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Structuring Technology Into Your Class

One common complaint among first-time users of educational technology is simply that "No one used it!" Often this is because the technology was added to the class as an "optional" (which students hear as "superfluous") and relatively unstructured activity. In other words, the students didn't use it because they just didn't have a compelling reason to use it.

Imagine that you arranged to have an extra classroom room available to your students, in which you wanted them to have additional, meaningful conversations about your course material—something like a discussion section. But in this room there was never a discussion leader, no specific discussion topics, and you never even bothered to see who showed up. How many students would make a special trip to find and spend time in that potentially empty classroom?

It is important to ask yourself a few questions before you launch the technological dimension of your class:

  1. Does your use of technology add something to the class that would be impossible without it? Could you accomplish the same thing with simpler methods? Is the activity you are planning with technology relevant to the other dimensions of the class (or is it stand-alone and somewhat "gimmicky")?

  2. "The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple." - Freeman Dyson


  3. If you were a busy student what would make you bother to learn and use the technology? What levels of encouragement could make using the technology attractive?
    • Extra Incentive: lecture outlines that students can print out and then "flesh out" when they attend your lecture, exam-review questions structured discussion activities that you tie into in-class discussion, class announcements and syllabus changes, etc..
    • Make it Count: count posting to the discussion board as part of class participation and require so many per week. Require discussion questions be turned into you electronically, etc..
    • "At some point...we must have faith in the intelligence of the end user."- Anonymous

  1. How can you be creative in the use of technology? Your perspective on the course material for any class is unique. So, too, should be how you use technology to help your students explore that material. For example:
    • If your course depends heavily upon homework sets, have an online help desk regularly watched over by you and/or your GTFs.
    • Exploit the textual nature of the Internet by having students proof each other's paper ideas, outlines, abstracts or drafts before posting them to the whole class.
    • Provide links to the latest data available in your field, like up-to-the-minute court decisions, weather data, or press releases.
    • Make one of your office hours a "virtual office hour," during which you engage the ideas and questions sent to you by students who don't feel comfortable speaking out in class.

Since everyone teaches differently, everyone's use of these tools will differ. However, it is important to think about how to embed the technology into the class, instead of layering it on top. Sometimes it is helpful to brainstorm several ideas around how you can best use technology in your class and the TEP staff is here to help you do just that.