Published: April 15, 2013

Recently, ASSETT recognized teachers that displayed excellence in Teaching with Technology. Students were given the opportunity to nominate teachers whom they believe integrate and use technology in creative ways to enhance the classroom.

Krystal McMillen of the English department said that when she was informed she had received the award, it made her day. Her introduction to integrating technology into the classroom was teaching a hybrid class for the School of Continuing Education. “I’ve been trying to do more with technology [in my hybrid class],” McMillen says. “So I was honored and flattered to know that meant something to the students.”

In her History and Literature of Georgian England class, McMillen created a class blog that students were required to post on. “It took off and took on a life I wasn’t expecting,” she says. “We started it as a lark for one assignment and did what I was calling a ‘class museum exhibit.’ Everyone had to find an art image and do a close reading of it, basically write a museum panel and post it on this blog, so that it would be a kind of electronic gallery.” Students responded so well to this assignment that McMillen ended up using it for the rest of the semester. By the end of the year, the blog had over two hundred posts. McMillen says the blog was successful precisely because “students were able to, and wanted to, work with one another in an electronic forum.”

Krystal McMillen in her Literary Theory courseMcMillen values technology in teaching because it fosters this kind of continued interaction outside of class. In order for it to be successful, however, it requires strong engagement from the students. McMillen saw this kind of engagement with her class blog. “I had students tripling the amount of required posts,” she says. If the students get excited and engaged with technology, the pay off is a community of learners who collaborate in the learning process. “It puts a lot of the responsibility towards creating our ideas on the whole class, not just on [the professor],” McMillen says. Creating this community also makes students’ motivations for class personal, instead of just external. This allows for a different kind of engagement for students, instead of just a professor standing at the front of the class delivering a lecture and spouting off information.

McMillen is excited at the prospect of integrating SPARC into her classes as well. She and her Literary Theory students are beta testing the site before its upcoming launch. She is excited about sharing knowledge with students and relying on this communal sharing of knowledge, especially around technology. “A lot of my students are as tech savvy, if not more than I am [and] that’s been the most useful things for me is to see what I can learn from other people,” McMillen says.

For professors who want to integrate technology into their own classroom, McMillen’s best advice is “trouble shoot, trouble shoot, trouble shoot.” Patience and honesty are also vital. “It’s been important to me to express [to my students] that this is a learning process and that there might be issues,” she says. “But the important thing is that we’re alerting each other of these issues, and trying things out together.”

Being able to engage with students outside of the classroom is an extremely powerful resource. “Fifty minutes is just not enough time to cover everything,” McMillen notes. “It’s impossible.” Using technology gives professors the ability to expand the reach of their classes. Connections and community can be fostered with these online resources, making learning more interactive and engaging for students. McMillen is honest with her students and stays in tune with what they want and what will help them learn. This level of respect is also what makes students want to engage with McMillen, both inside and outside the classroom.