Like the selection of learning activities for class sessions, we need to be strategic about the integration of technology. One of the first things to keep in mind is to never start your planning with a tool as your primary focus. Rather, technology integration decisions should be considered after you’ve considered the big picture of your course, designed your learning goals, factored in students' needs and preferences, and selected the learning activity sequence. In this way, the technology is where it belongs – in a supporting role.
Beyond this, however, it can be a little daunting to think about how to select from the universe of possible tools and resources. One way to pare down the options is to consider the particular technologies that are best positioned to support the specific learning activities you’ve selected to guide your class session. To assist you in this process, the Higher Education Learning Activity Taxonomy (HELAT) includes suggested technologies for each of the 20 different learning activities that comprise this taxonomy. While these suggested technologies aren’t an exhaustive list, they will help you to consider options you might not otherwise consider. In this way, you have only to consider a smaller, more targeted number of digital tools and resources that are well grounded in the learning design you’ve created.
Just because a particular technology tool or resource connects with a learning activity doesn’t mean you should necessarily use it. For example, while you could choose to have students create a 5-minute, simple cause and effect chart with a digital concept mapping tool like SpiderScribe, it’s probably more expedient and less distracting to do so on paper. If, on the other hand, the students would build out a detailed concept map incorporating different images and media, the digital version of the experience would clearly be superior. How, though, can you determine when and why to opt for a digital tool?
Technologies can provide a relative advantage
In some cases, the use of technology can simply provide a relative advantage over more analog approaches. This can be one of the simplest ways, but potentially quite powerful reasons to integrate technology in your teaching. For example, students can interview a subject for an oral history project taking notes with pen and paper. When they record the interview with a digital audio or video recorder, however, they have a more complete record of the experience. They can also then either review the specific wording and intonation of the subject after the fact or even incorporate the actual content in a class presentation or multimedia paper. When students take notes using a digital tool like OneNote or Evernote, they can easily search for specific terms and can more easily incorporate the content into their papers.
Technologies can enhance or extend skill development
When students are developing their skills – either more general 21st century skills or more discipline specific skills like procedures in a laboratory course, technologies can often help to enhance or extend the learning experience for students. For example, students may have limited time to use microscopes in a lab setting, in which case, they may be able to continue their practice via a virtual microscope. Similarly, while students can collaborate on a writing project with classmates around a table, with videoconferencing and collaborative word processing tools, they can collaborate with peers literally around the world.
Technologies can help meet diverse learners’ needs and preferences
I’ve written often on this blog about the ways in which faculty can help to meet diverse learners’ needs through Universal Design for Learning principles. UDL suggests that students should have multiple ways to encounter the content, express their understanding and engage with the material. Digital resources like video clips, animations, and digital texts can all provide more interactive ways for students to encounter the content. Similarly, digital simulations, multimedia design tools, and 3-D visualization software can open up powerful opportunities to share their understanding of course concepts. For many students, these digital enhancements can lead to increased engagement in learning.
Sometimes the best option is no technology
One benefit to using specific criteria like those offered above is that it forces you to have a specific vision and purpose for including technology in your learning experiences. In some cases, using no technology might be the best option. In other cases, however, when the use of a digital tool or resource provides a relative advantage, enhances the learning experience, or more effectively meets the needs of diverse learners, it would be to your advantage to at least consider the options.
How do you determine when to integrate technology in your courses?
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