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Harnessing technology for better teaching and learning

Arts and science staff members evaluate tools that will aid students

Kenneth Berry and Lena Paulo Kushnir help their faculty colleagues in arts and science incorporate new technology into their teaching. (Photo by Diana Tyszko)

Technology and the way we use it is always changing in all fields including postsecondary education. That's why the Teaching and Technology Support (TTS) office in the Faculty of Arts & Science is looking at effective ways to harness technology to help students learn.

Through research projects, instructional sheets, departmental presentations and Blackboard teaching sessions, manager Lena Paulo Kushnir and her colleague Kenneth Berry are guiding faculty in the most reasonable and accessible directions for teaching today's students.

"We're looking specifically at how different environments and tools help students learn and make teachers even better teachers," said Paulo Kushnir.

For the past 15 years, Paulo Kushnir has been doing research on computer applications in education, instructional design, technology issues and educational psychology. Most recently, the office has won awards for research papers on the impact of using podcasts in higher education and how hypertext can sometimes negatively affect learning. Their research shows students actually learn better reading through text rather than clicking through multiple links.

Paulo Kushnir has also created instructional sheets for faculty to use when trying to decide what type of online communication tools – from journals, wikis and blogs to discussion boards, e-portfolios and email – are right for a lesson.

Much of the office’s research investigates misconceptions about learning. They've found that faculty are hesitant to use podcasts because they may lead to students skipping classes.  But their research shows that students mainly want access to podcasts for course review, as a backup if they are sick, have a disability or if English is their second language. The office also found that students thought podcasts would help them get better test grades.  Their research shows they don't.

But clickers – hand-held devices that let students vote on answers to questions an instructor poses to the class – do help students learn and get better grades.  Paulo Kushnir thinks this may be because it forces students to learn together and in front of the rest of the class.

Next she plans to shift her research focus towards online assessment as a common problem faculty face is not knowing how to assess students in online assignments where it is easier to cheat.

One of the benefits of conducting research and working with faculty in applying technology to teaching is discovering the many factors that come into play.

"What have I learned about learning? It's tough; it sometimes looks different online and that's sometimes hard to measure."