Technology and Teaching

An Informal Summary of University Policies, Procedures, and Resources for Undergraduate Instruction

OID: Faculty Consultation


Technology and Teaching

The relationship between technology and teaching

Incorporating technology into teaching continues to be an evolving, mercurial topic. Because technology changes at lightening-speed, attempting to provide guidelines for using specific technological tools may prove less valuable than spending the same time providing guidelines on using technology in general.

A key to successful use of technology is identifying course learning objectives and seeking technologies that can help support those objectives. By focusing on the content instead of the technology, instructors can find success with a minimal investment in utilizing common technologies. Those more adventuresome instructors will find additional methods for using technology in broader ways. However, it is important to keep in mind that technology cannot “save” a badly developed curriculum or “rescue” a poor teacher; indeed, it may exacerbate an already poor situation. Surveys reveal that poor use of classroom technology can frustrate students and lead to disenchantment by instructors. As such, it is advisable for faculty to discuss their concerns about their teaching with a peer or a faculty development consultant at the Office of Instructional Development before undertaking a “technology overhaul.”

Although the process of infusing technology into instruction may begin with a simple step, such as using a course management system, it can grow to include a broad range of information, tools, and software packages. The fact that many technology options exist should not be viewed as a mandate to use them. Instead, instructors should determine the appropriate technology necessary to meet the teaching goals for their specific topic and course. Most importantly, the technology chosen must be accessible to the students and function coherently together.

Using technology in teaching is always a trade-off between the time and effort spent creating and maintaining it, and the educational gains achieved by using it. To ascertain whether a given technology is worth employing, an instructor needs to ask if it is the best or only way to accomplish the desired goal. For example, developing a web site with links to relevant web sites and/or pages of text and graphics may seem worthwhile at first glance, but prove counter-productive if printing numerous pages requires too much of a student’s time or money when compared with purchasing print copies. On the other hand, creating a simple animation to elucidate a difficult concept, and projecting it either in class or on the web, may serve to clarify the concept far better than could a static, two-dimensional image.

It is a reasonable assertion that most students will remain more comfortable with the rapid adoption and change in the world of technology than most faculty. Students tend to have fewer responsibilities, less professional demands, and more leisure time to invest in the social networking that can help ease adopting new technologies. Maintaining a feel for how students view and use technology may help inform an instructor’s approach to technology in order to support his or her teaching.

Knowing, for example, that using Google has become the de facto method for student research may help an instructor tailor a lecture illustrating research methodologies and judging the value of sources. Knowing, too, that many students use instant messaging or computer chat to stay connected with one another may help an instructor manage expectations and set parameters for communication and response-time. Balancing the uses of technology and the availability of technology can help ease the generational tensions that sometimes arise between a Baby-Boomer’s measured acceptance of technology and the Net Generation’s enthusiastic embracing of the latest techno-trend.

Even if an instructor is quite reluctant to adopt something new, there are instances where instructors are well-advised to engage with technology on a minimal level. These range from the practical (e.g., scanning images for data projection, because slide projectors are slowly being phased out of manufacturers’ inventory) to the mandated (e.g., course websites, electronic submission of grades). But outside of these areas, an instructor should only introduce and use those technologies they are comfortable with. For instance, if using an overhead projector and transparencies meets an instructor’s pedagogical needs, the comfort with using them may outweigh the benefits that might be achieved by adopting PowerPoint for classroom presentations.

On the other hand, technology can be a wonderful catalyst for rethinking an entire course or a single concept. In the process of reviewing specific teaching goals, the possibilities of appropriate uses of technology can become integral to the innovation process. The content and learning goals will inform the selection of the technology tool, and the tool itself will open up new teaching and learning possibilities. It is this iterative process which inspires instructors who think hard about their teaching to explore the potential of technology without becoming overwhelmed by the need to change an entire course all at once.
 

Steps to incorporating technology into instruction

Define Instructional Goals: The first step to infuse technology into instruction is to start with teaching and learning goals and then to select the most appropriate technology to achieve those goals. Using technology for its own sake can be a frustrating experience for instructors and their students, often with little instructional value derived from what can be enormous on-going investments in hardware, software, and time.

Collaborate with Colleagues: Having established instructional goals, an instructor can then review how technology has been used by colleagues and departments elsewhere to enhance a specific topic or course. Often it is possible to use or adapt what already exists, adding small innovative changes over time. For example, the decision to develop a new digital learning object (DLO) is best made as a joint decision with other colleagues who teach the course, or may make use of the DLO, and with local support staff who will likely have the job of maintaining the software and supporting its use.

Collaborate with Students: Motivating students to invest in, and learn how to use a tool for which they see no long-term application will be difficult. If specialized software or hardware is required for a course, it is critical that the department provide sufficient access, training, and support. Students may require additional motivation to learn to use these specialized tools if they experience learning difficulties. The tools selected should be supported by the departmental or divisional technology support centers, readily available to students and widely used in undergraduate instruction at UCLA.

Collaborate with Departments: Integrating technology in instruction will be achieved most easily if the technology component of the curriculum is developed in collaboration with local (departmental or divisional) computer support staff. The ramifications of taking an independent route can be a costly investment for the instructor, student, and support staff. Many resources at UCLA are available to help faculty at the local level. Many departments and divisions provide consultation and support for instructors to develop web pages and other types of digital materials.
 

Common campus computer resources

UCLA Websites
The UCLA website (http://www.ucla.edu) offers access to a wide variety of campus resources and information. Its main page provides links to campus services and organizations, campus calendars, maps, the campus directory, campus news, and UCLA Store. The main page also boasts a “Current Events” section that highlights weekly campus events. New sites and features are added frequently to its extensive content pages. In addition, the College of Letters and Science, all of the professional schools, and every department maintain their own websites.

Bruin OnLine
Through Bruin OnLine, all UCLA faculty, students, and staff have the option of using e-mail, Internet access, and a web space. The Bruin OnLine service consists of telephone access numbers and software to form a complete package of free internet access. Users can download software or learn how to adopt their current software to work with Bruin OnLine at http://www.bol.ucla.edu/.

My UCLA
The amount of information on the web can be bewildering to students and faculty who may have a specific goal in mind (e.g., finding out when the mid-term is scheduled for a course). The College web site, http://my.ucla.edu/, provides a customized single point of entry for faculty, students, and staff providing a variety of links and services. For example, faculty can set-up a template for their assignments in the Gradebook or submit their grades via Gradebook Express; students can view a list of all their current course web sites, review their course grades, and obtain information about student services; and staff can use the portal as a staring point to campus services and view their vacation and sick leave accruals.

Technology services are also provided by campus-wide organizations:

  • Academic Technology Services (http://www.ats.ucla.edu) encompasses project consulting, the Visualization Portal, the Technology Sandbox, Research Computing Technologies, Statistical Computing, Software Central, and Disabilities and Computing.
  • Communications Technology Services operates the campus backbone and remote access services, and supports Bruin OnLine;
  • College Library (http://www.clicc.ucla.edu), see University Libraries chapter, offers instruction in Internet access, use of the on-line Library catalogue and the California Digital Library, and critical thinking about information resources;
  • The Office of Academic Computing offers high-performance computing services, a visualization lab, and software licensing services;
  • The Office of Instructional Development (http://www.oid.ucla.edu) provides a broad range of technology services described below.

 

Computer resources for faculty at UCLA

Many departments and schools offer a full host of technology services to faculty. The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences Computing, for example, offer classroom computer labs available for instruction, software training, and other kinds of technology assistant for the faculty in those respective disciplines.

The Campus Library Computing Commons (the “CLICC Lab”), located in Powell Library, also makes available their two computer labs. CLICC’s services are available to any enrolled student, faculty, or staff member with a valid BOL account. See http://www.clicc.ucla.edu/ for more information.

The Office of Instructional Development’s Teaching Enhancement Center (TEC) offers individual faculty training and technology workshops in support of undergraduate classroom instruction. TEC aims to fill the gap between department resources focused on infrastructure and campus resources focused on large-scale research initiatives by providing equipment, facilities, and one-on-one training sessions to explore the potential for technology to enhance individual courses.
 

Computer resources for students at UCLA

In addition to services such as Bruin Online, UCLA students have access to computers at the College Library and various computer labs throughout the campus. Students can also access computers at the residence halls, in departmental computer labs and in Powell Library. The website https://www.it.ucla.edu/ucla-computer-labs lists locations of student computer labs.

Instructors should be cognizant that all students do not live on campus and that their time may be limited by off-campus employment or family responsibilities. In the event that students do not have access to a home computer—or do not have the time to stand in the often significant lines of students waiting to get into the various on-campus computer labs—a technology driven course may be prohibitive. As such, it is advisable that instructors make their expectations for computer access clear on the first day of class..

In addition, instructors should anticipate that students will have vastly disparate knowledge of computer and Internet technology. Some instruction of this technology may be necessary for courses that have a significant computer or Internet component. The College Library (http://www.library.ucla.edu/) offers introductory courses in Internet technology every quarter. Instructors who will be using the Internet in their courses should alert students to the Library course schedule (or even require attendance at one or more of the courses) as well as provide additional instruction as appropriate.

Computer resources for the disabled

The Disabilities and Computing Program (http://www.dcp.ucla.edu/) provides adaptive computing support to all members of the UCLA community, including students, faculty, and staff with permanent and temporary disabilities. This computing support is provided in three areas:

Computer access
Instructors who will be using instructional computing facilities and who have a student who may have difficulty using a computer keyboard, mouse, display, or standard height computer table should contact the Disabilities and Computing Program (DCP) as early as possible. DCP staff is available to work with instructors and department computing support coordinators to help make instructional computer labs accessible to students with disabilities.

Information access
Students with sight impairments due to blindness, low vision, learning disability, or orthopedic disability may have difficulty reading print materials or information on computer displays. This might include course reading lists, textbooks, class handouts, library on-line information systems, etc. The DCP works together with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) and the Library to assist instructors in providing information to students in alternative formats (including Braille, large print, computer file, and audio tape).

Computer-based compensatory tools
A student with a disability may have difficulty with tasks not typically accomplished with a computer, such as taking class notes, writing an exam, or reading a book. The DCP develops computer-based tools to help students compensate for their functional disability, including talking lap-top computers available for check-out, voice-controlled computers for writing, and reading machines for listening to texts. The DCP also supports a joint project with OSD that provides students with learning disabilities with selected class text materials on disk, and computer-based reading and proofreading software to assist them in their reading and writing.

The responsibility does not lie solely with these support services. Each instructor and TA also has an important role to play. The web is being used more and more frequently to provide access to instructional materials, to facilitate class discussions, to turn in assignments, to provide and receive feedback, and to obtain grades. Each web function, therefore, needs to be designed with the needs of disabled students in mind, and each service needs to have a backup plan, so that unsuccessful access to the web does not lead to unsuccessful participation in the course. It is useful to remember that many of the features which enable equal access to the physically disabled student also help ensure access to the students with less than adequate technology (i.e., older computers, software, printers, and modems).

 

Incorporating technology into instruction

Technology can be used a number of ways in instruction: it can help offset some of the administrative tasks of classroom management, be used to spark creative and innovative assignments, and can be used to develop and deploy lessons to assist both remedial students and advanced students. An instructor needs to first define the educational goals and identify specific problems. The scenarios that follow may help spur thinking about the use of technology.

Are office hours overcrowded or underused? Are there students who are too shy to meet face-to-face, or have schedules which do not coincide with the available hours? Perhaps using e-mail will facilitate broader communication between the instructor and students, while increasing communication among the students themselves. How will the extra load of reading and responding to email postings be balanced with other teaching responsibilities?

A large class may contain a group of advanced students who tend to dominate in-class discussions. Creating a private message board for these students might give them a sense of importance and enable the passive students to participate more in in-class discussions. Yet, would monitoring these web-based discussions require more attention and time than an instructor can devote?

Is there prerequisite material you feel is vital for your course? Do students come unprepared to tackle the core material in your course? Do you wish you had time to teach a set of lessons that you feel will round out the student’s ability to understand the material? With some forethought and dedicated work, an instructor can create modules or develop web pages that can be used to assist the uninitiated or provide additional incentives for the more rapid learners. If your course management system provides an online assessment tool, you may be able to create pools of questions to share with your colleagues to generate low-maintenance graded assignments that can be reused quarter to quarter.

In addition to approaching technology in terms of solving problems or improving targeted areas, an instructor can think about each of the major components of teaching a course and evaluate the impact of introducing technology to each of them.

Experience advises one additional note regarding using technology in the classroom: Instructors need to be prepared for the usual delays and setbacks of working with computers, and know what to do when things do not work. As with all lesson plans, a “plan B” is always a good idea.

Below are three major areas of interest to instructors: The Classroom, Course Management, and Student Work. Each area includes sample questions to aid instructors with their decision to implement technology into their courses. Needless to say, there are many, many more questions to be asked and decisions to be made (which will in turn lead to more questions). Good sources of ideas and advice can be found in discussions with colleagues, librarians and technology support staff, as well as on course web sites at UCLA and elsewhere. References to such services and information can be found throughout this guide.
 

The classroom

Technology can be used to integrate teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom. For example, an instructor can raise an issue in class which has appeared on the class discussion board, weaving it into the classroom discussion. Careful thought about intended goals, coupled with on-going experimentation mixing and matching these two contexts can often lead to innovation. A few of the issues to think about are:
 

  • How can technology influence student attendance and interest?
  • What is the best use of face-to-face classroom time? How can use of electronic information and communication change, supplement, or complement what happens in the classroom?
  • How can technology be used to improve the quality of information given in class?
  • How does participation in class change when lecture notes are provided electronically prior to class? Can students be expected to be better prepared? Can students be expected to learn the material delivered in lectures independently?
  • How can the time spent in the classroom be better integrated with activities accomplished outside the classroom using technology?
  • How can technology be used to improve the way information is presented in class to increase comprehension?
  • How can student participation be stimulated by using technology in class?


Classroom example: How can technology influence student attendance and interest?

The traditional classroom offers students an opportunity to come together in one place with other human beings to learn and discuss topics of interest. Technology can increase the value of this contact in several ways:
 

  • Classroom presentation technology such as a Classroom Response System (e.g., clicker) can engage students by making lectures more interactive, while simultaneously allowing instructors to keep track of whether students understand the material.
  • In an electronic classroom, instructors can offer students hands-on experiences with technology. For example, instructors can illustrate the professional use of database programs or spreadsheets through practical application that goes beyond the simple “how-to” presentations in the product tutorials. It is possible to schedule individual class sessions in a computer lab, in departments, or in shared facilities such as the College Library Instructional Computing Commons (CLICC) electronic classrooms in Powell.

Some instructors fear that students will not attend class at all if they already have access to lecture notes, a comprehensive course website, a podcast or webcast, and a textbook; however, studies have shown that students use alternate content channels for review and rarely as a substitute for the classroom lecture. Nevertheless, students may have other course responsibilities or personal issues that prevent attendance from time to time. In such cases, the conscientious student has an opportunity to review missed lectures. Perhaps an instructor can even entice the less conscientious student, who relies too heavily on alternative content channels, to attend by showing them that they are truly missing something when they do not come to class.

New media applications have strong potential for engaging students when first implemented; however, as with any other teaching tool, new media applications can be overused or used inappropriately. For instance, there are times when writing on the white-board may encourage students to contemplate the subject matter in a way that perfectly constructed slides do not. Including student participation in the development of an idea that is mapped out on the white-board may be necessary from time to time to help students stay engaged. Similarly, if the technology being employed requires a great deal of low-lighting to be appreciated students may become sleepy. It is important to turn the lights up frequently and ask questions to help students stay engaged.

Thinking through the issues related to incorporating new technology into a course allows the instructor to feel confident that the time required to learn and develop the technology will be well spent.
 

Managing a course

Using technology to assist with the administrative responsibilities of a course can save time, as well have an impact on both the content and teaching of a course. Moreover, the benefits associated with developing technology tools for one course will remain a valuable resource for future course development. Some of the decisions to be made are:
 

  • How can technology be used to create more meaningful assignments?
  • How can a course web site in combination with class/section discussion boards be exploited to distribute course information? What types of information are best delivered to the student via electronic mail, the web site, or printed handouts? When is redundancy of delivery methods necessary?
  • How can electronic access to accurate course rosters simplify the tracking of student progress by instructors, teaching assistants and students? What tools are available?
  • How can technology be used to integrate the lecture with the associated discussions or labs, or to help maintain consistency across sections of a course?
  • How can the components of the syllabus, lecture notes and reading materials be expanded to include access to new types of information (video, audio, real-time, remote, etc.)? What information formats are easy/difficult for students to access?
  • How do the purpose, use, and schedule of office hours change when on-line communication is also available? How can the workload be predicted and managed? How will TAs be affected?
  • How can technology be used to assist in both preventing and checking for plagiarism?
  • What elements need to be retained as the permanent record of the course and how does technology simplify and change the record? For example, if there is no longer a text for the course, how will students reference prior required material for future courses?
  • Which technology-assisted components of the course should be included in the instructor’s teaching portfolio? How can scholarly teaching innovation be well represented and rewarded in personnel decision-making?


Course management example: How can technology be used to create more meaningful assignments?

There are a number of questions to consider in creating assignments, and there are ways in which new media can help the instructor reflect upon the relevant issues.
 

  • Using on-line feedback and conferencing can help instructors know whether students really grasped material sufficiently well to do the next assignment.
  • New media may help to teach difficult concepts and motivate students to perform at a high level.
  • E-mail lists or electronic conferencing/bulletin board systems can avert disaster by allowing the instructor to clear up confusion about or misreading of the assignment before it is due.
  • On-line systems can encourage and make it possible for students to work together productively.
  • New media can make researching assignments more rewarding for students by providing them with more current data, or data not easily accessible from other sources (e.g., on-line foreign language newspapers).

Student Work

Technology can help instructors offer a wide range of learning opportunities and types of information to students. Questions to consider when devising tools to help your students are:
 

  • How can technology help instructors assist under-prepared students?
  • Can technology be used to help students assess their own readiness for the course or for each new topic? Can technology be used to help students fill in the gaps in their knowledge or review concepts which are prerequisites for the course?
  • How can technology be used to create more meaningful assignments?
  • What topics or concepts typically bore/discourage/mystify/cause problems for students? How can technology help change this picture by stimulating interest, providing practice, giving alternative perspectives, or including additional resources?
  • How can technology be used to link students to external experts and current research?
  • In what ways can technology be used to keep instructors and teaching assistants informed about student progress, as well as help students assess their own progress?


Student work example: How can technology help instructors assist under-prepared students?
 

  • New media can help students gain a better understanding of the subject matter by providing on-line access to searchable glossaries, old exams and keys, or even a single, simple animation that can greatly enhance an explanation—especially for visual learners. Links to informative sites that present subject content in ways that are more adaptable to different student learning styles are also helpful. Likewise, interactive tutorials that adapt to the individual needs of the learner are available. Be forewarned, however, that it can be time consuming to build interactive tutorials and can represent new hurdles for the students who must learn to use them effectively.
  • Electronic conferencing can be used to encourage collaborative learning between students and to receive immediate feedback on their understanding.

 

UCLA Office of Instructional Development (OID) resources for teaching with technology

OID has a broad range of services intended to support faculty in undergraduate teaching. Of these, the following are specifically designed to help faculty link teaching goals with technology solutions:
 

  • Audio Visual Services (B125 Campbell, 310-206-6591, http://www.oid.ucla.edu/classroom/av) provides media equipment, consultation, and training in the classroom use of audio recording and playback, public address systems, 35mm film slide and overhead transparency projection, video playback (VHS, S-VHS, and laserdisc), data and video projection, and access to the general assignment classroom network (GACnet). Not all of the 200 general assignment classrooms are equipped for network access and media presentation. Therefore, it is critical that instructors contact AVS one quarter in advance to ensure the course is scheduled in a room with the required features.
  • Instructional Media Collections & Services (IMCS) (46 Powell, 310-825-0755, http://www.oid.ucla.edu/edtech/mediacollection) is UCLA’s central resource for the collection and maintenance of educational and instructional media. Staff can assist instructors in locating materials, and Mini-grants are an appropriate source of funding for the acquisition of new material. IMCS is authorized to monitor compliance with federal law and University guidelines regarding the use of copyrighted video.
  • Instructional Media Lab (270 Powell, 310-206-1211, http://www.oid.ucla.edu/imlab/) provides access to course-related materials for self-study, group instruction, and research. Instructors may select materials from the Instructional Media Collections & Services holding, or the Film and Television Archive Research and Study Center (46 Powell, extension 65388), or they may place specially prepared materials such as lectures or demonstrations on reserve for students.
  • Instructional Media Production (62-073 Center for Health Sciences, 310-825-7771, http://www.oid.ucla.edu/edtech/medialab) provides fee-based production services to create state-of-the-art instructional materials for both large and small projects. Professional staff will assist faculty in developing their ideas and turning them into innovative instructional tools.
  • Teaching Enhancement Center (160 Powell, 310-206-4599) offers group and individual consultation to instructors and their teaching assistants on creating, adapting and using multimedia materials in teaching. TEC has computers with software for creating media materials, which instructors may use on a drop-in or appointment basis. Courses and workshops are also offered on specific topics.
  • Videoconferencing (B125 Campbell, 310-206-6597, http://www.oid.ucla.edu/classroom/av/vc) provides the opportunity to bring non-local experts and students into instruction. This interactive two-way audio and video technology can be scheduled for use in a single class or to teach an entire course at multiple campuses simultaneously. Use of this very limited resource requires advance scheduling of at least one quarter.


Information regarding these and other OID services is available at http://www.oid.ucla.edu/.

 

Suggested Readings

Bender, T. (2003). Discussion-Based online teaching to enhance student learning: Theory, practice and assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications.

National Research Council (U.S.) Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Educause (2007). Teaching and Learning. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/new-economy-technology-and-learning-outcomes-assessment

eLearn Magazine. (2006). Education and Technology in Perspective." Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.elearnmag.org/