Teacher Michelle Pacansky-Brock has written an excellent guide to bringing the teaching paradigm into the current century, in a way that embraces the perspective of students (of all ages) and has been proved effective time and time again.
I could hardly envision a better introduction to using emerging technologies in the classroom in a single self-contained resource. While this book recounts a personal journey, it also very well organized, and provides structured guidance. These experienced insights can help guide any educator through the maze of Internet tools, to discover many ways in which they can facilitate a fundamental shift in student engagement and learning.
While recovering from open-heart surgery in 2006, Instructor Michelle Pacansky-Brock started listening to educational podcasts during frequent walks, and was amazed at how much she learned from these early “Web 2.0” tools adopters and thought-leaders. She was inspired to experiment with the use of podcasts in her online course and this gradually led down the road to a wide variety of web-based tools and a learning journey of her own that resulted in significant changes to how she teaches today. The ultimate motivation behind these changes was the impact if had on the success of the students in her classes.
Along the way, Pacansky-Brock was awarded a Sloan-C Excellence in Online Teaching Award, but far more meaningful was the positive feedback from many students whose learning experiences were transformed through participation in her classes. As a higher education teacher she encounters students of all ages and has found that with some personalized attention even older students who were intimidated by technology could ultimately embrace these tools and walk away proud of their new found skills.
Following is a brief chapter-by-chapter look at how this book can help even the most tech-wary teacher get started down the road to embracing the technologies that are changing the nature of teaching and preparing students for successful careers and life in the 21st century. I cover the Introduction and Chapter 1 in-depth, to give a good sense of how deep the book is in learning material, then give briefer insights into the remaining chapters.
Introduction: The Flipped Classroom
In this chapter, the author shares a personal story about her experience with the use of a new approach in an online course, providing a practical example of how emerging technologies can be used to transform learning and enhance student engagement. She starts by explaining how she encountered many catalysts throughout her journey that propelled her forward and encouraged her. Citing sources such as Barr and Tagg’s well known 1995 article, “From Teaching to Learning”, her initial exposure to the flipped classroom, her own children’s observations, and Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom, she provides a wealth of contextual background and resources for further exploring the genesis of these concepts that are gradually transforming education.
After methodically and thoughtfully incorporating the use of VoiceThread and flipped classroom techniques in her History of Women in Arts course, Pacansky-Brock surveyed students to assess their perspective on the value of this approach. With a 77% response rate, 97% of the respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the class was a successful learning experience (despite the fact that 81% said it required them to do more work than a traditional class). Moreover, 81% indicated that the new model “was a more enriching learning experience, they had more opportunity to ask questions, their ideas and perspectives mattered more, and class time was more relevant to their needs”.
Chapter 1: Building a Solid Foundation
This chapter alone is ‘worth the price of admission’ as the saying goes. Here, Pacansky-Brock provides a robust set of steps and considerations necessary to build a solid foundation for successful incorporation of emerging technologies into the teaching and learning process.
There are basically 5 sections to this chapter, as follows.
Supporting Student Success
This section explains the things you will need to be sure to provide your students as they prepare to start your course. Following are the subsections provided, each of which is written about in-depth in the book.
- List of Tools That Will be Used and Your Reason(s) for Using Each
- List of Required Supplemental Equipment
- Access Expectations and Resources
- Necessary Software
- Supplemental Mobile Apps
- Examples and Student Perspectives
This section espouses the potential that social media has to facilitate social learning via a community experience. While the traditional learning model is primarily a one-to-many experience with the student playing a largely passive role, a learning community that is facilitated through online tools lends itself to a more participatory learning experience. Teachers are encouraged to develop and distribute a formal written “Class Philosophy” and set of “Community Ground Rules”, and examples of each are provided.
Empower Students to Prepare Prior to the Start of Class
The idea here is that Internet based tools provide an opportunity to convey your own insights into the course and yourself as a professor prior to when student’s would start the class, by posting content (a quick video for example) where students can access it. It does not address how students can be made aware of this resource or provided links or other information that may be required to access it.
The Nuts ‘n’ Bolts of Teaching in the Open Web
This section introduces some of the important technical concepts and considerations that you will want to be aware of as you embark on your tech-enabled teaching journey. It gets into things like embedding of content versus linking to content, understanding options for student and content privacy, and understanding and dealing with copyright issues.
Learning from Student Frustrations
Pacanksy-Brock wraps of the chapter by reflecting on a story that she started the chapter off with, about an older student who was reluctant to use these tech tools and was intimidated by the idea of trying to be a part of the Internet community. At the start of class, she had let the student know that the minimal requirement was to become a part of the network and write a weekly blog post. With some encouragement over the early part of the term, the student got the hang of it and she ultimately came away feeling connected to this culture for the first time in her life. The student was, in fact, a teacher and she soon started incorporating emerging technologies in her own teaching!
Chapter 2: A New Paradigm for a New Century
This chapter starts off with a deeper dive into Barr and Tagg’s ‘Instruction Paradigm versus Learning Paradigm’, and the benefits of participatory learning. This leads to a dialogue about selecting specific applications to use in your courses, and a checklist for evaluating tools is provided and thoroughly explained.
Chapter 3: Essentials Toolkit
This chapter gets into the essential tools required for emerging-technology-empowered teaching. These include a webcam, microphone, screencasting software, content hosting services and approaches, and the consideration of video captioning methods. These things are discussed at length, and the author does a solid job of keeping ADA requirements in mind, which is another important element to ensure success for all students.
Chapter 4: Tools for Communication and Content Creation – Beyond Text!
An array of specific tools are covered in this chapter and plenty of tips, examples, and an occasional ‘Showcase’ are woven throughout, to ensure a solid introduction to these tools and their possible uses. Some of the apps explained here include Jing, EyeJot, Skype, and Prezi.
Chapter 5: Backchannels and Tools for Participatory Learning
Here again, quite a few applications are explored, but this chapter is focused more on the types of tools that facilitate the dialogue and participation elements of these courses (rather then the initial content creation that is the focus of the prior chapter). Twitter, Poll Everywhere, Ning, and VoiceThread are a few of the apps discussed at length in this chapter.
Chapter 6: Mobile and Beyond
This chapter is devoted to the ‘mobile explosion’ and preparing the instructor who embraces emerging technologies for how the rapidly expanding use of smart phones and tablets is impacting capabilities and access. As with all the chapters above, this section is rich with insights and ideas that are well worth knowing about, clearly delivered in the context of teaching and learning.
Chapter 7: Online Resources
This is just a one page section that provides a link to teachingwithemergingtech.com, a web site that contains link to all of the resources discussed in the book!
In addition to the excellent content within each chapter, another big value in this book is the inclusion of many ‘Tips’ included in little asides woven throughout the chapters.
While this book it isn’t inexpensive (about $40 for the paperback on Amazon.com, but less than $30 for Kindle format), it is very much worth the investment. It is worth noting that as of the publication date of this article, there are 8 reviews on Amazon.com and they are all 4’s and 5’s, so clearly I am not the only reader who feels strongly about the quality of this work. Whether you’re passionate about teaching technology tools, or just getting started down this road, Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies is an investment you will not regret.