When Students Teach Faculty About Instructional Technology

Some faculty can find fault with just about any instructional technology. Why, they ask, should I bother to learn how to use this new technology and how can it possibly help me to improve student learning? For example, this faculty member thinks clickers are a waste of her time and students’ money. It’s entirely reasonable for faculty to raise these questions. I’d prefer for them to hold off on making judgments until they learn more about new instructional technologies, and take time to see how they might use it to improve student learning. Time. That’s the operative word. It takes time to learn how to use new technology and time to change class practices in order to integrate new teaching tools. It is critical for faculty to clearly see the WIIFM factor if we expect them to explore any new technology, whether it’s a clicker, a personal bibliographic software product or a new library database.

One thing that our colleagues in the campus instructional technology services department have in common with us academic librarians is that we both find getting faculty to try our resources and services can be a hard sell. We seek to collaborate with faculty to encourage their use of our e-resources, and to allow us to integrate research skill building into their courses. It’s an uphill battle on many campuses. The instructional technologists are not only working hard to get faculty to adopt their technologies, but to also invest time learning how to use them for improved pedagogy. My response to the faculty member who questions clickers is that they will be a waste of time if they’re used poorly, but with the right application and technique they can enhance student learning and create opportunities for deeper engagement with course material. Like any tool, it’s all in how you use it.

I thought the instructional technology group at my institution came up with a novel idea for helping faculty learn about different technologies and how they can be used to improve student learning. They let the students teach the faculty. I attended this program the other day. Students who work as assistants at the instructional technology center described and demonstrated multiple technologies to faculty – everything from clickers to courseware to powerpoint to lecture capture systems. Some of it came off sounding a bit too much like a sales pitch, but the students also came across as enthusiastic and excited about faculty who use technology in their courses. They were certainly in favor of faculty using clickers. They also advised faculty on what not to do with learning technologies. And I’m sure the students were absolutely sincere when they said they would never skip classes when their faculty member uses the lecture capture system. The only time the train really went off the tracks is when they demonstrated powerpoint. Would students really get excited about sitting through slide after slide of bullet points? Well, one student told of an instructor who integrates video into the slides to keep him awake. Thank you multimedia.

After the students demonstrated Blackboard I asked a pretty simple question. I wanted to know how many of them had taken a course where the instructor integrated library resources into the Blackboard site for quick and easy access to library databases and e-reserves. I quickly heard about instructors who had links to Yahoo Finance, instructors who link to articles in web-based full-text magazines and just about everything but the library resources. One student out of ten mentioned a link in his course to the library e-reserve. This is somewhat disappointing because we have made it much easier for faculty to integrate library resources into their course sites. The librarians do 98% of the work. Yet the reality may be that faculty are enabling students to completely bypass the library by linking to everything but the library resources. Courseware is clearly a dual-edged sword for the academic librarian. But it’s early in the game and I’m sure we’ll be gaining more faculty support.

At the end of the session I asked the students if they used Twitter, and whether they’d want faculty to send Tweets about course material and class activity. Only two of the ten said they use Twitter, but they were highly enthusiastic about having faculty using it in their courses (none did). I was tempted to ask if they’d follow a Twittering librarian who’d shower them with glorious tidbits about how to make great use of the library or to find out what we were up to. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t ask.

3 thoughts on “When Students Teach Faculty About Instructional Technology

  1. Thanks for the link–I was much more open-minded about the use of clickers, until my readers (who ordinarily are much more open to new technologies than I am) chimed in so strongly against them.

    I asked my students in one class if they had used clickers–some of them had, some of them hadn’t; some of them liked them, some of them didn’t. As you say, it depends on how they’re used. None of them clamored for them and demanded that I incorporate them into my teaching.

    In the end, I remain convinced that while some faculty and students may find them useful, they’re just another gimmick designed to divert attention from the fact that teaching classes with more than 40 students each is sub-prime and is trying to do education on the cheap. Do Amherst and Swarthmore pack 200 students in a lecture hall and toss clickers at them? I think not–at least, not on a regular basis. So my argument is that universities should spend that money on hiring more instructors, not on looking for a cheap techno-fix.

  2. A big problem is introducing a technology, then figuring out what cool things you can do with it. You really have to start with pedagogy, then see if technology can improve it.

    I’ve heard students complain that they have to buy multiple clickers that come bundled for use with different textbooks/different courses. So if we’re holding down costs by having larger classes AND we’re making students pay for the instruments of their degraded education, that’s twice as annoying.

  3. I’m not thinking specifically of clickers here (I’m familiar with the idea but have never actually used them), but in general, I really like the idea of an “end-user driven” approach to classroom technology (with the “end user” being the student).

    As an instructor, I have gotten extremely positive responses when I’ve surprised my students by using technology they think is “cool” – this counts for so much more than “cool professor points,” though. As I transition into librarianship I can’t help thinking that letting the students do the “selling” is a really good way to go about convincing instructors that new technology isn’t a huge inconvenience or an unnecessary distraction, but a way to increase learning and deepen students’ interest in what’s going on in class.

    Barbara is right to point out that the pedagogy needs to come first. But there are so many ways to go about conveying information, and integrating technology that resembles (or is!) the same things students use in their personal lives seems like a great way to reach those students who might otherwise not have a “way in” to what’s happening in the classroom.

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