Everyday new technology is created. Jokes are made that by the time a person buys the new version of a piece of technology another newer version will come out the next day. In fact some people avoid using technology all together because they don’t want to have to adapt to new rules every time an upgrade becomes available. However, for every new program or piece of technology created there are dozens of resources to help people learn to use them. Articles on technology pop up every day with tips on how to use technology to better the workplace, home life, and education. For instance, online classes are so common today some schools offer entire majors in an online setting.
Professor Hacker recently wrote an article called “7 Strategies to Make Your Online Teaching Better.” The first tip for professors of online courses is to use online tutorials to help avoid the many bugs that come along with using technology. Tutorials can be the next best thing to sitting in a classroom with the professor. Tip number two is to remember that students taking online courses are not in a classroom setting. Therefore they are not in the structured setting that a physical classroom has to offer. Tip number three is to set specific times students should be online in order to discuss any pertinent questions or talk through difficulties students may be having with the course. While they may not be meeting in a classroom students will still appreciate the time set aside to focus solely on one course. Tip number four is something all types of teachers should consider. Be specific with details and feedback. E-mail students what they should be doing for the week and don’t worry about length. The lack of physical class time should be replaced with online help. Tip number five is to make sure your personality doesn’t get lost in cyberspace. Make sure you come across as human instead of as a piece of technology. This will make it easier for students to communicate with their online teachers. Because online students do not see their professors on a weekly basis they do not receive the reminders that most other students receive about due dates. Tip number six is to have online students set up some sort of calendar that will remind them when assignments are dues. There are several online tools that will send e-mail alerts or text messages when important assignments are coming up. The last tip Professor Hacker has applies to all teachers. Don’t be afraid to incorporate something new into a course. The worst thing that could happen is that something doesn’t work out and will have to be replaced with a different idea the next time around.
Professor Hacker – a blog from The Chronicle – is known for posts about technology, and in recent weeks has published several enlightening pieces on how technology can improve existing lesson plans. For example, the post “All Things Google: Using Google for Writing Portfolios” highlights the upgrades using Google Docs has for creating writing portfolios compared to the more traditional ways of creating writing portfolios. Not only does this help save the environment by limiting the amount of paper creating a portfolio requires it also allows students the ability to be more creative, to share their work, and to easily create an electronic portfolio for all of their writing. A sample portfolio is also available for viewing on the blog site.
Professor Hacker doesn’t just recommend using Google Docs for portfolios. In the post “Using Google Docs to Check In On Students’ Reading” Brain Croxall shared one of his experiences with using spreadsheets in Google Docs. The program allowed him – and his students – the ability to see where the class was in their reading. He was able to adjust his daily lessons based on the information he was receiving online. The spreadsheets could also keep students who were ahead in their reading from devolving too much information to the rest of the class.
Many times the writers of the Professor Hacker blog ask readers for feedback on using technology in the classroom. One product of this feedback was the post “What Are Your Favorite Technologies in the Classroom?” This post has blogger George Williams sharing his best and worst technology experiences as well as asking others to send in their own classroom technology experiences. Williams’s worst technology experience is the time wasted by waiting for computers to load and students to log on. This post seems like the start of a discussion board where teachers can share their ideas and experiences.
With so much focus on using technology in the classroom it isn’t surprising that a company is working on making an online class that is free. Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Ed reports that a company called Udemy is currently working on a project that could offer online courses to hundreds if not thousands of students for free. While these courses are not yet offered for credit, the creators are trying to get enough exposure to make these courses a possibility in the future.
Kolowich wrote another article for Inside Higher Ed – “Behind the Digital Curtain” – that discussed the possibility of inserting new courses into college programs that would teach students about the technology they use every day. Students use online tools in for school and for their personal lives; however, they are rarely shown how these tools work. Kolowich goes on to list several reasons why these courses would be beneficial. One of the most important benefits he lists is giving students a deeper understanding of the technologies that impact their daily lives.
While free online classes are not yet a reality, online tools are. Mashable.com lists “8 Ways Technology is Improving Education.” From online gaming to student made videos to videoconferences between students from different countries, the internet offers a multitude of tools that can make learning fun and improve the education students receive. New ideas pop up all the time and are available for teachers in every grade level from kindergarten to graduate level courses.