Way back in May I wrote a post about using technology in the classroom, specifically about video recording lectures to provide to students later. Well, now it’s the summer break I have had time to start work on putting my own courses on to my university’s WebCT system, and some of the practical issues and problems of using this resource have suddenly become a little more real to me!
I have two main issues with technological developments. I don’t simply want to give myself extra work, I actually want to use technology to add value for students. Online delivery of lectures or readings might appeal to some students’ learning techniques more than having to source a book in the library for example. Students alienated by the formal way information is presented at university could find their learning experience revolutionized. And after all, it’s our job to convey the information to learners of all abilities in our classrooms, not simply to spurt it out and if students cannot absorb it in that form, well, tough!
The second issue is not specific to history but is a real challenge and that is using technology in a way that teaches students to be critical of the information they receive. How many of us have been horrified to read an undergraduate essay based almost entirely on internet sources?! How many of your students understand the difference in reliability between a university-based website and a site run by a ranting individual with no qualifications? Even website titles can be misleading. A classic example is martinlutherking <dot> org which claims to be a ‘true historical account’ but is actually an extreme right-wing site full of racist rubbish (this is why I am not putting a link to them in this blog…I don’t want to give them any more traffic, but want to illustrate the difficulties of researching on the internet).
So, next term I am going to maintain that balance between making use of new technologies to help students learn while teaching them to be cautious and critical of the material now available. And that is before I have even started to think about online assessment (e.g. multiple choice tests that students must get right and can keep re-trying in order to progress to the ‘next level’). My feeling is to stay away from that sort of test as it cannot assess the sort of skills I am trying to encourage. I don’t want students to learn names and dates parrot-fashion: that is exactly what they can find easily using the internet. It’s the more subtle judgments of relative cause and effect that I want students to grasp, and online quizzes don’t really cut it! By the way, if you have any experience of using these sorts of quizzes online please let me know how you got on.