Blog 3

Plan B for technology in the classroom



Dr. Susan Murtha, Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Health

A couple of years ago my husband and I went on a road trip around parts of California. I wanted to rent a GPS, as our rented car did not come with one; he wanted to use the traditional paper map of the state of California, as a paper map has always sufficed for our traveling needs in the past. This time though we needed to find our way through the myriad of one-way streets of San Francisco to the Bay Bridge, so that we could then meander our way East to the Sierra Madras mountain range to walk 6000 feet above sea level among the oldest (2000-3000 years) and biggest Sequoia trees. Then we were going to travel north to find and hike among the tallest waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, and then back west to spend some time along the pacific coastline. We decided to compromise and get both. Eventually, we realized there were very good reasons to have access to both.

You are asking what any of this has to do with using technology in teaching and learning? I’m getting to that.

Although we enjoyed the natural wonders around us, and yes even being “off the grid”, while we meandered our way around California on the smaller roads passing by fields of grapes and groves of orange trees, I appreciated having access to the GPS particularly when we were driving on multi-lane interstate highways, i.e., when navigating got complicated. No matter how much the paper map provided the bigger picture of where we were going, the GPS allowed for a zooming in on specific bits of detailed information in a very timely fashion. However, there were times when having a back up plan (the paper map) was essential. Particularly when the GPS for some reason lost its satellite signal at a critical part of our trip. In a way, my attitude about using the GPS was similar to what I think about using technology that facilitates teaching and learning (i.e., elearning1). For example, with the face-to-face lecture format, we can record lectures, upload lecture content to the course website, provide hyperlinks, use a structured framework of a course learning management system (like MOODLE), and ultimately provide flexible access to detailed content that supports the course, expected learning outcomes, and all is available in a timely fashion to the students.

But just like I learned on my road trip, sometimes the technology does not work the way you expected, so it is always good to have a back-up plan.

For me, the back-up plan for teaching with technology really involves being prepared such as having an extra battery for the neck microphone on hand, knowing where to go to find help, and getting experience with the technology so that I can develop the confidence to do a bit of trouble shooting on my own. But it also involves educating our students about how to use well the online resources we provide to them for our courses. Take for example the use of lecture capture technology, informing our students to not assume that every component of the in class lecture, nor every lecture, will be recorded/captured and placed online (after all it is not a fully online course you are offering) may help them to realize it is important to show up to class. That way if for some reason you forget to record a lecture, the students will have been forewarned. More importantly, they need to be constantly reminded that “lecture capture” is a supplement to the in-class experience and/or a resource so that they can go back and review information. It is not a substitute for attending lectures. Recording lectures with Camtasia Relay2 simply records your voice with the visual information coming from the computer screen. It cannot replace you! Students need to be informed that the time they spend in the lecture is about more than listening to a recording of your voice and watching the PowerPoint slides, it is about them being present for demonstrations/activities, and/or being engaged with the content under your guidance so that they can reflect on current real time examples, and/or exposure to your breadth and depth of knowledge and experiences. It is also an opportunity for them to reveal to you (for example by using “clickers”3) what they know or what they are having difficulty with so that you can engage in some “just in time” kind of teaching in order to review more difficult content. They need to be reminded that skipping class because they think they can catch up by watching all their lectures online, or worse yet waiting until the weekend before a midterm exam to watch multiple three hour long recorded lectures, is a really bad idea. In fact, Williams, Birch, and Hancock (2012) reported that students who use resources like recorded lectures posted online in conjunction with continuing to attend lectures obtain higher grades than if they did either alone. That sounds like fairly good information to pass on to students so that they can learn how to use wisely such web-enhanced course resources!

Despite the occasional lost satellite signal on the GPS, I still think that the benefits of using a GPS (being able to find the closest Starbucks, directions through convoluted intersecting roads, etc.) outweigh the costs (having to figure out how to use the GPS, paying for the rental). I think the same way about using technology in teaching and learning. The benefits, such as being able to engage students in the content and providing access to details on the course website that help them to attain the expected learning outcomes, can outweigh the costs of the additional time it might take to learn about the technology, and/or the frustration one feels when the technology does not work as it is expected to.

I am curious to know if anyone else thinks the benefits of using technology in teaching and learning outweigh the costs? If so, how? If not, what should we change so that they do?

Williams A., Birch E., Hancock P. (2012) The impact of online lecture recordings on student experience. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(2), 199-213

1 If you want to learn more about different examples of elearning and how to use technology to support the delivery of your content and learning activities check out the Teaching Commons website at

2 If you want to check out more about recording your lecture, then see

3 If you want to use a personal response system such as “clickers”, then go to for instructor information.

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4 comments on “Blog 3

  1. Yes – technology is the most fickle of tools isn’t it? I find my students can usually help come up with the ‘Plan B’ when there’s a problem. For instance, one time I hade them working in groups to create a visual timeline of the group’s encounters with computer technology going back to their earliest memories. I find this is a good ice-breaker in a course on digital media desgned for Humanities students. However, last time I taught the course, we discovered the site I usually used had suddenly switched to a subscription model, so students weren’t able to access it. Instead, we identified the main point of the assignment, and what elements would be required. Armed with this knowledge, I challenged them to develop their own solutions using the media tools at hand. Some used social media, others used presentation software, still others searched for and found alternative timeline tools. In all, it was adding this element of ‘technological problem-solving’ that created a rich, collaborative environment where my self-proclaimed ‘non-techie’ students ended their first class by solving a technological problem. Sometime ‘failures’ lead to the best ‘successes’!

  2. Given that technology is interwoven with every students experience outside of the classroom, it makes sense to extend that experience to the classroom. I do think schools can be even more innovative in the approaches they use for bringing tech to the classroom, by using it not just as a tool, but as part of the learning/teaching/student/professor experience, dispelling some of the determinism myth that accompanies technology and allowing learning stakeholders to explore untapped use potential.
    For example, I recently took a course at York that leveraged a lot of videos to showcase lived experiences in developing countries. In conjunction with videos a GoPro camera and skype could have added to the learning experience by allowing York U students to connect with university students in the countries we were exploring allowing both groups to share experiences, collaborate on projects and extend the diversity of thought in the learning experience.

  3. I think it is a great idea to bring a spare battery for the neck mic in classrooms! In large lecture halls I really need a microphone to project my voice and so far I have been lucky that the drawer has been stocked with new batteries or my students know individuals working for Information Technology that can bring me new batteries (that was a really nice surprise!) I also agree that the benefits of technology outweigh the cost. Specifically, I know it is sometimes difficult to incorporate technology because it is something else we need to learn how to use and if we aren’t confident with some new technology we may be concerned about engaging our students, but I think taking the time to learn and practice with technology can save time in the long run. It saves me time updating an existing MOODLE page or Course Outline instead of creating one from scratch each year, for example. Has anyone else experienced the use of technology saving them time in the long run?

  4. Thank you for the nice metaphor, Susan! The point that I took away from your post is not only the importance of a plan B, but the role of technology as complementary… in some cases we may achieve the same results whether we pick low tech or high tech, and sometimes it may be that we reinforce learning by using both at different times for different purposes. An example of that is the flipped classroom model, in which students do some prep work online, maybe take a quiz on the foundational concepts they learnt about, then having a low tech environment in the class and dig deeper into the concepts via demos, collaborative learning, etc.

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