Innovation in teaching and learning continues to be a top priority for universities around the world. But how is the digital environment transforming the education system, and what impact is it having in the classroom? Here, two faculty members at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) discuss the importance – and opportunities – of working with technology in the classroom.
Training Is Key
“When it comes to teaching with technology-supported pedagogies, training is a must,” explains Dr. AbdarRahman Almekhlafi, associate professor of Educational Technology and Assessment Unit Coordinator at the UAEU’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). “Professional development and workshops for teachers and those who are involved in teaching should be conducted to utilize the technology and infrastructure that is there, especially for older teachers who lack confidence or who might think that technology is not going to help them. If we talk about mobile apps there is more than one million. Which ones should you select? Teachers should have the skills that will enable them to select the best, and most important application that will help them in their teaching.”
Mohammed Hussain Randeree, a lecturer in the Engineering Requirements Unit, agrees. He says the key is for teachers to understand that “technology is there to support, assist and simplify the teaching process”. He adds: “It can be daunting and scary to start with but the realization that ‘it actually helps me’ in the classroom, it simplifies my workload, is slowly being realized.
“We are not saying that technology overrides the experiences and expertise of face-to-face interaction and learning. When you have professors, assistant professors and lecturers with 20,30, 40-plus years of experience, that can’t be replaced by an app or a smart tablet. The important phrase is blended learning – this is a combination of using what is available in technology, so videos for example, and using the technology in eLearning but not limiting yourself to these, and then augmented that with a smart tablet in the classroom if there is an app that is suitable. It’s in the same way that if you look back in history, a calculator came into the classroom for mathematics. It didn't’ replace the teacher it just added a different way of doing sums.”
Tailoring To Teach
Furthermore, the introduction of technology in the classroom has enabled faculty members to tailor “the lesson style better”, says Mohammed. “There are two types of assessment – summative and formative. Summative assessment is calculating the grade for the student at the end of the year, and formative is for the instructor to understand the level of understanding of the students. In terms of collecting data, the technology makes it easier, it saves a lot of time with grading and it saves a lot of time understanding the level of each student – even during class. For example, I can give a quiz, see the result of the students and identify the weak points and I can address them in the same lecture rather than taking papers away, grading them over the weekend, coming back in on Sunday and recapping on the shortfalls. Now, because of the technology, it makes it possible to find out how the students are doing – understanding their level, their weak points, and the areas that need to be readdressed. Immediately you can recap on the weak points and make sure that they understand it.”
The Past and Present Merge
Thanks to technology, Mohammed says educational theories of the past are flourishing in the classroom – such as the flipped classroom and project-based learning teaching pedagogies.
“Technology is opening the doors for those theories and teaching pedagogies to come into practice,” he says. “For example, project-based learning. If you needed an example of the same kind of project where would you go? You would either have to attend a lecture or the professor would have to demonstrate – for example, perform the surgery. Now it is the other way around. The information is already available so the students can take the active role. Rather than be passive and watching, they become the active party and the professor can be supporting and facilitating their activity.”
The concept of using flipped classroom – where students study the materials at home and come to the classroom to do the activities under the supervision and leadership of the teacher – is also a great way for “students to learn at their own pace”, says Dr AbdarRahman.
“If you have the materials any time anywhere, regardless of the time or location, students can study the materials at any pace,” he adds. “If they are having difficulty in the classroom then they can spend their own time with the material; there are no limitations. And that is one of the big advantages of using technology for teaching.”