Three Uses of Digital Tools to Supplement Engagement and Learning in the College Classroom

Three Uses of Digital Tools to Supplement Engagement and Learning in the College Classroom

Kristi Kaeppel, Marc A. Reyes, Emma Bjorngard-Basayne
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0119-1.ch024
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Despite the widespread use of smartphones, apps, and social media in college students' and instructors' lives, there has been a slow adoption of these digital tools into the classroom. This chapter posits that individuals' online interactions account for a great deal of informal learning and that by integrating these digital tools in our classrooms, instructors can complement and extend the formal learning of their classrooms. Specifically, this chapter offers three ways that technology can assist in the classroom: to promote inclusive participation, to enhance the classroom climate, and to explore and demonstrate course material in an engaging way. To these ends, the authors explore the efficacy of social media sites, Google applications, and GIFs and memes.
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For all the talk of students’ fixations with their cell phones, it is curious that the ubiquitous apps and websites that students—and instructors—use daily are still largely untapped in the college classroom. Eighty percent of 18-to-25-year-olds use Facebook and forty percent of them user Twitter several times per day (Pew Research, 2018). Technology is integrated into their daily lives and acts a primary source through which they build and maintain friendships and personal relationships (Martínez-Alemán, 2014). Regardless of the concerns the frequent use of technology raises, these digital tools are an inherent part of modern life that account for much of our students’ informal learning and interactions with the world.

Given the way these technologies are embedded into many of our students’ everyday lives, there exists an opportunity to utilize digital tools in the teaching and learning process. In doing so, instructors blur the line between the informal learning that occurs via the Internet and the formal learning in our classrooms. The authors define digital tools as “software and platforms for teaching and learning that can be used with computers or mobile devices to work with text, image, audio, and video” (Interactive Teaching in Languages with Technology, 2017, p.3). This definition encompasses social media, defined as “technologies that facilitate social interaction, make possible collaboration, and enable deliberation across stakeholders. These technologies include blogs, wikis, media (audio, photo, video, text) sharing tools, networking platforms (including Facebook), and virtual worlds” (Bryer & Zavatarro, 2011, p. 327), which can be accessed in the classroom via smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

Social media’s hypnotic lure derives partly from the way it positions individuals as constructors of information and communication, allowing for participation and connection with others not possible with older forms of media (Selywyn, 2012). Similarly, with college classrooms shifting away from instructor-transmitted lectures toward student construction of knowledge, social media offers ways to facilitate more inclusive participation and engagement in the classroom. Students who tend to avoid class participation might feel more comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their opinions through social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube (Faizi, El Afia, & Chiheb, 2013).

Despite the affordances technology and social media sites provide in the classroom, higher education instructors have been reluctant to adopt them (Roblyer, McDaniel, Webb, Herman, & Witty, 2010). This is notable given that most instructors use social media in their personal lives (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2012) and generally report positive attitudes toward social media use in teaching (Ajjan & Hartshorne, 2008). Scott (2013) suggests that a lack of knowledge about how to operationalize digital tools like social media sites in the classroom partly explains the slow adoption and that instructors may require more institutional support to do so. This contention is supported by Rogers-Estable (2014), who reported that extrinsic factors like support and time were barriers to technology adoption by faculty.

Recognizing the need for more support and concrete strategies to integrate digital tools in the classroom, this chapter offers practical, easy-to-implement uses of popular technologies in teaching for both current and future faculty. The following chapter foregrounds how these tools can aid achievement of three specific goals: to promote more inclusive classrooms, to build a positive classroom environment, and to engage with content and demonstrate learning. Care was taken to highlight tools and examples that work well across disciplines and that do not require more than a standard level of technological familiarity.

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