Digital Pedagogy & the use of technology in the class

In this blog post we are going to address the issue of the use of technology in the class, be it digital devices or educational tools. A thorough analysis of the pros and cons of different technologies will be done and discussed with respect to our personal experiences in academia. As a team, we felt that it would be more impactful to reflect on our individual experiences and you can read each member’s section below.

Sahil Dudani: Two weeks back, I came across this article “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom” from the Contemporary Pedagogy class at Virginia Tech. The article talks about how the author banned students from having laptops or digital media devices in the classroom based on various observations in the class and the consequences of such a decision. I have mixed feelings about this article because I do have views to present from the viewpoint of the teacher as well as the students. The author realized that students were not very attentive in his class when he asked a question on marriage equality and observed students staring into their screens rather than interacting with him and their fellow classmates. Following this, the author decided to observe other classrooms as well and realized that students were not very focused on the class but were rather busy browsing social media or shopping websites and multitasking. These observations made the author think that multimedia devices and laptops were a big distraction and stood in the way of effective learning, driving him to ban laptops and other such devices in the classroom.

I would like to first start by supporting the author in doing so and how this could potentially improve learning, followed by presenting the students’ views. I agree with the author that multitasking deteriorates the capability of the student to focus on one task and is detrimental to effective learning and students who use laptops in class tend to multitask, hence lacking interest in the class. This also reduces their ability to communicate with the teacher and their peers in case of an interactive learning session. The other aspect of this is the fact that the teacher at some point might eventually become disinterested in teaching a bunch of students who are glued to their screens instead of learning about what is going on in the class.  Another thing that pops up is digital note-taking and one can argue that using pen and paper is equally effective as digital note-taking, based on which the author asked students to take down notes on a paper. The author’s policy also invited some criticism and eventually led to a few students dropping the class.

Now, talking about the point of view of the students, laptops or digital devices may not always be a source of distraction since, in modern times, those devices are really helpful in note-taking, organizing notes and searching for a particular topic easily, hence making them a powerful tool for learning. Besides that, some students may not be comfortable with paper notes because of various issues such as bad handwriting and the fear of losing them. Another important fact is that if a student is not interested in a class, creating forced interest by banning digital devices may eventually cause the student to drop the course because pressing someone to do something they are disinterested in, will cause problems rather than help the student. I understand that students should manage their time, but in a lot of cases, they have deadlines to meet and limited time, hence utilizing their time in the classroom as well.

Hence, I feel that banning digital devices in a classroom is a very sensitive issue that requires a lot of consideration and cannot be based on studies claiming that doing so improves exam results. Such issues are very subjective in nature and should be dealt with in a manner that leads to effective learning without compromising the needs of the students.

Sophia Vicente: Technology in the classroom can be used in many ways, both positive and negative. I’ve found that short activities on their devices can re-engage students and change up the pace in the classroom. In my time teaching, I’ve also witnessed students using their devices for online shopping or texting someone the next row over, even though at the time they likely thought I did not notice. I firmly believe in the student agency in the classroom. Ultimately, students are paying to attend college and to sit in my classroom. If they would prefer to use their time browsing online sales, that is their prerogative. While I personally believe it would be more beneficial for them to be active participants in the class and would prefer that they engage with the material at the end of the day they are paying for a service. This being said, I believe that there is a line between a student choosing to disengage and a student who is distracting their peers. In the second case, that student has the potential to affect their classmates who did not choose to be disengaged or distracted. I believe that there are a lot of ways to integrate technology into the classroom and support student’s learning. I also believe that technology in the classroom is critical for some disabled students who require accommodations such as closed captioning or support with note-taking. In my opinion, the benefits of technology to the students who want to engage and participate in outweighs the negative use of students who are choosing not to engage in the classroom.

Didier Mena Aguilar: I believe that in our day and age, it is very hard to completely subtract the technology from our classrooms. The new generations have an innate need for technology when learning. If we think about it, every time we don’t know something, we quickly google it or watch a YouTube video about it. Personally, as a student, or even in work-related meetings, I constantly look in my phone for concepts and visual aids that help me understand the context better. Therefore, depriving the students of their day to day learning tools might be detrimental for them. Furthermore, as we have discussed as a group, technology should be used as a tool to learn in class. For example, in the course I teach, I include several questions the students need to answer in real-time using their devices. If the students are engaged in the classroom they will not get distracted with their phones and laptops, even when they are using technology for learning or not. Lesson plan and course design are the first tools to overcome some of the hurdles associated with technology in the classroom.  Although there is some data that suggests that technology might be detrimental for learning, I think the benefits outweigh them. In summary, I am a supporter of technology in the classroom!

Kawthar Alrayyan: From my point of you, the transition from in-person classes to online learning is a changing experience for every student and educator around the world that impacted education pedagogy on how to evolve and adapt to the digital tools we have. However, In this blog, Learning how to meaningfully use the digital tool in teaching within the traditional teaching pedagogy is considered as a digital pedagogy, a term that I wasn’t familiar with till I read about it in our contemporary pedagogy class. It is not about throwing away the traditional teaching of face to face but the art of how to apply digital learning and work with it to deliver a better learning experience.

But what impact does banning digital tools in class have? a personal story can reflect on that topic, when I was assisting a well-experienced professor, who is considered as an old fashioned way to educator, always said to me start with traditional non-digital teaching methods so you can be skilled with it if the mean of digital was not available in addition to the reason that if you mastered it you can master any other mean. He showed me that digital learning is a tool to help in delivering mindful learning but not the reason, and it was not smart to digitize all of your course learning methods just to make your life and students’ life easier which required not having any technological tool in class.

Unconsciously, I have applied his method in my teaching, where I always ask the students to not use digital means for our first project in class ( design course) trying to use had drawings, sketching to conceptualize and synthesize their ideas on paper and then transform it using other non-digital tools, as it has been faced with opposition, they enjoyed the process eventually with less distraction, but it doesn’t last as I force them to use the digital means for their second project using what they have learned from the previous and provide same drawings and graphics explaining their ideas and designs. I can’t say that this helped in enhancing their learning outcome, but it helped in creating a better communication mean with each other.

I believe that I am a hybrid learner, which means I enjoy using both methods, at the same time integrating and including students’ preferences within the teaching methodologies. Asking along with every use that worked with them and didn’t work. At the same time considering learning their cognitive skills and knowledge to integrate the best approach. Therefore, try to be open to new learning ideas and technology is evolving fast and better to drive with it.

Leah Hamilton: The approach that I’ve taken to technology in the classroom in the past is largely an approach based around transparency–if I don’t want them to use technology in certain ways in my class, I should be able to explain why that is to my students. My teaching mentor, on the first day of class in the Spring, told the students that in addition to the spiel they always hear about good learning and not being distracting to other students, it makes him feel bad when people are off-topic on their devices during class. I was surprised how well students responded to this, which was not at all a disciplinary approach: several times I witnessed students apologizing after class for a (usually perfectly reasonable) use of technology that wasn’t on the task which neither of us had noticed. I anticipate taking a similar approach when I’m an instructor of record myself, as I’m not generally inclined to take disciplinary action against students for things that are affecting their own learning and not others’. As I see it, I do my students a disservice by leaning on external motivation instead of giving them the skills they need to tackle those obstacles that will continue to be in their way in “real life” (such as the constantly-connected nature of our world). I also have no way of knowing why students are texting in class, or using technology for anything else–I think it’s best to extend students who are non-disruptively “off-task” (or appear to be) the benefit of the doubt.

Problem-Based Learning (A Case from Jordan)

Implementing active learning has proven that it has a positive impact on student engagement and learning. Reading about the benefit of the Problem-Based Learning approach has assured me of the benefits that the school of architecture teaching methods has given me. The cased/problem-based pedagogy is driven by challenging, open-ended problems of multiple right answers designed on making students work as self-directed. The teacher role here is a facilitator for the learning process.
To establish a better understanding of this approach, I decided to reflect on a project base learning example that I facilitated last year in one of my courses. I believe with this example, I can share some beneficial experiences and highlight the main factors that this approach excelled in. The course was designed to try incorporating a real project in collaboration with another university (Nürtingen-Geislingen University) from Germany.
I used to teach Landscape Architecture in the Architectural Department at the German Jordanian University (GJU) in Jordan for 5 years. This course started last year trying to teach the basics of this class by incorporating a problem-based method. To add context for my example, GJU is a university that teaches the German language besides the intended degree to prepare them for their 4th year abroad in Germany where they study and work consecutively. Usually, in design courses within the architectural study, we teach undergraduate by designing existing sites and problems that require analysis, case studies, and end design proposals. Those design projects are supervised and facilitated by instructors and graded along with every phase. Which somehow resemble the approach of cased based learning. However, in this specific class, I thought why not to have a real project with real clients.
The project was introduced at the beginning of class, as I had 15 students and another 15 students from the business department at the other German university (multi-disciplinary). To ensure adequate learning, we divided the class into two phases; the first one is theoretical, lecture bases, bringing up methods and ideas of what is landscape architecture that included small exercises to develop some skills. In addition to that, weekly online meetings with the German students were conducted to provide extra material from guest lecturers. Following that, we have assigned the students into groups with shadow instructors to prepare for phase 2 and to get familiar with the other group. During this phase, the interaction was normal, similar to any regular class of mine, yet you can notice their hidden excitement to start phase 2 and the fun in making new friends outside of their department.
The second part of the course was Phase 2 that had all the fun of this project. We have introduced the target site area for the project ( Ajlun city in Jordan). The German students and staff flew to Jordan for this phase. The goal was to apply what they have learned from phase 1 in a real case situation. All the materials needed for the project were provided by a local person that also organized the meetings with current stakeholders and potential clients. This phase was an intensive 10 days of site visit meetings and interviewing the local community to come up with the initial problems from every group perspective, Supported by their analysis and observations. The student ended up with a solution or a design proposal that applied to their client.
Every group presented their analysis and results, got feedback from all other participants, to enhance and develop the final product. As a result, they have presented the outcome and business models as a presentation for the stakeholders, and clients to hearing feedback and comments. Being part of that was the ultimate achievement.
The students along this journey were engaged, optimistic, passionate, and creative. They initiated to go back to the site, work extra hours, and felt connected with the project and the community. It was designed to advance their skills and solving problem which I believe was accomplished. They learned how to work in groups and under pressure, not to mention that they have enjoyed every moment of it.
What I can conclude from this example is some advice that I had along with this problem-based approach:
  • Always have a back-up plan for any last-minute cancelation
  • Be flexible with the students and the project.
  • Higher expectations may generate pressure for both parties, let the students design these expectations.
  • The final results are not the goal; the process is.
  • Always provide an example and show the best idea presented (what we did was that we let the staff and students chose the best 2 projects for each phase and we put the results on the board after lunch for motivation)
  • Include fun exercises for the group to get familiar with each other
  • If you saw any issues with the group, try to solve it from the beginning as it won’t solve by the time
  • Always share with the client and community; once the project results are shared, the engagement increases.
This approach was a successful one and has been repeated annually for other students to participate in this experience.