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Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education: Foundations for Success

By A. W. Bates and Gary Poole
224 pages
ISBN: 0-7879-6034-9
$36.00 (hardcover)

Reviewed by

Dennis P. Quinn

Interdisciplinary General Education
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona


A. W. (Tony) Bates and Gary Poole have written an extremely useful book that provides theoretical and practical guidelines for the university instructor attempting to make sense of the dramatic changes in technology in education. Even though they both direct programs that help educators at the University of British Columbia utilize technology in the classroom, they are, for the most part, not zealot champions of its use. They are critical of the use of technology for technology's sake and admit that technology is only a tool that can prove quite useful in some contexts, though disastrous in others. A common theme throughout the book is that using technology in the classroom ought to augment effective teaching, not simply supplement it. To help educators decide what technology, if any, to use, Bates and Poole offer up a number of checklists, acronyms, graphs, and questionnaires. These are very helpful since they are easy to integrate into specific course outcomes. This book will be especially valuable for those just starting to use the Internet to create active learning environments for their courses.

The book is well structured: The authors begin with a theoretical framework that establishes the epistemological foundations of technology within higher education, then move on to practical guides and case studies based upon these theories. The first four chapters address the fundamentals of using technology in higher education. Chapter One, entitled "The Challenge of Technology," sets the tone by demonstrating that instructors of colleges and universities are continually confronted with questions about how best to use technology for their courses. The authors share valuable insights into how educators might accommodate changes in higher learning, such as larger class sizes and reliance on part-time professors, by using technology to promote active learning and student-teacher engagement outside of the classroom (11-13). These instructors, who have little time and receive less pay than tenured colleagues, are disproportionately affected by changes in technological demands such as keeping up with online discussions, reading emailed assignments, and the like. There is the added challenge of increased class sizes, which has made it more and more difficult for professors to create active-learning communities (15-17). As a way to cope with these and other difficulties, Bates and Poole offer some technological solutions, especially the use of the Internet. Since, as they explain, new technology is about better communication, technology may be a solution to these challenges.

Chapter Two, "Introductory Remarks on Knowledge, Learning, and Teaching," provides an overview of the current state of the question on epistemology and pedagogy with regard to higher education. This chapter is most useful in its concise summary of the dominant epistemological positions in North American higher education--issues about which modern educators should be continually reminded. The authors clearly favor the implementation of learner-centered teaching. This is certainly welcome, especially at a time when universities have experimented with impersonal online learning. which has led some critics to warn about the dangers of "diploma mills."1 Bates and Poole conclude that technology, when used well, can improve an already well-structured class, but the use of technology in a poorly planned manner will only make a class worse (45).

Picking up on this theme, Chapter Three addresses the role of technology in the classroom. Bates and Poole present a number of reasons for using technology to augment communication between people. For example, it is not that using a computer is better or worse than face-to-face learning. The central issue is rather how best to use it: "interaction is not so much with a machine as through it, using technology to link people together" (70). The authors demonstrate that, in an active learning environment, the use of such tools can provide students and teachers a closer network of communication since technology, if used correctly, tends to remove barriers between people. Nevertheless, if the educator is not willing to try new teaching styles to implement these tools, but rather just carries over familiar styles of teaching to the new media, then the use of technology may not be so wise. The hard truth that Bates and Poole are selling here is that effective teaching with technology will require flexibility on behalf of the instructor and a considerable amount of effort (61-67). Each instructor is asked to weigh the benefits with the new burden of technology (since learning new things is often that) in order to come to his or her own conclusions in specific contexts.

Chapter Four provides "A Framework for Selecting and Using Technology." Here the authors provide a practical checklist in the form of an acronym to determine what media and technology to use in a particular course for a particular lesson. SECTIONS stands (79-80) for

S Students: what is known about the students--or potential students--and the appropriateness of the technology for this particular group or range of students?
E Ease of use and reliability: how easy is it for both teachers and students to use? How reliable and well tested is the technology?
C Costs: what is the cost structure of each technology? What is the unit cost per learner?
T Teaching and learning: what kinds of learning are needed? What instructional approaches will best meet these needs? What are the best technologies for supporting this teaching and learning?
I Interactivity: what kind of interaction does this technology enable?
O Organizational issues: What are the organizational requirements, and the barriers to be removed, before this technology can be used successfully? What changes in organization need to be made?
N Novelty: how new is this technology?
S Speed: how quickly can courses be mounted with this technology? How quickly can materials be changed?

I found this acronym to be of great value to me as I tried to determine whether I should use particular technologies in my classes. For example, the first S reminded me that requiring students to use WebCT, a rather sophisticated system that is widely used on my campus, might be effective with students who are well acquainted with university technology and services--say, juniors, seniors, or graduate students--but less so with freshmen. The other questions in the list proved to be even more helpful.

Then Bates and Poole explore the practical implementation of technology by using real-world examples from the classroom and numerous checklists. Chapter Five shows how a combination of face-to-face teaching and technology-based teaching can improve the overall interaction of campus-based students since it allows for a diversity of learning styles to shine across the student demographic (119, 127-28). Further, in their chapter entitled "Approaches to the Design of Technology-Based Learning," Bates and Poole provide additional models for using technology in learning-based classes. Generally they show how the use of technology will allow for greater student involvement by allowing their voices to be more readily heard in discussion, debate, and collaborative learning in in-class and online group activities (161). However, they emphasize that learning outcomes must be clearly defined at the start so that students will not become confused and disoriented and believe that the course consists only of student and instructor opinions (177-79).

The remaining two chapters in this section address issues of development, maintenance, and support of technology-based learning courses. Here the authors recommend strongly that faculty use the campus help centers to provide a support system for smoother implementation of technology. They recommend using pre-existing educational materials, which are often included with the class textbooks (183-89). Moreover, they recommend that educators provide a formal introduction, or orientation, for students at the start in order to clear up proper procedures and adequate use of the Internet and other items (220-26). Thankfully, Bates and Poole provide an overview of these matters throughout Chapter Nine so that readers can be well prepared to answer student questions. The final chapter explores current trends in technology and concludes that advancements promise increased access and flexibility for teachers and students alike (282).

Overall, Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education, along with its handy accompanying web page (http://www.batesandpoole.ubc.ca/index.html) provides an excellent source for the college instructor who wants some guidance in effective teaching with technology. Further, I was refreshed by the authors' obvious dedication to active learning inside and outside the classroom, which reminded me that teachers have an obligation to provide well-structured classes with clear learning outcomes whether or not they plan to use technology at all. All told, Bates and Poole conclude that there is no point in using technology "unless it makes a significant difference to teaching and learning" (253). They admit that great teaching has been, and will continue to be, done without the use of technology. But if used well, technology can create an even better learning environment for both student and teacher.

1. See for example D. F. Noble, Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002).

Posted August 12, 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 Dennis P. Quinn.

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