A journey from translation through engagement to scholarship of teaching with technologies
Phoebe Young, winner of this year’s ASSETT Excellence in Teaching with Technology Award, began teaching as many of us do by replicating how her best professors taught. She followed their methods, and used the same technologies. As a historian, she wrote and taught from lecture notes rich with information. She presented images and linked critical text to them by using overhead projectors and 35 mm slide projectors. This approach worked quite well for her until she had an “aha!” moment, when she realized that just because her students wrote a response in exam blue books, that didn’t necessarily mean that they had learned what she had wanted them to learn. As she mulled over that conundrum, she began to wonder if educational technologies might help her bridge the gap between the blue book model of offering students chances to respond to a prompt vs. a newer model of allowing them to reflect their learning in artifacts they produced.
In nominating Phoebe for this award, her peers and students recognized her for excellence in teaching with technology, and in consistently demonstrating a commitment to advancing teaching and learning through technology. She has been on a journey throughout her entire career to find ways to help her students improve their learning. When first exposed to PowerPoint, Phoebe saw it as an opportunity to help her students examine an image critically. In the WebCT learning management system she saw an opportunity to engage her students with course material, and an efficient way for her to communicate with students outside of class. In time she came to see that these technologies allowed her to replicate the good teaching that she had done in paper and film media into a digital form. But translating from one medium to a newer medium was just the start of her journey. Phoebe was more interested in seeing if technologies might be able to allow her to transform the way she taught.
Now when Phoebe is teaching with technologies, she focuses on helping students use them to produce more authentic and if possible, public objects. She found in the past that students would work really hard to produce an excellent paper and turn it in to her only to have that be the end of their work. However, technologies such as Omeka and WordPress have allowed her to guide students in producing an artifact that has been shaped through dialog with her and their peers, and to become something they can share with a wider audience. Her students have produced impressive multi-page websites and timelines, for example. They leave her class with an artifact they can show and share if they want to.
As Phoebe became more interested in engaging her students in their learning processes, she observed a physics instructor who taught with clickers. She was amazed at how interactive a lecture class could be! She saw students debate with one another over questions posed to the class. So she decided to try clickers in her class, and found that it made larger classes feel smaller. With clickers, she found she could assess in the moment where her students were in their learning processes. This was a great improvement over only getting a glimpse into students’ learning if they happened to raise their hand and asked a question. Just as clickers helped her with engagement in class, she found Perusall could engage them with texts and artifacts outside of class.
When asked if she has advice for faculty members considering adopting a technology when they teach, her advice is usually, “don’t take on all the variables at once.” That way you can tell if something you changed in your teaching works. However, she realizes that COVID-19 is requiring us to teach and learn in new ways, and to take on more changes than we might normally want to. In that case, she suggests faculty members figure out what their goal is first and then examine what technology might do to help with that goal. She offers the example of a faculty member considering PlayPosit, which is a technology that embeds quizzes inside of video content. She suggests thinking about a gap they would like to address (for example, assessing whether students are understanding key concepts in the video) and then thinking about how PlayPosit can help address that gap (for example, by inserting multiple choice questions about the concept in the video to see if the students are engaging with those concepts).
Phoebe’s quest to improve her teaching is by no means finished. She would like to increase her focus on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL). She agrees with her history colleague Natalie Mendoza, whose work in SoTL suggests that it can be a good thing to recognize a problem in your teaching. Those problems can become research questions that can be approached with scholarly methods and skills. Phoebe wants to go beyond assessing her teaching through anecdotal accounts of students’ learning to examining students’ learning processes in an evidence-based way.
We are excited to celebrate Phoebe’s accomplishments and we look forward to following her work in the SOTL area!
Note: If you are interested in exploring any of the technologies mentioned in this article, please reach out to us at ASSETT@colorado.edu for a consultation.