Placing Content in the Hands of Students
“The great advantage of technology in the classroom is that it places content in the students’ hands,” Pitchumani Angayarkanni, an associate professor of computer science at Lady Doak College, explained in a recent interview. Students already look to their smartphones for explanations of new concepts, and advanced technology applications, such as augmented reality (AR), can open more opportunities for learning. Dr. Angayarkanni and her colleague, Sridevi Venkatachalam, an associate professor of chemistry, decided to build on students’ ease with technology and incorporate AR into a module for Dr. Sridevi’s chemistry course. “Bringing these types of immersive experiences into the classroom can enhance students’ learning and creativity,” Dr. Angayarkanni said.
Technology lets students set their own pace, and Dr. Angayarkanni designed the chemistry module so that technology can gauge the learner’s level of comprehension. “If the technology senses doubt in a student, based on her eye movement, then it can help her review material or let the teacher know where she lacks understanding,” Dr. Angayarkanni said. Online multiple-choice quizzes, built into the chemistry module, give Dr. Sridevi insights into students’ comprehension, and the comments they post help her understand any difficulties they encounter.
Technology does not replace teachers, the two Lady Doak professors believe, but it can prompt them to take a fresh look at their role in the learning process. “As a chemistry teacher, I must first understand the subject thoroughly,” Dr. Sridevi said, “and then I can take on the role of content creator.” Technology allows her to make greater use of her imagination as she introduces new concepts to her students in creative ways. “How can I use technology, for example, to show how particles collide? Can this content be reproduced in 3-D to enhance learning?”
And, the professors have learned, even digital natives value the physical presence of a teacher in the classroom. “The teacher is a must,” Dr. Sridevi said. “Students want a teacher to clarify their doubts.” Technology also can free the teacher to pay more attention to the social aspects of teaching: if technology gives her an early indication that a student is struggling, the teacher can explore whether social, emotional, or health factors are contributing to academic problems.
Technology also opens new opportunities for interdisciplinary cooperation, something Dr. Angayarkanni and Dr. Sridevi both found especially rewarding. “Our computer science department wants to work alongside colleagues in other departments to develop beautiful, intellectually stimulating modules,” Dr. Angayarkanni said. That kind of collaboration improves teaching, deepens learning, and, as Dr. Sridevi points out, helps educators respond to the question “How can we make a whole person?”