Zhang Yin, Ocean University of China

New Tools for Teaching and Learning

Zhang YinZhang Yin was an undergraduate student when she first encountered the writing of Donald P. Ely, an expert in the field of educational technology. His words – “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?” – motivated Ms. Zhang to devote herself to exploring technological solutions to educational problems. Now, with the support of the United Board Faculty Scholarship Program, she is pursuing a PhD in educational technology at the University of Hong Kong.

One question that Ms. Zhang has encountered at her home institution, Ocean University of China in Qingdao, China, is how teachers can effectively engage their students.  “Most students are digital natives, born in the information society,” she explains, and technology infuses their day-to-day lives. That, in turn, creates a call to action for educators. “Teachers need to know how to communicate with students and provide support with the help of technology.”

Ms. Zhang describes some of the possibilities: “Technology can be a learning resource, such as an electronic book, or it can play a role as a tutor, through a question-answering system.” Technology also can create a learning tracing system for teachers, providing them with statistical data that helps them monitor their students’ learning and adjust their teaching approach accordingly.

Ms. Zhang has found that both teachers and students are eager to use technology.  However, she cautions that technology is “merely a tool” and not a substitute for an active learning environment. “Technology can improve teaching only when it is used for facilitating learning-centered practices, where students actively take part in learning, collaborate with each other in problem-solving, and team up with others to create innovative thoughts and products.”

Technology also creates ways to bridge geographical distances. Even while immersed in her PhD studies in Hong Kong, Ms. Zhang uses online platforms and resources to continue teaching some of her university students and to monitor the progress of her most important student, her young son, at home in Qingdao. “Technology can benefit students’ learning,” Ms. Zhang says, “no matter when and where it happens.”

This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horizons.