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Monday, August 18, 2008

How much technology and social media is 'too much'?

As I've been working on bringing more Web 2.0 tools into my classes, I have frequently wondered how much is too much? I know that my students are supposedly 'digital natives' but I also know that they are not all as cutting-edge tech savvy as we old fogies sometimes assume. For my intro Principles class, students have to maneuver Blackboard (including using discussion boards), Aplia (a private third-party website that provides online problems and experiments for econ classes), an online textbook available through Aplia, clickers, PowerPoint slides and podcasts. In addition, I'm very likely going to be participating in a pilot program to capture my lectures so those will be on iTunes U as well (though students will certainly not be required to watch them - they will just be available as an extra resource). I'm also thinking about using Twitter as an option for students to get reminders and to ask questions in class (also not required but just an extra resource) but am really worried it will all be too much. In my upper-division class, there's a lot less for them to worry about for each class meeting but they will have to deal with doing blogs instead.

On the one hand, all of these tools are invaluable for helping me achieve many of my objectives for these courses. There is simply no way I could make the 500-seater as interactive as I'd like without them. But I anticipate a lot of confusion among students in the first few weeks of school, no matter how many FAQs I put together or how clear my instructions are. But perhaps that is simply the price that must be paid. Do you think it's possible to have 'too much' technology in a class?


  1. Yesno. From a practical perspective that considers cognitive load, yes I think every thing an individual has to think about demands attention. One of the tasks of a teacher is to direct attention.

    From a educational perspective, students' comfort zones with all aspects of the learning endeavor will vary. So in one sense, managing the learning endeavor so it accounts for this might be one way to think about it.

    Why don't you survey your students about the impact of each technology on their learning?

  2. Yes, I think it's possible to put in too much technology, and I'm guilty of this. I love Spanish textbooks that come with an on-line workbook, but my students have largely been frustrated with on-line workbooks.

    I like Suzanne's suggestion to poll students about particular tech. tools. Finding out what works and what doesn't for their learning is crucial.

    Personally, I'm planning to introduce one new tool (apart from the learning management system) each semester to avoid the confusion and to better evaluate each tool's effectiveness toward learning goals. I'm hoping to be explicit not only in my instructions but in making students aware of the reasons for employing a tech. tool in a particular course.

  3. Last fall, I did survey students about different aspects of the course and the vast majority found clickers and Aplia to be useful (based on Likert-scale questions about their usefulness to learning).
    @dispersemos: I agree that adding one new tool at a time is a good way to go but there's still the problem that while only one tool is new to YOU, they are ALL new to your students! Compared to last year, I'm only adding one new technology piece (podcasts), so I'm fairly comfortable with most of the tools but still expect some confusion among my students.


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