Instructional Strategies – Technology in the Classroom


As a new instructor, I want to find out how the trends of technology are impacting student engagement in the modern classroom.  My goal is to explore the roles of the teacher and of the student.


The Technology Context

  • Technology not just a tool, as “plugged in” life has infused much of society
  • The Internet has changed our relationship to accessing and utilizing information
  • Much is to be considered when framing this in context with learning. How to manage the technology?  What are the impacts on teaching? What is the Digital Divide?

Adult Learning in the Digital Age[1]

  • Technology is a major variable affecting adult learning
  • Learners are turning to the World Wide Web
  • Ability to access information has facilitated learning in a way that is particularly meaningful to adult; it is just-in-time, relevant, and self-directed
  • It can also be overwhelming, inaccurate and misguided
  • First image of the digital learning context may be to picture a formal online course.
  • Yet the vast amount of adult engagement online is informal[2]

Distance Learning – In the Past

  • Distance learning began with correspondence courses in 19th century England and the United States. In Canada, as recently as the 1980’s and 1990’s, (before eLearning became the standard), distance education was accomplished by offering courses by mail. The method was simple: design a hard copy course materials package that was sent by the postal service to the student to read and do assignments.  The students completed the assignments and returned them in the mail to the instructor.  Programs varied from public school K-12 to accredited institutions.  Enrollment was small compared to traditional classroom learning. Educators created ways to reach learners who were unable to attend the educational institution, with learners and educators often never coming into personal contact. Additional media used were phonographs, television and radio. Am not sure if there are many courses delivered in this manner today!

 Demand for eLearning

  • The demand for eLearning is evidenced by increasing online learning enrollments[3] in higher education
  • With the internet, the potential for eLearning available “on demand” is real. Access to information (for those with internet access) virtually instantaneous. Online learners are engaged in everything from informal surfing to formal educational courses
  • However, “The computer as a learning platform is proving to be an ineffective and boring medium” (Sonwalker 2008)[4]. Sonwalker notes that university online teaching may be subject to poor course management systems for information exchange
  • Some reliable institutions with online credit courses include:

– UBCSFU,VCCUVic and BCIT in British Columbia

– University of Calgary, McGill University, University of Toronto,

University of Regina also have online resources

Not all courses are available online. For example, the program that I teach is not available online in British Columbia.  The students are trades apprentices, and the program has a mandatory attendance policy.



Challenges for the Educator

In James Bryson’s “Engaging Adult Learners: Philosophy, Principles and Practices” (2003), he states that his 4 core beliefs for teaching adults are:


Bryson believes that while a perfect level of “barrier free learning” is not entirely attainable, continuous improvement of providing education to a diverse population is attainable.  Therefore, continuous improvement should always be considered.

Bryson also notes that some learners have introduced imaginary barriers for teachers to overcome.  These learners:

  • Are reluctant readers
  • Have become technology dependent (obsessed? addicted?)
  • Are transactive (do not memorize, rather they learn to find online etc.)
  • Prefer passive learning to active learning
  • Have limited capacity for sustained focus
  • Are not proficient to higher order thinking
  • Are dependent on teacher provided resources
  • Find expressing ideas challenging (verbally and in written form)
  • Use transactive rather than explicit memory
  • Are anxious about the labour market

Bryson goes on to say that each barrier is an opportunity for the teacher’s skill development.  

 The challenge moving forward will be to adapt the technology to the most effective learning environments.  This adaption should involve continuous assessment and improvement

Personal Observations and Reflections on Technology in Society

In today’s society, technology is everywhere:

  • Travel by bus or aircraft, and you can’t help but notice that most people are busy using their ubiquitous smart phones
  • At work and in our personal lives, most of our non-verbal communications is delivered through some form of computer (email, text messaging etc.)
  • Handwritten or typewritten letters, newspapers and libraries are becoming much less commonly used in modern society
  • Information is now available on-demand 24/7. Some of it, I am told, is reliable
  • We are so bombarded with information that it becomes difficult for many to manage it all

My personal observations include seeing pre-teens texting at a bus stop to infants using a smartphone in public restaurants.  And I’ve also observed people become edgy when they are cut off from internet service.  Or worse, when they lose, break, or forget their mobile device at home. To think that a mere decade ago, a smartphone was a luxury item. Today it has become a necessity for many.

Personal Observations and Reflections on Technology in the Classroom

Where my son goes to university, all the students are encouraged to bring a laptop to classroom lectures.  These are lectures with dozens of screens on, tuned to dozens of websites and applications.  I am skeptical about this.  I wonder how students can focus on the lecture when they have a billion other bits of information (and misinformation) at their fingertips?  Aren’t they distracted?

Mr. Craig Lovell, my assignment partner, noted that as information is available everywhere, the technology can be overwhelming. Information is available anytime anywhere.  With so much information available, when doing research it is easy to get off topic and go down tangential rabbit trails. As he gives presentations, older adults are more focused on the learning than the younger adults.  The older adults come to class with an outcome in mind.  The younger adults come to class for general interest.

Mr. Lovell postulated one way to reach out to the younger students would be to make a game out of learning.  For an on-line learning example, if students were to earn credits, tokens, or other certification while learning, there would be more satisfaction at achieving progressive levels and tasks.  He theorized that “gamification” would increase satisfaction in the learning.

It has been my observation that younger students are more comfortable with using electronic devices than older students.  They have always been around technology, take information for granted, and are adept at finding out what is relevant (and what isn’t).

As a trades instructor, we introduce and demonstrate theories, and the students demonstrate the learning via exams and lab assignments.  After 10 weeks, they either pass (they require 70% or better) to the next level, or they must repeat the term.  This is similar to Mr. Lovell’s idea, whereas we give credits (marks) and certifications to the students who have been successful at learning.

Software in the Classroom

In their presentation “Engaging Adults Learners with Technology“Saint Mary’s College of Minnesota suggests the following software for using technology in the adult classroom:

more links here

How to Move Forward?

I believe it is my role as a teacher to:

  • Identify and mitigate barriers to learning ” And each time we find ways to reduce barriers to student learning, we reduce barriers to our own enjoyment and satisfaction as teachers” (Bryson 2003)
  • Accomodate diversity (the students aren’t going to change so I should)
  • Embrace technology (if you aren’t moving with the times then you are standing still)
  • Continuously make improvements

Moving forward as an institution, I believe we should be constantly looking at ways to improve.  Something simple (oh it is NEVER simple) like updating all of our booklets (new illustrations, page numbers, indexes and a table of contents would be very helpful!), making videos of lectures, and improving our library of powerpoint (or prezi!) presentations would be a start.

As an caveat, however, it is not my intention to suggest offering our entire course online.  Testing and exams must be done face to face.  We are certifying these students to become journeymen, and an incompetent journeyman has the potential to wreak havoc, even death, in an industrial environment.  Hence our standards are strictly governed by regulations.

Stay tuned.  I will be covering this topic in future blog post updates.



[1] Adult Learning – Linking Theory and Practice – Ch. 10 page 190- 211, (Merriam and Bierma, Jossey-Bass 2014)

[2] King, K.P. (2010).  Informal learning in a virtual era.  In C.K. Kasworm, A. D. Rose and J.M. Ross-Gordon (Eds.), Handbook of adult and continuing education (pp. 421-429). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

[3] Going the distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011 (Allen & Seaman 2011) Babson Park, MA: Babson Survey Research Group

[4] Adaptive individualization: The next generation of online educationOn the Horizon, 16 (1), 44-47


One thought on “Instructional Strategies – Technology in the Classroom

  1. Andrea McKenzie

    Hi John,

    Very thoughtful and interesting blog post.

    I agree that learning seems to be very different for the younger generations – not sure what that will mean in the long term yet. My daughter, also in university, is quite quick to skim through material and wants the ‘quick and dirty’ version, even in discussions with me. Is it possible to ‘read the Cole’s notes’ and still be able to invoke higher order thinking?




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