INSIDE Chico State
0 May 2, 2002
Volume 32 Number 15
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Provost's Corner

Teaching and Learning with Technology



Photo by Jeff Teeter

I have to stay away from hardware stores, because I have a tendency to want to buy any new gadget I see. It has been argued that human progress can be accounted for by the ways in which humans have used the material and symbolic tools available to them at any moment to learn and cooperate with one another (Gifford, 12)1. Our tools (whether hammers, cooking pots, or books) have varied significantly from one historic moment to another, and shaped the ways in which we interact with one another. When the cooking pot in a village is heavy, hard to transport, expensive, and difficult to construct, then cooking is a group effort. Autumn harvest was changed by the modern diesel tractor, from a communal activity to one in which a lone farmer rides high above the ground in an air-conditioned cab. Tools, thus, shape the way in which we learn, because learning is social, active, and driven by the use we make of them.

The most powerful tool humans have ever had sits on our desks: a networked computer. It is transformational in terms of its potential for learning. Why? Because humans can reach across boundaries of time and place to work with one another to solve problems actively and to create new knowledge. The Internet is today what capitalism was in the late 16th century and remains today—a culture-busting system. The Internet does not have borders, and it does not assume that knowledge resides in the mind of the lone individual.

In the last several years, many faculty and staff have experimented with new academic technologies to determine how we can facilitate student learning, and have carefully assessed outcomes to determine whether or not learning or personal productivity is enhanced. We have learned a lot about what works and what does not and encountered some new problems along the way. We know that we must prepare our students to work throughout their lives with the Internet. There is no foreseeable time in the future when we will be able to devote fewer resources than we do at present to the use of academic technology. We have learned that

Technology in the classroom is a team effort. Those who use academic technologies, such as WebCT, to enhance their classes have entered in conversations with technology specialists, designers, curriculum specialists—a dense network of people—who support their effort. These teams model the transformational learning that the Internet supports.

Careful planning and design is essential for a successful project. We must understand, ahead of time, what our hoped-for outcomes are and how we will know if they’re achieved. All technology projects funded by the campus require an assessment plan, not just to save money but to save the time and energy of our staff.

Collaboration across disciplines is essential. The opportunity to share ideas with colleagues across disciplines leads to discussions about teaching philosophies and learning outcomes, and sharpens our goals. Therefore, we try, whenever possible, to help people build teams which extend beyond their department.

“Bolt-on technology” is not an effective way to improve the quality of a course. The “simple” addition of new technologies, or putting course materials on the Web, will not, in itself, capture student attention or solve problems with the learning environment. In fact, the use of unintegrated technologies into a course may exacerbate learning problems.

Learner-centered curriculum can be created through the thoughtful use of academic technology. Technology facilitates the engagement of more cognitive processes and allows the student to actively create knowledge. Opportunities for students to repeat tasks, shape them, extend them, and discuss them with others lead to an increase of knowledge.

Significant gains in student learning are possible. If faculty craft well-designed learning experiences and use well-conceived, well-drafted, discipline-based software, then the e-classroom can be a superior learning environment (Gifford, 15).

Faculty productivity and staff productivity can be increased. These gains range from the simple to the complex. Some faculty, for example, have found that certain academic technologies allow them to present more material in a shorter period of time, giving them more time for discussion and review.

We cannot assume our students are well prepared to use new technologies. Although many of our students are technologically sophisticated, many are not. We must find a way to ensure our students are systematically introduced to the world of the Internet. The Internet needs to become a part of every student’s learning environment, and they need to be connected to all of the faculty.

Faculty and staff development is essential. It must be organized and systematic. We are fortunate to have organizations like TLP to help people learn and integrate new technologies. Faculty development works best when faculty are using technology, in charge of the learning environment, and when the experience is interdisciplinary (Buckley)2.

People need to be rewarded for the courage to use new technologies in the classroom, through the RTP process and the other mechanisms we have in the university to single people out for praise.

The use of academic technology in the classroom must be an institutional priority. Overall, the technology efforts need to be integrated and additive. Faculty and staff projects requiring the use of academic technology need to be embraced at all levels to be successful, from the department to the college to the university as a whole.

Most academic technology will be used to enhance on-campus classes. It will not be used, except in limited cases, to reach beyond the borders of the campus. The virtual class, which requires a substantial commitment of time, energy, and money, will be the exception, not the rule. What campus experience demonstrates, and the research literature supports, is the notion that the hybrid class (one which uses technology heavily, but does require some face-to-face contact) is the quickest route to improving institutional effectiveness with academic technologies.

Good teaching is good teaching. Review of the seven Principles of Good Teaching, before beginning to use technology in the classroom, will lead to a well-designed course and an appropriate use of technology.

The good news about the use of academic technology is that we are not starting at the beginning. On our campus and across the country, people have been struggling with the new academic technologies, their promises, and their failures. We need to learn from what has worked, and what has not, so that we can continue to make significant progress toward our goal of being the campus which best uses technology to help students learn.

Scott G. McNall, provost and vice president
for Academic Affairs

1 Bernard R. Gifford, The Case for Distributed Learning.
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Distributed Learning Workshop, 2001, or bgifford@dlworkshop.net

2 Donald P. Buckley. “In Pursuit of the Learning Paradigm.”
EDUCASE (Jan./Feb., 2002: 29–38).

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