Professors use technology to engage students

Joan Vinson

Some UT professors are integrating technology and online tools like social media with traditional teaching methods to encourage participation and performance in class.

Psychology professors Sam Gosling and James Pennebaker have aimed to encourage student involvement in class by offering online discussions. This fall, the professors require students in their Introduction to Psychology courses to bring their laptops to class to take quizzes, complete assignments and participate in small discussion groups. Some professors in the School of Journalism have also embraced the technology route and require students to use social media in class.

According to an October survey by education services company Pearson and the Babson Research Survey Group, nearly 34 percent of 4,000 professors surveyed use social media in their teaching. The study found blogs and wikis were professors’ most preferred social media tools. Eighty-eight percent of faculty also use online video in their classrooms.

Gosling said he has seen an improvement in performance from students in his introduction class, a large-format class with more than 1,000 students in the course. He did not require students to purchase a traditional textbook, instead using online demonstrations, TEDTalks, journal articles and other online texts.

“Generally students like not having to buy a textbook,” Gosling said. “Especially when it comes to saving money.”

Wanda Cash, School of Journalism associate director, said encouraging student participation in big lecture classes is a difficult task.

“It is always difficult to encourage student participation because some students are shy about speaking up,” Cash said. “When students tweet comments I can look up on the Twitter stream and answer some of their questions without singling them out.”

She also requires students to tweet comments about lectures during class and created Facebook pages for her classes where updates and relevant articles are posted. The School of Journalism now requires students to create a digital portfolio, which Cash said functions as an online resume.

Journalism senior lecturer Robert Quigley said he uses a variety of tools in his social media class, including Facebook and Twitter.

“This way of learning is unusual for students, so getting them to participate is not that easy,” Quigley said. “I hope to get more participation in the class as students become more comfortable.”

Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Professors use Web tools to engage large classes