"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow"
-- John Dewey.
Much has been written about integrating technology into a classroom. The question that is usually asked is, is it really necessary - is it really useful? In my opinion, the traditional approach of chalk and board still has its place but I strongly believe that educational technology could offer myriad of pedagogical benefits. Technology today, in various forms, have grown tremendously and have permeated all areas of our lives. Similarly, students today are connected in ways that previous generations could never have imagined and this has a direct implication on how they learn and impacted on how teachers teach in a classroom. So it makes sense to connect with our students in ways they already familiar. It is incomprehensible if educators today are still reluctant to use technology in teaching and learning activities or still perceive technology negatively. Of course, as most things in life, we should be cognizant of the shortcomings and over dependent on technology. Too much of a good thing also runs the risk of becoming ineffective. Technology should always be used in tandem with sound pedagogical principles. It's NOT THE ONLY thing, but it will add value. It would never replace good teacher!
How can traditional modes of classroom instruction engage and inspire students when life outside the classroom has changed so dramatically? I believe in leveraging technology available to enhance educational experiences of my students. Although I teach a full time course (face-to-face), I also supplement some topics of the lecture in the form of online (virtual) lecture. This is done to further enhance understanding of certain difficult concepts or to discuss more examples which otherwise not covered in the classroom due to time constraint. Preparing some lectures as online lecture also serve a few functions: (1) I can ask the student to view the lecture before the class (normal face-to-face lecture) so that I can use the class time for more discussion and interaction; (2) student can review the lecture at their convenience.
The online lecture is done in the form of PowerPoint presentation (converted into Flash format) using my favorite rapid authoring tool, Articulate Presenter. Flash format is essential because the file size is much smaller than the native PPT file – this is important for fast access and to cater for slow internet connection. A software such as Articulate Presenter (which is part of Articulate Studio suite) is called “Rapid Authoring Software” which allows non-techie like me to develop e-learning course easily – and rapidly! In most cases the lecture is combined with narration and sometimes including the “talking head”. To be honest, preparation of good online lecture is strenous and time consuming. It involves preparation of the slides, script for each slide, recording and editing the video, recording the audio and finally combining everything into a single presentation. However, with regular practice, the process of preparing online lecture would become easier and faster.
How useful is the online lecture? Used wisely and sparingly, online lecture can be used effectively to add another dimension to the classroom lecture. The students can view the presentation repeatedly either for revision or to get better understanding of the process. This is a great way to add value to the classroom teaching because very often the time to cover even the important aspects of the course is very limited. It is advisable that each online lecture be limited to 10 minutes. For a longer lecture then you can divide it into a few 10 minutes segment.
I’m teaching science and technology subject (food science/technology) – a subject which requires practical approach. While many food science/food processing concepts can be learned in a classroom they can be greatly enhanced by reaching beyond the walls of a lecture room. One cannot teach a course on food processing just by showing the flow chart and perhaps some pictures. Likewise, it is not sufficient to explain the principles and the step-by-step procedure in certain analytical method. In an ideal situation, it is best to teach a principle or concept by hands-on approach or by a direct demonstration. Imagine teaching a student about Lane-Eynon titration to determine reducing sugar. Being an empirical method and the reaction is nonstoichiometry, strict adherence to the procedure is critical in order to obtain good results. A video recording of the whole experiment can be made and critical steps of the titration can be highlighted. This would avoid students making unnecessary mistakes or systematic errors in carrying out analytical procedure. Similarly, when teaching food processing operation (e.g., extraction and refining of vegetable oils), each step of the process can be recorded in visual form and combined with narration. When I teach about production of snack foods, I can explain the sequence of the process and showing the picture and video clip of each stage of the process. These examples represent a different form of pedagogy (teaching methods) that can be fully utilised for effective teaching and eventually will greatly benefit the students.
So let's embrace technology but don't forget the low-tech but time-tested chalk and board!