Tech & Teaching
Remember back in the day when you would simply dust off last year’s syllabi and recycle them for this year’s courses, changing perhaps the dates and an updated reference or two?
Nope, me neither.
I’ve never been interested in simply wholesale recycling content from prior classes. In fact I seem to have some kind of condition. I seem to be physiologically incapable of teaching a class without compulsively updating, tweaking, and/or outright overhauling parts or the whole of the course. To be sure, I rarely starting from scratch. But my disposition towards constant updating and experimentation includes two broad arenas: incorporating new information and folding in new teaching tools.
Incorporating new information into my instruction is obvious: it would be irresponsible to not discuss new discoveries about the latest microplastic loading into coastal waters, optimal native grass seed mixes for grassland restoration efforts, or recently-gutted federal guidelines for protecting natural resources into a given, relevant class discussion.
But just as important as folding in new facts is experimentation with new teaching modalities and tools. Over the years I have found that not all of my colleagues are necessarily so inclined, with the willingness to experiment with new tech and tools in the classroom frequently correlated with discipline and those just starting their pedagogical adventure.
Most Tech Sucks
While I love experimenting with new technologies in my courses, most technology does not build deeper understanding nor promote more engaged pupils. Despite what the education evangelists and sales reps might proclaim, most tech ends up being a lot of sparkly, carb-heavy glitter that fails to truly improved instruction or prove significantly superior to traditional approaches. Beware the much-hyped “technofix” that promises to make a boring subject fun or a lame instructor a gifted pedagogue.
That said, I am constantly on the hunt for new modules and new tools that can help my students. And the only way to find out if something will help is to actually try it out.
Some Tech Rocks
Examples of some of the most transformative tech I have folded into my classrooms include:
- podcasting/screencasting (I currently use ScreenFlow & subseuqnetly post to YouTube)
- frequent, anonymous querying of student comprehension
- embedded research projects within all of my courses (typically these are long-term monitoring efforts exploring resource management challenges)
- news curation with collaborative sites (e.g. ScoopIt) and/or shared sandboxes (e.g. Google Sheets)
- digital identity & communication (I typically use custom web pages & student blogs within WordPress environs)
- dynamic/interactive graphing (typically via embedding dynamic plots from Plotly or similar apps into student webpages)
- environmental data collection via remotely piloted systems (most frequently incorporating coastal data collected by aerial drones)
For a full list of some of the technologies and digital tools I use in my teaching, check out this Google Doc:
Every now and then, I have been honored to present to my fellow educators in various meetings about the art of teaching. Most recently, I was invited to give a keynote address to the 2018 VC STEMposium meeting in Camarillo, CA. This diverse cadre of K-12 science teachers hailed from across our county and country and were a wonderfully energetic bunch! I had a great time presenting and an even better time hanging out after my talk and chatting with a host of folks who had no shortage of great observations and fun questions.
Most of my slides are in this pdf with my full presentation is below: