October 2011

Technology in the Classroom

By Emily Sparrow

 With hybrid, online, and technology enhanced courses becoming more popular, technologies are being explored further in many classrooms. Some professors on campus have been incorporating the newest available technologies into their classrooms for a while now.  Sherrie Serros is one of these tech savvy professors in the Mathematics Department who has been using many of these new teaching tools to enhance her students' classroom experiences. SherrieSerros

Professor Serros understands that math is not always the most popular and enjoyable subject for some students, but knows how to enliven the classroom. In my meeting with Sherrie Serros, when she spoke of the technologies she uses to demonstrate math problems, a light gleamed in her eyes and a small smile curved around her lips as she blew my mind with knowledge of tools like podcasts, smartboards, wii-motes, mimios, logi-pens and many other foreign gadgets that I had never heard of before.

Serros says, "When you're enthusiastic about something, it will spread to your students and they will know it."  I wanted to join one of her classes after hearing about all of these fun tools. 

However, these technologies aren't just about having fun in the classroom. Professor Serros tells me, "Math is fun for me already, but when the future teachers I work with want to make math more fun, I have to ask them what the objective of the activity they are doing is. Keeping the objective true and aligning content with technology is critical."  

Mathematics does not always work on two dimensional surfaces and it is vital to display equations and problems in a way in which students can understand. For years, math teachers have been trying to find ways in which to display three dimensional concepts. I remember when I was in grade school, my math teacher would use a projector with multiple layers of clear slides to create a three dimensional object.

"Visualization is critical," Serros states, "Our white boards, chalk boards and papers are all two dimensional surfaces, but in mathematics there are a lot of three dimensional subjects that we are working with and viewing."

Sherrie Serros has been presenting at an emerging technologies workshop for mathematics through the Mathematical Association of America. Through this, she has been able to keep up to date on emerging technologies such as iclickers, iPad applications, virtual manipulatives, web driven software, java applets and spherical easel, just to name a few. So how does Professor Serros use these tools to help enable students to understand, visualize and explore hard-to-grasp concepts?

"Spherical easel is a virtual manipulative that allows students to rotate images in space, stretch them, animate them and view them in different ways that are just not feasible with paper and pencil," Serros explains, "The students can create lines on a sphere and slide them, move them and see the object in all directions. The virtual manipulatives help students to see things in a different way than they had before and experiment and play around with mathematics."

These technologies are not just specific to math.  So what are some ways we can use technology to better dissect and relay these dense concepts for students and get them more involved in the learning process?

In Professor Serros' math classes, if a question is lingering at the end of the day, she uses an inking device and head set to put together a podcast, a series of images with audio video. "The podcasts help to clarify what is cloudy at the end of the day and the students find them to be very enlightening," Serros describes, "When you post the podcast with the voiceover explaining the process of going through the problem, it really makes a difference with the learning process, then the students can see where they went wrong and they will see the problem as it unfolds."

In lecture it is often hard for students to listen and absorb the theories being demonstrated while also trying to write down what is being written on the board or posted on slide shows. Serros explains, "One of the advantages to using podcasts is that students are able to rewind and listen again. Rereading the book is just not the same and in lecture there's no playback and your notes aren't always as detailed as you'd like them to be."

We are in a technological age and many students are aware of how to use a lot of the programs out there, while some students have never been exposed to them. "When you are introducing software you must be aware of the different levels of previous knowledge. We do a considerable amount of work with Excel and there are a lot of varying levels of abilities. Sometimes if a student knows a short cut that I am not aware of, I will invite them to make a podcast of that."

Technology is a great way to get students involved in the teaching and learning process. Professor Serros is already seeing her students more engaged with the content of her classes and with each other, especially in the classes where new technologies are being used. "What's always exciting is to see students explore and discover things on their own or hypothesize about what is happening in a certain situation."

The online room is another great tool Sherrie Serros uses. Here her students can have online discussions with each other while exploring new material. She also says, "I love the virtual whiteboard there because mathematics is messy to type, some of the previous types of online rooms only offered an instant messaging feature, but this is much nicer because now I can draw on the screen. We have also started to use a mimio (a type of virtual white board) and I've worked with Smart Boards."

Many professors do not necessarily use technologies to the same extent that Professor Serros does, but she is a leading example of how technologies can be used in the classroom.  There are extreme advantages to using tools like these, not only because it enhances the visualization of hard-to-grasp topics and gets students involved in their own learning, but because these tools are the future and our students will need to know how to use them when they enter their careers.

If you would like to see any of these technologies or experiment with technologies that do the same kinds of things, just let CETL know.  Several educators have joined an "Emerging Technology" group in which new technologies are suggested for those who have a classroom idea and need a way to make it happen.  We have access to hardware and software so you can use it without purchasing it and tech support is offered for all these options.ToolsforTeachinglogo

A request for proposals has gone out to educators about the "Tools for Teaching: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction," an annual showcase of educators who are using technologies to enhance student engagement and learning. Save the date and submit your proposal! This showcase is Friday, February 24th, 2012. For more information or to register, contact CETL: 715-836-2385, cetl@uwec.edu or stop by OL 1142.

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