Begin with the End in Mind
Let us start at the end, in keeping with Steven Covey’s refrain, “begin with the end in mind.” At the end of the day, we want students to succeed, to get that degree or credential, to advance in their career and life, to be a productive member of society. To get there requires students to be engaged in their learning journey. As educators, we need every tool at our disposal to help engender that engagement. W. Edwards Deming said, “learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” That is applicable to engagement. Without it, students falter, lose interest, and drop out, in the process of losing time, money, and confidence in their abilities. Ed-tech is a needed, key tool to get us to our desired end.
Ed Tech as A Key Tool
That tool enables positive engagement in three basic arenas— engagement with curricular activities, engagement with instructor and fellow students, and engagement with university services (advising, library, financial aid, etc.). It provides access, communication tools, and learning enhancements that otherwise would be missing from a student’s experience, limiting education to a face-to-face, physical campus-based, instructor-focused environment.
A Tool Resisted
We know there continues to be resistance to ed-tech by many educators, be it ed-tech via online education and/or incorporating more ed-tech in a traditional setting. That is not surprising, as a change per se is always resisted initially. Many faculty are comfortable doing things as they always have. Learning new technology and technology-based teaching tools is an understandable challenge. COVID has forced the issue, but literature continues to have a mix of positive and negative responses to using tech to teach. At a basic level, even the transition of physical classroom discussion to online discussion threads presents issues to some faculty and students. Steven Mintz notes, “most students haven’t been taught how to participate in a meaningful digital conversation.” Necessity may win out for now, but in the long run, we need to help our colleagues understand that tech is simply a tool, nothing more, nothing less, not in principle unlike a whiteboard in a classroom, and with evidenced-based practice and training on tech tools, a huge asset in any setting, whether fully online, hybrid, or back in the physical classroom.
"The digital environment enables more equitable participation and engagement, and those uncomfortable with speaking up in the physical setting, or approaching the faculty after a lecture, may more freely engage in discussion and communication digitally"
A Tool Applied
So how best to use this tool? The course environment provides key examples of the proficiency of ed-tech tools. James Comer pointedly says, “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” Ed-tech provides multiple means for students to communicate with their faculty and fellow students, pragmatically far more than via the traditional in-class format. Adaptive learning has been used with great success in several areas, such as seen in Arizona State University’s gen ed/ developmental courses. Virtual simulations are taking place in differing healthcare ed programs such as nursing, enabling clinical hours in the virtual environment with more precise tools and assessment than in physical clinical settings. Very specific in-course tools, such as nudge email/texts within courses, video-conferencing, message boards, presentation software, audio elements, pre-recorded lectures, video elements, quick-check tests, live text-based chat, digital texts, and interactive tools, live video chat, animations, live video broadcast of lectures, intelligent agents, collaborative work via a blog or wiki, community forums, etc. all give faculty and students many more tools to engage in the learning process.
The digital environment enables more equitable participation and engagement, and those uncomfortable with speaking up in the physical setting, or approaching the faculty after a lecture, may more freely engage in discussion and communication digitally. The University of Toronto has had great success using their collaborative Knowledge Forum for student group work. Rachel Toor writes of creating community in Zoom. Flower Darby notes that even in the traditional classroom, “digital tools and strategies can enhance your in-person teaching.” Robert Zotta, at the Stevens Institute of Technology, writes, “I suppose it all comes down to tools and practices. We try to get good technologies and good tools, make them available for the instructors to use, and show the instructors how to use them as needed.”
Another key ed-tech tool is in the arena of analytics, be they descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, or prescriptive. Edtech provides the structure and reporting to give us incredibly helpful analytics that informs curriculum decisions and enhances faculty and advising interaction with their students. Additionally, university services, such as virtual libraries, virtual advising and career services, financial aid, etc. are all areas where ed-tech has made a significant impact for the better.
So, we return to the beginning with the end in mind. Student success requires student engagement, and we need every available tool to achieve that end, including ed-tech. To ignore the benefits of this tool is simply to hamstring our performance and prevent us from providing to every student the best educational experience possible, enabling them to take the next big step in both their careers and lives.