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Category: Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a short online article by Corbett and LaFrance (September 9, 2013) that lists a number of small things that instructors can do in their classes to improve the learning environment for their students. The list includes:

The first one caught my eye: “arrive to class early and linger afterward.” This is something I have known for a long time: the time just before and after class is a good time to informally get to know students. Those interactions help develop relationships that enable teachers to respond to the needs of their students and that enable students to trust that instructors have their best interests at heart.

I also believe that it's important to try different educational technologies to improve my students' engagement in the course material. For the past couple of years I have been using some technologies that require setup before the class starts and have found that the setup interferes with my ability to converse with students before and after class. For example, I have been using the Whiteboard app by Splashtop (www.splashtop.com/whiteboard) to mirror my desktop lecture slideshow on my iPad. The Whiteboard app allows me to use my iPad to annotate anything that I project onto the classroom screen (a Web page, Word document, the desktop, or my PowerPoint slides). The downside is that I need to arrive early to set up the wireless connection between my desktop and iPad. Not a difficult thing to do, but it does take time, and while I am doing that I'm not meeting and greeting students.

I've also been having my students do in-class quizzes online. This is an outstanding way to provide immediate feedback to students and to me. At my university we use Moodle as our learning management system, which includes an excellent quizzing system that allows me to quickly identify those course topics students are finding difficult. With quiz results in hand I can quickly tailor lecture, class discussion, or in-class activities so that they clarify the conceptual difficulty. Knowing right away what they missed motivates students to pay attention to material that clarifies what the quiz results show that they don't understand.

However, this technology requires the use of a secure browser to ensure that students do not simply Google their answers. At my university, we use Respondus Lockdown Browser to lock the computer to the browser window containing the quiz so that students are not able to do anything else with their computers until the quiz is submitted.

The problem here is similar to my use of the Whiteboard app. It requires taking time at the beginning of class to ensure that all students have the correct browser and are able to access the quiz. My attempts at improving the learning environment for my students through the use of educational technology interfere with my ability to improve my students' desire to learn through a human connection with me.

What both of these examples indicate for me is the problem of balancing the use of educational technologies in the classroom with maintaining a human face and real relationship with my students. I love how these educational technologies enable immediate assessment of my students' understanding and how they make it possible for me to interact with my students by annotating my presentations. However, I become frustrated when the technology interferes with my ability to have the time I need to relate to my students.

So what is the solution? Perhaps there needs to be more than the traditional 10 minutes between classes. Alternatively, the use of educational technologies may require IT setup support for faculty requesting it. This would free up instructors to do what we do best—teach our students with a human face.

Contact Neil Haave at