September 13, 2018

Technology and Learning

Whether you are teaching face-to-face, hybrid, or online classes, technology is now a feature of every classroom.  Instead of feeling the need or requirement to use everything available, pick and choose the right technology tools that enhance your teaching, engage your students, and achieve your student learning objectives.

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Technology in the Physical Class

  • Prepare by looking at the technology in your classroom. DoIT has a classroom description webpage that outlines the capacity, layout, and equipment available in all Mason classrooms.
  • Students bringing technology to class has the potential to either be a distraction or a learning tool.  You should manage your expectations about student technology use in your classroom by including a Technology Policy (examples under General Course Policies) in your syllabus.
  • Clickers (Personal Response Systems)
  • There are many in-class activities that harness student technology for in-class information fluency exercises and other activities. For instance, you might have student groups identify resources for projects with you in the classroom and help them critically evaluate the sources.  Students can create mini-presentations, look up data, tweet about their learning, etc. A good example is this list of 21st century ice breakers– great ideas for getting beyond, “let’s go over the syllabus” on the first day of class (the comments have good ideas, too, including this link to a class Jeopardy-like game.)

Sharing Information about the Course

  • Blackboard Courses: The MyMason portal leads to course-specific websites. Most students are comfortable with the Blackboard environment. You have a lot of flexibility with the space – you can use it as a one-way tool, to share course documents and links with your students, or you can engage with your students using the quiz and survey tools, discussion boards, blogs, and more.  To learn more about Blackboard, check out the support website, stop by the CLUB (Johnson Center Room 311), or sign up for Blackboard workshops.  You can also attend the VaBUG (Virginia Blackboard Users Group) meeting, held each fall (the next one is September 21, 2012 at George Mason University).
  • Keep in contact outside of class: Use twitter, Facebook, or to send messages to students. allows you to schedule text messages in advance to go out to your students without sharing your or their cellphone numbers.
  • Blackboard Collaborate: Collaborate allows for a virtual classroom. DoIT suggests using BB Collaborate for:
    • Holding virtual office hours
    • Recording lectures
    • Student group meetings
    • Inviting guest speakers
    • Connecting with internship or abroad students

Finding Digital Content

  • Library E-Reserves: Mason Libraries offer electronic reserves for course materials, so students can download the materials (articles, chapters, etc) without having to physically check them out of the library.
  • Streaming Audio and Video: These are audio or video clips that can be played directly from the internet, without being downloaded to your computer.
    • YouTube has much more than cat videos (although there are plenty of those, if you happen to be teaching about cat behavior). Search for your subject, and then use a video clip to begin a class conversation.
    • University Libraries has many full length movies and documentaries available to stream
    • Podcasts are audio files that can be downloaded for free. Most people use iTunes to manage these. They are great to assign to students for homework, or to use a portion in class to start a conversation about a subject.
    • iTunesU can be used to either record class information at Mason (see Podcasting), and you can find great video links for your students from other lectures – almost like having a guest lecturer visit! You can have the student watch together in class, or as homework as a launching place for class activities. There’s an app available for iPads and iPhones that lets you subscribe to iTunesU, so you can review the material.

Assignment Creation and Academic Integrity

Using technology to create innovative integrative assignments is one of the most exciting features!  However, it is clear that just as students have found creative ways to cheat in classes, they are also finding ways to do this in the digital world.  The most important things you can do to dissuade your students from cheating are to connect the in-class experience to the digital portion of the class and to create a class where the student understands the value of the learning experience beyond the grade or credential.  For example, you might have students outline an answer to a problem or assignment in class and then complete the assignment outside of class.  In this case, the student is already engaged in the solution and knows that you can compare the draft with the final product. It is also important that faculty report any Honor Code violations to the Office for Academic Integrity so that students understand that there are consequences to engaging in unethical behavior.

  • Instructional Design Strategies for Creating Rubrics for Online Learning: Learn about developing rubrics for discussions, papers, presentations, blogs, and welcome messages by viewing Rubrics for Online Learning (PDF).
  • Blackboard Quizzes and Exams: Blackboard gives you the ability to create very interesting quizzes, exams, and surveys.  The types of questions range from standard multiple choice and essay to multiple answer, picture hot-spots, and fill-in-the-blank.  Exams can include outside links, pictures, and other material that allow you to create exams that require real integration of knowledge. You also have control over the “strictness” of the exam, include varying the order of questions, the time available to take the exam, and the number of times the exam may be taken.  Used thoughtfully, Blackboard’s exam feature can be used to develop student activities and exams that enhance the learning experience.
  • Respondus is another tool for creating quizzes and exams in Blackboard.
  • SafeAssign, built into Blackboard, is a way of checking students assignments for plagiarism.


  • Instructional Design Strategies for Online Discussions: Learn about developing discussion prompts, facilitating online discussions, student-led facilitation of online discussions, and strategies for grading online discussions by viewing Online Discussions (PDF).
  • Email: This is the most common form of electronic conversation between faculty and students.  It is imperative that you only use your address to communicate with your students in order to maintain student confidentiality.  You can set parameters for student communication in your syllabus, including the hours that you will answer email.  Sometimes students need guidelines for professional use of email – including changing their netID to their full names, using signatures, and addressing faculty correctly (you may want to direct them to the MasonLive tutorials).
  • Discussion Boards: Blackboard includes discussion boards, which can be threaded on a topic.  Some people post questions for students and grade the answers.  Other uses of the discussion board can be to have students discuss a movie, reading, or other assignment; to collaboratively solve a problem; to engage in peer review; or to help each other with homework.
  • Facebook:  Facebook is perhaps the most popular social media site at present.  Some faculty set up Facebook pages for their classes.  Facebook pages can be useful for posting course announcements and sharing links and resources found on the site that are pertinent to the class.
  • Twitter:  Twitter is also a social media site, but here you are given 140 characters to express your thoughts (entries are called “tweets”). It has been gaining tremendous currency in the academic world as an instrument for sharing information, commenting on issues related to higher education, addressing issues in one’s particular field, etc.  As such, it has achieved acclaim for its use as a pedagogical tool to further the work of the classroom.  It can be used in the course as a complement to our other activities and to augment the analytical work of the class.  Beyond its relevance to the coursework, though, students can be encouraged to explore the site as to its possibilities for professional networking.  Twitter assignments vary widely.  One colleague at Mason, Mark Sample (used with permission), asks his students to “live-tweet” their viewing of a movie and to respond to others’ comments.  This allows students to critically engage with the material and with each other in real time even though they are not watching the film in the same physical location.  You can also use Twitter to extend classroom discussion by asking students to tweet about the course material a certain number of times over the course of the semester.  Give them some guidelines, for example, the tweets must be relevant to the class (e.g., a response to the reading, a link to a related article, a question); they must be substantive; and students should be respectful.  Such guidelines help to ensure an academic tone for the dialogue.
  • Pinterest, Flickr, etc.: There are many, often changing, digital ways to interact with your students.  Pinterest or Flickr may be useful if you want to students to exchange images as part of their course activities.

Collaborative Writing

One of the most important skills students need to learn is writing collaboratively.  In fact, the Writing Across the Curriculum program has been grappling with how to count writing done online, often collaboratively.  It is important to stress to your students that writing online can still be formal or academic (and needs to conform to those standards). Writing collaboratively is more than writing in parallel -students need to take responsibility not only for writing portions of a shared assignment, but work together to revise and edit work so that it is truly a collaborative, integrated piece.

  • Instructional Design Strategies for Groupwork: Learn about groupwork as assessment, grading team projects, and forming groups by viewing Online Groupwork (PDF).
  • Blogs and RSS Feeds:  Blogs are sites where a piece of writing can be uploaded and others can comment on the blog, creating a conversation.  Blogs are easy to create. You can use the Blackboard blog feature or a free site like Blogspot or WordPress. The difference is that the Blackboard blog is restricted to being viewed by the people in your course and you can grade it (even setting up a rubric).  On free sites your blog is more visible, but you don’t have integrated grading.  A blog can be very useful for having students write short essays and having other students comment on the essays.  An example of a blog assignment is to have the students find relevant information (news stories, pictures, etc.) and connect that information to course material (e.g., class activities, discussions, and texts). Mark Sample, at THATCamp, hosted a session on the “traditional roles” of blogging for students (great ideas for starting to use a blog) and the notes have ideas for new uses.
  • Wikis:  Wikis are collaborative writing spaces where students can each log in and edit the same piece of writing.  Because they are online, you can see the earlier drafts as well as the current work.  At Mason, you can use PBworks for your class wiki – instructions, models, and example assignments are available – where else – on the Mason wikiWikipedia is an example of a public wiki.  You can ask you students to create or update a Wikipedia entry as a class assignment that helps them to understand how the entries are created and the reliability of the information. Faculty Focus published a nice post by John Orlando about beginning to use wikis in the classroom.
  • Google Docs: Google Docs also support collaborative writing. Unlike wikis, GoogleDocs actually allow students to edit the same document at the same time. GoogleDocs are shared privately.


Before putting together a class presentation, think about your intentions, your class size, and your course subject.  Is PowerPoint the most effective tool to help your students learn in this lecture, lab, seminar, or recitation?  Often faculty discover that PowerPoint can diminish the kind of classroom environment they want to create.  Strive to match your vision of the classroom environment with the learning activities you construct and never underestimate the power of a white board and a marker! Presentation software packages:

File and Reference Sharing

There are a multitude of ways that students can share digital documents with you and their peers.  The Cloud (just a short way of saying a place to store documents over the internet, instead of on your own computer) makes some of this easy.

  • Dropbox is one example of a free file sharing service that can be used from computers and mobile devices and shared selectively with others.  One nice feature with Dropbox is that you can save a file here and then send a colleague a link to the file instead of sending the whole file.  Great for images and presentations, it keeps you from filling up each others’ mailboxes!  Students can create shared folders for their groups that they can access from any computer.
  • Groups in Blackboard allow students to share documents and communicate with one another.  You create the groups, and then can see and track when and how the students communicate with each other.
  • Zotero is a wonderful bibliography and bookmark program, developed by the Center for History and New Media at Mason.  Similar to EndNote and other bibliographic software, it can be used to store and format references, but it can also serve as a shared annotated bibliography.  It’s a great way for students to learn to document their research process.  Libraries can be shared between groups and shared in the cloud so they are accessible from any computer. University Libraries often holds workshops on Zotero.

Fun Tools for Visual Exploration

Additional Information and Teaching with Tech blogs

Instructional Design Strategies for Teaching and Learning with Technology: Learn about technology resources and contacts by viewing Teaching and Learning with Technology at Mason (PDF).

Teaching with Technology Blogs – for fresh ideas!