Section: archive

Project Assesses Value of Technology in the Classroom

By Madeleine Thompson

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? or at least its Ask the Audience technology is coming to Kenyon. Professors are adopting clickers similar to the ones used on the show to poll audiences as teaching aids. These devices are one example of technological teaching tools that may be integrated into the classroom through an initiative known as blended learning. The long-term project, which may incorporate new pedagogical methods over the next several years, is dedicated to studying how using technology in the classroom can facilitate the best possible learning experience.

Blended learning looks at opportunities to enhance learning through online, technological or social means. Director of the Center for Innovative Pedagogy Joseph Murphy defines blended learning as the idea that things that were learning from distance and online education can be brought to bear in the face-to-face teaching environment.

Blended learning used to be a large university phenomenon, but an increasing number of small schools, like Kenyon, are now researching the educational and granting opportunities the initiative may provide. Moodle, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), webinars and Skype are all technological services under consideration by Kenyon in the hope that they will augment the small classroom experience.

[The larger universities] were schools with very different missions than selective liberal arts colleges have, Murphy said. While Kenyon is not interested in reducing class time, exploiting technology to the fullest extent merited a closer look.

Simon Garcia, assistant professor of chemistry, heads the committee that is gathering information about the potential uses of blended learning at Kenyon. His team plans to explore the numerous technological options available and outline how the resources Kenyon already uses can be improved.

Something weve come to realize is that when you add an online component, something has to change in the classroom. Its not simply more, Garcia said. One of the things that weve had to grapple with is what types of things have to change.

Moodle, for example, is a double-edged sword interactive but time consuming. Ive talked to a few people and they estimate that [uploading quizzes onto Moodle] takes roughly three times as much time as a pen and paper quiz, Garcia said. When a teacher uses Moodle they are actually designing and moving things around. Its not just simply uploading things.

On the other hand, online quiz distributors allow students to see their mistakes and the correct answers. Many educators find this tool more useful than returning corrected work several days later without much explanation or constructive remarks.

Moodle can give targeted feedback based on the answers a student gives on a quiz, Murphy said. You could build homework that essentially grades itself and gives the student the answers so that when they show up to class they have a better sense of what they know and what they dont know.

On the surface, blended learning appears to devalue the importance of face-to-face teaching, but the job of the committee, according to Garcia, is not to give explicit teaching suggestions but rather to explore the many options technology provides. There arent specific results that are supposed to come out. Were not making any decisions, Garcia said. Our charge is to look at issues having to do with online learning.

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