Washington U's workshops, with their focus on pedagogy first, are a nice model for teaching educators about incorporating technology in the classroom.
Guest Post By Bryn Lutes and Tanya Roth. Bryn and Tanya are instructors at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and have helped to evolve the offerings discussed here into the current series of workshops, focused on effective technology use in the classroom.
These days, most of us likely feel surrounded by technology: email, blogs, smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, you name it. Sometimes, it can seem like we're inundated with any number of new tools to help us work more productively, smarter, and better.
For those of us who teach, it can be even more of a challenge to navigate the many tools available to use in the classroom. But how do we, as educators, assess which tools and how many? Where do we draw the line between using technology for the sake of technology – and using technology effectively in the classroom?
How to use technology most effectively in the classroom is precisely what many grad students at Washington University in St. Louis have been doing every summer since the late 1990s. When the Graduate Student Technology Workshops (GSTW) began in 1997, the initial workshop was conceived as an annual summer program to train grad students on using technology in the classroom. While it began as a way to learn HTML and webpage development, GSTW has had to evolve year after year to keep up with the many changes in technology and our knowledge and thinking – as educators – about how we use technology in the classroom.
This August, workshop participants won't learn how to create a webpage, nor will they learn anything about HTML. Instead, the workshop “Using Technology Effectively in the Classroom” does just that: the one-day session offers participants a focused approach to using technology in their courses.
First, participants learn the importance of identifying their course goals. This has nothing to do with technology in most cases. Do you want your students to understand key chemical concepts or how to analyze primary sources? Do you want them to become more effective writers? Whatever the course goals, and we found that broadly defined course goals are the same across disciplines, identifying these are the first thing that must happen before an instructor begins to think about technological tools for the course.
Next, participants learn how to assess various tools in light of their goals. The workshop is structured towards specific goals such as Collaboration, Organization, and Course Management. Within each section, we focus on various tools that can be used to meet such goals. (In some instances, tools like Google Documents can meet multiple needs.) For each tool we give an overview of what it does, demonstrate basic functionality, and how others are using the tool in the classroom.
Selecting tools each year is perhaps the biggest challenge we face as instructors. We've come to rely on what we think of as “old standbys” – the tools or platforms that have been around for years and offer stability and free access (Google Docs, Wikis, Blogs, the campus's own course management system). But at the same time, we try to introduce participants to new tools and approaches. For instance, while many participants seem leery of using Twitter in the classroom, online whiteboards get good reception.
The key is balance and, to some extent, minimalism. We make it clear to participants that we cannot possibly cover every tool available, but we try to emphasize the importance of flexibility and resourcefulness: keep an eye and an ear out for news on technological tools, and you'll probably find new resources to consider on a regular basis.
In the end, we hope that our participants feel comfortable enough to apply the technology on their own, including finding new tools to serve their original course goal. Having a workshop that is dedicated to pedagogy first is important for ensuring that new technologies are introduced effectively.
To learn more about the GSTW series, please visit:
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