students use Google Docs to collaborate on projects outside of class, either side by side or across the state. The newer technologies allow me to use the right tools for the task.
Our learning management system allows me to post assignments, handouts, rubrics, videos, and grades in one easily-accessible place. This can put my students in charge of their learning, as they know their grades, can identify when an assignment is due, and can find the readings they need – even at 2am! Last Spring, my seniors had a multi-part, semester-long research project. They asked whether I would create a map of the process for them; I posted a checklist for the process on D2L, with all of the small details that I mistakenly believed they knew.
I use technology to support my teaching and help compensate for my weaknesses (and those of my students). I use technology to engage my students and to help them access information more easily. However, I don’t only use technology. I use multiple approaches and strategies, and I don’t use technology just for show or because it’s there. In Abnormal Psychology, for example, I partially flip our classroom: we are spending the semester finding research to solve real problems (and building critical thinking, information literacy, writing, and research skills). One example:
Vic and Vac Scene are new parents of their first child. They are excited and trying to do everything “right.” They just watched a TV interview with Jenny McCarthy, who argued that children should not be given vaccines, because she believes they increase the risk of autism. Their pediatrician strongly recommends vaccines, and their daycare requires them. The Scenes want to know what the research suggests about vaccines and autism. Should they give their child any vaccines?
This project uses technology – online library resources to find research answering their question; Google Docs to collaborate; GroupMe, texts, and email to stay in touch; and PowerPoint to present their findings – but only when that technology helps solve a problem more effectively.
Is technology necessarily better? I think it helps me do my job more effectively (e.g., show examples, present figures and tables from published research, stay organized in my teaching); however, I have colleagues who sit on a desk, occasionally write a word or two on the chalkboard, and are very effective at what they do.
Technology can be used at the wrong place, at the wrong time, or in the wrong way: a hammer can’t do a screwdriver’s job. Still, in my own teaching, technology has often been freeing: it allows me to imagine different ways to approach things – which keeps both me and my students engaged.
Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written three books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, an Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at email@example.com