Some people love and embrace education technology. Erika Veth is one of those people. She is the Faculty Support Services Manager in the Department of Distance Education at Oregon Institute of Technology (congrats on the new job!). She recently won the grand prize in the cross-curricular category on the Adobe Education Exchange.
She submitted a terrific teaching resource where she got her students to visualize and create exciting multimedia projects. More details (and a student’s video) are available here.
I had the honor of being able to ask Erika a few questions about the role of technology in the classroom, which one is her favorite, the effectiveness of education technology, and more. Below is the interview with Erika. Be sure to check out her entry ‘Take Action!‘ and use it as inspiration for your very own digital media lesson.
1. How often do you let students use digital media in assignments?
It depends on the goal of the assignment. I give three major assignments to students in my Freshman comp class. The first is a straightforward, old fashioned, comparison essay they write in order to learn the processes of organization, invention, and finding deeper meaning in various short stories I assign them.
The second assignment is a lesson in rhetorical situation where they learn about ethos, pathos, and logos, and here they have the opportunity to analyze—not create—media in the form of commercials, websites, and/or political speeches either in podcast or video form. Both of these assignments lead the students up to the final multi-modal research project in which they incorporate the writing skills they’ve been building for the first two-thirds of the semester with their rhetorical analysis skills to create one cogent presentation and research paper.
Of course, when teaching Technical Writing, students are more bound to traditional modes of word-processing. However, I teach this course entirely online and everything we do is digital, from the Skype conferencing to their creation of a company logo when they are learning how to write memos. We also focus a great deal in this class on crafting appropriate emails and considering the rhetoric of digital communication in juxtaposition to phone or in-person communication
Finally, I also teach a literature course entirely on campus. Here we use actual big literary textbooks and though I refuse to use paper in any of the courses I instruct, they do hand in traditional close-reading essays written about the poetry and writings of some of the best authors in history. At the end of this course, I do assign a group research, multi-modal project. Here they must perform scholarly research about an aspect of literary theory and then in a video that they present to the class, they need to apply their researched theory to a text we’ve read that semester. This assignment works well, but still needs a little fine-tuning. For example, one group articulately and gracefully applied Feminist and Queer theory to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but another group missed the mark entirely when they tried to apply Marxist Theory to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not sure if this was lack of clarity on my part when explaining the assignment, or if the group just didn’t understand the theory well enough to reinterpret its application in video form.
2. What do you think is the biggest benefit of using digital media (e.g. Adobe products) in the classroom?
At UAA we are fortunate enough to teach our writing courses in a computer lab equipped with fully-loaded dual-boot Macs at least 50% of the time. We also have the opportunity to use the DCS, or the Digital Composition Studio which has recently been founded in the English Department. Because of these tools, students have access to all sorts of digital media and software including most of the Adobe products. This allows the students to be more productive and engaged in their learning and communication skills.
Teaching them to write persuasively or to conduct primary and secondary research using only the traditional tools (ie. Having them practice drill sheets regarding comma placement or focusing on grammar and punctuation rather than content; as well as taking notes on paper, going home, trying to decipher and remember, then heading to the library and looking for the card catalogue) is not aligned with our changing digital era.
With products like InDesign, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Camtasia, Snagit, and more, students can intuitively create their own digital media and contribute to the classroom discussion in ways they may previously have been barred from doing. The shy student who never speaks now has a voice. The student whose first language is not English has a way to deliver content without the stress of spelling, grammar and punctuation. And lucky for UAA, we have the technical support to help students who don’t even know how to turn on a computer to create a website, video, or podcast persuading others to understand and subscribe to their modern-day arguments and issues. I can’t make the focus of our comp. class the implementation of the technology other than giving a brief overview, so students rely on this valuable resource and the open-computer lab and free tutors in the DCS.
For example, I had one student who had moved to Alaska from Borneo, where she had been raised in a tribal community that was decimated by the destruction of her habitat—the rainforests of Southeast Asia. She created a video detailing the destruction of her culture, community, and the wildlife. When she began the class she wasn’t even sure how to use Blackboard, our LMS at UAA.
By the end of the term she was using various digital formats to inform and persuade others to support her cause and for many of us, to learn about it in the first place. Additionally, she learned even more about what was actually happening to her indigenous country and why it was happening and how to fight it by conducting scholarly, eye-opening research. And I can guarantee you that not one other student in that class had ever really heard of Borneo, let alone been concerned about the plight of its people. They also hadn’t really thought of the fact that people, wild life, and cultures are dying so that they can have two-ply toilet paper.
This is not to say that I ignore the traditional modes. I don’t want their future History instructor to complain that students can’t write, either. Digital media simply provides students with an alternative means to communication in a world moving further away from the traditional pen-and-paper rhetoric. I also don’t require students in this particular class to make a video. If they would rather create a website, brochure, or audio podcast, they are more than welcome to do so. Most, however, choose the video route.
3. Has the usage of online tools noticeably helped students learn and understand the lessons you teach?
Well, my previous answer really speaks to this, but personally, my incorporation and use of things like a SMART board, PowerPoint, Keynote, websites, LMS platforms, YouTube, Elluminate, Camtasia, Screenflow etc. have really changed the way I deliver information. Of course, the primary goal is to focus on the curriculum and the content.
My methods of delivery and engaging students have just been modified to keep up with changing technology. We owe this to our students if they ever want gainful employment upon graduation. We as instructors need to step outside our comfort zones and do them this service.
4. What’s your favorite piece of education technology and why?
Wow, what a difficult question. I don’t think there can be a “favorite.” I probably use Dreamweaver the most to create and edit html documents, but without my computer or the Internet, I wouldn’t be able to use such software.
I also love Camtasia for creating videos explaining processes, and when I was advising a club we wouldn’t have been able to maintain our website without InDesign.
I suppose the answer is that my favorite “piece” of education technology isn’t really a “piece” at all but more of the whole pie—how it all works together to form one pulsing, informative, liberating, and globalized network.
5. What is the next innovative way you plan on using technology in the classroom?
Actually, I recently changed positions—I am no longer a faculty member at UAA, but I’ve accepted a position as the Faculty Support Services Manager in the Department of Distance Education at Oregon Institute of Technology. Although I hope to teach a class in the communications or writing field here at OIT next summer, I now train faculty to teach online.
I’m currently developing a series of workshops that our instructors can attend in person or online via elluminate. I just piloted our first one: “Using Video in the Online Classroom.”
The next workshops will include: “Helping Students use Video Online and on Campus;” “Social Media and Higher Ed;” “Plagiarism Detection Software, LockDown Browsers, and a Discussion on Ethics;” and “Creating a Community with Your Online Classes.” I also plan on donating the Adobe CS.5 Suite I won from the contest to OIT in hopes of beginning something similar to UAA’s Digital Composition Studio.
So, I guess to answer your question, the next innovative way I plan on using technology in the classroom is to provide OIT’s faculty with the knowledge and tools they need to use technology in the classroom. Of course, I hope one day to see professors and students projected 3D into one another’s work spaces—kind of like Star Wars!