The case 7 (Post-Secondary Applied Science Environment) presented important classroom issues that exist when delivering content in front of a large audience where students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. The main student issues were participation, engagement, and real-time comprehension feedback for the instructor. The case presented a single technology solution, the clickers, that addressed these issues but also posed questions. The most important ones are:
- Why is it difficult to integrate new technologies in the classroom?
- What should the technology integration process be like?
- How would the technology reduce or avoid student misconceptions related to the scientific concepts presented in class?
In exploring a response to these questions, I looked at some of the challenges the instructor and the students faced along the way as they adopted the technology. Let’s first take a look at the difficulties related to integrating the new technology in the classroom. The instructor felt some apprehension and nervousness during the first lecture when the technology was introduced. He thought it might not work as expected or might not be well received by the audience.
The fact that students came from different backgrounds contributed to this nervousness. That meant the new concepts presented in class would elicit different reactions when the students were exposed to them. Some possible reactions that would exacerbate a learning challenge in the classroom could occur if the students became distracted by the technology, or if a majority of the students used the clickers to indicate they understood the concepts but in reality, they acted based on misconceptions or conjectures that remained hidden from the instructor.
On the opposite side, the technology could, and in fact did, ameliorate the learning process by producing many positive effects. The clickers made the students work harder and removed the cultural reactions to the learning process because the input was collected anonymously. That increased participation, engagement, the speed with which the concepts were covered, and the level of real-time feedback for the instructor. The result was fewer unanswered questions, and thus improved understanding of the material.
Now, let’s examine the process of integrating new technology in the STEM classrooms. Most importantly, the process needs to be simple and easy. That means:
- No complicated setups in terms of installation or configuration
- Technology platform independence – the devices should work with what most hardware vendors offer Out-of-the-Box
When the technology meets these two simple requirements, it will make it significantly easier for instructors to overcome their apprehension and nervousness when introducing new technology in the classroom. The clickers meet the first requirement and I hope they would do well in terms of the second one (the case does not offer sufficient information to make that determination). The clickers (new technology) bring an added benefit: they empower students to politely say “Please, stop, repeat, and clarify. I did not understand.”, and to do so anonymously without the fear of judgement or ridicule.
As to student misconceptions, they can be addressed via a different set of technologies that capture students’ understanding of the concepts taught in class. The most common tools are blogs and forums that support discussions threads. Instructors can act as moderators by reviewing the discussions that take place in different threads and guiding students to the correct interpretation of scientific concepts. More advanced tools like Slack offer features like discussion channels, threads within a channel, audio and video conferencing.