By Geralyn Caplan, Associate Professor of Biology, Owensboro Community & Technical College
I am looking at an e-mail from my IT department telling me that BlackBoard will be closed just days before finals and the only thing I can think of is how much I hate technology. That is a surprising statement to come from someone that teaches as much on-line as I do. Really, it is more of a love-hate relationship.
I am not a techno-nerd although my department chair refers to me as the Technology Guru. I do not think that says a lot about our department. It also sends family members into fits of giggles because they have heard me swear at my computer. That is basically my curriculum vitae; I use technology, but I am sometimes not a fan.
Even though I use technology a lot, I also always feel as if I am behind the technology curve. New programs come up so fast that I cannot keep up. This has gotten me thinking that if I cannot keep up, then what about the people that are truly frightened by the direction that education is going. Recently, I have been working on classes for my doctorate, which most of the faculty in that division do not use BlackBoard or any other type of learning platform. How do you convince faculty members to dive in and take advantage of the technology available to them? Also, how do you teach people to create engaging modules for their students?
This is not an easy task. If we can get faculty comfortable with their learning platforms, they may be more willing to work with the programs that the publishers have available. The first step is just convincing someone that there are advantages to keeping simple things such as syllabi and assignments posted. I have heard complaints that it takes too much time to set up a module, which I answer with, “I only do it once. The next semester, I change some dates and minor assignments. I can have it set up in an hour or two.”
If we do not engage the faculty, we will never engage the students. It may be silly, but I focus on the general look of the module. I have fun with the colors, banners, and buttons. I change the color and size of text so that I can read it easier. I am like a kid with crayons. I change the banner at least every other week. The students sign on just to see the new animation on the banner. Each module is unique because it keeps me engaged. If I am engaged, so are the students.
I also remove the tool button because I find it a bit overwhelming. I then open just the tools I need. Do not worry about the fancier tools such as Wimba. Show announcements, e-mail, and discussions instead. I remove the tool button because I find it a bit overwhelming. Once again, if I find it overwhelming, so will non-technical people.
Next, we need to focus our training programs to each division. Someone that teaches Biology may not be able to interpret a program that was designed for someone who teaches English. IT trainers tend to mix all faculty together, whereas teachers identify themselves by their subject. As a result, it is best to have English faculty teach English faculty and Biology faculty should teach Biology faculty. Also, each school needs to give faculty members more topic-specific modules for training and review. That will require more collaboration between faculty members.
We also need to teach organization. I find that many modules are poorly designed. The students cannot find what they need because files are spread all over or they are not clearly labeled. Some schools even force formats which result in additional chaos. There are advantages to show teachers well-designed modules and poorly designed modules. Both would be great for instructors to review. Personally, I put all of my content under one tab. The material is organized in units which open automatically. I also color code the material: Blue for lectures, red for quizzes and exams, brown for discussions. The colors not only help the students but it helps me find the file that I am looking for. I also name all of the files consistently so that they are organized in the grade book (i.e., Unit 7 exam, Unit 7 discussion, Unit 7 lab write up, etc.). I then make sure that the grade book is organized to make grading easier.
Once instructors are comfortable with one form of technology, we can bring in other programs. If you are a part-time or full-time tech guru like I am, you know that there are some people that will never accept all of the technology available. Personally, I think that it is not important to use everything available. However, it is up to instructors to make the curriculum more engaging and there is a lot of technology available for them. Meanwhile, I think it is time for me to swear at BlackBoard again. God I hate technology.