Technology is ever-present in our lives today, so it is no wonder that it has been increasingly incorporated into higher education. At the beginning of my career, my access to technology in the classroom was limited to a television with a VCR and an overhead projector for transparencies. Students took notes with pen and paper, exams were administered in class using blue books, and all classes were face-to-face. I can safely say that I used the same technology as my college professors and, at least in the discipline of history, the only things that had changed technologically in the previous fifty years was the transition from film projectors to VCRs and the slow shift from typewriters to word processors and computers. Within five years of leaving grad school, I had the ability to connect my laptop to a projector and screen PowerPoints, although few other things had changed. Since then, new technologies seem to emerge monthly, so that adaptability to technology changes is a new expectation of college professors. This weekend I attended a history convention and I was struck by the fact that many of the presenters employed no technology or did not use it appropriately, illustrating the digital divide between those of my generation (Generation X) and those of previous generations.
Adopting new technologies takes time and effort, and I can understand the reluctance of educators to do so, however, I believe it is work well spent. Not all technologies are relevant to all disciplines, so recognizing the applications and limitations of various technologies is important. One insight that I gained that inspired me was the versatility of some technologies, such as Google Docs and discussion boards. Both technologies can be used in innumerable ways, limited only by the instructor’s or students’ imaginations. I’m inspired by the way these technologies allow for collaboration, building group dynamics, and developing communities of learners beyond the four walls of a classroom.
A second insight that I have gained in studying technology integration in higher education that inspires me is how technology encourages students and instructors to shift places. For centuries, professors have been the content experts in their fields, while students have been the novices. With so many new developments appearing, Millennials and Generation Z are in the position to introduce professors to technologies. Two weeks ago I had students give presentations in an online course and, in addition to the PowerPoints and Prezis, I had one student create a Wix website and another use Ease.ly, a presentation tool for creating infographics. Allowing students to use technology that I am unfamiliar with enriches the class and exposes me to what’s new. We, as educators, must humble ourselves and accept that we may not be experts in everything, and that’s ok, as long as we are open to experiencing change.
I chose a career in higher education because I assumed that adults would be self-motivated learners (Knowles, 1980) and that teaching would be, I dare say, somehow easier. This idea of andragogy, or the method and practice of teaching adult learns, as different from pedagogy, is much more complicated than simply teaching self-motivated students. However, these differences are inspiring. For instance, getting to know my students’ motivations for enrolling in one of my history courses challenges me to tailor content for different groups of students. According to Knowles (1980), adult learners tend to be task-oriented, and learn best when they understand the real-life applications. In history, this orientation can lead to deeper understanding of the causes and effects of historical events. Working with primary sources and encouraging students to consider how history relates to their own lives and experiences makes the study of the past relevant to the present and future.
I have been incorporating technology and andragogy into my teaching over the course of my career and will continue to do so in the future. My focus has shifted, however, from simply finding ways to teach adult learners to using technology and active learning strategies to engage students and encourage them to participate more fully in the learning process. For example, I recently began having my students work in groups to write their exams, encouraging them to reflect on the chapters studied for each unit in formulating questions that best represented what they had learned. As mentioned earlier, I encourage students to use new technologies to collaborate and share research presentations. Over the past four months I have been exposed to technologies that I had never heard of before, and discovered new applications for those that I had some familiarity with, inspiring me to think about how each might be used within my own face-to-face, hybrid, and online classes.
Knowles, M. S. (1980). MY FAREWELL ADDRESS…ANDRAGOGY–NO PANACEA, NO IDEOLOGY. Training & Development Journal, 34(8), 48.