College Classroom in  the Cathedral of LearningTechnology. Even the word is enough to send some TAs into a tizzy. After all, some TAs’ worst nightmares concern pouring over a presentation for hours, only to have a faulty internet connection, damaged jump drive, or other “helpful” technology fail in front of their class. In this post, we will take up where our bold GradHacker forerunners, Andrea Zellner (“I’m a Digital Grad in a Digital World”), Ashley Wiersma (“3 Ways to Hack your Class with Google+”), and Steph Hedge (“Teaching with Blogs”) have gone before us. Today, we’re tackling technologies to take the more ho-hum tasks of course management to the next level.

(1)Emailing the Class: Once thought of as a quick and cute way to communicate, email is fast becoming a dreaded chore. While others have written about the many benefits of using Twitter to communicate, I have found another solution to mass class mailing in Boomerang, a free-ish service that allows you to schedule emails from your Google account. You can schedule up to 10 emails for free each month, which is good for routine messages such as class notes for the week, and assignment reminders. It also features response tracking, which allows you to see when that student with the late assignment might need another gentle reminder.

(2)Making Class-wide Decisions: When classes need to vote on something of importance, such as what type of final assignment they would like to do, you can use live websites like to get feedback. Once only a polling site where students could text in their answers via cell phone, the site has recently kicked things up a notch by introducing features such as Discourses, which allow students to not only see, but to vote on each other’s responses. This leaves you, the saavy TA, with a few less decisions to make, and a way to model a collaborative learning environment.

(3)Helping Students to Be Active Learners: For many students, the college classroom emphasizes an unprecedented level of critical thinking and, in my field of teacher education, applying these ideas to a real-world, K-12 setting. In helping students to adjust to this curve in my classroom, I have found the website to be particularly valuable. Yes, these are video games, and yes, they do help students activate and use course content in new ways. In particular, having students play and reflect on “At Risk”, a game designed to combat the stigma of mental illness, has sparked wonderful conversations about critical empathy and teachers’ roles in seeking out expert help for students who may be struggling with these issues. Because the games on this website are targeted at social change, they fit neatly into the classes I teach, but I would encourage TAs to visit and see what themes might be applicable to your course content, or investigate what video games are most often used in teaching the content of your field.

What kinds of tech strategies do you find most helpful? How have you integrated technology into your teaching strategies?

[Image by flickr user amicicconi and used under a creative commons license]



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