Posted by: Andrew | January 22, 2010

Teaching and Technology

At the moment I’m teaching an introductory physics course at the University of Saskatchewan: Physics 117 – Physics for the Life Sciences.  I love teaching this course.   Over the years that I have been teaching introductory courses, I’ve been introducing more technology into the classroom.  I certainly don’t do a traditional “chalk and talk” lecture anymore.

Everything is now based around a PowerPoint presentation of key points and concepts, backed up with “hands on” demonstrations, and videos, computer simulations etc.  It is designed to be a real multimedia learning experience.  I also use the Turning Point classroom response system, commonly know as “Clickers in the classroom”.  This lets me pose questions to the students, and get them to show their answers on the big display screen in the lecture theatre.  I think that the students get more out of this than a traditional class.  Feedback comments from the students are overwhelmingly positive.

There are several quick points to make, which I will expand on in later posts

  1. Fancy technology does not make a bad teacher into a good teacher
  2. Use of technology in an inappropriate manner can make a good learning experience into a bad one
  3. Technology should not get in the way, it should allow the teacher to teach
  4. It can take a lot of extra time and effort to create a class which uses the technology appropriately
  5. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a good old-fashioned verbal explanation accompanied by a quick sketch on a board

I have just finished putting a multiple choice quiz into our Learning Management System (Blackboard aka WebCT).  This is a moderately excruciating experience, as it has one of the clunkiest, unfriendly and idiosyncratic user interfaces I have ever encountered.  it does the job, but I spend a lot more time doing routine data entry and formatting than I would like.  There are a lot of slick, user friendly interfaces out there, but this isn’t one of them.  Unfortunately, I have to use Blackboard, as that is the University supported system. Sigh. Yes, there are lots of alternatives (e.g. Moodle) out there, but the teacher needs the backup of user support to help.  This version of Blackboard is really a thinly disguised WebCT (because Blackboard took WebCT over).  At some point the old legacy WebCT will presumably be allowed to die of natural causes, and then a change will have to be made.  Concordia University in Montreal made a move to the open source Moodle system. Wil the Uof S do the same?

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