Instructional technologies have become an almost invasive part of our higher-education existence; as faculty we might struggle to decide what to use, what to ignore, and what to begin investigating for future application. We often assume that students know technology better than we do and tend to gloss over how we introduce our students to the academic use of technology. While they may be very familiar with the actual technology, they may not be versed in appropriate use of that technology in an academic setting.
If we use technology well, our students will be encouraged to continue using it for their studies. Blackboard is a perfect example: a well-structured course in Sakai can provide students with just-in-time information about the course, assignments and expectations; a poorly conceived course causes confusion and resentment—students tend to blame the technology (“I hate Sakai! Online discussion is so boring and I can never find anything in our course”).
Key to the successful use of technology, whether for a face-to-face course, blended or fully online course, is making expectations clear. Students need to understand why various technologies have been included and how students are expected to use those technologies. Additionally, it is crucial to introduce the required technologies in a low-stakes assignment or task that allows the student to become comfortable with the tool without jeopardizing his or her grade.
Best Practices Examples:
One of the key roles for faculty teaching with technology is to model expected behaviors and introduce students to the rationale behind these expectations. There are some online resources that can be useful for this activity. For example, The Core Rules of Netiquette (http://www.albion.com/netiquette/book/0963702513p32.html), a now dated but still effective summary of expected behaviors for online conduct, includes an overview of some common principles of accepted use. It is accompanied by an online quiz that students can take to determine their netiquette IQ. It is an interesting medium for delivery of an important message regarding appropriate and acceptable use of online media.
Raising Student Awareness
The majority of contemporary students is familiar with technology and use it on a daily basis. As digital natives, or people who have had access to technology since birth, our traditional students assume that their familiarity with technology makes them perfect candidates for academic applications of technology use. As faculty, we sometimes make the same assumption. Research supports the "generation gap" of technology perspective (VanSlyke) but may not explain why students misperceive their suitability for learning with online technologies.
The process of learning varies among individuals. In order to understand what contributes to successful learning, it is helpful to do some analysis of the factors that determine how a student learns. Once students have investigated and identified their learning preferences, they have a better understanding of why some assignments, professors, or course formats are more challenging for them. The University of Western Ontario lists three, predominant learning styles:
The VARK website provides additional information about learning styles, adding a fourth category: read/write. Once students have an understanding of how they learn optimally, they are better able to make determinations about what types of learning activities and delivery styles will be best for their preferences.
Use of technologies plays heavily into student success in a given learning environment. For example, students often assume that learning via online resources is easier than attending a traditional, on-ground course. Frequently, however, student learning preferences and habits are not conducive to effective online learning. The Illinois Online Network provides a useful guide students can review regarding their readiness to learn online. The guide is followed by a survey that helps students assess their study habits and helps them determine whether their learning preferences are compatible with the online format.
By providing resources that assist students in understanding their personal learning styles, faculty empower their students to make better decisions about their chose of courses.
"Learning Styles." University of Western Ontario. Student Development Centre. http://www.sdc.uwo.ca/learning/index.html?styles
What Makes a Successful Online Student?
ION Student Readiness Survey
VanSlyke, Timothy. "Digital Native, Digital Immigrants: Some Thoughts from the Generation Gap. http://technologysource.org/article/digital_natives_digital_immigrants/
This guide includes a description of the traditional learning styles and provides a questionnaire students (and faculty) can take to determine their learning strengths and weaknesses.
"What Companies Should Know About Digital Natives." May 14, 2009. http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/05/14/what-companies-should-know-about-digital-natives/
Expectations: Course Behaviors
Expectations: Technology Preparedness
The campus IT website keeps an up-to-date listing of recommendations for systems. This is a good reference to share with students as it reflects the technologies currently being supported by the university.
It is also helpful to students to have a quick listing of help resources for technology needs. Again, IT provides this in one internet location.