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Learning and Teaching with Technology: Principles and Practices

Edited by Som Naidu
Kogan Page
256 pages
ISBN: 0-7494-3776-6
$65.00 (hardcover)

Reviewed by

Alyson Buckman

Humanities and Religious Studies
CSU Sacramento


Technology in the classroom has grown: First came ditto masters, overheads, and videos; then there were electronic bulletin boards, MOOs, and listservs; and now there are distance-learning courses conducted entirely online. Support for on-campus teachers and learners often now is provided via email and online tutorials. For those who use it, information and communications technology (ICT) has transformed the teaching and learning experience. Even firm traditionalists are compelled at least to use email and, within the CSU, to report their grades online. Many have integrated technology into their classrooms a bit more fully than this--through PowerPoint presentations, multimedia, additional course resources on the web, or some combination of these--and others have been teaching online distance-learning courses for years. With the simultaneous demands of increased student numbers and static or decreased budgets, the use of technology in education has become a subject of even greater import. Thus, texts such as Learning and Teaching with Technology fulfill a vital function in discussing how ICT interacts with teaching and learning and, as contributors to the anthology argue, can actually "leverage these core processes to achieve rich and productive learning environments" (2).

These pressures are also being experienced by institutions abroad. Many of the contributors to Learning and Teaching with Technology are situated in Australia but others are from the United States, England, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, and Norway. All offer case studies or essays on the transmission of content, improvement of learning, formation of online communities, assessment, and feedback to students. The book is divided into five sections representing each of these areas. Contributors argue that the integration of technology necessitates a change from teacher-centered to learner-centered classrooms when the course is well designed (both technologically and pedagogically); such integration can actually enable critical thinking, student agency, active learning, and more accurate and immediate assessment of course goals, teachers, and students. Simultaneous transformations in pedagogy are required not just by technology, but also by the increasing heterogeneity of student learners--in terms of age, class, ethnicity, and needs--and changes in classroom construction. Although feminist pedagogy is not referenced by the contributors, practitioners of said pedagogy have argued for such changes in the classroom for decades.

Learning and Teaching with Technology is most readily useful to instructors in higher education, especially those in the sciences, math, and education (although it may be of interest to other disciplines as well as K-12 instruction). Such disciplines are more task-oriented than other disciplines and thus more readily able to utilize problem-based learning. Lee Wallace, Annamarie Jagose, and Cathy Gunn briefly discuss the difficulties of incorporating problem-based learning into the humanities. Writing about their development of a virtual shopping mall through which students learn about cultural studies and in which they apply their knowledge, Wallace, Jagose, and Gunn explain that "One of the challenges faced in the development of the VSM [virtual shopping mall] was that the discipline of cultural studies, like many other humanities subjects, does not deal in quantitative or testable knowledge but in interpretative commentary" (111). A few of the contributors are cognizant of the fact that pedagogy must also relate to subject matter, while Barbara de la Harpe and Alex Radloff, faculty in education and life sciences respectively, represent what seems to be the more prevalent view:

More often than not, the emphasis [in classrooms] is on discipline-related content knowledge . . . rather than on other aspects of learning such as skills and attitudes that underpin lifelong learning, as well as the factors involved in the learning process itself. . . . It is not surprising that in most courses content knowledge is the main focus of assessment since many academics regard themselves as content experts and may find their role as teachers challenging. (210)

While content can be learned through problem-based learning, model-facilitated learning, and/or the use of graphical, interactive simulations, not all disciplines are readily transferable into such learning. While a background in pedagogy is useful to faculty, it is not merely its absence that causes some faculty to emphasize content: Different disciplines require different pedagogies. In addition, there is value to content--otherwise, we would still be in the apprenticeship system. Were they as readily transferable, perhaps there would be more articles included in this anthology on ICT and the humanities. Most of the contributors come from math and sciences, instructional technology and multimedia development, and education, reflecting the easier integration of these strategies into such fields.

Nonetheless, the anthology is thought-provoking. While reading the text, I often found myself intrigued, wondering how I could employ particular technologies or ideas in my own courses. While the first two parts of the anthology are concerned with technologies developed for specific courses--and thus contain interesting and new applications--the last three parts of the anthology consider pedagogical issues in relationship to existing technologies, and, thus, the insights of the authors could be more readily integrated into courses. Student-centered practices such as peer assessment, for instance, can be readily integrated into most technology; of course, it can be readily utilized--with different contexts and responses--within the traditional classroom as well. Thus, the discussions of assessment and feedback may be useful even to those who utilize little technology in the classroom. Even those who only use email may be interested in the discussion of asynchronous communication: Contributors argue that it enables more in-depth reflection in writing since students are able to have continuous access (and thus repeated reference) to the written message. There are also interesting discussions of collaborative learning.

The development of course- or even discipline-specific technologies relates to yet another important issue: the requirements for developing such technologies. As Andrew Higgins writes in the concluding chapter, "Designing student's [sic] learning experiences involves not only the teacher, but also the learning process, design expert, technology expert, resource management specialists and perhaps project managers. Nowhere does the book suggest that using technology to leverage learning and teaching is a cheap option, or a threat to the teacher"(290). Grants must be procured to implement these technologies; outside grants, of course, are also a bit more readily available to those in the sciences, which again makes the technologies discussed more useful to faculty in these disciplines. We must also, of course, train our faculty in the use of such technologies and corresponding pedagogical practices; as the contributors argue, assessment, design, pedagogy, technology, and content must all come together for a successful course.

In addition to increasing agency, active learning, democracy, and (perhaps) retention, the development of such technologies also impact learners' access and comfort levels. As Stuart Evans and Phillip Swain write,

Students also bring with them a variety of technological knowledge and resources, and will be considerably disadvantaged if unable to participate in programs . . . if only those with the most up-to-date hardware and software could do so. . . . Students are often working with outmoded hardware, often from home or outside of the access hours for university-based computer laboratories. In the absence of funding for system upgrades for such students the computer-based resources offered to them must be compatible with what they have, or some will be disadvantaged and excluded from these learning opportunities. (120)

While the level of students' comfort with technology can be mediated through training and modeling, costs unfortunately are not as easily dismissed. Thus, in integrating technology in our classrooms--even in a supplemental capacity--we must consider student needs and capabilities.

This text will be useful to many because of its diverse subject matter; since it is an anthology, readers have the choice of reading the entire text or only some of the essays. Because authors make reference to other essays in the anthology, readers might be encouraged to read more essays than they had planned. There is some redundancy in discussions, for instance, of changes in pedagogical practice and theories of learning; constructivist thinking, for instance, receives a great deal of attention with the term defined in several different essays. Unusual for an anthology is the inclusion of an index at the end; this is of great help to those pursuing particular points, such as those on summative or formative assessment.

In conclusion, I recommend this text for those interested in improving their pedagogical practices, especially through the use of technology. The text is well researched and, as a result, provides excellent current sources for further study. The writing is clear and the theories have clear and demonstrated application. While the text provides more applications of technology for those in the sciences and education, the discussions in the second half of the text are useful to all instructors. While it seems these programs are not accessible for further evaluation outside of the text, Alex Radloff and Barbara de la Harpe have included URLs that provide some of the learning strategies and assessments of student motivation that they discuss. Some of these include the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire; an example of learning logs in a course, and two examples of classroom assessment techniques.

Posted June 10, 2004

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2004 by Alyson R. Buckman.

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