Jan Costenbader

Keeping up with the Joneses (Technology)

“What then, is the Singlularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.” –Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, p.1. Penguin Group, 2005

Ray Kurzweil predicts that this Singularity will occur sometime in the first half of the 21st century. I don’t think I am really ready for it! I have enough trouble keeping up with the simple changes in educational technologies that impact my institution and my work on a daily basis. These rapid changes affect me in a couple of ways. First, I need a strategy to stay abreast of the latest and greatest tools. Second, I need a reasonably quick way to assess these emerging technologies and determine if further investigation is worthwhile. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted by bright, shiny things and sometimes will go down the rabbit hole and consume inordinate amounts of time trying new things without any regard to their usefulness and impact, simply because they are new. While I don’t have any really good answers to my dilemma, I can share a couple of recent activities that may help formulate a mini-strategy for dealing with technological change.

I teach several developmental Mathematics courses that make heavy use of technology through Pearson’s MyMathLab. With MyMathLab, we assign homework assignments and quizzes that are linked to online aids such as the textbook, publisher created videos, and example problems. For the most part, this works quite well except for the fact that the computer is quite inflexible in accepting student answers if they don’t format their response exactly as the program expects it, but that is another story. MyMathLab also includes the Knewton adaptive learning engine as part of the product. Since Mathematics is highly scaffolded, it seemed to make a lot of sense to use it. For example, if a student fails a given concept, Knewton sends the student to prerequisites for that concept. This ensures that a student fully understands all the building blocks of the failed concept before he or she tackles it again.

I taught the same course twice during the summer of 2015. The first session, I used the traditional MyMathLab format. In the second session, I taught the same course, but this time enabled the Knewton engine. Overall, I was pleased with the results but it was just a handful of students so it would be helpful to involve additional sections and instructors in the coming quarters. Since I was able to successfully run the course, it was logical to assume that I could roll it out to other instructors in the coming quarters.

So, here is where I formulated my first corollary of technology adoption: don’t assume that everyone thinks like I do! In this case, there was a significant learning curve and some technological challenges in creating and administering the adaptive learning plan, but I revel in these kinds of challenges. However, my colleagues, most of whom are adjunct faculty, don’t spend their entire day with technology. I discovered this when trying to explain the administration of the adaptive learning engine to a friend who was teaching the same course the next quarter. I began to enthusiastically explain the results and how to set it up when I finally stopped short and discovered that I has lost him somewhere around “Hello”. We abandoned plans to implement the adaptive study plan for this quarter, at least.

The bottom line for the ‘technology expert’ (also known as Geek) is to temper your enthusiasm for new technologies with a dose of reality and several important questions. Can you transfer this technology readily to your constituents? Do they have technical skills to use the new tool effectively? If not, what training do you need to put in place to roll out the new tool? Is the tool so complex that it will require a substantial amount of support from the technical staff? Oh yes, and what about documentation? Unfortunately, I am guilty of letting enthusiasm get in the way of reality, so I will be asking these questions of myself before running about yelling “Hey, look at this cool new tool.”

The other event that is ongoing right now is my search for a technology that allows for embedded questions in a video lecture. Right now, my cool tool of the day is SoftChalkCloud. I use it to deliver short video lectures followed by a couple of questions relevant to the video that are placed just under the video. But in the classroom lecture, I teach and pause during the instruction to ask a question or two. Wouldn’t it be cool, (there’s that word again) if I could embed questions directly in the video? So that brings me to the next question, how do you stay up with the latest technologies? Listing in, no particular order, I use the following:

  • Colleagues
  • Google
  • Conferences
  • Vendors

My go-to new technology source is my colleagues! We are a decentralized team, so it makes it more difficult to stay in touch with each other, but here is where technology helps (imagine that!). We use Slack. From their own description, Slack is a “real-time messaging, archiving and search for teams”. We use it exactly that way with channels dedicated to such things as help, random notes and channels for sub teams. When someone finds something ‘cool’ it is usually posted on Slack.

Conferences are another source, but I burned out on travel many years ago and let my younger colleagues go and bring back the news and post it on Slack. Vendor are another source as many of them now offer webinars introducing their newest technologies. The quest for embedded quizzes was trigged by this invitation to a webinar offered by a video platform company called Kaltura.

Join this webinar to learn the advantages of making video content more interactive, and see how to increase the benefits of your video content. We will also demonstrate interactive video tools and show you how to easily create in-video embedded quizzes to keep your viewers engaged and easily measure individual responses and feedback.

Well, I couldn’t make the webinar, so that sent me to my friend Google. (Some things man was never meant to know, for everything else, there’s Google.) A quick Google search of ‘in-video embedded quizzes’ led me to 8 Good Web Tools to Create Video Quizzes for Your Class. But that’s not all, the second hit led me to Techsmith and information about quiz tools built into Camtasia Studio. So that was the easy part, now the hard part begins as I embark on a technology assessment, keeping in mind the lessons learned from the adaptive learning exercise, in that I must consider the technical skills of my clients!

I have enough trouble keeping up with the Joneses (technology), I am not ready for Singularity!

Jan Costenbader

About Jan Costenbader

Jan came to DePaul from California State University, Chico in November of 2010. There, he taught Mathematics and developed an online hybrid Mathematics course for General Education Mathematics. He also assisted faculty in course design as an instructional designer. Currently, he provides instructional design consultation to the College of Science and Health, the Quantitative Reasoning program and several departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. In addition, he teaches fully online developmental Mathematics and blended Quantitive Reasoning courses.

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