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Teaching with technology

The landscape of learning is changing

By Adam Overland

An image from Cotner's blog--newly created with the help of her technologically savvy students. Blogging is just one of several tools Cotner uses to bolster interest and engagement among her students.

August 18, 2009

Associate professor of biology Sehoya Cotner is teaching her students about sex, and it's safe to say they're interested. But in Biology 1001: The Evolution and Biology of Sex, evolution isn't limited to the biological. The technological evolution of teaching and learning is just as much a part of class, and again, it's safe to say, students are interested.

Podcasts and wikis and iTunes! Oh, my!

Wikis and blogs, YouTube and iTunes, podcasts and vodcasts, Twitter and Moodle—it can sound like a foreign language to some. The landscape for content production and delivery has changed dramatically and quickly, and as students--often earlier than others--adopt this technology the ways and media with which to teach expand to complement tried-and-true teaching methods. Incorporating any of these tools into teaching is simply a next step in the evolution of teachers and learners. The technology allows for flexibility and mobility (laptops and iPods) and the ability to create shared-knowledge libraries, and it offers an alternative communication channel. And in many ways, teachers and students can work together to develop and refine new ways of teaching at the U. It’s happening now.

With the guidance and support of the Office of Information Technology’s (OIT) Digital Media Center (DMC) and her own students, Cotner is just one example of an instructor who has opted for a variety of technology in teaching, and she's studying results and learning about what does and doesn't work for her students. Some of the methods take a lot of time and effort, and some take very little. Evaluation of technology-enhanced learning activities and courses are an important component in the Digital Media Center's development. The DMC's J. D. Walker conducted a pilot study and will continue researching students’ use of vodcasts. DMC evaluation and research on Cotner’s podcasting project is available at Using video podcasts. The DMC offers evaluation and research services related to the use of educational technology at the University.

Cotner worked with the DMC over the past two years to produce a dozen or so videos (one of which is below), which she’s made available online for her students. "In teaching for 10 years, I know there are topics that students don't get, or they don't make connections. As an experienced teacher I can say, ’Let's design a fun little video to address the issue and see what happens.’" In doing so, Cotner creates a video that students can go back to frequently, and which can be used year after year. In large-format classes like Cotner’s, that becomes increasingly important; any instructor who has taught such a class understands the challenges of keeping pace and addressing the needs of all students. If used effectively, technology in the classroom cuts down on the number of questions students might ask on a particular issue, while increasing their understanding.

Heredity and Sex

Although Cotner admits that creating high-quality videos can be fairly labor-intensive, they have been well received by students. One less labor-intensive technology is a lecture-recording program called Camtasia. By giving a lecture during class on a laptop, the program essentially allows for the creation of a "class capture." The instructor records the screen and his or her own voice so that whatever appears on screen is recorded in sync with the instructor’s explanation. Cotner often uses the program to record PowerPoint lectures. The after-class process takes about 15 minutes to add captions and make available to students online. For more information, see class capture at the U.

Truth in testing
"Students like this technology, but that's not enough," says Cotner. Although 65 percent of one class used video and 76 percent of those found it useful, Cotner wanted to know that it was indeed effective. So she compared the cognitive gains (on evolution tests) of students in a class that used video with another class that used class captures. By targeting misconceptions on evolution, the videos outgained class captures. Nevertheless, the class captures were also found to be effective, and much less time-intensive for the instructor. Incidentally, Cotner also found that the videos and class captures received more online views than there were students in the class, which suggests some students went back often. Recently, Cotner has had a student volunteer begin to create a blog where much of this content will be housed.

Podcasting: a method of publishing or distributing multimedia content (e.g., audio, video) over the Web.

As a former radio station disc jockey from 30 years ago, David Arendale finds a weekly podcast to be a kind of revisit to his past…something he's suited for as a teacher of history. Arendale, associate professor in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, has been using podcasts in his introductory world history course since before the University was using iTunes U as a method of delivering that content. His podcast project, Then and Now, began airing regular episodes in November 2006 on the U’s blog service, UThink. He specializes in involving his students in creating the content, and much of it is a truly remarkable demonstration of student engagement. Student voices are heard throughout each 15- to 30-minute episode, with topics ranging from music specials incorporating student selections from a certain time period (or with lyrics about a country or time period) to student interviews with refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Arendale also uses the podcasts to provide chapter reviews, with students frequently offering study tips. It creates an accessible study community for all students, he says. "Students form study groups all the time, and I don't think it’s fair that someone might not be part of an in-group. This is making open for everyone what some students are already benefiting from doing."

Content is king
It takes about 2.5 hours per week to put each podcast together, much of which Arendale accomplishes using student help. He says student help was key to putting the program together. "Frankly, I think teachers are better at managing content than the technology," he says. "Ask your students to help you. They will think higher of you whenever you ask their help." Arendale says it's also important to keep in mind that whatever a person might produce, it doesn't have to be a major Hollywood production; content is king, he says. "Students listen because of great content. You can't compete with NPR and students don't expect that," he says. The podcasts have become so popular in Arendale’s classes that these days he has to turn students down because there aren’t enough roles for them in the project. Arendale's blog is available at UThink and iTunes U.

Arendale also created an online Web resource, Podcasting in Education, which provides an overview of podcasting and its other uses in education. For those who want to know more, Arendale says, "I'd be more than happy to sit down with anyone over a cup of coffee and talk about this."

But the U has plenty of no-fee-for-service resources available to help instructors get started with this technology. Simply send an e-mail to and they'll send a consultant to work with instructors to consider how to help integrate technology in their teaching.

Help getting started
The Digital Media Center supports faculty, staff, and students in their uses of digital technology, through training, evaluation and research, usability testing, and faculty development. "We do a lot with course redesign, having faculty rethink their courses with new objectives and the affordances that these new tools provide. There are best practices on how to do some of these things, and people sometimes need help constructing an assignment or thinking about how they might use it creatively or in a pedagogically sound way. A lot of time they have a good sense, but they just need someone to bounce off ideas and be connected with others doing similar things," says Paul Baepler, academic computing assessment specialist in the Digital Media Center.

ITunes U

iTunes U is an excellent way to deliver audio and video podcasts about anything going on at the University. Faculty can use iTunes U to deliver course-related audio or video to students enrolled in their courses. Students can download the content to mobile devices such as iPods, or watch and listen to the course content on their computer. For more information, see iTunes U or read U of M on iTunes.

Teaching with Technology for the First Time

This workshop introduces instructors new to educational technology to a process for choosing and evaluating technologies and strategies for their courses. Through discussion and hands-on exercises, participants will be introduced to a variety of learning technologies and will consider ways of matching technologies to their learning goals. NOTE: No previous experience with technology or technology-enhanced learning is necessary to benefit from this workshop. At its completion, attendees should be able to take the first steps toward improving student learning through technology.

Register for this course

Links to more information

OIT's Digital Media Center offers faculty development programs and consultation services systemwide to help instructors plan, design, and evaluate their courses and curricula that make use of educational technologies such as iTunes U.

Faculty at Crookston should contact the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology. Faculty at Duluth should contact Information Technology Systems and Services. The Morris campus has two offices: Computing Services and Media Services.

A November 2008 TEL Seminar hosted features perspectives of faculty on using technology as an outreach, learning, and dissemination tool. For more information, see "iTunes U and Beyond: Perspectives of Faculty."

For more information derived from studies on the effects of teaching with technology, read A Short Bibliography on Mobile Learning and Podcasting.

For more information on the many ways the U is teaching with technology, see Distributed Education & Instructional Technology.

If you'd like to go exploring various technological tools available at the U, see UTools.