5 Technology Makes It Easier
Nasim Ebadi and Ghadir Asadi
Imagine that you have a large class full of students whom you might not have a chance to talk with during the semester. You want all of them to be engaged in the class and participate in the class activities. You might also find undergraduate students to be very shy about participating during class time. Students may be especially hesitant to answer your question while you are teaching new material. Or, you wish to grade the assignments faster and give quizzes every other session without spending so much time with paper collection, grading, and grade entry. You might find it a tedious task to reply to students’ emails about this week’s reading list, midterm date, due dates, and their standing so far in the semester. A well-designed technology-integrated course might be the solution to your problems. Technology integration is a dynamic process of design, implementation, and evaluation.
This chapter will discuss…
- The opportunities and challenges related to technology integration.
- How to design, implement, and maintain a successful technology-integrated course.
- Common types of technologies that can be purposefully integrated.
The Motive behind Technology Integration
Technology is the knowledge or science that helps us to solve problems (Webster, 2006). In this regard, technology can be defined in two ways: as any change in the ways of doing things or as the tools we use to do things more quickly and/or efficiently. For instance, some websites facilitate the grading process for instructors. Devices, such as smartphones and laptops, can be used for taking attendance and pop-up quizzes. Thus, in both definitions, technology can be used in the educational environment to facilitate the process, improve productivity, and enhance various measured outcomes.
Most of our students are from generation Z (born between 1996 and 2010); they are “digital natives” and were born in a globally connected world. They are fast decision makers who tend to record instead of taking notes, are more interested in online examinations, and expect a lecture to “come and entertain me” (Cilliers, 2017). Today’s students prefer integrative games, collaborative projects, and challenges over lectures and discussions (Rothman, 2016). Additionally, quality of education has been proved to be more important than years of education and/or degree (Asadi, 2020). Thus, students need to acquire the essential skill sets required for modern workplaces, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, ability to keep learning, collaboration, and digital skills (Wabisabi Learning, 2020). Integrating technology into the course provides a learning environment for students to develop their skill sets.
Technology integration can be done on various scales, from playing a video in the class to shifting the course structure so that every activity in the class is blended with technology. Blended learning is defined as the instructional approach that combines traditional face-to-face instruction with technology-based instruction (Herold, 2016). In a blended learning environment, students have control over the time, place, and method of work (Maxwell, 2016). One might consider integrating technology into the course only to the extent that it improves the learning environment and matches our content and style. By incorporating technology into the class, one can employ students’ experience in the continuous use of technology to save time and build a more suitable framework for the materials and teaching style.
Another important aspect of technology is that one can tailor it to fit the needs. For instance, each Learning Management System (LMS) offers a range of features. The instructor can integrate as many features they want into the course, and in some cases, by combining these features, they can develop new applications. In particular, using LMS, you can deliver the material in different forms, such as sharing videos, audio, documents, and links to further educational sources.In addition, by gathering immediate feedback from students using discussion panels or direct messages through LMS, the instructor can take customized action regarding the subject matter.
Free multiplace multitime accessibility is another advantage of a technology-based learning environment. In many cases, technologies are free, or they have a free version with limited features, and contents are accessible in all places via the internet, at all times, and on multiple devices. For instance, online tutorial videos create opportunities for students to be self-educators and acquire new skills. Moreover, technologies can assist in structuring and managing large classes in many ways, such as monitoring attendance, administering quizzes, grading exams, assessing, summarizing students’ opinions, playing games, and last but not least, sharing content. Integrating technology is useful for instructors in several other ways, including improving communication, collaboration, time management, and in the availability of instructional resources such as Open Educational Resources (OER) and applications.
There are two important benefits of using technology that need to be highlighted: using technology to improve diversity and inclusion, and to design a syllabus that extensively uses technology.
One important feature of technology is the ability to introduce different delivery methods specifically designed to address the needs of different audiences—a powerful instrument to enhance diversity and inclusion. In that regard, technology can be of great help in increasing accessibility and providing equal opportunity for all students. For instance, one can caption both the lecture and other multimedia for access by deaf or hard of hearing people. Alternatively, facilitating online submission using voice recognition tools helps blind or partially sighted students more easily submit assignments. Students with anxiety have a hard time taking notes and following the flow of the class. Using online materials, slides, recording the sessions, providing audio files, and encouraging note sharing between students helps students with anxiety stay calm in the class and focus on learning. These strategies can ensure the student has both all the materials and the opportunity to review them later on.
Another benefit of technology is helping students to pass cross-cultural barriers. For instance, students with different cultural backgrounds (e.g., international students) might have difficulty participating in the class activities for various reasons, such as fear of not being understood because of speaking with an accent or a lack of confidence. Using technology in class helps these students by providing an engagement opportunity without pushing their comfort boundaries. Moreover, technology allows you to present the same materials in different formats such as text, pictures and graphs, audio, and video. This enables students with diverse learning styles and attitudes to connect themselves with the teaching materials through a channel that better suits them.
A syllabus is an important first opportunity for technology to jump in and benefit both the instructor and the students. A technologically integrated syllabus has many advantages. First, it is easily available to students during the semester, as opposed to the traditional paper distribution format which most students will lose in the second week. Second, it is a source file for all other technology that you are using. For example, if you are using an application for taking quizzes in your classroom, or, if you require students to purchase an integrated account with their textbook to do the assignments, the syllabus is the place to provide instruction and hyperlinks for students to refer to. Third, with most LMS available on the market, you have an option for an online syllabus. Using that option enables you to connect all of your contents with the syllabus and students will be able to walk through the syllabus during the semester. You can link all of your slides, extra readings, external links, assignments, and due dates in one place. You can divide your syllabus into weeks, parts, or chapters, and you can set reminders for students regarding your class progress, such as a notification for assignments’ due dates. Finally, a technologically integrated syllabus makes your course transition much easier. You can easily migrate from one semester to another by a few clicks and by making some minor changes in due dates and links.
Technology Integration and Challenges
Integrating technology is a broad concept that can cover many techniques and tools. Having technology as an integral part of the classroom is not a one-time effort to facilitate teaching and engagement. Technology integration is a dynamic process of design, implementation, and evaluation. However, integrating technology into the classroom is a challenging task. Instructors complain that using laptops or smartphones during the lecture increases the possibility of distraction. Moreover, technology does not always work correctly; we have all had this experience at least once in our life. Therefore, being solely dependent on technology is not a good strategy.
Lack of technical support is another critical challenge regarding technology integration. Having proper technical support in terms of both training and maintenance is vital for technology integration. Finally, technology advances quickly, and keeping yourself and students updated is a continuous investment. Some of the technologies introduced in this chapter will likely change or even become obsolete over time. It is the responsibility of instructors to keep themselves current with technological advancements. In this section, each step and its associated challenges has been introduced.
Engagement theory suggests that creating a meaningful learning environment requires three principles: collaborative effort, project-based assignments, and non-academic focus, that is, having an outside-of-the-classroom focus (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998). Technology facilitates all of these principles. In particular, technologies such as Google Drive and communication-based applications enable collaboration by easing content sharing and group meetings outside of the classroom. As discussed below under types of technology, most of the technologies support both individual and group communications. These technologies enable instructors to easily track, assess, and improve teamwork among students. Instructors can also help students practice solving real-world problems by using online resources such as free data sets or student-based industry projects.
Depending on the objectives of the instructor, she can use technology at different levels. Sometimes technology only helps to facilitate an old activity like taking a quiz or grading the exams. Instead, the instructor can design a new (in or outside of the class) activity or assignment by focusing on higher critical thinking levels. In particular, as Bloom’s technology taxonomy (Sneed, 2016) suggests, asking students to create new content such as by blogging or making a podcast is more valuable for students than merely playing a video during the lecture. This is mainly because creating new content requires high levels of critical thinking that include connecting the ideas and developing new ideas. The instructor can also engage students in the design procedure by asking their opinions on what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and inviting them to share any successful experience with a particular technology.
Successful implementation of technology requires addressing several key aspects. The instructor needs to ensure the availability of the technology in use. For instance, in using a new application to facilitate students’ collaboration, the first step is to make sure the application is readily available for all students. Moreover, students might need to receive training and technical support from either the instructor or someone else. In particular, if the instructor uses a Windows (Mac) device, it is essential to make sure she knows how to implement the same process on a Mac (Windows) device. Additionally, financial constraint is one of the crucial challenges of successful technology adoption. To overcome financial constraints, it is better to use more OER and free technology.
In addition, it is better to always have a backup strategy in case the technology was not available to use for any reason. For instance, having a pen-and-paper option or downloading online materials beforehand can reduce the instructor’s stress. In this regard, another consideration with the use of technology is that anyone can easily be caught up in using technologies up to the point where they forget why they started using it in the first place. For instance, excessive use of virtual communication applications may cause students to lose real-world communication skills (Al-Bataineh & Brooks, 2003). Thus, the best approach is to treat technology as a tool, not as an end in itself.
Evaluation of technology integration takes two different yet interrelated approaches. First, in a broader sense, one can measure how technology integration affects the achievement of learning objectives. Second, one can evaluate every step of the integration, including design and implementation. Gathering feedback from students and peers regularly is an important part of a successful technology-integration process. Instructors can use multiple sources for feedback, such as direct feedback from students, peer observation, and self-reflection. Feedback can be both visual or verbal. For instance, by using polls, discussion panels, or watching student-created videos, instructors can gather useful feedback from their students.
Types of Technology
One feature of new technologies is their flexibility and the interchangeability between different structures and configurations. Thus, categorizing technologies in the education industry is useful but not accurate. For instance, LMS integrate data from many different platforms with different capabilities, options, and uses. Here, categorization is based on the main instrument intended in the design of the introduced technology. In each case, you will receive a description of the other available types and options as well. Additionally, only the technologies that one might use in a class environment to communicate with students inside or outside of the class or provide materials has been discussed. We deliberately do not discuss other resources available for instructors that have been provided by new technologies like educational multimedia on YouTube and elsewhere, free courses with free textbooks, and other learning materials on OpenStax, Oasis, and Lumen.
Technology has generally been divided into three groups. Web-based technologies are those technologies that require you to have access to a personal computer, laptop, or tablet to best use the technology. Although these types of technologies are accessible using a smartphone, to develop and manage the content and communicate with the technology to use it to its full potential, you need to use a personal computer. The second type of technology is application-based technology. Although technically web-based technologies include application-based technologies, we define the latter as a technology in which instructors and students only need a smartphone to use the technology to its full potential. Again, in general one can use a personal computer to access these technologies as well, but a smartphone does the job best. Finally, instrument-based technology requires instructors and students to use an external device to use the technology. The main difference here is that, despite the first two types of technology, usually there is no need for the internet, and the device is enough for the communication between the instructor and students.
Technologies can be categorized based on other characterizations as well. For example, in an era where higher education is very expensive, it would be advantageous for technology to be free or very cheap for students. Then, the pricing options can differentiate the technologies from each other. One common strategy between the developers of new technologies is to provide pricing options or second-degree price discrimination. By providing a range of services within a predefined bundle, one has a choice to choose the price-service correspondence. Since the pricing options are changing based on the competition in the market and the emergence of new rivals in the ever-innovative and competitive environment of technology, pricing has not been a source of comparison here. The existence of a free version has been mentioned and interested readers can follow the provided links in the list of references and find the current pricing options for each technology at any time.
Another way of categorizing technology is to group them based on their use in the class environment. As it will be explained later, some technologies are designed to develop and manage content, some to collect students’ ideas and comments, some for quiz or test administration, and some for communication and collaboration, etc. Although it is a useful categorization, there are a vast number of technologies that do two or more of these functions simultaneously. For instance, most Learning Management Systems potentially can provide all the mentioned services, one way or another. In other words, a grouping based on the usage cannot partition technologies at all. Here, the different services each technology provides has been discussed, and one can connect the dots for categorizing based on the services each technology offers. Table 1 summarizes the introduced technologies in this chapter.
Table 5.1 Features of technologies described in this chapter.
|Technology||Free Version||Paid Version(s)||Multimedia Sharing||Other Content Sharing||MultipleChoice Assessment||Verbal Assessment||OneonOne Communication||Group Communication|
Web-based technology is one of the most flexible technologies and it currently dominates the learning industry. The main advantage of this type of technology is its adaptability and potential to offer new services. Moreover, most web-based technology can host its own application-based technology, making it more user-friendly and accessible. Here, we introduce a few prominent web-based technologies to build a ground for the reader to choose among the list here or find one on the web.
Learning Management System
A Learning Management System (LMS) is an online platform in which firms and/or instructors can manage and organize learning materials for their audiences. LMS consists typically of a predefined setup that enables instructors to create and manage content; create and manage different types of assessments; and monitor, grade, and provide feedback on students’ progress. Moreover, an LMS provides an opportunity for collaboration and integration with other learning portals. All universities now have an online LMS for course management. From the authors’ experiences, the best practice in using the LMS system is three-fold.
- Keep your class page neat and straightforward so students can easily find anything they need. You can do this by creating folders, sections, and cross-references.
- Put all contents online. Students should have access to slides, assignments, extra readings, useful links, data sets, etc., on the LMS.
- Do not push it too hard. It is tempting to use all the LMS system capabilities, but technology integration has an optimum level. It can quickly get overwhelming for students to learn about different aspects of the technologies. Only use the part of your LMS system that makes you and your students’ life more manageable.
In choosing a good LMS, institutions look at the pricing, scalability of the platform with the size of the institution, availability of an intuitive customizable user interface, compatibility with plug-ins offered by external third-party developers, existence of a supportive community, and availability of a high-quality smartphone application. Here are some well-known LMS currently on the market.
Canvas has a very intuitive and flexible environment with all the desirable features of a standard LMS system that have been mentioned. Moreover, it allows instructors and students to communicate instantly, lets the students peer review each others’ assignments, and has a discussion forum for each class. Although it is continuously improving, one can catch up with the new changes through the official website or ask questions on the Canvas Community. The Canvas smartphone applications, which help instructors, students, and even parents to have easy access to the provided materials in the original platform, increase the accessibility of Canvas.
Blackboard allows you to share files with your students, contact them, and monitor their progress. It has many other features that are expanding over time. Similar to Canvas, one can get introduced to the platform, catch up with new features, and/or resolve issues by using the website to connect with the Blackboard Community. Blackboard also has smartphone applications.
Moodle is also getting instructors’ attention. It is easily adapted to different teaching styles, contents, and fields. It has quite a few applications for easy access on smartphones, and more importantly, its free version provides a lot of options. Moodle is open-source and has a viable community as well.
Google has developed its own LMS called Google Classroom. Although Google Classroom is in its early years, it has great potential considering its integration with Gmail, Google Drive, Form, Sheet, Docs, Slides, Meet, and Groups. It is only free for schools already using Google Apps, but due to the cost, it is not hard for an individual instructor to buy.
Using Google Classroom is not free, but other Google products and applications can be beneficial, and they are free of charge. Here are a few tips on how to use Google products in a classroom setup. Use Google Drive to share a folder or a file with your class. Use Forms to create a simple public or anonymous response or polls from your student and run a quiz in your class or collect your students’ comments and suggestions. Use Google Sheets, Docs, and Slides to share content with your students. Finally, you can use Google Groups to create a group for your class and use it as a tool to quickly access your students through email, for example.
Tools for Assessment and Engagement
Many students are shy about expressing their ideas in the classroom, especially for new content. Students are often hesitant to suggest what seems an “off the wall” idea or are afraid they might choose the wrong answer, both of which could end up embarrassing them in front of their classmates. Technology can help students engage with the material without forcing them to move away from their comfort zone. Using the assessment and engagement tools, students can make comments, evaluate their learning progress, and participate in quizzes without feeling judged or embarrassed.
One handy technology in this category is the Poll Everywhere platform. With this platform, which like the other one, has a smartphone application, you can run polls in the class with a variety of choice types. Moreover, you can instantly get results and analyze them using graphs, charts, and other available options. It is only free for very small classes (currently the limit is 25 students), but there is a continuum of pricing options. Other websites help you to create content as well as administer quizzes. Mentimeter and Padlet have predesigned tests and content that make the instructors’ life easier. ExamSoft provides a platform that enables the instructor to administer tests easily. More importantly, it provides a detailed assessment tool instructors can use to evaluate learning progress, quality of the exam questions (it can even evaluate the quality of the curriculum). The same services exist for students to follow their progress and find the concepts that need more attention.
Video Conferencing Tools
We are writing this book in a time when COVID-19 forced us to stay at home. Halfway through the spring 2020 semester, almost all universities canceled all physical in-person classrooms and moved online. One technology that enabled them to do so was video conferencing. With these technologies, you can experience a virtual classroom, present from your slides, use a blackboard, and talk with your students. Most of these technologies require personal computers, with smartphone applications that can support the essential functions. Zoom, Skype, Slack, and Join Me are among the most used applications for these purposes.
There are plenty of add-ons that can be combined with Google and Microsoft products to help you conduct quizzes or collect students’ responses to quizzes. For example, Pear Deck can be added to Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint and by creating quizzes, adding videos and multimedia, and sharing notes with the students, engage the student within the class, or students in remote or online sessions with the materials. Other add-ons (e.g., Loom) are available for your browser or as a separate software that enables you to send videos to your students and colleagues.
Application-based technologies are those technologies that are best or most delivered by smartphone applications. Students tend to be easily distracted in the classroom environment, and instructors can keep them engaged with a variety of both content and its presentation. Improvement in communication technology has motivated many people to buy a smartphone, and no matter how much you oppose the use of smartphones in the class environment, you cannot deny they have made a wide variety of learning content and procedures available for free or nearly free. As we mentioned before, you can almost always use personal computers or tablets to access the same services as well.
Assessment and Engagement
Some application-based technologies can be used for assessment, playing games, and sharing learning content—for example, if you need to play a game with students, to conduct a short quiz every session, or to assign a challenging in-class assignment that keeps students engaged in the classroom. Ask your students to download Kahoot! on their phone and you can create multiple types of quizzes for class or assign a project for home. You have the option to use the predesigned games, a question bank, duplicate your existing course, add media contents to your course, and many other cool features. Kahoot!’s reporting on and analysis of students’ performance, as well as a student’s ability to collaborate with other Kahoot! users, combined with a very good content management system, give Kahoot! an advantage over other application-based technology.
Top Hat is another application that instructors can use to design and assign exams and quiz and create homework for the class. It could also be integrated with the LMS systems to provide assessment feedback on students’ performance for the instructors which help the teacher to make the necessary actions based on that. Acadly, Turning Technologies, Echo360, Qwizdom, Ombea, Class Question, Socrative, and Arsnova provide alternatives to Top Hat for use in taking online attendance and administering quizzes.
Quizlet helps students and instructors to summarize the course for improving the learning process and easier review. Moreover, students can contribute to creating class content. Although this method’s effectiveness depends on the contents and student-specific learning characteristics, more and more content is being developed for these types of technology. Brainscape, Course Hero, StudyStack, and Flashcard Machine are among Quizlet’s rivals on the market.
Other applications are designed to facilitate communication, group activity, and sharing of content. For example, you can create a GroupMe for your class, and students can share notes with each other or ask simple questions regarding class materials or due dates. GroupMe only needs a phone number from each member, and like any other applications, you are instantly in touch with all of your students. As the system works like a group chat, not necessarily relying on the internet, it is a very easy and efficient method for your students to find peers and create a study group. Moreover, some of its features do not require continuous access to the internet either. For texting, you do not even need a smartphone. Thus, with a bare minimum of a phone, you have access to all of your students, and they have a continuous connection with each other. As a caution to readers, we encourage you to review your campus’ policies regarding software access to student information. Your campus may have restrictions on the use of this type of technology.
The Band application is another useful application for connecting a group of people for collaboration and content sharing. Band has the feature of highlighting important messages by showing them at the top of the board, notifying members of important messages or a specific date, monitoring the readers (or as they phrase it, “keeping members accountable,”) and many other features.
Some applications are designed to create content in multimedia format in the educational environment. Flipgrid, for example, was designed by Microsoft to create videos. There are quite a few other applications that can be used for communication in text, voice, and video, sharing content in different formats, and direct calls between members, including Discord, Whatsapp, and Telegram, and one can find a dozen more on the internet as well.
With all these smartphone applications, it seems an old idea to ask students to buy an extra device for class communication. However, instrument-based technologies are still in use, and universities support instructors in using these devices. One advantage of these instruments is your confidence in their accuracy when using them as a tool to monitor class participation.
Instructors usually use Iclicker to monitor class participation or conduct multiple-choice quizzes in the class. The new version of Iclicker has a keypad, and students can submit verbal answers as well. Moreover, instructors can give students the option to use smartphone applications, which makes the technology cheaper.
This chapter explains the opportunities and challenges related to technology integration in the classroom. Modern classrooms where the instructor and the students utilize new technologies are crucial. The most important benefits of integrating technology into the classroom include developing digital skills; improving learning content; incorporating various educational sources; increasing engagement, accessibility, and inclusion; and overcoming cultural barriers. However, there are many challenges, such as creating opportunities for distraction, lack of technical support, and drastic technological advancement. Successful technology integration requires a dynamic process that mainly focuses on instruction objectives. We have introduced and described many technologies that can help instructors adapt to the new technology-integrated teaching environment; these are summarized in Table 5.1. In the end, each instructor needs to answer a few questions to determine how to use the knowledge she gathered from this chapter.
- How can technology help you to achieve your goals?
- What kinds of technology do you want to use?
- What is the appropriate level of technology integration for your class?
- How you want to assess your technology integration at the end of the semester to fine tune your strategies in the future?
- Answering these questions and others that can be added depending on the specific context, enable the instructor to use the technology to its fullest capability.
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- How to cite this book chapter: Ebadi, N. and Asadi, G. 2022. Technology Makes It Easier. In: Westfall-Rudd, D., Vengrin, C., and Elliott-Engel, J. (eds.) Teaching in the University: Learning from Graduate Students and Early-Career Faculty. Blacksburg: Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. https://doi.org/10.21061/universityteaching License: CC BY-NC 4.0. ↵