What is Educational Technology

Generally when I tell people I am an educational technology specialist their eyes gloss over and they tune out what I am saying pretty much automatically because the expect me to start spewing out mathematical equations and programming code. While I do know how to write applications, I have to admit I pretty much fall into the mathematically challenged category. Frankly, algebra makes my head hurt. Luckily, for most people educational technology has little to do with creating Flash applications or spending countless hours trying to get a web script to behave properly. Don’t let the technology tag scare you, most of the time the things we refer to as educational technology are fairly simple to use. So what is educational technology? In a nutshell, it’s any computer or online tool that makes it easier for you and your students to communicate, collaborate, create, or learn. You can equate it to a real life classroom, but with far fewer constraints and limitations. I like to illustrate it with the following scenario:

Imagine you are a college professor and you have been asked to work with a hundred students who have had difficulty in various humanities classes in their first year of college. Your job is to assess each student’s needs and help them learn the skills they need to succeed in college. Oh, and you have one semester in which to do it and your class meets for an hour twice a week. You can divide the students up into two classes, if that will help. Can you help us out? Think about it for a minute. If you’re like me you are feeling pretty overwhelmed and we haven’t even met the students yet. So how would you go about tackling this situation? Needless to say this is a nearly impossible task given a standard classroom environment and lots of unknowns. But companies like Sylvan Learning tackle issues like this every day. Okay, so they don’t deal with 100 students at a time, but they still work in fairly large scale with challenging students. How do they, and we, do it? With the right tools and tactics of course. Here are just a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Have students submit all work online – this allows you to look assignments over in your own time and better track your progress. Not only that, but you can give access to aids and colleagues who can help you if you are overwhelmed.
  • The same goes for testing. If student assignments can be tested through a multiple choice quiz then by all means use that for assessment. If this is done online then both you and the student get immediate feedback and don’t have to wait until the next class to make adjustments.
  • Better is to have students collaborate on assignments, checking each others’ work, drafting papers, and such before it’s ever submitted. I’ve found Google docs to be a great way for students to collaborate. It’s almost like they are sitting right next to each other and talking about the assignment. Sometimes it seems like students communicate better in this medium.
  • Have students submit writing assignments to SmartThinking, or other online tutoring services. Smart thinking allows students to submit papers to an online editor who will give them feedback on grammar, mechanics, and content. I’ve found that I have to do a lot less correction on papers that have gone to SmartThinking first.
  • Give students a place to communicate with you and with other students. The problem with most classes is that the students usually come up with the really hard questions an hour after they left the classroom and forget them before the next class. Online discussion forums are good because other students may be able to answer their questions as well, taking even more burden off of the instructor.
  • A wiki is very useful for creative projects. Students can collaboratively create and edit a wiki page and you basically just sit back and watch the page build itself.

These are just a few ideas using very simple online technology to meet the challenge. The cool thing is that there is almost nothing to learn to use the tools I’ve mentioned here. If you know how to create a document on your computer then you already possess the necessary skills. By the way, I really do want to know how you would use technology to address the scenario given above.  Click the comment link below to share your ideas. And don’t be afraid to go out and explore some technology; here are some links to get you started: Related Links 4 Shared http://www.4shared.com/ allows users to share documents online for free. Google Docs http://docs.google.com online collaboration tools from Google. The editor used looks and acts a lot like MS Office and you can collaboratively create docs, PowerPoints, and more. PBWorks http://my.pbworks.com/ allows teachers to create a free wiki for use as they see fit. Give it a try, it’s a lot of fun to see what students create. SmartThinking http://www.smarthinking.com/ Online tutorial and writing services.

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What is Educational Technology? by Charles T. Rich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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