Saturday, April 21, 2012

What I've learned about teaching & technology (so far)

Last Fall I accepted a faculty position at the University of North Dakota. One of the draws for me was their long history of providing quality online MSW education, and the university's commitment to improving technology use.  I am learning about teaching online, about effective use of technology in teaching, and about the available resources.  As an evaluator on a federal research grant, I am also learning how to incorporate technology in my evaluation work.  Here are some of my observations:
  • There is a significant learning curve. Teaching online means learning new programs, getting used to new formats, and keeping everyone up to speed.  We are fortunate to have a distance coordinator in our program who is a social worker and also skilled with technology, and she makes sure the students are prepared before they come to our classrooms. Still, when lecturing online I don't have the same cues (nods, laughing at my jokes, blank stares) as I do in a face-to-face classroom, and this is a difficult change.  It's ok because there are new kinds of cues: I can ask students to raise their hands, turn on a green light, turn on their cameras or mics to answer a question... it's just a change.

  • Some things are better about distance learning. Talk about  diversity of experiences! I have students across the US in my distance classes. Although many of my students are local because we prioritize their admissions, our ND students online get to share a class with more diverse students than they would if they were campus students. For the most part, the students are already in helping professions and are working students with good experience. Because we have a very good and established program we attract high quality students, it makes for a rich classroom experience.

  • A lot of people (students and faculty) have limited technology experience. These are exciting times. If you know how to use technology it is easy to be a leader in its use and to make an impact. For those of you interested in using technology, your skills will be valued and appreciated. Agencies are raising their expectations for technology skills for incoming employees, and if you've been dragging your heels you probably need to think about how to climb on board. It is a nice way to set yourself apart.

  • Technology skills do not replace good teaching. Sometimes technology stands in the way of good teaching. Although I've enjoyed the way that I could bring distance guest speakers to the classroom online, use youtube to demonstrate what someone with a particular diagnosis looks like, or use a blog to share research information, all of these things are clutter if not backed up by good teaching practice. And too much fidgeting with technology is a real distraction in the classroom.
I taught in our on-campus program this semester and had an amazing group of students. We made good use of technology, but our classroom discussions were rich and rewarding. I am very proud of the work students have done to help launch this intervention blog where they each explain a brief intervention technique; I hope the blog will continue to grow as I teach the class in future semesters.

I am taking a summer technology workshop in May where I will get to learn about some more specific programs and work on classroom prep. My goal is to move more of my lecture to pre-recorded video so we can spend additional time in the classroom in role plays, discussions, vignettes, and practice. This is scary and exciting because it is harder to engage in practice exercises than to review theory, but I am ready for the challenge and hope that I can bring the students along successfully.  I look forward to growing and stretching and learning new things. The opportunity to innovate is one of the most exciting things about working at a university.

No comments:

Post a Comment