February 9, 2012
At Hamilton College, the integration of technology has become a standard feature of the classroom experience. Just as smart phones, laptops and iPods are central to modern life, so too are PowerPoint, Blackboard and all-campus mail essential to the contemporary lesson plan. Hamilton ITS reports that 85 percent of the classrooms here are equipped with computers or data projectors and 80 percent of courses use the Blackboard system. It is apparent that professors have embraced technology as an effective supplement to traditional teaching practices.
But today’s college student is no stranger to this technology. The internet, for example, has not changed the way students communicate, but rather has always served as a tool of communication. Students have come of age in a world where technology dominates our information-driven society. As a result, our tech-savvy generation views traditional tech-teaching tools such as PowerPoint and class blogs to be less innovative and more mundane.
In an educational environment where technology has become conventional, professors at Hamilton are redefining what it means to use “non-traditional” teaching tools in an increasingly virtual world.
“Students here expect creative approaches to teaching,” remarked S. Brent Plate, visiting associate professor of religious studies, “that is the beauty of a liberal arts college.” Plate, who last semester taught a class titled Religion in the Media with a radio show component, has adjusted his lesson plan and teaching style to employ a more integrative, imaginative use of technology.
Last semester, Plate answered WHCL’s call for more creative show types with “That Religious Show,” an hour-long talk-radio show that focused on religious news and the general topics relating to religion in the media. The show replaced small papers and oral presentations and factored heavily into student’s final grades. Each student was required to appear on the show 3 times, for blocks of 10 minutes.
When asked about the success of his radio experiment, Plate replied, “I found the students to be very receptive. The whole experience was less static. Very public and proactive.” The show required students to participate and apply their analytical skills towards a new medium: talk radio.
Plate is part of a growing number professors who aim to integrate not just technology but modern media into the classroom. This movement reflects a desire on the part of professors to stimulate the passions of their students in an innovative way that blends classroom collaboration and real-world exposure.
Jennifer Thomas, Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics, arrived at Hamilton this fall with experience integrating “non-traditional” teaching tools into her courses. At Oberlin College, she implemented a variety of online role-playing interfaces with a Classics twist. She instituted a mock Roman election using i-clickers and ran a simulation of Rome circa 64CE using a social networking platform playfully named “Neropolis.” This semester, in her Classics 120 course, she will once again integrate Neropolis, which she describes as a “reacting to the past” game played in a social networking environment like Facebook.”
Thomas believes that these types of teaching tools have positively affected both the classroom environment and her students’ learning experiences.
“Neropolis is all about an intuitive means of connection and communication,” offers Thomas. “It’s a dynamic that everyone knows.”
Her web-interfaces are designed to require participation in a collaborative environment. Hands-on learning, she believes, allows students to remove their modern prejudices and see the point of view of the people they are acting as. This type of personal investment is invaluable in a humanities setting, because students translate the experience of acting into active analysis of texts.
“Teaching becomes more than me just telling it,” remarks Thomas, “Neropolis is memorable and integrative.”
It is the intuitive, collaborative environment that students crave and professors love. Using the radio or a social networking platform adds a new dimension to the modern learning experience that is all about taking academia outside of the classroom. Plate has even taught a class that combines religious field trips with Google Maps, creating both virtual and physical representations of religious sites in the Oneida county area. Instead of implementing technology for technology’s sake, such as a tired blog or Wiki, professors use these tools to increase consciousness about their subject outside of their lectures.
“[Traditional] teaching methods are going to change very soon, as people in grad school today who had much exposure to technology throughout their own education start teaching,” says Thomas. Stale use of chalkboards and discussion boards will give way to the adoption of “non-traditional” teaching tools, such as the ones profiled in this article, simply because students will not be engaged by anything else.
But for now, as students of the liberal arts, we enjoy the innovative methods of our professors who understand that education is about effectively addressing the needs of a dynamic community of learners and bringing intellectual inquiry into everyday life.