Ten Simple Ways to Integrate Technology into your Teaching: A UMW Perspective

Allow me to preface this blog by acknowledging the millions of existing articles on this subject; these articles offer guidance to curious faculty and examples of work at other institutions such as the University of Michigan, but this blog will look at this topic from the University of Mary Washington context and perspective in particular. It is also important to note that there are advanced versions of all of the following teaching moves.

This piece aims to offer suggestions to faculty who may be just beginning the process of incorporating technology into their teaching. As you review these ideas, consider too that these are not “add-on” or “extra” elements—ideally, they will offer a way into the content that makes it not just more accessible, relevant, and engaging, but also helps deepen thinking and creativity for students and faculty alike. If I am being honest with you (and I am), I once introduced a video editing project with students before I knew how to edit video myself. We figured it out together, and the students actually taught me the tech skills, while I organized the content and ensured that they had mastered the content-area skills.

  1. Assess Understanding Instantly

With tools like Poll Everywhere or Socrative, both free for 40-50 responses per poll, students’ Smartphones serve as clickers to take short quizzes, with visual results appearing onscreen instantly. It takes about two minutes of class time to know if everyone is with you—or which way they’d like to steer the discussion or the next activity. UMW has access to the Bluepulse tool through Canvas, which is a similar method of assessing student understanding. These tools offer anonymous input, so using them can provide a more accurate picture of student thinking because they remove the fear of being publicly identified as someone who isn’t getting it.

  1. Use Video Clips

Youtube offers content-specific clips, while the UMW library’s new Kanopy subscription (this link requires a login through EZProxy) offers similar clips as well as full-length films and documentaries; these can be useful for in- or out-of-class viewing. For example, in the College of Education we talk about best practices of teaching in the K-12 context, but without viewing examples of these practices it can be challenging for students to implement them in their own future teaching. Video of teachers who use specific practices can help make these clear and can increase the chances for success. Maybe you’d like students to create their own videos to demonstrate understanding of course concepts, or spread the word about issues you’ve discussed? The Hurley Convergence Center has high-quality video cameras for checkout if those tiny cameras we all carry around in our pockets won’t cut it, and students can stop by the Digital Knowledge Center for help with editing (and most of the rest of these strategies as well).

  1. Harness the Power of Podcasts

After hearing hundreds of hours of podcasts on my long commute, I began assigning some especially relevant ones to my students in addition to the usual course readings. The resulting discussions were always rich and relevant to our topics. In case you also have an older brother who is so obsessed with Apple products that he listens to podcasts about them, thus giving you pause about the format, let me reassure you that modern podcasts are actually some of the most fascinating, cutting edge storytelling that is happening today. The wildly popular crime series Serial (I have to admit my bias for the first rather than the second version of this podcast) is simply the modern version of a gripping tale told in the style of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Kris Shaffer at dtlt has compiled some useful resources for creating podcasts here.

    4. Investigate and Create Games, Visualizations, and Simulations

I group these seemingly disparate ideas into one tip because they all have to do with making content visible and interacting with it in new or unexpected ways. A wide variety of simulations exist online, especially for the sciences. In these, the user can toggle one or more variables to see an effect on the overall system. See one example here. Many are designed for K-12 students (those dealing with genetics come to mind), but adding “college” to a search for simulations and content areas will often yield some fascinating finds. Data visualizations or flowcharts made with sites such as d3 plus, Coggle, or Gliffy can apply to all kinds of courses. Those who attended the Faculty Development workshop in the spring of 2016 may recall Parrish Waters’ Pokemon Go-themed anatomy game Mary Kayler’s extensive work with games at UMW is another local example of the benefits described by Anastasia Salter.

  1. Engage in Online Discussions (synchronous or asynchronous)

Benefits of online discussion include the chance for students to think carefully about their responses, and to see clearly who adds what points to the conversation. Our Learning Management System (LMS) is Canvas, and for faculty who already use Canvas for some or many of its available features, the Discussion tab offers some useful options such as grading a post. Those who might fear the time required to read through dozens or hundreds of posts may be delighted to learn that the Canvas SpeedGrader will aggregate the posts for individual students, instantly showing their level of participation across the entire discussion thread. “But,” you may cry, “I don’t meet online, not ever!” Guess what? You can have a synchronous online discussion in a face-to-face classroom as well. This is referred to as a backchannel, and can be projected or remain accessible through student devices for those who wish to access it. Twitter (with a hashtag) or Todaysmeet offer chances for another layer of conversation about the discussion or lecture as it happens. Some academic conferences also embrace this format so that attendees and presenters can connect and share key findings during and after the conference (and with those who may not be in the session or even at the conference at all).

  1. Flip your Format

If lecture is a major component of your instruction, consider recording some or even all of these to share with students. Make the lectures the thing that students do on their own time; when they are in class, that’s when they can engage in collaborative, hands-on work and critical thinking about the content with the guidance of the instructor. Screencasts or screencaps of how to complete common processes for your class or content area—say, how to use Excel to do a statistical T-test or ANOVA—can offer a resource for students to visit again and again if they need it. Those who have had these ideas before us have actually already made these things that can be borrowed and adapted—so time in class can be spent helping students with more challenging technical difficulties or deeper questions beyond simply how to do the task. Resources to help get started with screencasting have been compiled here by dtlt.

  1. Maximize your use Google Drive

You (and students) are probably familiar with the free, easily shareable format of Google Drive documents, but did you know that there is a full suite of other products? Students can write or design presentations collaboratively on Google Slides, and faculty who don’t use or like Canvas quizzes may enjoy using Google Forms for this purpose. Students can easily create collaborative quizzes of their own, perhaps for review, on Google Forms. Much has been written about using Google Drive on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker series; this includes a basic introduction as well using Google for writing portfolios, among many other applications. The simple hack of assigned each group member a different text color for a collaborative writing assignment in a Google Doc can instantly show who has contributed which ideas, and a look at the history will show when it occurred.

    8. Utilize Blogging

Why blog? It provides students with an instant global audience for their writing. How many course assignments have students completed that have had an audience of one: the faculty member?

Blogging (or micro-blogging, as on Twitter) can occur in many places. Some students and instructors still use umwblogs, while many others have made the leap to constructing their own domain through Domain of One’s Own. Students across the university can maintain a digital identity on their own domain; most of these sites involve blogs for one or more courses. A course blog can take many forms: it might involve a course page where students have editing rights to post, a main page with a list of linked student sites, or students can simply blog at their own sites and share the links on Twitter or on a Canvas discussion post to make the writing more public. While we’re on the topic…

  1. Get a Domain (and have your students do so as well)

Maybe you’ve heard of Domain of One’s Own once or twice? If not, know that it has put on lots of maps in recent years. It is one of many reasons why people know who we are and what we’re building here. Constructing personal and professional domains is a valuable, marketable skill today. The best way to help students build this skill is to make your own domain. Find lots of useful links here, including a series of adaptable modules for faculty and student use. Most people apply a WordPress theme (see dtlt post by recent grad Jess Reingold on choosing the right theme) and then get to work customizing, blogging, and connecting with other scholars.

  1. Build out a Personal/ized Learning Network (PLN)

Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media are excellent places to connect with scholars in your field, at UMW, and across the world. By connecting with these people, we make public the work of being part of a scholarly community, and we level the playing field, because geography is no longer a barrier to connection. Just last week I shared a recent article on Twitter, where my students could read it if they chose and see research conducted with students who were in their place just a couple of years ago. It’s like Eagle Eye…but for the whole world. These networks offer people the chance to connect and collaborate in ways that were far more time consuming or even impossible in the past. Some useful places to learn more about how to start include this piece from edutopia and this comprehensive list of thousands of educational Twitter chats. Chats can provide an excellent source of contacts to follow. Speaking of chats…

Do you have some ideas or feedback to share? We are introducing a new digital (and other) pedagogy Twitter chat on Wednesdays at 12 P.M. Find us there at #teachUMW. If you are new to Twitter, I’d be glad to help with that too!

This post addressed simple, entry-level options for faculty who are new to using technology in their teaching; however, there are many faculty who are familiar with these strategies and wish to take things to the next level. We’ll take a look at some next steps in a future blog. If you have some class projects that you’ve created that you’d like us to highlight, please share them in the comments!

Want to talk more about how to integrate some of these strategies into your syllabus or course meetings? I hold TTI fellow office hours in HCC 408 from Tuesdays 10:50-12:20 and 3-4; Thursdays 10:50-12:20 and 1-1:45, and by appointment. Please email and we can talk more about your projects, or I can help guide you to the right resources.