How To Get The Most Out Of Technology

Good planning is the key to making the technology sessions well-organized and productive.

Matching Needs

Consider the following when integrating new technology and learning tools into class. A measure of foresight can help to avoid hang-ups and student frustration later.

Is the material appropriate?

Determine whether the material is appropriate for the class and if it aids (rather than distracts from) the goal of the lesson. Students tend to be very savvy when apportioning their time for classwork. They may approach the point of diminishing returns, but they very rarely pass it. Just because it is assigned does not mean it will find an audience. (Not a few textbooks are returned unwrapped.) Think about how students will use new content and especially new technology tools. Will they be relevant to the student experience of the class?

Are all your students familiar with the tools?

Prepare detailed handouts if necessary to guide your students using technology inside and outside of the classroom so that they don’t feel overwhelmed. For example, searching for podcasts and accessing them may be too advanced for beginning users. But finding the material and making it useful may be made easier with guidance and preparation from the TA. What matters is not so much what you are using in and out of class but how you are using it.

Have you reviewed the material yourself for quality and reliability?

Will the material reflect your greater experience and esteemed, discerning judgment? Check the websites you are recommending as they may no longer be available or the content may have been modified. Is it still factual and well-sourced? To evaluate the quality of materials before using them, see Chapter 5 of “Evaluating Internet Information: How to Assess Website Quality” in Roblyer, M.D. (2006). Starting Out on the Internet: A Learning Journey for Teachers (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Is the tool the best one to use in class?

Be aware of the pros and the cons of using certain technology. Be aware of the limitations of the tools that you choose: are you planning to use both a presentation and Blackboard simultaneously? Switching between applications may become tiresome for students. Technologies and tools also come with baggage: consider the different views concerning the value of PowerPoint as a communication medium such as these:

PowerPoint Presenter?

Or PowerPoint Addict?

See also PowerPoint is not evil, Power Point No, Cyberspace Yes, and How to Use Presentation Slides to Best Effect

Helpful Hints that Will Help Your Lessons Go Smoothly

Advance preparation can help you anticipate issues and ultimately saves time later. For example, if showing a documentary, should you show the entire thing or just a portion of it? Anticipate what could make things move more slowly in class than expected. How can you accelerate things if it happens?

Take care of administrative tasks before using technology in class. Creating a class email folder and email list will allow you to communicate more efficiently when class begins. Estimate how long the session will be.

Keep an eye on your watch! Monitor your own progress through your presentation and be ready to set time limits on your students so that you can finish on time. And it's a good idea to be confident that the technology you will use will not unduly slow down the class. Should a particular software tool be used? You should be able to integrate one or more of them without too much of a delay. In class, technology is often limited by time.

Implementing Technology in Your Lesson Plans

  • As anyone who has sat through a dull PowerPoint presentation knows, technology is no crutch for a poorly planned lesson. If you're not adding value to the student experience, animated slides in a darkened room will not gain or retain students' attention. But technology thoughtfully integrated into a well-planned lesson may help animate the material and add an additional dimension to your communication.
  • The key is to start with a solid lesson plan and then ask how technology can augment the message.
  • Visual support may be essential if you are communicating abstract concepts. Looking over your lesson outline, are there opportunities where examples drawn from the Internet could punctuate your point? Is there a place where a quickly-accessed Flickr photo album would illustrate your examples? Would an embedded video bring to life your argument that would otherwise remain purely hypothetical?
  • Software tools typically not included in classroom teaching may also help make your point. If you are trying to present a chronological sequence, perhaps a timeline-generating program would help you model it? If you are discussing a series of interrelated ideas, such as the theoretical foundation of your field, perhaps a concept map of the main themes and threads would make it more digestible.
  • The point here is that once handouts did the work of visually communicating complex ideas, and it didn't necessarily do it well. Today a plethora of tools exist to bring complex ideas to life merely by integrating freeware or shareware software into the lesson plan.

Reserving Equipment and Technologies

  • Plan when you will need the equipment. The earlier you plan, the easier you can reserve.
  • Find out where the equipment is and reserve it ahead of time. Have a fallback plan in case others may reserve it before you do.
  • Be sure to reserve technical support well in advance if you are unfamiliar with a particular technology.
  • Provide a list of available resources and technical contacts in the syllabus. A list of Tech Support Offices in each campus building can be found here. Be aware that with a sticker from your department, you may, as a graduate student TA, check out films from the USC libraries.
  • If you decide to go to a lab and not your usual classroom for your class, remember to remind your students and leave a note in the classroom on the door.
  • If you need help with technology resources this link should help.

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