How to use technology to teach and learn?

The three readings discusses the use of technology from different and unique perspectives: what is the goal of teaching and learning? Coverage or developing fundamental disciplinary capabilities? How to use technology to achieve this goal? What affordances or characteristics of are conducive to achieving this goal? And how are they achieved? Under what circumstances?


Harbinson and Waltzer (2013) point out that the key to teaching history classes for undergraduate students, especially non-history major students, lies in how instructors perceive the goal of teaching. According to this article, the goal of teaching that can engage students and enhance their development is to develop their fundamental historical capabilities required for real historical studies. However, in reality, instructors usually put “coverage” as the main goal of teaching. This is the fundamental reason that they spend a lot of time on covering the basic facts of history.  Therefore introductory level history classes for non-history majors are usually reduced to memorizing historical facts. Students are thus not interested in this class based on the reduced and mechanical teaching model. In order to train students to learn the fundamental abilities of a historian, which are transferable to other disciplines and will be beneficial for their future academic endeavors, technology can play an important role in achieving the shift from “coverage” to “development of historical abilities”. How to do this then? Harbinson and Waltzer (2013)  illustrated the process of teaching history classes at Baruch with the affordances of Blog@Baruch and achieved “active, social, open, media rich, metacognitive, and immersive” teaching and learning experiences. Students are engaged in meaningful dialogues through such learning processes and fall in love with history.


Reflecting on my teaching, I think the reason that the shift from coverage to developing fundamental  abilities can be achieved successfully with Blog@Baruch is that the affordances of the technology give students the tools to find and express what they really care in a way that is unique to themselves. This has also provided me with a framework to study the use of educational technology. I could potentially investigate if the use of a certain technology gives students “active, social, open, media rich, metacognitive, and immersive” learning experiences. Are they facilitating active learning and knowledge production? Are they facilitating collaboration and interaction?  Are they open to students and instructors? How are they open?


The shift from coverage to ability development also means that students should be allowed to “digress”, using the word from Ugoretz (2005), from a single goal and path of learning, and actively explore their own paths to learning. This article points out that not only digression can not be simply “a distraction or a waste of time,” it can serve the purpose of facilitating “higher order thinking” and improving “student satisfaction”. The author illustrates the benefits of “productive digression” for teaching through the experience of teaching an asynchronous online course. The author finds that students explores their interests through threads on discussion boards of an online asynchronous course. According to Ugoretz (2005), positive digressions are student-centered, allowing them the opportunities to make connections between the course materials and their own experiences, so that they can achieve active and deep learning. Positive digressions are also open and collaborative. They encourage students to engage in deep and meaningful dialogues with each other through their own experiences. They have influence on life in general and expand the scope of education from classroom to real life connections. Students can also build communities through the discovery process of digression, collaborate with each other, and learn from each other.


Ugoretz (2005) identifies a problem that I had never thought about critically as a teacher: digression. I used to think like the teachers in the examples provided in the first few paragraphs of the article: there should be no “digression” in the classroom. Ever since I was an elementary school student, “concentration” was an absolute rule that should be obeyed in the classroom. Teachers would criticize students for even the slightest sign that may show that the students were “losing their mind”. In addition, the talk of the students should only be related to the questions that the teachers asked, and other “talks” will be regarded as “irrelevant” and even “disruptive” to classroom teaching. Students who made those talks would be asked to “summon” their parents to school and discuss how to “concentrate” in class.


I think “digression” is very useful in designing teaching and learning. In my own teaching, I should make sure that there is space for students to make positive and productive “digressions”, and not be obsessed with coverage. I should take the text book or class materials as a starting point, to really let students explore what they are interested in and engage in dialogues they are passionate about, so they can learn actively and achieve deep learning. I should use the affordances of technology mentioned in Harbinson and Waltzer (2013)  to achieve such goals.  This is also important for doing my project. It tells me that in teaching or using technology in teaching, a teacher should leave space for students to explore and discover their own interests and not fill the precious  learning space with what the teacher thinks should be covered but may not be beneficial to students’ learning and development.


Smale and Regalado (2017) analyzes the “affordances and barriers” of educational technology through the “learning space” where they are present. This book analyzes the answers of a survey from undergraduates from several CUNY campuses that aims at investigating the use of educational technology in their daily lives. A key point in this book is that “space” is “how you make use of a place”. For example, the a subway train is a space for transportation, but for some CUNY students, they are also a space for learning. Because they have a busy schedule, so they have to use what little time they have to study, including the long commute on the train. The affordances and barriers of certain educational technologies are studied in such non-conventional learning spaces. For example, it is crowded and noisy in a subway train and the internet access is low there. This environment is also unstable – students cannot have a comfortable space, like a desk or a bed, to study. Therefore laptops may create some barriers for studying in such an environment because it requires a relatively stable environment. Mobile phones may also create some barriers for learning because a lot of its features rely heavily on the access to the internet. This analysis demonstrates the importance of analyzing the use of a technology through the perspectives of “affordances and barriers” in specific time and space, which is inspiring for studying the affordances of my project. The categorization of fixed and mobile technology may also be useful for understanding the use of technology in my project. I can try observing the differences of mobile and fixed educational technology through analyzing articles in related academic journals.

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