Highlights from the 2011 TeAchnology Conference

Two weeks ago members of the SAGrader staff attended the University of Missouri’s 2011 TeAchnology Conference in Columbia, Missouri. Instructors, course designers, and technology geeks from across the state were treated to talks and workshops by distinguished speakers and UM faculty on a wide scope of educational technologies and effective teaching methods.

The event kicked off Tuesday morning with Dr. Ike Shibley’s keynote presentation on blended learning (“hybrid learning” for you MU folks). Shibley’s engaging talk explored how technology can be used to facilitate instead of disseminate learning. Though Blackboard is ubiquitous on college campuses, most instructors use it as a glorified manila folder, a repository of documents available to download. But technology can be used more effectively by encouraging contact between students and faculty, providing prompt feedback and increasing time-on-task.

Face-to-face class time is perfect for class discussions, small group work, analysis of complex ideas, and engaging demonstrations. Technology can help instructors utilize the time before and after class too by providing additional ways for students to interact with course content. Before class, students can get their first exposure to content by writing about it, viewing PowerPoint slides, or participating in an interactive web activity. After class, students can synthesize and evaluate ideas through short writing assignments, online quizzes and more. Moving certain content outside of class can revolutionize the time you spend face-to-face, by allowing instructors to concentrate on facilitating active learning, rather than lecturing for an hour.

In addition to learning about blended courses, attendees learned about various technologies in use at the University of Missouri. One tool of particular interest is WebWork, an open source tool sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America that can be used to create and issue math and science assignments. Webwork struck us as very interesting as it performs a similar function to our own automated grading software SAGrader, although with a focus on math instead of content-area courses. By providing an automated platform for students to submit to math assignments, students are afforded more practice with the material than their instructor would be able to provide by hand. Another technology that was prominently featured at this year’s event was Wimba, a suite of collaborative learning software that enables instructors to create virtual classrooms, complete with video, audio, and application sharing.

Along with the products featured, the conference also included faculty and staff presentations on best practices for using technology in the classroom. Educational Technology Specialist Guy Wilson gave superb talks on mobile technologies and the issues of standardization and delivery of content across platforms (for some great articles regarding the challenges involved in multi-platform compatibility click here & here). Dr. Wilson presented some important questions regarding the challenges facing education as it moves onto a mobile platform, for example; what does a textbook look like on a mobile phone? How does a course function when spread across multiple continents? How do we facilitate collaboration and participation in such a setting?

Keynote speaker Dr. Curtis Bonk (Professor of Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University) delivered an inspiring talk exploring the various ways educators could incorporate 21st Century tools in their classrooms, from just “tinkering” with technology to diving right in. While most instructors are admittedly still in the tinkering stages of adoption, Dr. Bonk believes that the future holds a lot more promise for technology integration as educators learn how to apply web-based tech in the classroom. Dr. Bonk has produced a great series of mini-lessons regarding the subject of educational technology, which can be found here.

Many thanks to the ET@MO staff for putting together such an informative event. It was a great chance to learn about emerging technologies and discuss effective teaching methods with other educators. We look forward to attending next year’s conference. Hope to see you there!