Lang doesn't dwell on specific technologies in the chapter, which is wise given that (a) many technologies have a short shelf life and are quickly rendered obsolete, and (b) the start-up costs of mastering a wholly unfamiliar technology are high.
The one technology Lang focuses on are learning mangagement systems (LMS's), a la Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle, WebCT, etc. He notes four uses for LMS's:
- They facilitate the use of various multimedia in the classroom. I try to show videos, use photographs, etc. when I can. As we've discussed here before, philosophy is a discipline that's not especially congenial to those with a strongly visual approach to learning, so we should at least try to augment the highly verbal-textual content with visual materials. Does anyone have any examples from their own teaching of innovative uses of multimedia?
- LMS's create an organized course space that will automatically tabulate grades, etc.
- They provide a documentary history for one's teaching (useful for promotion and tenure), as well as making it easy to draw upon old course materials to create new courses and materials. I have to say that I've become highly reliant on Blackboard as a repository of quizzes, writing assignments, etc., that I can use to design or revise courses.
- LMS's offer discussion boards to build community among students, enabling those less willing to speak openly in class contribute to the class discussions on their own terms. Lang has some nice ideas as to how to use the boards: scanning their content to identify common learning challenges the students are facing, the 'log assignment' (pp. 50-51), etc. He recommends making participation in the discussing boards mandatory rather than optional, lest you end up with the e-quivalent of "crickets chirping." That certainly echoes my experience. Students will not contribute to these discussion boards unless they're required to do so. My sense is that the novelty of participating in these boards wore off a long time ago. On the other hand, I've not been entirely happy with the outcome even when I have required students to contribute to online discussion boards. In many respects, the very problems that occur in classroom discussion replicate themselves in online forums. Students write without thinking, have not prepared by reading the material, don't engage very deeply with one another's ideas, make pro forma efforts ("That's so true," "I agree with that," etc.). There are exceptions, of course — and perhaps my own experience is exceptional — but I've formed the provisional hypothesis that online discussion works well only when students already have the skills and attitudes that enable useful offline discussion (and only a few students have those skills and attitudes). But I'd be most interested in hearing others' thoughts on the use of online discussion.
The simple observation that the question 'what or how should I teach?' is subordinate to the question 'what will students learn?' is still revolutionary, despite the fact approaching teaching in terms of student learning is now the central theme of almost all the literature on college teaching.
Yet as some of my recent posts might suggest, the main issue with technology is not our using it, but our using it to help students learn. And I'm somewhat pessimistic that our students know how to use technology to learn, regardless of how adept they are at using technology.
Next up will be a topic dear to all our hearts (lecturing), but please take this chance to share your thoughts and ideas about teaching with technology.