Using Technology in the Classroom

by Garth Schultz (Notes regarding students with disabilities from Melinda Marino and Ellen Cutler )

Colleges and universities today are challenged with a new generation of students expecting a campus environment that accommodates their digital lifestyle. A new teaching and learning experience is emerging one that is more inclusive where students are guided through curriculum that better adapts to their individual learning styles, encourages collaborative team work, and facilitates learning how to learn.
  
- Apple's Website

It is a fact that today's students are more tech-savvy than ever before. Students use technology in ever-increasing areas of their lives. They use text-messaging on their mobile phones to communicate in codes almost indecipherable to their parents. They access the Internet from these mobile devices and are in touch with a fast-paced world that is open 24 hours a day. Some students, like disabled students for instance, rely on specialized technologies to access course content that would be inaccessible otherwise. Parents, who originally purchased machines for home office use, are finding that their computers have been commandeered by their children who use it for anything from creating blogs to downloading coursework.

Bringing technology into the curriculum enables the instructor to introduce students to a collaborative learning environment. This kind of environment allows students to learn from each other as well as from the instructor. Since many students are technically sophisticated, they have taught themselves how to use a number of today's technologies. If we work together in the classroom, we can create an environment that advances and focuses this understanding while communicating course content. We can use the students inate curiosity to foster deeper connections that facilitate learning.

As new and continuing faculty, we need to be cognizant of the technology-infused environment our students are accustomed to. In short, we need to learn to speak their language. Much has been said about the shortening attention span of our younger generation. An effective way to increase student interest is by incorporating technology that enhances the course material in a meaningful and creative way.

This section covers some of the available technologies that can help students better connect with class content. It also covers some of the technologies that are specifically designed for students with disabilities. Many technologies designed to assist students who are disabled can actually benefit the general student population. For instance, software such as Inspiration®, a thought organization tool, can be used not only to serve students with learning disabilities; but it can help instructors build lessons that harness the power of visual learning. With this particular program, students can easily create an outline by connecting graphic representations of their ideas on computer screens.

Designing products, instruction, and environments with everyone in mind is known as Universal Design. Universal Design is a practice that can benefit everyone. Online courses, when constructed to conform to the principles of Universal Design, are inherently easier for the majority of students to navigate and learn from. When we incorporate technology into the classroom, we add additional ways for students to understand and connect with subject matter while reaching the broadest audience possible.


AUDIO:

Currently, there is a major market for customizable cell phone ringtones. This demand exists not simply because this new technology is now available, but because music has always been a way for people to express themselves while connecting with others. Why not integrate audio segments into the classroom? An example of how one might go about adding audio into the classroom comes from the University of Texas where CardioSim™, has been used as an educational tool. CardioSim™,a digital heart sound simulator that works in conjunction with infrared headsets, allows students to hear heart sounds while viewing corresponding images. Although this particular solution requires a significant financial investment, adding audio to the classroom doesn't have to be expensive - it can be totally free. One less expensive alternative is using the many sounds built in to Microsoft Office. This content is available to individuals looking to add more interesting elements to their presentations. Many of these can be downloaded free of charge. There are royalty-free sound content sites on the Internet. If custom content is desired, instructors can record their own sounds using software built into Windows like Microsoft Sound Recorder

Blogs and Podcasts:

Blogging or online journaling comes from the combination of the words "Web" and "Logging." Another more engaging way to convey more than just text is to include audio. Audio-Blogging adds inflection and tone that is often lost with the written word. This new phenomenon has been taken even further with the emergence of yet another innovative method known as "Podcasting." The term Podcasting originated from the popularity of Apple's iPod. It allows users to create radio-like broadcasts using software like iPodder to generate customizable content. Customized radio-like feeds can be added each day (or even more frequently) and configured to automatically synchronize with the subscriber's device upon connection. A class could have their own radio station that keeps students current with class events, assignments, and instructor notes. Just as valuable, when the class is over, this digital record becomes an artifact of student learning.

An image of a U2 Special Edition iPod Apple iPod® - U2 Special Edition

Classroom amplification:

Sometimes it is necessary to amplify a presenter's voice for students in a classroom. This can be accomplished in a number of ways depending on the desired goal. Whether the aim is to accommodate one listener or entire audiences there are many solutions available. Simple microphone and speaker systems are available for check-out on most campuses .

an image of an assistive listening device
Assistive Listening Device
 an image of an Infrared Wireless Headset System
Infrared Headset System


Digital Dictation Devices:

There are many digital recorders on the market that work well for dictation. These handy devices can be used to record lectures that can be readily available for student download. They also are great for to-do lists and reminders.  Apple's iPod works for these tasks using a microphone like the one available From Griffin Technology called the iTalk ®

an image of an iTalk microphone
an image of a sony digital recorder
Digital Voice Recorder: Sony ICD-SX25VTP

Speech to Text Transcription:

Voice recognition software like ScanSoft ®'s Dragon Naturally Speaking can be used in conjunction with specific voice recorders to generate text from spoken recordings. These recordings can then be printed for student use. However, before purchasing a dictation device to use for this purpose, it would be wise to check for product compatibility.

 

Note about serving students with disabilities:   Please be aware that all teaching resources with audio components (e.g., videos) need to be presented in text (e.g., captioning) for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Every California Community College has received funding for captioning equipment as well as funding to outsource captioning. Contact your Disabled Students Programs and Services office to learn how captioning is handled on your campus. 


VISUAL MEDIA:

"When you can actually see it, suddenly it's very important to you."
   - George Lucas, (discussing multimedia in education)

There are many available technologies in the area of visual media. This is by no means an exhaustive listing, but rather a sampling of some of the technologies that are available today.

Software Solutions:

Community College employees have software available to them with difficulty levels from novice to the highly advanced user. There are many software applications available for faculty through their Information Services Departments (at my college). Some of the applications will be available free of charge for school use through agreements made with software vendors. If a product is not available through information services free of charge, ask if there is a discount available for community college faculty/staff.

Microsoft Office

Keynote 2 - a presentation application comparable to PowerPoint.

SnagIt - Allows for more customization when capturing screen content.

Macromedia StudioMX 2004 - A collection of software tools that give users the ability to create advanced web and multimedia presentations.

Windows Movie Maker - A straightforward movie-making tool that is built-in to Windows

iMovie - Another straightforward movie-making tool from Apple

Windows Media Player

QuickTime

 

an image of a shovel symbolizing digging deeper The Usefulness of Computer-Based Presentations in a Teacher Directed Classroom

 

Note about serving students who are disabled:  At this moment, PowerPoint presentations saved as web pages are not accessible to people who are blind. Strategies include providing students with the information in accessible etext or Braille (for those students who read Braille) and/or providing students with the PowerPoint file itself to run within PowerPoint. Contact the Disabled Student Programs and Services office (Office of Services for Students with Disabilities) on your campus if you need a PowerPoint presentation converted to etext or Braille.

 

An image of an Interactive Whteboard
Smart Board™ Interactive Whiteboard

Hardware Solutions:

SmartBoard's, also known as interactive whiteboards, take an ordinary white board, a projector and a computer and merge them into a potent instruction tool. SMART® Technologies, a leader in the industry, declares that ???“ …By projecting previously prepared lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations or any software application onto these boards, you can conduct whole-class learning, grab the attention of students and energize them during collaborative discussions, as well as make changes to materials on the fly and save the results. The results of the session can be saved either to many different Microsoft Applications or printed out. These boards work differently than standard whiteboards becasue the user can touch the board's surface to interact with them. The user can control the displayed application and use "digital ink" to highlight desired content.

 

Tablet PCs:

an image of a tablet PC made by Toshiba. The Model is called a Tekra M4

Tablet PC's are laptops that have been configured with additional capabilities. Convertible models can be arranged to act as a slate or to be used in a more traditional way like a standard laptop. An added bonus with this particular piece of equipment is that it is mobile, allowing instructors to roam the classroom working one-on-one with students while the presentation displays on screen. The instructor simply writes on the screen using an electronic pen. There are also tablet PC's that consist of only the flat or slate components and work with a detachable keyboard.

 

Projectors/Document Cameras:

Technologically speaking, we have come a long way from the blackboard. There are many options available for today's instructor. There are LCD projectors that work with presentation software, video and document cameras that can create images on the screen from hard-copy sources or even zoom in on various objects. Some of these projectors are even more comprehensive, providing four image sources:computer, component video, S-video and composite video. Film slides can be projected from these machines too, provided they have been transferred to a digital format.

an image of a Toshiba all in one projector with document camera
an image of a Panasonic LCD projector. model PT2u

Toshiba TLP-S10U with Document Camera Open (All-in-One)

Panasonic PT-LM2U

 

Note about serving students who are disabled:   Students who are blind and some students who are partially sighted need text equivalents of visually presented materials. The California Community College Distance Education: Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities and the Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities provide general principles on making instructional materials accessible to students who are visually impaired. Contact the Disabled Student Programs and Services office (or Office of Services for Students with Disabilities) on your campus about what materials you need converted to an alternate format.

 


Additional Topics:

Geocaching:

Looking for a new and innovative way to conduct a field trip? Why not integrate Geocaching? Geocaching is a treasure hunt or "cache hunt" using Global Positioning Systems to help lead the way. Many GPS units can locate a point on the globe to a very close proximity. The caches are stored in waterproof containers to help protect the contents. Each cache contains a logbook. When found, the finder makes an entry in the logbook and leaves another object to be found by future seekers.

Threaded Discussions/Bulletin Boards:

Threaded discussions and bulletin boards can be used to help organize several related topics around a central theme. These can be great environments for students to give their opinions when they might be hesitant to do so in front of their peers.

Internet Scavenger Hunt:

Having access to an Internet connection in class may seem obvious; yet integrating this tool into classrooms is often overlooked. With Internet access, Faculty and students have access to the largest research source on the planet. Innovative assignments can be prepared to take advantage of the enormous volume of information that is available. One of the many examples of incorporating the Internet into an assignment might be to conduct an Internet Scavenger Hunt. These hunts provide a vehicle to engage students in a way that allows them to discover knowledge on their own, permitting them to construct their own learning.