May 19, 2009

From A Necessity To A Passion!

Harnessing the power of IT, a new paradigm of teaching is gaining momentum where the teacher/student relationship changes and a peer-teaching capability emerges. This new kind of teaching hands the baton to students and uses technology to enhance communication, to create motivation and to foster cooperation among them to resolve their problems, to retrieve much of their own information and finally to construct their own learning.

Using IT in my teaching, however, did not begin as a bold decision to favour this paradigm, but more as a logical response to practical problems facing the new teacher. I have only been teaching at John Abbott for a relatively short time, and I find that the best solutions to the problems that all new teachers face now often include technology. Below are three examples of how I have almost subconsciously embraced IT.

Safekeeping and In-class Access to Materials

Spending some real quality time with my favourite photo-copier was not my ideal pastime, but it had to be done.

At the absolute start of my teaching, I began by photocopying all my material. My handouts would be carefully filed for future use. Spending some real quality time with my favourite photo-copier was not my ideal pastime, but it had to be done. Then a few years later, I realized that I could not keep track of all the bits of paper, all the ‘masters’ that were used for copying and all the newspaper articles and other collaborative material. I had shelves of my bookcase neatly filled – well at first they were neatly filled, with carefully recorded material. Cannibalizing bits from one course to use in another course and photocopying material for next time – just in case I might need it, however, created a mess, and I realized that I just had to move all this to my laptop. Since most of the new material that I was discovering was already digitized and available at the click of a mouse button, this was almost a no-brainer!

Using a Course Management System

Since I am teaching at three different institutions around Montreal, I really need flexibility and independence. I recently started using the course management system edu2.0. This CMS allows me to upload my course material such as a timetable; course outline; links; PowerPoint presentations and more. Students log in to the course and access the material in class or from home; they can follow the presentation online and make notes. It just makes so much more sense than what I used to do – handing out reams of paper. This way there is one central repository for me and for them, that I can also update on-the-fly.

Course management system edu2.0

The Innovative Aspect of IT

Using IT means that I can make my teaching as rich and as varied as if I had a few helpers doing my research and organizing for me. Not only can I use IT to effortlessly present the material to the class, but I can use teaching aids such as a visual presenter or a speaking avatar to wake students up. I can illustrate my ideas with a great photograph courtesy of Google search, or I can excite students with a short movie from YouTube. I have been amazed at the range of subjects covered in short movies. I would need many assistants and a huge budget to be able to use a similar arsenal of material in my classroom if it was not for IT.

I recently created a short video using a visual presenter to guide students on how to conduct a telephone job interview. I think using this video will enable them to recall the information better because it is not done in a standard classroom lecture format.

Telephone job interviews – things to keep in mind

I also used a short animation at the wrap up of a recent class, and it added much hilarity to the occasion. Light banter developed in class between one of the students and me on the use of Gmail. I think Gmail is the best thing since sliced bread – and I voice this opinion whenever the opportunity presents itself, but this student was not in the least convinced.

Using xtranormal, I created a short fun animation with two avatars, the student being one, and a classmate who sat next to him being the other. In the movie the student is being asked by his classmate what he had learned – and you can guess that I had him saying how much he now loved Gmail. The class roared with laughter when I projected the video. This might not be viewed as ‘educational’, since it really did not pass on information pertaining to the subject of the course, but I think it created closeness between the students and me. I think such closeness creates a positive learning environment – it makes teaching for me fun and it makes learning for them also fun.

Avatars created with xtranormal

From a Necessity to a Passion

What really changed my view of IT in the classroom from a necessity to a passion, however, was a recent experience which put the new paradigm to the test. Students were excited, motivated and active for the whole 9 days of the project. For part of the course, my role was more of a listener than a teacher, because it was they who were charged with presenting the material to the class and to me. This classroom dynamic was vastly different to what could be referred to as the ‘you sit and I teach’ variety. It takes some getting used to having a busy, almost rowdy classroom where you really have to make yourself heard among much activity and many conversations going. The upshot, however, was that this course was one of the most successful courses that I have ever given. The students loved it and some commented that it was the best class they had ever attended. Using IT for me has become more than just another pedagogical obligation; it has opened doors to a new and exciting style of teaching.

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