Thursday, October 30, 2014

Technology in the (#SEDS) Classroom

By: Ted Glenn, Ph.D., Professor of Public Administration and Program Coordinator at The Business School, Humber College.

This is the fourth blog post that Ted Glenn has written as part of his experience living in Makassar, Sulawesi province, Indonesia, while working on the Sulawesi Economic Development Strategy Project (SEDS). 

Over the past decade, we've seen an explosion in the use – and abuse – of technology in post-secondary classrooms in the name of improved learning.  Unless the technology we are using is a true expression of learning culture in our classrooms, though, technology ends up being a value-less shiny bauble.

This point about technology having to be firmly rooted in the learning culture of our students, our classrooms and ourselves was brought home during the most recent series of workshops on entrepreneurial curriculum development that we are conducting here in Makassar as part of the SEDS project.  Due to some timing issues, we were forced to cancel a Friday afternoon session on the topic of technology in the classroom.  Rather than lose the afternoon, though, we decided to proceed with the module but deliver it online over the weekend via Facebook, the only technology all participants had both access to and (in some cases barely fleeting) familiarity.

To get the module online, we first identified the reflective elements of the module and directed participants to a series of readings that they could do on their own. Then we created an online discussion activity where participants had to make a post about the technologies they were currently using in their classrooms and then respond to another participants' post. The final module activity got participants to work in small groups to draw upon their experience and the readings to design a technology-assisted learning activity that could be used in an entrepreneurship course.  When complete, participants were required to post their activities on the Event page and then provide critically constructive comments on the others.

Participants working in small groups
Participants working in small groups

Luckily for us, participants were keen to see how a basic social media technology like Facebook could be put to an educational use.  All participants got logged onto our Event page and completed the assigned activities by the required deadlines.  Even the few “late adopters” in the group really challenged themselves to learn about this particular technology, got an account, and used the activity to put Facebook “through the paces” to see if it could be a useful addition to the learning processes in their classrooms. 

When we reconvened Monday morning, most participants agreed that there are significant limitations to Facebook as a piece of instructional technology, specifically limited ability to post comments on comments, inefficient usage of screen space, inefficient routing to specific event pages.  Most, however, seemed to agree that the value of being able to communicate in real time, post pictures and videos (in this case, for the assignment they created), and develop closed-ended questions to gather feedback outweighed the inconveniences.

Two paticipants working on a laptop

For us, the online module experiment succeeded because of the learning culture of this particular group and this particular workshop, a culture distinguished by an honest interest in learning new things, a specific interest in testing whether Facebook had any value as an instructional technology at all, and for those “late adopters” the courage and humbleness to seize upon an opportunity to see “what all the fuss was about.”  Without that culture, the module would have merely been a nice shiny penny – pretty to look at but not much value to anyone.

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