Digital Literacy: The New Educator Evaluation

A case for establishing digital literacy as a new standard for teaching evaluations and a benchmark for the modern higher-education professional.

The role of the teacher has always been to expand learning.

The predisposition of the teacher has been inclined to the search for knowledge and a natural curiosity to learn more. The requirements needed to apply for the position within higher education have always included knowledge, skill sets, and certifications. Educators, by definition, are employed to manage students and convey information clearly, using their position of authority to present new concepts and to affect positive learning outcomes in the classroom.

From learning new subjects to adopting new techniques, the requirement for this position grew to include a working knowledge of technology, an understanding of social media, and a proficiency in digital communication. With these, instructors can stay ahead of the curve and develop strategies and teaching techniques that resonate with a continuously evolving student body and campus culture. Without them, educators risk becoming irrelevant to the students and ineffective for the school to which they are employed.

Throughout our series, we consistently echo that EdTech (educational technology) is becoming relevant to all students, by both helping to deliver improved learning outcomes and by increasing students’ digital literacy. Numerous technologies are now used in educational institutions all around the country to deliver blended and personalized content, to reduce dropout rates, and to motivate students to learn, among other benefits, all of which are helping to improve learning outcomes.

A top-down approach to leadership in education technology…

We can observe an example of the changing requirements for today’s educators by evaluating a top-down approach to leadership in education technology, such as San Diego State University’s 2014-2015 Strategic Plan. This shows how continuous curiosity can be built into the campus culture. In priority area one of the document, Promote Student Success Across the University, the second part of the initiative states, “Second, we are attempting to identify pedagogical and technological improvements and innovations that will enhance academic success and progress to degree.”

The campus’ Strategic Plan Learning Analytics Working Group demonstrated that “providing information about appropriate academic behavior triggered by students’ poor academic habits (e.g., not attending class) reduced failing grades for Pell-eligible students in an Introductory Psychology course.” This year, new courses are being explored with more detailed triggers and more extensive interventions with the goal of significantly reducing failure rates.

A recent K-20 Survey by The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) shows secondary education smart-device users are now providing real value from the data collected while engaging with these tools. Current tech-based pedagogy usage rates show important uses among university-level adopters. Showcasing just how prevalent the changes for teaching requirements have become in the modern classroom, 80% report tracking of student performance, 70% report usages to improve instruction, 60% identify student instructional needs, and 50% attempt to personalize student learning.

From the professor: More devices, more possibilities, more questions…

I am part of the generation that grew up on TV and marvelled when a fourth network (FOX) was proposed – why did we need another? I also saw the birth of CNN, MTV, and HBO, and I watched technology evolve as the way we consumed media changed faster than we could understand.

I saw Pong turn into Atari, and I watched a PC turn into a Mac. AOL grew to become Social Media, and everyone above the age of 21 just tried to keep up. Pay phones dissolved, mobile phones evolved and all of it – everything – is now wrapped up in a smartphone to do anything we can imagine.

Simply owning the smartphone, however, is not enough. True digital literacy requires an understanding of the technology and the skills to operate, all while forming competencies and a critical reflection on how these skills and competencies can be best applied. The idea of social engagement and interaction – both during and outside of lectures – is also taking center stage. Increasingly, it’s not just about being able to connect – it’s about actually connecting and then giving that connection meaning and purpose.

As the roles and the desired outcomes evolve, we’re left with as many questions as answers. How do we get professors to participate in this process? How do we provide sustainable digital literacy support once they do engage? How do we demonstrate that digital literacy should be compulsory and expected rather than an “optional” strategy?

Most importantly: What does a successful approach to digital literacy look like, from all perspectives?

From the student: The changing of the no-tech tide…

Throughout my academic career, I have frequently found myself defending my early-adopter status while using technology as the mechanism for receiving and organizing information. After returning from the private sector and navigating my way through my undergraduate degree, I have found my mobile technology is becoming increasingly useful both inside and outside of lecture hours.

I see my digital literacy as an “enhancer” that supplements all of my other areas of intelligence. I have apps that help manage and expand my awareness on nearly every aspect of my life, including my education.

At almost 30 years of age, I have spent nearly half my life developing this skill, only to be told it has no place in the classroom when I arrived at my first two-year campus. After transferring to SDSU, I can recall a heated “EdTech policy” debate with a past professor who yelled, “I have been fighting against this crap my whole career!” Today, I think back and wonder why this individual’s perspective was placing us on opposite sides of some “battle” over the dos and don’ts of modern-day learning.

Fortunately, this trend is slowing, and more campuses and educators are becoming open to the idea of working with technology, rather than against it. The necessary due diligence coming from expanding literature and peer-reviewed publications on new tech-based pedagogy is opening up the classrooms to a new type of educator who will meet the demands of the new type of student.

As the requirements for teaching in the modern high-education classroom continue to change, I find the population most benefitting is the student body. By bridging the gap between professors and technology, these changes bring the three points – educators, technology, and students – closer, resulting in better learning outcomes for all.

Educators strive to expand learning, and what better way to accomplish this task than by utilizing the devices students are most prone to leverage for their benefit?

A prevailing approach…

Commonly, we hear about either top-down (administrative-led) or bottom-up (student-led) approaches to employing technology inside the classroom. Why not both? Never has each side of the podium had so much to offer each other – the professors with their expertise and training and the students with their firm grasp of the latest trends and technologies. By leveraging both, we can facilitate positive learning outcomes that have never been achieved before.

Some administrators are taking the lead by researching best practices, identifying solutions, and re-examining the standards required to teach in their schools. Students, meanwhile, impact the classroom by expanding how we communicate. Social media have always been lead by younger demographics and early technology adopters. Everyone else remains trying to catch up, but the shift is generational and will continue.

Bridging the two requires leadership, time, opportunities for peer-supported training, and the incentive to take a step in the EdTech direction to improve adoption, implementation and success. It also requires adequate bandwidth, infrastructure, and support. Administrators can do their part to create an environment for success by providing the infrastructure – literally and figuratively – to support the program, while students will continue to hold up their end of the deal simply by purposefully leveraging the devices they’re already using in class.

The benefits of incorporating a hybrid top-down and bottom-up approach become clearer with each success story shared. The professional requirements for teaching with technology in the higher-education classroom are still changing – and they will continue to do so as long as technology changes – but the desired outcome remains the same: expand the learning.

For professors: How has technology impacted the way you teach? What two examples – one positive and one negative – best represent your experiences with technology in the classroom?

For students: How are professors using technology on your campus? What works and what doesn’t? Have you experienced any triumphs, something that made you stop and say, “That was really cool” regarding a professor’s use of technology in the classroom?

Join the conversation and tell us what you’ve experienced.

All of us know more than one of us. As we conclude this blog series, our collective contributions will prove valuable in extending this learning. Share the article with a friend or colleague and see what they think, as well.

Follow authors Kevin Popovic and Ryan Vanshur as we continue to share our own experiences and insights. Please connect with us on LinkedIn to speak directly.

Creating Engagement in the Classroom: Download Your Free ebook

San Diego State University Lecturer Kevin Popović and SDSU student Ryan Vanshur combine their learnings about improving the classroom dynamic with their mutual experience and research, creating an insightful look into the strategies and technologies that influence today’s faculty and students.

Click here to download Your Free ebook

The Tech-Enabled Learning Environment: Digital Literacy and Classroom Integrity

How tech-enabled classrooms are changing responsibilities on both sides of the podium.

The adage “You can’t stop progress” rings as true as ever inside the walls of academia.

New technology continues to emerge and influence the higher-education learning environment, and the exposure to these advancements influences the way all of us communicate – some more than others.

Students now own all the hardware and software they want, from one source or another, and they combine it with immediate and unlimited access to digital content, resources, and databases. They’re connected to nearly everything at all times, making them the most technologically equipped students in history.

Along with this, the recent Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative encourages students to use their own personal electronic devices (smartphones, tablets) during class time to supplement learning. When available,  most students will choose to participate with their devices, showing a propensity to lean on the digital world to enhance and improve their learning outcomes.

With these new challenges come new opportunities in maintaining integrity in the learning process and, as a result, in the classroom. The opportunities for students to learn increase, but so do the opportunities to lose control of class and discussion. Cheating, unfortunately, is easier than ever as well when students can connect outside of the classroom in private online communities at the press of a button.

The unspoken objection by some in the adopting of edtech currently sounds something like this: “It is easier to keep teaching the same way than to learn new pedagogy and teaching tools.”

For some others, though, these opportunities act as a call to action.

Two Leading Approaches…

Historically,  we’ve observed two prevailing methodologies for preserving a classroom’s integrity.

  1. Rule Compliance – This tells students what they can do and what they can’t do. The teacher sets rules, the students follow them – or they don’t – and the consequences follow as outlined ahead of time.
  2. Honor System – This method offers guidelines for students on what they should do, establishing a moral compass that can support learning and goals. In some schools and to some students, this means something. To others, it does not.

When integrating technology into the learning process, a hybrid of the two methods is often applied to best preserve integrity. The balance is dictated by the educator, and it is based on appropriateness, applicability, impact on learning, personal style and skill set. This requires the professor to become more invested with his students and how they operate, something that ultimately may result in better outcomes for both sides.

In order to establish a healthy tech-culture, though, the educator must become a digital citizen. This is an understanding of what you can use in the classroom as much as it is a working understanding of how students communicate today.

We mentioned in our last post that preparing students for the real world requires us to prepare them to be digitally literate, and this mentality holds true in the modern classroom. However, it also holds true for the professor. To connect with the evolving student of today, the professor too must stay up-to-date and literate with current technologies.

For education professionals, this task can be daunting. Professors are trained in teaching and in their subject matter, not in the changing technology that can bring it to their students. Oftentimes, this deters them from learning new technologies altogether. Being wrong or being misinformed can be embarrassing for a professor, so it becomes their duty to learn the technology on their own or in a workshop-type environment then correctly apply it to their classes.

Leveraging it incorrectly is potentially  more harmful than not leveraging it at all, so many take the noncommittal route over potential failure.

From The Professor…

Personally, I’m an advocate of purposeful technology in the classroom. From entertainment to engagement, technology offers me different ways to improve my material and my classroom. As an educator, I like having options and I’ll often test, from semester to semester, what works and what works better.

I also use technology to communicate, both for personal and professional purposes. Multiple devices, multiple platforms, multiple formats. It’s part of my profession as well as my personal style. This comfort level, and the success I have in the classroom, is what keeps me in the edtech game.

I also see my students using the same tech and the same tools, and they respond to the media that are most like theirs. When I use a medium they do not understand it impedes their interest, their ability, and their engagement. When we meet somewhere in the middle, though, we both get what we want out of class.

To maximize the effectiveness of this strategy, a culture of responsibility and trust is required to foster the classroom dynamic and to encourage collaboration from all stakeholders in the educational experience. A tech-enabled classroom, in this example, requires inputs from both professor and students to create valuable outputs.

Traditionally, classroom technology has been created to integrate within the confines of existing systems of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. Today, these edtech innovations, combined with the widespread adoption and access to Internet, are transforming the old educational infrastructure and creating a fresh set of challenges and opportunities left to be explored. And what better place to do this than in academic institutions?

Where edtech used to be a specialty, and it’s now compulsory. Digital literacy (for educators ) helps you get hired and stay relevant among the new breed of educators who are coming into teaching already mobile-savvy and equipped to integrate modern technologies into their lesson plans.

Stay on top of current technologies and how you can leverage them in the classroom, and you can stay afloat – and thrive – in the modern teaching environment.

From The Student…

Right now, I am just a couple semesters away from completing my undergraduate coursework, and in my experience with higher education, it has felt very transitive in nature. Early on, I thought education was something that was done to me – a one-way street where the teacher teaches, I listen, and the conversation ends there.

Recently, I have noticed a slow but steadily growing body of students who want a voice in their learning process. This growing population of students see education as something to be done with and by students, rather than just to us. They’re tearing down the one-way street signs and opening up multi-lane educational highways.

If it is true that learners more readily adopt and adapt technology, perhaps technology has an important role to play in encouraging student expression, creating more meaningful connections, and increasing the motivation to engage in the learning process.

Combined with useful analytics, a more sophisticated approach to our evaluations and assessments can be developed to result in better learning outcomes moving forward.

What We Know Works…

The power of candor.  San Diego State University’s Dr. Jennifer Imazeki has explored this topic in great detail, producing several insightful studies and reports as a result.

Recently, she talked about utilizing the BYOD approach to create better learning outcomes. Chiefly, she suggested treating students like adults. While it may seem obvious, it’s not a tenant that is universally applied in the modern classroom.

Telling students up front they will be expected to use their mobile devices to answer questions throughout the lecture – not to send texts, snaps, or tweets – Dr. Imazeki establishes a baseline level of respect and appropriate use of technology. This is a perfect example of the hybrid “rule compliance” and “honor system” we mentioned earlier. There’s no explicit penalty to using a mobile device improperly, but she plays on the students’ morality  a touch by letting them know on day one it’s inappropriate and unbecoming to do so.

Engage, engage, engage. When students get bored, they drift away, and they fall back on the methods of combatting boredom they use at home: their mobile devices or laptops. By repeatedly engaging students, Dr. Imazaki concludes, professors can better reach their students and keep them tuned-in for the lesson’s duration.

“I am convinced that the best weapon against any of these distractions is to make sure students are fully-engaged in the class,” she says. “If I see too many students on their phones when I think they should not be, it is a signal to me that I must do something to re-engage their attention.”

Limit response times to reduce the temptation to cheat. Given enough time to respond to in-class prompts, students will find a way to cheat. One text to a friend, one quick scan of Google search results, and they can find the correct answer quickly and easily. By limiting response times to “about one minute,” Dr. Imazeki finds, students are less inclined to cheat. It’s simply not enough time to get what they’re looking for, and they’ll instead work to answer the question as intended.

It’s important to note that innovation in higher education does not necessarily require high-tech or complex solutions. Often, innovation is about establishing an attitude or culture around solutions that use existing, easy-to-use and common ideas that are a familiar part of learners’ everyday lives, such as social networks, games, and discussion forums. By managing the culture of the classroom, as Dr. Imazeki does, one can improve learning outcomes and teaching outcomes alike.

Tech-based Checks and Balances

One of the biggest and most common challenges educators face is maintaining integrity in more qualitative forms of evaluation. Turnitin is a tool that analyzes students written work and checks for plagiarism within the content. Having a system to pre-screen for this type of behavior saves significant time off the grading process.

Respondus is another useful tool that provides a lockdown browser to allow for test taking on laptops and PCs. Students engaged in the test are unable to search. As distance learning and hybrid courses become more popular, it’s important to become familiar with new-age methods of dishonesty and understand the solutions to help curb this behavior.

CourseKey is a tool that opens up the must-have educational highways and removes the one-way barriers of the traditional lectures. A unique combination of classroom management and social learning tools offers both students and educators performance and engagement analytics that keep both parties updated on their progress during the entire academic period. Too often the real-time learning environment is unable to capture the learning activity data and tools like these help make this type of information useful.

The Next Step…

The success of technology in the classroom is contingent on the context, culture, and circumstances in which the adoption is executed.

New technologies for learning cannot replace educators – but unless educators know how to leverage these tools, learning will never get any better, either. There’s a clear crossroads in today’s higher-education environment where educators need to adapt and integrate students’ own communications, mobile and online preferences, resulting in many opportunities to engage in new, innovative ways. Identifying the motivation for these being in the classroom helps provide insight into what an educator should choose and how they can be best implemented.

For professors: Do you find educational technology to play a supportive or disruptive role in higher education? How do you minimize students’ improper use of technology in the classroom to maintain classroom integrity.

For students: How do professors engage you with technology inside the classroom? What makes you want to stay off your phone or computer when you’re in class?

Join the conversation and tell us what you’ve experienced on campus.

As we continue to analyze and discuss more issues like this one throughout the blog series, our collective contributions will prove valuable. Share the article with a friend or colleague and see what they think, as well. All of us know more than one of us.

Follow authors Kevin Popovic and Ryan Vanshur as we continue to share our own experiences and insights. Please connect with us on LinkedIn to speak directly.

Creating Engagement in the Classroom: Download Your Free ebook

 San Diego State University Lecturer Kevin Popović and SDSU student Ryan Vanshur combine their learnings about improving the classroom dynamic with their mutual experience and research, creating an insightful look into the strategies and technologies that influence today’s faculty and students.

Click here to download Your Free ebook

Social Learning: Understanding Front and Back-End Classroom Facilitation

How the combination of front-end (educator created) and back-end (student created) strategies can enhance learning outcomes.

Today’s educators are responsible for more than just direct lectures.

The content organization, instructional design, and delivery structure for their lessons must be well-planned and duly-executed. New learning and research shows that educators should consider the multiple channels of communication that are available today. They also need to evaluate the tools, technologies, and curricula that will need to be in place to facilitate student discussions outside of the classroom.

If not provided by the educator, students may put these plans into motion themselves, and the instructor may not get an invite to join this conversation. The educator, then, should look to spearheading the creation of an online group of community where they can interact with their students. Many professionals assert that the teacher has a duty to become digitally literate to remain relevant in the classroom and to continue to connect with their students into the future.

A Point of Discussion: Instant Access to Unlimited Information vs. Memorization and Specialization

Frequently, a conversation arises in our field: Is using your smartphone to find information dishonest or is it an efficient use of time and technology? Not sure where you stand on this issue?

I think this is an important conversation to have. Teachers are charged with teaching – supplying and applying information, providing context, and building skills. If one of the goals of education is to prepare the student for the real-world working environment, then teaching a student to use technology to solve problems and complete tasks is on task.

Now, students may look at this as a shortcut, i.e., “All I have to do is search for the answer,” and often they will reference an answer on the first page to complete the task. The first answer may not be the right answer, but experience and repetition will teach them this. Only by constantly utilizing this means of gathering information can they tailor the methods that work best for them and that produce consistently positive results.

Front-End and Back-End Classroom Facilitation Explained…

When describing “Front-End Classroom Facilitation,” we’re talking about strategies that are traditionally instructor-dominated. The teacher has been hired to teach and to perform as they were instructed during their own education. They know to create a syllabus, develop the course materials, and deliver a program that fits the defined class parameters (i.e., three days a week for 50 minutes for 16 weeks). Add some homework and a couple well-placed tests, and you have a traditional three-credit semester course.

In this method, teacher often utilize Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard. The addition of an LMS to a classroom provides online access to the class materials as well as a schedule of assignments. An LMS also offers the ability to test and to turn in assignments online, and a real-time report on the grades for the class, pending a timely submission from the teacher.

Supplementing this world of online enhancement, ebooks and Publisher Adaptive Learning Programs provide the materials and references for the class in a digital format, some with audio tracks or linked resources which are updated automatically as the publisher supplies them. Other features may include interactivity, feedback and support.

But in many cases, learning is no longer a one-way street dictated solely by the professor. “Back-End Classroom Facilitation” refers to those strategies, groups, and communities arranged by students to supplement and facilitate their learning. These newer, student-dominated strategies are rising in popularity, concurrently with the technologies that enable them.

Today, the use of social media and chat apps is a wildly popular approach for students to organize outside the classroom. Private Facebook groups allow students to quickly and easily share materials, due dates, etc. Missed a class? Just make a quick post in the Facebook group – the other members will see your post, and they’ll respond (usually) in a timely fashion. These groups are accessible anywhere Facebook is – from a personal computer, mobile phone, or tablet.

The invention and evolution of cloud-based services, such as Google Docs and Dropbox, function similarly. Students assemble in one place, uploading materials and leaving comments and notes as they need. With these platforms, information is even available offline, meaning a student can access the material even when a data or WiFi connection is unavailable. They won’t be able to share and discuss the content in real-time, but being able to view a PDF or study guide wherever, whenever is a distinct advantage for today’s students.

Online tools, like Quizlet, are also gaining notoriety as a valid back-end learning strategy. With this, students can create flashcards and review materials, which can then be distributed to their classmates. Oh, and there’s an app for that as well, keeping students connected and informed straight from their favorite mobile device.

From the Professor…

In the past, the richer, deeper conversations took place in the classroom, while e-learning from a distance struggled to produce the same level of engagement. Whether it was the digital divide or a lack of bandwidth, the online experience was never able to bring the same level of interaction as the classroom experience. When a student missed a class with a great lecture, they missed a vital piece of the learning puzzle.

This is because face-to-face offers the educator a visual, auditory, and contextual channel of communication to the students, as well as a means to gather and to respond to feedback from students on what they have provided.

Today, technology allows the replication of face-to-face with webcams, video chat and text-based (SMS) sharing as additional channels of communication and audience response tools. These, however, require educators to learn a new pedagogical environment and strategy that works with their courseware and teaching style.

Mobile pedagogy is not a replacement for a teacher leading in the classroom by any means. Rather, it serves as a supplement to traditional lectures and extends the times for the learning environment past normal class times – from a synchronous experience to asynchronous – and many, like me, believe this is for the better.

From the Student…

It can be argued that more learning takes place after the lecture than during, especially in larger lectures that are limited to a one-way presentation format covering a significant amount of content in a relatively short period of time.

Multiple times I have had the experience of teaching myself the textbook as a result of not being able to adapt to the stadium-seating, massive learning environment. What really saved me was access to my peers through alternative modes of communication. The lack of opportunities for student expression in the live lecture were supplemented by our own preferred methods, social chat platforms. When the professor’s pedagogy is not equipped to facilitate student engagement, we tend to gravitate toward what is familiar, our own mobile-based, virtual extension of the classroom.

When asked about his experience with student-led learning initiatives, SDSU student Derek Argonza echoed these sentiments.

“I have worked together with other students on projects in live chat rooms and library study groups,” he said. “Social media groups are also very useful for planning study groups and staying on top of the class updates. In the end, it takes leadership of outgoing students and professors to create a welcoming atmosphere to ensure that nobody is left out.”

A professor who masters mobile-based pedagogy can enhance the sense of learning community among his students by encouraging the use of alternative learning environments. Today, mobile-learning allows for quick and reliable exchanges of information and valuable communication outside of class time. It also offers tools to engage in peer-supported learning while having the advantage of not requiring a specific time or location.

What We’ve Seen Work…

A) Educator-led front channels

SDSU Associate Professor Dr. Elizabeth Ann Pollard offers one of the best localized examples of facilitating and encouraging back-end learning in her classes. A recent publication of hers discusses the value of this method, detailing how she applies it to generate the best learning outcomes for her students.

“Although I had heard of a concept called ‘backchannel learning’ and was eager to open that backchannel to transform the one-way nature of the conversation into a bi- or even multi-directional learning environment, I had not yet settled upon a technology that could facilitate the interactivity, responsiveness, and engagement for which I yearned,” she said.

Primarily utilizing Twitter to accomplish her goals, however, she unveiled some unique outcomes.

“…while Twitter was used during class sessions (or mid-day), as I had hoped, Twitter was also used by both students and me later in the day—after classes—to digest what had happened in class and even later into the evening (television primetime, when one would almost never imagine student engagement with course materials),” she mentions in her case study linked above. “

While this may not always provide the solution needed for a particular classroom, Dr. Pollard’s methods have shown merit and should be considered moving forward.

B) Student-led back channels…

At the start of every semester, there should be a student in every class who copies the class email list from whichever LMS the campus uses and invites the entire roster to a Facebook chat group.

With this, though, there is always one person in every class who never gets the invite: the professor. The problem with that is the professor is the one person who can drive conversations further than a student-only conversation can go. The professor can also help dial back those who go too far down the wrong path or those who are forgetting something critical to the discussion.

Despite these benefits of including the professors, they are usually not invited because many students feel this is more invasive. Their Facebook group is just that – theirs – and it’s a place they can chat freely and discuss the class without any repercussions on the administrative level.

C) Combining the two…

Somewhere in the middle of strictly professor-led and strictly student-led applications are web-based applications that facilitate social learning as part of a larger platform tied to attendance, grades, and materials – a digital classroom, relevant to the needs of both teachers and students.

Web-based applications, like CourseKey, bring the required tools and preferred types of classroom communication into play. These types of solutions provide a place for social learning and the need to connect on personal social networks is no longer a requirement. An application like this is less invasive into everyone’s personal life and the “Hawthorne effect” of a moderated communication channel keeps discussions relevant and appropriate.

In this situation students and teachers can mingle together, creating an environment where each can contribute and each can enhance the other’s learning. Students and teachers can interact with each other in real time 24-7 to create study groups, share content or answer each other’s questions.

Share Your Experiences…

These evolutions are already happening in the classroom, one way or another. The way people communicate is changing, and the student demographic adapts more quickly than others because they have grown up with the technology. It’s familiar to them and even ingrained in their very being. They’ve never known a life without the Internet, so they weave it into everything they do, including learning in the classroom.

Older demographics, like teachers, generally learn new technology that replaces old technology they had previously learned when they were of a younger, more adaptive age. Leveraging student-led learning initiatives and incorporating these into the traditional instructor-led strategies creates a collaborative environment where both educators and students are contributing to the learning process.

For professors: How do you encourage back-end learning in your classrooms? Are you a part of your students’ outside groups and communities? If not, how can you bridge the gap to enter into that conversation to further facilitate positive learning outcomes?

For students: What types of back-end learning environments do you prefer? What is the singular best experience you’ve had utilizing these tools and applications? How are professors encouraging you to use them?

Join the conversation and tell us about your campus’ social learning preferences.

As we continue to analyze and discuss more issues like this one throughout the blog series, our collective contributions will prove valuable. Share the article with a friend or colleague and see what they think, as well. All of us know more than one of us.

Follow authors Kevin Popovic and Ryan Vanshur as we continue to share our own experiences and insights. Please connect with us on LinkedIn to speak directly.

Creating Engagement in the Classroom: Download Your Free ebook

 San Diego State University Lecturer Kevin Popović and SDSU student Ryan Vanshur combine their learnings about improving the classroom dynamic with their mutual experience and research, creating an insightful look into the strategies and technologies that influence today’s faculty and students.

Click here to download Your Free ebook

Mobile-Enabled Students and Social Learning

How the rise of tech-enabled students influences the opportunities for classroom engagement using data-driven teaching practices.

The barrier to technology in the classroom is not what it used to be.

In the past, there was a perceived lack of technology for the “modern” classroom. Teachers had to share what they did have, and it never seemed there was enough to go around. In response, grants from foundations and line items from school districts rose to prominence and were aimed at increasing the technological capacity of learning.

This certainly helped bring high-tech devices to the classroom, but as the learning environment evolved, so too did the application of technology inside it. As of 2014, 86% of undergraduate students own a smart device, and 47% own a tablet. The latter category is rapidly becoming a do-it-all solution for students, featuring benefits such as an Internet connection, cameras and GPS, etc. These components make tablets in particular a cost-effective way to create a tech-enabled learning environment without the burden of smart-classroom investments by the campus.

Whereas before the classroom need to be equipped with smart devices such as smart boards, computers and compatible high-definition projectors, etc., today the concept of “bring your own device (BYOD)” makes any classroom a “smart classroom.”

And the students are buying in.

Fifty percent of students report doing daily work from smart-devices, which is low compared to the 87% adoption rate. While this suggests the other 37% usage is distractive, rather than usage as a learning tool, it does show that a majority of students use their smart devices for learning purposes.

This is a win-win-win. The teacher has the technology they once needed, the student can use the device of their choice, and the school doesn’t have to pay for anything. It is helpful to provide a reliable wireless network as an infrastructure, but with students paying for “unlimited data” and in many cases utilizing a “hotspot” or similar connection of their own, it’s not a deal breaker.

Some teachers think there’s too much technology in the classroom in the form of distractions – and there’s merit to this claim. It’s tough to reach a student when they’re checking in on Snapchat or posting on Instagram. The discussion, then, should debate whether mobile technology has created classroom distractions or learning tools, with the ideal outcome being tech-enabled students and a crowdsourced smart-class via the concept of BYOD, offering opportunities for a new type of mobile pedagogy.

A Look at the Application of Technology in the Classroom…

Just because technology is available does not mean it gets utilized. Only 30% of educators design mobile technology into their classes, and 55% actually ban or discourage use of devices in the classroom altogether. BYOD doesn’t stand a chance if the professor prohibits the use.

The early-adopters and faculty members who tried to leverage technology and a BYOD approach in the classroom at first lacked campus infrastructure and support. There was also a divide between the have and the have nots. Many students still did not have a device or access. As a result, teachers experienced varied success. The attraction of being an innovator lost its appeal as the great promises of “learning for all” proved still out of reach and the walls remained in the classroom of the future. The technology arrived, but not everybody could participate, leaving instructors right where they started.

As such, the idea of mobile-based learning environments became tarnished for some time. Faculty also needed adequate campus support, educator training, clearly defined campus standards and policies, etc. for the methods to succeed. One enthusiastic professor and a couple student zealots does not a paradigm shift make.

Even though the concept of BYOD seemingly takes the burden off the university, there needs to be a buy in on every level – from the school to the faculty to the students – for the application to work. The methods and technologies have changed, but the idea of a coherent, well structured approach has not. It still starts with a plan.

From the Professor…

Most faculty can remember when the addition of a television on a mobile cart was a big deal for a classroom. An even bigger deal was when an oversized VCR was added to replay content when needed, instead of structuring the class around a single broadcast time. The subsequent additions of cable, a video projector and a desktop computer continued to raise the cost of providing the best-practice resources touted by business and education.

And as the technological inventory expanded, so did the working knowledge required to run it all. When the TV went out of focus, you could hit it on the side to get it to work. When the VCR didn’t eject the tape, you could unlpug it and plug it back in to reset the device. The video projector had multiple inputs. In the right hands, this provided an opportunity to create a crystal-clear, immersive experience. For the untrained, the inputs were a maze where each new capability brought a chance for something to not work as planned.

The desktop computer took everything to a new level and really raised the bar, requiring a working knowledge of technology that has proven to be a digital divide some educators still have not been able to cross.

For years, it was the school that did not provide what teachers needed to employ technology. But today, it’s often not the lack of technology in the classroom, it’s the lack of application to the class.

Effective use of mobile technology in learning requires digital literacy from both teachers and students. We must know how to find, organize, and evaluate the digital world of infinite information. Students look to universities and educators to show them how to learn, and if mobile is not part of the education they will use their devices in distracting ways until someone educates them on the potential to leverage it as a learning tool.

Add in social media, and the lack of education reaches a critical mass, creating a ball of confusion. To the student, it’s simply how they communicate today. To most educators, it’s a giant distraction and a gesture of disrespect.

But in reality, it’s not. It’s another type of learning that is happening inside and outside of your classroom, and learning how to apply it to your class, lessons, and activities could make life easier on both sides of the podium.

From the Student…

Whenever I come across a professor that does not allow technology in their classroom, I immediately know one thing: They do not understand the students they are educating.

I have met professors who believe they are tech-savvy because they just bought the latest iPhone. In one conversation, that same professor explained how they have been teaching the same way for 20 years and “knew what they were doing by now.” It is always interesting to see the same professor who identifies as a “techie” openly admit they are still teaching on a Windows 95 operating system. By banning the use of smart-devices, educators limit communication that takes place through their students’ preferred method: mobile technology.

Today, we are not limited to the boundaries of the traditional classroom, and we can now connect the inside and outside learning experiences while capturing analytics for student improvement and mobile-based pedagogy. Mobile is the way we communicate, gather information, focus our time and attention, and it’s the next evolution in how students are learning.

When educators become digitally literate, they are able to communicate in a language their students understand regardless of academic disciplines, languages, and cultures. Across the podium, students have a duty to prove that we are capable of doing more than just taking selfies. Playing games, surfing for cute kitty pics, and other unproductive activities are the poorest use of our smart-devices, so there’s a two-way burden to showcase a valid, appropriate use of technology in the classroom.

What We’ve Seen Work…

Any solution starts with a conversation. Educators must initiate the conversation about social learning with university administration and students alike. In the classroom, it’s important to suggest the concept to students, allowing them to support each other on the platform of their choice. Once you have a foundation, you can begin to build your mobile-learning strategy from the ground up.

Make yourself available on social channels. We don’t always get to choose the ways students have talked with us in the past. Students had the option to chat with professors before class, during class, at the office, on the phone and not much else. As educators, we were happy they talked to us at all, so why should we define the way the talk to us today? Be available on the social channels where your students are. You don’t have to be “fluent” to speak to them, just conversational.

Provide a social learning environment for them to organize and communicate. Learning platforms, like CourseKey, will provide a socially enabled web platform for students to easily organize topics, discussions, and interactions based on their needs. Students can chat with each other about the current lesson or pose questions to the professor on the fly from the smart device of their choosing, allowing them to be more plugged in than ever to lessons.

Share Your Experiences…

Whichever solution looks most promising, it’s all about having the right tool for the right job. Technology will not fix a broken curriculum, but it can better engage students where they already are. Extend the learning outside the classroom, and the impact of the teacher will be felt long after class was dismissed.

For professors: How do you leverage technology inside the classroom? Have you encourage a BYOD approach? Why or why not? If you have, how has it worked for you?

For students: What do you like to see from your professors? If you’ve been in both tech-friendly and tech-unfriendly classrooms, which one engaged you better? What were the pros and cons – from your perspective – of each?

Join the conversation and tell us about your campus’ mobile culture – leave a comment below.

As we continue to analyze and discuss more issues like this one throughout the blog series, our collective contributions will prove valuable. Share the article with a friend or colleague and see what they think, as well. All of us know more than one of us.

Follow authors Kevin Popovic and Ryan Vanshur as we continue to share our own experiences and insights. Please connect with us on LinkedIn to speak directly.

Creating Engagement in the Classroom: Download Your Free ebook

San Diego State University Lecturer Kevin Popović and SDSU student Ryan Vanshur combine their learnings about improving the classroom dynamic with their mutual experience and research, creating an insightful look into the strategies and technologies that influence today’s faculty and students.

Click here to download Your Free ebook

Formative Assessments and Real-Time Results

How capturing real-time data helps educators keep their finger on the pulse of the higher-education classroom.

Here’s a secret you may not be privy to, students: Professors are always assessing your performance.

In today’s crowded and increasingly less intimate classrooms, it may not seem like educators are keeping their fingers on the pulse of the class, but we are. As the classroom has evolved, so have professors’ techniques for accomplishing this goal. In past years, thorough, sweeping assessments—like midterms and finals—were the go-to methods for instructors to gauge learning in the classroom. Classes identified as “midterm and final only” were high stakes and high pressure, but the importance of these assessments was always well known, so students generally prepared accordingly.

But there’s another way for an educator to see what’s working and what’s not.

While midterms and finals still have merit (and likely always will), technological advances allow professors to assess student learning and understanding in a way never before possible. Contemporary methods permit for the capture of real-time data, allowing professors to make adjustments day-by-day, and week by week – before it’s too late.

Two Leading Methods Defined…

Historically, summative assessments – such as term papers, midterms, and finals – served as the primary measure of comprehension in the classroom. This type of assessment is intentionally kept separate from the lecture and is designed to assess students at the end of a given learning cycle. The results are usually measured against some predetermined benchmark, like the students from last semester or a target grade point average established with the syllabus. Unfortunately, the high-stakes nature of these assessments can create higher rates of stress for some students and instigate academic dishonesty.

Formative assessments—which have been around since the 1960s but have only more recently begun to boom in popularity—differ from summative assessments in that they can be formal or informal, they’re highly varied, and they monitor in-progress learning. That last point is key—a formative assessment measures a student’s comprehension as they progress through a lesson or activity, allowing the professor to gather real-time data and insights to help hone future classes to better serve each student’s unique needs. Today, the formative assessment is widely considered to be one of the more effective instructional strategies used by teachers, and there is a growing body of research to evaluate and assess these strategies.

From the Professor…

As a professor, I understand the role of a mid-term (summative assessment) to understand how each student is doing, from a big picture perspective, just as I understand its role at the end of a semester to measure how they did. Similar assessments, like a term paper or an individual presentation, provides an opportunity to look at the students understanding of the material cumulatively presented and purposefully applied.

The role of formative, though, fills in all the blanks in between. Blanks like, “Do the students understand the material I presented from week one?” Am I okay proceeding, as planned in my syllabus, to move on to the next concept in week two which builds off of a foundation from week one? If they don’t get the basics how can I move on? The answer may not be what you think.

I can move on, and often do because the syllabus says I am supposed to, and if I don’t I will not be able to cover all of the material required to be presented in my class. If I don’t present all of the material required to be presented  in my class then I have to explain why not, and “because I couldn’t get my students to learn the material” is not a good answer from a professional (paid) educator to their employer.

Formative assessments, like a scored quiz after my required reading, helps increase the percentage of students who read the assigned article and assess the individual’s understanding. A low score may indicate lack of participation, or a challenge with the material, which initiates an inquiry: “What happened on the quiz?” Based on this answer I can help the student within the first week: now, when they need help. The same types of assessments happen weeks two through eight so that I don’t have a classroom full of students who didn’t “get it” after the (summative) mid-term.

From the Student…

One of the most stressful classes I have ever taken involved a mass of students, stadium seating, and a grade determined by only a midterm and final. Any time I have the opportunity to take a smaller-sized lecture, I take it. The larger the class, the less personalized my learning experiences have been. I have always struggled in these scenarios. I am very hands-on, and I strongly prefer real-world experience to a textbook.

Unfortunately, not many classes offer this type of learning environment. In many cases, students are forced to take classes in massive rooms, surrounded by hundreds of students, just one professor and a TA or two. Opportunities for engagement, social learning, and student expression decrease drastically and the entire educational experience is less impactful.

“My freshman year I took my first ‘college lecture,’” says senior Ana Luca. “The class met twice a week, but the only points that counted toward my grade were the midterm and final exam. I was always nervous and exhausted from cramming for the exams before going in.”

“I love the idea of a one-on-one learning experience—a class where I know the instructor, the instructor knows me, and if I’m ever confused on a topic or absent from class, someone actually notices,” says sophomore Diana Pham. “But the truth is, I haven’t had that since high school.”

“Most of my large lecture classes have few weighted assignments that can make or break your grade,” says senior Kelly Lee. “I prefer smaller classes where I can have a more personal experience as well as many assignments to grade from instead of just those three exams or a huge term paper.”

Three Proven Formative Assessments…

  1. Questions Asked to Individual Students During the Lecture

A targeted question-and-answer session is one of the most common formative assessments seen in the higher-education classroom. The professor can ask questions at any time throughout a lecture, seeking out specific responses from specific students to gauge their learning. This is particularly beneficial as the professor gets to know their students. If the instructor knows a particular student struggles in a particular area and has shown up for office hours for help there, the professor can ask them a question during class to make sure the out-of-class learning stuck.

  1. Peer-review Sessions or Self-assessment Exercises

Peer review sessions and self-assessment exercises—where students assume a dual student/professor role—also allow for the real-time capture of the classroom’s strengths and weaknesses. By encouraging the students to rate and grade their work in pairs or groups, the professor can save time and identify trends throughout the classroom as a whole. If several students are noticing the same problems, that’s something the professor can address at length during the next lecture. Depending on the expected outcomes of these exercises, though, professors could notice some academic dishonesty here, as well. Students are sometimes not honest in the assessment of their own learning, and they may also want to take it easy on a friend/peer during their review to avoid any backlash.

  1. Real-time Assessment

Real-time assessments represent an increasingly popular type of formative assessment in the high-education classroom. Usually, real-time assessments involve technology and present students with questions or polls throughout the class period. Students will respond to the prompts, and the professor will have access to each student’s answers, which they can then use to tweak and modify future lessons/teaching strategies. By seamlessly integrating into the professor’s lecture, real-time assessments keep the class moving smoothly while also assessing learning and allowing students to provide feedback on their experiences.

Many professors, like myself, are including real-time assessments as part of our weekly class presentations. With systems like CourseKey, a well-placed multiple choice question at the end of a concept helps assess each student’s understanding. It can also help me confirm that how I have presented the material to the class is working. A series of questions throughout the lecture provides valuable feedback to the student while they are still in class, where teachers can still help. Adding points to the questions can provide intermittent grading, rewards for participation, and can also contribute to the impetus for attending.

Share Your Experiences…

Both summative and formative assessments have their place in the modern classroom. Tried-and-true, summative assessments were the standard inside the classroom for decades, and they likely will never go away. They’re remarkably thorough and in-depth, assessing a student’s learning throughout the semester in one sweep. Formative assessments, on the other hand, are varied and insightful by nature, capable of molding to each classroom’s unique needs. This gives both professors and students various avenues to express themselves and engage with one another to create better learning outcomes.

With face-to-face, paper-and-pen, and technologically driven options available, each professor can test the waters to determine which type of formative assessment works best for them and their students. Using these assessments to better understand their classroom, professors can then leverage the real-time data collected to tweak and modify future lessons to better serve each student’s needs.

While formative assessments still have their issues—academic dishonesty in peer reviews/self assessments chiefly among them—professors are finding real-time results through technology to be an invaluable combination inside the modern classroom.

For professors: How do you assess your students’ learning? If you utilize summative assessments, what do you like about them? If you’re a proponent of formative assessments, why? Which specific type of either do you use?

For students: What methods help you feel comfortable and engaged during class? If you’ve experienced both formative and summative assessments, what are your thoughts on each?

Leave a comment below to share your experiences.

As we continue to analyze and discuss more issues like this one throughout the blog series, our collective contributions will prove valuable. Share the article with a friend or colleague and see what they think, as well. All of us know more than one of us.

Follow authors Kevin Popovic and Ryan Vanshur as we continue to share our own experiences and insights. Please connect with us on LinkedIn to speak directly.

Creating Engagement in the Classroom: Download Your Free ebook

San Diego State University Lecturer Kevin Popović and SDSU student Ryan Vanshur combine their learnings about improving the classroom dynamic with their mutual experience and research, creating an insightful look into the strategies and technologies that influence today’s faculty and students.

Click here to download Your Free ebook