In my current position, as an Instructional Technology Fellow (ITF) with the Macaulay Honors College, I partner with both students and professors to shape assignments and classrooms into conducive learning environments. The Interactive Technology and Pedagogy certificate program taught me that the adjective in the program title applies to both nouns: the interactivity of pedagogy matters, because that’s what helps students learn. Where instructional technology works best, I believe, is where it fosters students’ capacity to interact with each other, with their teachers, and especially with the materials, concerns, and questions of the subject.
As a teacher of writing, I emphasize the importance of sharing work in progress, which can lead students to clearer goals and greater excitement as they identify with and against the writing projects of their peers. In encouraging students to interact with their writing, I have been aided by technologies both analog (e.g. rearrangement of chairs for peer-to-peer discussion – a technology less widely adopted than it is available) and digital: posting drafts to a wiki, commenting on a blog post, or simply printing out a file students have also saved for themselves. By composing my lesson plans on the course wikis (my preferred medium is Wikidot), I also participate in the sharing, inviting students to see my drafting process and to contribute their notes and comments. Together we develop a rich interlinked archive of our semester that I can use to become a better teacher and they can return to as they continue leveling up as writers.
Because I tend to think linguistically and mathematically – in short, abstractly – it has been important for me to think about other learning styles in Gardner’s index, and the ways in which technology can enhance students’ ability to engage with the course materials on their own terms. In 2011-12 I worked as a Writing Fellow alongside faculty in Biology and Theatre, and I have seen the advantages of graphics, videos, and live performances to concretely synthesize concepts for students in ways that words couldn’t do nearly as efficiently or completely. Linking to these items on a course site or presenting them in-class is already an improvement over words alone, but even better are means of signaling to students their value by integrating them into the creative and analytical work of the course. Prezi is especially promising for this: more than its flashy zooming presentation mode, Prezi’s key design feature is the composing process of grouping and rearranging images, video, and text, which echoes spatially the cognitive chunking and regrouping involved in higher-order learning.
But this is not always apparent to students, which is why teaching with technology must also involve at least some teaching about the technology used, and the relative strengths and risks of each tool. If pedagogy is about creating the conditions for students to continue learning even beyond one course, as I believe it is, then it is essential to share with students our reasons – ideally more than one, since time is often too short for single-purpose lessons – for the teaching decisions we’ve made. In doing so, we go beyond the CUNY mission of making higher education open access; we make it open source.
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