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An online faculty reflects on changing course technology

My mother-in-law “Martha” is a tenured Languages faculty at a large, multi-campus, community college. She teaches 4 courses each Fall & Spring term, as well as leads an annual 4 week Summer Study Abroad experience. Typically she teaches 3 of her 4 courses per term in person, and because enrollment for online courses is typically more popular, it could be split 50/50. She uses the same electronic textbook for all courses, and even the traditional courses which meet in-person 4 hours per week, incorporate significant online components.

Martha’s career teaching Languages started in 1975. Over the past 40 years she has taught at a variety of locations; the first half of her career was at a high school, and then on to adjunct at a 4 year university, followed by tenure track at a community college. She has seen many changes in teaching methods over her career as technology has been more thoroughly incorporated. I interviewed Martha for reflections on her teaching methods over her career as she has been required to use different tech tools. The following questions provided insight on her opinions of what aspects of technology in teaching works well, and what she misses about teaching from early in her career before technology was integrated.

Katie: “Thanks for chatting with me about your career, Martha. What technology tools do you primarily use in your teaching today?”

Martha: “The eBook is the biggest piece, students love it. It’s so interactive. You can click on a term and hear pronunciation. It has a tutor feature, this cartoon “professor” that supports grammar and pronunciation learning throughout the book. There are quizzes at the end of each chapter that can link back to help you find the answer. And each chapter has a video, like an episode of a tv show, that uses all the vocabulary, student’s really love that. When I teach in class, I can pull up the eBook on the classroom screen, and students can use it on their phone or wherever.

“Homework is all online. It’s really flexible in what the instructor chooses for what type of homework to assign, and you can change it throughout the term to make it for what the class needs. There can either be worksheets, or an instructor can choose an avatar and present a scenario and a student records himself either audio or video doing the pronunciation. Also there could be a partner chat assignment where 2 students or a small group from the course would be online at the same time and test each other. It’s great that it’s so flexible.”

Katie: “What pieces of technology do you think are most effective, and what parts are the hardest for either students or yourself?”

Martha: “The class platform, the eBook and homework, are all from the same company, and are intended to be used together. I’ve had a chance to give feedback to the company on what works best, and they have made modifications. Which is great because it gets easier for me to use every year. There was about 10 years where every year it seemed we had to use something different, and it’s hard to learn a new system every year. Now they use the same system across most all classes, so students can be familiar with it too. When students have tech problem they come to me with their questions. I can’t do anything about that, but I can be flexible if it impacts their assignment, and I can send them to the tutoring center because they help with technology issues too. I send students to the tutoring center for everything!”

“The best parts of using teaching technology is that it’s accessible and accommodating for students. The videos and tools that help pronunciation and grammar are so helpful, and it’s all in a package set to go so that makes prep easier for me. My students have such busy schedules, they work full time, they have kids or whatever, and often they are required to take a language. When so much of the work is online or it’s a totally online class, it can help their schedules. I do require certain workshops where everyone needs to be online at the same time and they do group work, and I even offer multiple time options, but it’s still hard for people to show up. I get emails and requests to meet at really late hours, which I just can’t do. But if that is the only time they can do the work and they submit their assignments, I give them credit. I try to be accommodating with schedules because I know it’s hard, and online work really helps with that for many students.”

“Technology in the classroom is here to stay, and will only grow to accommodate student’s needs. When I was teaching before there was so much technology, there was a different classroom dynamic, more community and students interacting more with each other. I kind of miss that. There is something so valuable in the face to face interaction; the technology I use now can do that to some degree but there is also something missing.”

Katie: “What do you hope for in your teaching and using tech tools for the remainder of your career?”

Martha: “That there won’t be too many more changes, ha! But really, it’s hard to learn a new system, and I think [where I am] we’ll keep using our current system for awhile. I’m sure they will have little improvements and new features and tools, when it’s engaging and intuitive to use that is great. The world is going so global and online many different types of people can come together. I hope my students can go on to participate in multi-language communities, online or wherever. Also I love my study abroad program, but only certain students can afford to attend. If there were more tools to electronically connect students to study abroad or something. The learning opportunities that are made accessible because of online tools are essential.”

Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.

Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.

I am a professional Academic Adviser, having worked with undergraduates and graduate students since 2001. I specialize in providing personalize support for students experiencing transitions in their education. My goal is to help you consider what advanced educational options, and next steps in academic and career pursuits, are best for you.
Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.

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About the author: Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.
I am a professional Academic Adviser, having worked with undergraduates and graduate students since 2001. I specialize in providing personalize support for students experiencing transitions in their education. My goal is to help you consider what advanced educational options, and next steps in academic and career pursuits, are best for you.