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Technology, Teaching, Gremlins and some Questions for the Community

August 29, 2014

It has been a while since I have posted but today a set of coincidences occurred to spur me back into writing.

Last night I read an interesting post by Terry McGlynn over at Small Pond Science. It was about his university installing some new learning environments that are very teched up and are being sold as “active learning centers”. My institution just built an entire building devoted to technology in teaching. A colleague and I were asked to team teach an introductory course in Evolution and Ecology in one of these “Learning Innovation Studios”. It seats 24 students but they are all at stationary tables and there is an LCD screen at the end of each table and there is a large LCD screen at the “front” of the room. The table LCD screens are immoveable such that a portion of the white boards are not visible so you have to write everything up high. The large LCD screen covers some of the white board space so that the front wall is not as useful for board work. There is a panel/workstation in the corner to control all this tech but if the room is full, the professor has to stand next to the workstation which puts you right next to a student. the screens are customizable in terms of inputs so groups doing collaborative work can project to any screen and so they can all work together and project their work so they can see it well and so that others can see what they have done. Unfortunately, the tables are too large and tied to the technology to be moveable which makes doing some active learning activities more difficult.

And today we had a power outage caused by a thunderstorm. It blacked out the building I normally work in but i was teaching in a room with less complicated tech and we got back up and running in a few minutes. When we moved to the learning innovation studio, it was down and it was not coming back. So, the main advantage of the room was unavailable to us today and my colleague had to involve students in an introduction to the Galapagos islands with no visuals. She drew everything from memory and even retained the order of her slides and she pretty much rocked it.

But, on a normal day, it seems that the section we teach in the room with two LCD screens and moveable desks (Steelcase Nodes which I love) is much more alert and much more interactive with both the professors and one another. The students in the Innovation Studio seem trapped at their tables and glued to the screens. And when you get in a position of a tech failure, it doesn’t trip you up because the room was originally designed to not structure the learning around the tech. But today, without the tech, even the architecture of the Innovation Studio could not keep the students from being more interactive.

So, technology is going to become an increasingly large part of how we teach. I feel that we may be making some decisions to serve technology (and the donors who provide it) that may dis-serve our students. So my questions to the community are:

What technological changes (mainly with reference to teaching) are you most leery of/most embracing of?

How do you feel about the relationship between technology and active learning? (as Terry points out, we have been doing active teaching for a long time in the sciences and it does not generally require a lot of tech or a lot of money).

When you think of active learning, what does that mean to you and do you think administrators have a full grasp of what that means in the real world of the classroom?

What types of technology do you think promote active learning most?

Also, do you have any particular techniques that meld active learning and technology particularly well?

I’ll be interested in the responses I get.


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science, education, and technology with an irreverent twist

The Insect Ecology Lab

at the University of Dayton (Dr. Chelse Prather & students)


Quantitative Genetics and more

Arthropod Ecology

Writings about arthropod ecology, arachnids & academia at McGill University

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Small Pond Science

Research, teaching, and mentorship in the sciences

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