We’ve Got the Power: Technology, Research, and Collaborative Science

A lot of instructors seem to be intimidated by the idea of bringing technology into the classroom. Personally, I have vacillated between feeling annoyed at students who can’t seem to look up from their laptops at the most engaging moments in my course and feeling as if I, as the teacher, should be doing more to incorporate tech into my instructional style. In my summer Developmental Psychology course, I asked students to present evidence on either side of controversial parenting practices using an interactive discussion board. This semester, in Abnormal Psychology, I used Instagram to illustrate how unfair societal norms regarding women’s bodies contribute to the development of eating disorders. As with all innovations in pedagogy, the response has been mixed, but I don’t regret trying this out.

Benjamin Wiggins’ article, A Pedagogy That Spans Semesters, describes the use of a technological tool that allowed him to carry over the same assignment across multiple semesters. In his Risk and Society class, one major assignment is for students to collaborate on a timeline. Unlike class discussions, the fruits of which tend to evaporate as soon as the first student out opens the door, this assignment preserves student efforts and uses them to set up the work for the subsequent class. As Wiggins points out, no assignment will work indefinitely, as eventually everyone runs out of ideas. In addition, the expectations of each cohort are a bit different: the first cohort has to build a strong foundation, and the last cohort may struggle to connect with the first cohort’s efforts or find little room to expand when adding their contributions.

As I was reading this article, which comes from a history teacher’s perspective, I was struck by how relevant such a framework would be for scientists. After all, isn’t research inherently a long-term collaboration, in the sense that my work builds on those of my predecessors and (hopefully) inspires the next generation to take my ideas a step further? It is relatively easy for me to find out who cited my papers, but it is harder to know exactly how others will take my ideas and what the responses are, unless someone writes a published letter to the journal. In other words, I don’t often get the satisfaction of knowing “how the story ends.” I think it would be so interesting to apply this concept to science courses, in the sense that students would be exposed to the real-world research process and come to appreciate their efforts and how they map onto the network of collaboration rather than merely being interested in the end product.

Technology enables this kind of innovation, and in my view, we should harness its power for good, not evil 🙂

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Filed under Contemporary Pedagogy, Preparing the Future Professoriate

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