1. Learning management system or website
    1. Tips for effective use
  2. Social or dyadic media
    1. Tips for effective use
  3. Synchronous or asynchronous interaction
    1. Tips for effective use

Teaching with technology is a broad topic that includes the use of media tools integrated within Learning Management Systems (LMS) and/or those run more independently over the Internet. It also involves differing media types (i.e. social or dyadic) and functions (i.e. synchronous or asynchronous).

In light of these multiple possibilities, the most consistent tip that arises in research pertaining to teaching with technology is that we choose particular technologies based on their compatibilities with the teaching and learning objectives associated with our courses and/or their individual units (see, Bates and Pool 2003).

McIntyre (2011: 4) summarizes this advice stating, “[d]on’t simply use technology as an ‘add-on’ to the class. There must be a logical reason and purpose for the inclusion of any [technological] tools [into our courses].”

Learning management system or website

Some people are skeptical that locking media into relatively private platforms “removes the very openness which gives them value” (Orlando in Bart, 2011: 11). Others note the growing adaptability of LMS technologies with efforts to ‘socialize’ classroom environments (Matrix, 2014). Indeed, LMS technologies are increasingly designed to support both blogging and wiki functions and the integration of social media (e.g. Twitter and Facebook).

All things being equal, there are three main advantages to using an LMS over world wide web technologies when teaching in the university setting:

  • First, given their multiple functions, an LMS (e.g. cuLearn) can act as a central course hub and portal.
  • Second, because they are dated and time-stamped, communications that occur within an LMS are easily tracked.
  • Third, compared with information shared over the web, information shared within LMS spaces is hosted by and stored on internal institutional servers, thereby mitigating data security and personal privacy concerns (Ragan, 2014).

Tips for effective use

  • Talk with students about the importance of using institutionally supported channels of communication (e.g. cuLearn; Carleton email) and model this behaviour in your own interactions.
  • Remind students about the need to choose communication venues based on levels of confidentiality required for specific issues (e.g. discussions about individual student performance should occur in-person and/or via institutionally-supported email accounts; questions about course assignment details can be posted to discussion threads within the course cuLearn space).
  • Review Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and copyright laws (copyright at Carleton) and discuss their implications for teaching and learning with technology (e.g. anything posted in public spaces must not contain information that identifies individual students, unless permission has been provided ahead of time).

Social or dyadic media

As compared with traditional lectures, including those that integrate PowerPoint and other multi-media presentations, teaching with social media is characterized by relatively higher degrees of interaction and interactivity between and amongst users (Krippel, McKee & Moody 2010).

Common social media tools used in education include blogs (i.e., online spaces where people post a series of textual, visual and/or audio entries that the audience can comment on) and wikis (i.e., online documents which can be created, contributed to and edited by numerous authors). The central assumption is that as a social activity, learning is made especially meaningful and effective via collaborative undertakings that blur the boundaries between teacher and learner.

Common reasons to include social media in our teaching toolkits include findings that their usage promotes honing of digital literacy skills amongst students (and instructors). Social media also provides opportunities for students to co-produce (rather than simply consume) linkages amongst and between course materials and events that occur beyond classroom spaces.

Specifically, and as compared with a hierarchical presentation of course materials, teaching with social media is found to increase student engagement, as measured by online and offline information sharing between and amongst students and teachers (McIntyre, 2011: 3).

Tips for effective use

  • Prior to deciding on a given teaching tool, explore – individually and with colleagues and/or students – how its usage can support learning that is deep, integrative and critical.
  • Do not assume that students will be familiar with, or excited about, social media in courses; instead, provide pertinent training to students at the beginning of, and throughout, the course, always being clear about the functional capabilities of chosen media tools, how you want the tools to be used, and how doing so relates to the learning process.
  • Talk to students about the importance of ‘netiquette’ and its intersections with issues concerning management of the online reputations of self, colleagues, course, instructor(s) and institution.

Synchronous or asynchronous interaction

It’s fairly common knowledge that student-instructor interactions increase both learning and course satisfaction outcomes. Traditionally, these interactions occur in real-time (synchronously) on campus, while asynchronous modes of interaction are associated with virtual learning environments.

Technological advances are complicating these facile divisions of labour, however. Bracketing the element of space (i.e., face-to-face vs. online classrooms), the key questions become whether (and under what conditions) it is useful for interactions to occur synchronously or asynchronously?

In response to these questions, consider that synchronous activities (e.g. telephone conversations; instant messaging; videoconferencing) are, by definition, immediately interactive. Their usage requires relative coordination of participants and supports learning that is “social and avoid[s] frustration by [allowing users to] ask… and answer… questions in real time” (Hrastinski, 2008: 52).

By comparison, media with asynchronous use-functions (e.g. email; news and discussion boards; online videos) are characterized by course engagement in accordance with students’ varying timetables. They are found to enable both flexibility and outmoded information sharing (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2011). Stated more pedagogically and positively, the use of asynchronous media is supported by findings that time lags between learning interactions facilitate deep information processing and integration.

In summary, Hrastinski (2008: 54) finds that synchronous and asynchronous media are complimentary: the former especially well suited to planning tasks and the latter to more complex content-related reflection, for example.

Tips for effective use

  • Clearly articulate the match between media use-functions and desired learning outcomes.
  • Understand your main teaching role to guide students through the identification, comprehension, application and synthesis aspects of learning with technology.
  • Model and promote timely and equitable course communications, regardless of media or venue.

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