Technology in Education

I just got back from a three day workshop on academic technology.  As a computer scientist, I was intrigued by the idea of this workshop but I was worried that it would be a disappointment because so many of these workshops focus on what I consider to be the wrong things.  I am so glad I attended the workshop because I learned a lot and was inspired by a lot of what I heard.

The reason I’m often disappointed by technology workshops and technology training for educators is because they are often led by people whose focus is on the technology and teaching the participants how to use that technology.  This is definitely an important task but it is one that I typically find tedious because I’m comfortable with technology and want to go faster than the workshop usually go.  And I want to have conversations about more than “how” to use the technology.  I want to talk about “why” we should use the technology.  We discussed this topic quite a bit (more than I ever have) at this technology workshop.

My big take-away from the workshop concerning “why” we should use technology came from the Day 2 keynote speaker, Michael Caulfield, who is an instructional designer at Keene State College.  He presented research that shows that average students become exemplary students if they can have conversation about the topic they are learning, can have instruction that is customized to them and what they are not understanding, and can receive immediate feedback about their learning.  Basically, if every student can have a full-time, one-on-one tutor, she can move from being an average student to being an exemplary student.  Sounds great, but who wants to pay for that (especially in this economic climate)?  So, Caulfield explained, we really need to figure how to provide “tutoring at scale.”  That is, we need to figure out how to provide each student with conversation, customization and feedback in classrooms that have more than one student.  Caulfield then discussed various uses of instructional technology (which was called “rich media” at this workshop, a phrase that I’m still processing and deciding whether I like) and how to leverage technology to provide “tutoring at scale.”  Caulfield’s talk gave me a great perspective through which to view all of the activities we engaged in during the workshop.

My one critique of the workshop (and it is a small one) is that we didn’t sufficiently separate faculty development of “rich media” artifacts for use in providing “tutoring at scale” from faculty development of assignments that require students to create their own “rich media” artifacts.  It feels like the issues are related to each other but are also quite separate, with different things for the faculty member to consider.

I would strongly encourage my PSU colleagues to apply to and attend next years Academic Technology Institute.  It is well worth the time!

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