Teaching & Tech Fair: turning tech skeptics into advocates

By Neale McDevitt

By his own admission, Donald Kramer is somewhat reluctant to jump into unquestioning lockstep with other soldiers of the technological revolution. “I’m not a Luddite,” said the Biology professor, “but I am very cynical when it comes to new technologies in the classroom. Often they seem pretty gimmicky to me.”

What then is Kramer the cynic doing touting the benefits of the Student Response System (also called clickers) at the upcoming Teaching and Technology Fair to be held at the Faculty Club on April 30? “Because I’m a real professor talking about a real situation,” he explained.

Kramer will be one of dozens of faculty members telling their technological success stories at the Fair, an event that emphasizes the importance of technology in the enhancement of teaching and learning. According to Sylvia Franke, Chief Information Officer, the Fair is also a coming out party, of sorts.

“IT Services has a year-long commitment to supporting teaching technologies and much of it is done behind the scenes, as is the work being done by the people at Teaching and Learning Services and the Educational Technologies group,” said Franke. “The Technology Fair is our chance to really expose this year-round undercover work to the larger community.”

Speakers will be highlighting centrally supported technologies with faculty presenters discussing their firsthand experience with such things as employing Camtasia in conjunction with a Tablet PC; using myCourses with the integration of Facebook and YouTube; getting students to use Turnitin to get a better understanding of how to cite people’s ideas; and using Wikis to support collaborative learning.

If it all sounds like a foreign language, have no fear, the Fair is a great place to demystify the great technological unknown. The emphasis of this year’s event is to have faculty presenters, many of whom were cynical at first, tell their stories.

“When McGill first wanted to try clickers, they brought in a professor from another university to talk about how well they worked in his class,” said Kramer. “That’s what sold me on the idea of giving them a try – having a professor talk about his firsthand experience.”

Clickers were designed to engage students in large introductory classes. Armed with a device that looks much like your TV remote, they are asked to answer a variety of multiple-choice questions over the course of a lecture based on material just covered. Kramer had so much success with clickers in his 200-level biology class last year, that he used them in his 300-level course this year.

Kramer says student engagement has increased “tremendously” since incorporating clickers into his lectures. “I’m an advocate.”

But that’s his story to tell.

Teaching and Technology Fair 2009; April 30; 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Faculty Club (3450 McTavish). Registration before April 23 is recommended. For more information visit www.mcgill.ca/collaboration/fair09/