Modeling Technology in the Classroom: A Student’s Guide

By flickr user spakattacks. CC-licensed

Whether or not we are approaching any grand Singularity, technology continues to change in new and interesting ways. Users continue to stress the limits of any given system, and creators expand the system to accommodate new growth. Nevertheless, many professors – even, or perhaps especially, younger professors – still seem to be at odds with the idea that technology can be integrated into the classroom with any manner of success. It seems that for every tech-savvy edupunk soldier, there is a techno-phobic professor unwilling to consider that the shiny, beeping, distracting things that have invaded their classroom and have been shoved down their throats might actually be useful.

However, there are simple, easy ways to entice even the most techno-skeptical professor, and to make our gadgets a welcome friend in the classroom.

  • Always, always ask, and respect the answer given. I am often seen around campus with one of my computers – my aging Gateway, my OLPC-XO, or now, my netbook – I use them to take notes, and occasionally record lectures.  While I love the devices, the first thing I always do is ask if the professor minds that I use them. That means, of course, that they sit out for at least the first day of class – besides, what is there to record/take notes on the first day (aside from inputting syllabus into a google calendar, but more on that below)?  Asking the professor their technological preference also allows you a moment of face-time.  Introduce yourself, show off the tech and it’s capabilities, and cleanly ask if they would mind the use.  In many cases, they’ll be relieved that someone asked. Note: Tech-savvy professors need not necessarily want the devices in class. Though Jason Jones is giving away iPod touches, he refuses any laptops in his classrooms, and with good reasoning.
  • If you are allowed a device into the class, Look up more than you look down. In a particular classroom at my university, there is a large window looking into a small storage space in one of the classrooms. Because this space is often dark, the glass acts as a great mirror, and as such, a gateway to people’s laptop screens.   If your prof. lets you use the gadget, don’t become absorbed in it, and keep all social-networking to a bare minimum.  If your eyes are caught wandering, not only will you end up looking like a fool, but you’ll bear another black mark against technology in the classroom.
  • Shut. off. your. Cellular. Phone. Cell phones are great. They might even have some interesting pedagogical implications within the classroom. But for every legitimate, class-related reason to whip out the cell, there have been roughly six hundred thousand people who accepted a text, responded, or left class to take a call (the worst was actually the student who answered a call in a class that I attended, then asked the professor to quiet herself. No, I am not kidding).  Leave these off, in your pocket. Vibrate might even be too much of a temptation.

As for less-direct methods, there are simple ways to evangelize for tech in small, subtle ways.

  • Insist on digital methods of transfer for assignments. This is where lots of Professors draw  the line. There seem to be two heated camps in terms of collegiate education: Those who demand the Dead Tree Format, and those who demand electronic transfer. Suggest a foolproof way to transfer documents: Sharing a Google Doc, for instance. For that matter.
  • Enlist the students around  you. The average student likely does not know  what a Google Doc might be, or not see the point of using one. Above, I mentioned transcribing the entirety of the syllabus into a Google Calendar will be time-consuming, but worth it — not only is there a living link that can be accessed when the physical page is not nearby, but you’ve also just become the most popular student in the class by sharing it. More over, when the professor gets wind of the extra effort, they will likely be curious to its effect.
  • Increase the amount of tech in your non-tech assignments. Organizing a group project? Set up a Google Group mailing list, or a PbWiki. Powerpoint? Nah — there are other alternatives already , not to mention the Google Presentaton option? Note the use of some slick application in the research of a paper, like Delicious or Zotero. By showing professors new, interesting, and potentially useful sides of technology, you could plant a seed that inspires them to incorporate newer methods into their pedagogy.

As a student, you can help introduce the super-awesome tech where it can actually do some good. Just put your phone away for an hour or so, and all will be well.

What are some other sneaky, cool, or interesting ways to introduce technology where it otherwise might not have been found on campus?

[Image by Flickr user spakattacks. CC-licensed.]

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