Voices in Tech: Keys to collaborative classrooms

Improving engagement with technology-enabled active learning classrooms
By: | Issue: August/September, 2019
July 26, 2019
Trang Phan, assistant professor, curriculum and instruction, Kremen School of Education and Human Development at California State University, Fresno

At UB Tech® 2019, Trang Phan discussed how she designs collaborative classrooms to improve student engagement and help future teachers stay up to date on the changing landscape of technology in the classroom. Her research focuses on technology integration in curriculum design, personalized learning, student-centered learning and human-centered design. She is committed to accelerating pedagogical use of technology to enhance student-centered learning; embracing ambiguity, empathy, and trial and error process; asking the right questions and designing educational products with the understanding that people who face problems hold the key to their answers.

What are the best practices for integrating technology in student-centered learning environments?

I teach a course called “Application of Technology in the Classroom.” Our philosophy is to provide hands-on experiences to teachers by either showing them the tech demo or asking them to do the demo themselves, and to have an open discussion on the pedagogical uses of technology in teaching. We talk about different angles and perspectives regarding technology use. When we consider a classroom tool, we consider the ease of use, the suitability, the credibility of the sources, the costs, and student access in the classroom or at home. When we expose students to technology, we have to be critical. Teachers need these critical skills. We’re not just focused on technology for the sake of technology. It has to be a good use of time.

What type of professional development is needed?

Teachers need to be familiar with so many different technologies. Many use Google Docs to collaborate on a shared online document. For writing or publishing a blog, some use Weebly, WordPress or Wix.com. For contributing and editing or revising ideas, some use Wikipedia or PBworks. And then we are creating and sharing videos using Adobe Spark, Camtasia and YouTube. Teachers have to be prepared to use countless technologies and even social media.

How does student engagement improve in these technology-enabled active learning classrooms?

The real-time feedback and collaboration is what students value most. They like that they can research and share information with each other, and present and get feedback while they work in a group. In the student’s reflection, you could hear some similarities among the students, but you could also pick out some variety. Some students might share a very simple thing like, “Oh, I love Google Docs because it’s a lot of collaboration,” and some students’ reflections are more sophisticated.

What did your recent survey about faculty use of technology reveal?

I wanted to know their user experience and the status of tech use by faculty members. I asked how the use of technology in the classroom affected their roles in teaching and learning. And then we narrowed in on teaching goals and skill level and whether the external PD programs, such as DiscoverE or eScholar that help to promote online teaching, have an effect on their skill level. We found that faculty who participated in the DiscoverE program used more technology and valued technology more; did not ask for tech support; were more comfortable with tech;, and used more online discussion forums and communities. Also, faculty who participated in the eScholar program used more virtual and stimulated experiences than those who did not.

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