At this point, my blog is likely a case of a tree falling in the woods, but I have to start somewhere. My interests are in the pedagogic implications of educational technologies; simply put, I’m interested in identifying instructionally sound methods of using technologies in the classroom.
Why? I spent three years as a Lecturer in the UCSB Writing Program, bookended by one-year stints as a TA. I was recruited because of my technical writing background to teach the Engineering Writing sequence (three-quarter curriculum specifically designed for first-year engineering freshman). At the time, my colleagues had to reapply for their jobs every year until they reached their sixth year: if accepted for “tenure,” they had to reapply every three years. They were under intense pressure to incorporate technology into their instruction. The administrators didn’t really understand the technologies, so there were no models of effective pedagogical use. Thus, I observed many classes where the instructor simply held their lecture-based course in a computer lab and used the board or an overhead projector to post notes. Overwhelming research on the pitfalls of lecture-based instruction in writing courses aside, this practice placed students in front of a highly seductive distraction, and most couldn’t resist checking e-mail or visiting websites.
When I’d argue against this practice in faculty meetings, I got blank stares. In the late 90’s, educational uses of technology were a bit fuzzy. I knew I’d need solid research to back my claims if I wanted to effect change.
I believed that technology was simply a tool and that we should make it fit within our pedagogical goals and not vice-versa. I attended conferences in my field that touted flashy best practices of flash animation creation and website use. While I saw the need for students to be able to communicate with new media, I also saw the content of student writing deteriorating. Sure, the design looked good, but the students couldn’t write. So, what next? We needed a way to better understand how to integrate technology into our instruction in a pedagogically sound way: we needed to determine whether we could use technology to improve learning outcomes.
I took a class with Richard Mayer in 2004 and his research examined exactly the same issue. With a focus on student understanding as the ultimate learning outcome, Mayer’s research considers how multi-media affects student learning retention and transfer.
His research provided a foundation and framework for me to explore issues of educational technology use in writing courses.
In the past four years, I have studied student engagement, instructor engagement, learner expertise, and, currently, effects of delivery modes on learner comprehension. While in each of these studies, I’ve encountered best practice examples, my goal is to build an empirically-based understanding of effective uses of technology in the classroom. At the same time, I’ve been involved in teacher training through the South Coast Writing Project, so I’ve been able to apply this research to training local K-College teachers in effective uses of technology for writing instruction.