There are as many educational technologies and applications of those technologies as there are people using them. Many of these technologies such as Blackboard allow us to access an education and learn new skills and ideas from people from all over the world at the touch of a button in the comfort of our own homes or while on the road for work making distance learning a reality for many. Others like Edublogs allow us to share our interests, understandings and questions with a multitude of people online simply by writing them down and publishing them to the web without having to know how to write computer code in order to make it look right and make sense. Even social media sites such as Pintrest and Facebook have their educational uses especially in engaging adult learners in the life and uses of technology to help them learn and grow both as students and human beings. Two current applications I have found quite interesting in their abilities to enhance adult learning are a social learning tool called Quora and the enhancing and engaging educational opportunities surrounding the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) surge in education.
Quora is a tool that can be used by both educators and learners. The site touts itself as the site that “connects you to everything you want to know about” (https://www.quora.com/). It is a social media tool like Facebook that allows people to collect everything they want to know about a certain subject onto “boards” they create about that subject. This can include everything from pictures, videos and information they find on the internet or other places to their own personal writings on the subject. Users can also connect to other people’s boards focusing on some aspect that interests the user/learner as well as allow other users to contribute to their boards creating a collaborative environment. One of the most interesting features of Quora is that you can ask a simple question and that question will likely be answered by someone with knowledge and experience in the field involved whether it be medicine or law, history or math or anything in between. Many times we, as educators, are seen as sages on the mountaintop with all the information and answers at our fingertips or on the tips of our tongues. We know this is not true and our students often learn it when they ask us questions and we have to explain to them that we have no answer and must research and get back to them. By using Qoura as an educator I am able to collect information on the many topics that are of interest to me as well as those topics that are stumping my students thereby keeping all that information at my fingertips. I can also use Quora as a teaching tool allowing students to set up their own accounts in order to research both topics of their own interest and those required for class. This is a wonderful tool for collecting information and research for class projects in a way that is engaging and thought provoking at the same time.
There is an overwhelming growth in looking at the usefulness of and implementing the technological infrastructure on campuses to hold what may very well be the next iteration of on campus, bricks and mortar learning, called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) learning. Almost every student out there has some sort of personal computing device at their fingertips whether it be the latest iPhone or other smartphone or a tablet or an eReader or all of the above. Moreover they are more than comfortable using these devices to their fullest extent both in and out of class. Understanding this it would seem that we are long past fighting students over turning their cellphones off during class. So, as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat them join them. Although there are technological issues that must be studied and overcome as it relates to infrastructure and security, there are any number of advantages to functioning in a BYOD educational society. These include increased student engagement, creating a technology-rich learning environment and opening up new ways of learning (Bring your own device, white paper, 2012). As the aforementioned white paper published by CDW states students who are able to use their own mobile devices anywhere and at any time for learning are more likely to collaborate with other students and the faculty in order to problem solve and critically think. Not only does this engage them with their fellow classmates and teachers on a different level it opens up new ways of learning that are more self-directed and open to collaboration and feedback. I see great advantages and uses for any technology that engages students and helps to make them more self-directed learners. With that I would incorporate BYOD at least on a limited level inside my classroom by allowing students to bring their devices in order to take notes, collaborate on projects, open up multimedia files or as polling devices for questions I ask during class. It that way these devices are, albeit more powerful, no different than the typical notebook students bring to class now. Another way I would use BYOD technology is by requiring my students to bring their devices to class in order to interact with virtual learning materials and skill sets that only the technology will allow for. This would be especially useful in history and anthropology courses in giving students an up-close and personal experience with the material.
While technology and computers have long been the areas where we store loads of information in smaller and smaller units of virtual space, they can also be tools for helping us critically think and analyze that information in ways that allow us to understand on a deeper and more meaningful level. As Thornburg (2008b) states these technologies, and many others, are doing what we as educators should be doing, “facilitating what we ought to have facilitated all along, which is, given a body of information, what conclusions can you draw from that information that truly advance your understanding of a topic?” Is this not the goal of teaching and learning in the first place?
CDW. (2012). Bring your own device. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/higher/sites/edtechmagazine.com.higher/files/108532-wp-hied-byod-df.pdf
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008b). The impact of technology on learning. Baltimore, MD: Author.