2. Supporting Students

Recommendation 2.6: Selecting & Explaining Technology
Select technologies to further your course learning goals; identify for students which technologies will be used and how they can find support.

Synopsis from Self-Review

Be deliberate and intentional when selecting and implementing technology in your courses, whether it be enabling specific functions within a Canvas site or using other software to support course activities. Choosing the right technology means making strategic choices, weighing benefits against challenges, and staying focused on your course goals and learning outcomes. Being aware of which tools are specifically supported by UW-Madison for use in instruction can help with this decision-making process.

How to Put Into Practice

Technologies have enormous potential to make a course engaging and interesting to the extent that they support the learning outcomes and core activities of a course. However, if not integrated strategically or without sufficient support for students to use them effectively, educational technologies can quickly become a distraction or even impede the teaching and learning experience.

These strategies will aid you in the process of considering, selecting, and implementing technologies for your course.

Use UW-supported tools whenever possible

Choosing technology licensed and supported by the UW ensures the smoothest, safest experience for you and your students. Support for these tools is available to all UW-Madison instructors and staff by contacting the DoIT Help Desk

Critical questions to guide your selection process

In an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, cognitive psychologist Michelle Miller offers a series of critical questions to consider when deciding what technologies to use in your course (or re-evaluating your choices after a period of time). These and other questions include:

    1. What are your learning objectives and outcomes? The type of activity a given technology is meant to facilitate should serve your course’s learning outcomes. Students tend to balk at technologies and activities when they do not see a clear through-line to their success in the course, so it is important to make these connections transparent in the design of the course and in how you communicate the purpose of individual activities to students.
    2. What are the “pinch points” in your course? Miller frames “pinch points” as material or concepts that students often find difficult or boring, important steps that they tend to skim over, or things that you find yourself having to explain over and over again. You might also think about “pinch points” as practices that separate high quality work from middling work in your course or discipline. If a technology holds promise for helping students concentrate on key “pinch points,” it is more likely a good use of your and your students’ time to learn to use.
    3. Do the benefits outweigh any challenges? Will an investment of time pay off? Learning new technologies contributes to the cognitive burden associated with navigating new environments and routines. It is critical that your technology choices carry benefits that outweigh the challenges and/or investment of time associated with integrating them into your course. Narrow down choices by asking: What tools are you and/or your students already using? What are you most comfortable with? Are there low-tech or no-tech options to consider? Keep in mind the adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and don’t discard an existing technology if it is meeting your needs.
      1. Also consider that some technology companies collect data from users. Such data collection practices are widespread enough that this alone may not be a deciding factor regarding a tool that otherwise fits your needs, but it may inform how you talk about the tool with students or how you advise them to use it.
    4. How accessible is the technology to students? Answering this question includes considering accessibility for students with disabilities as well as issues of access to technology.
      1. What campus resources are available for using a given tool? The array of tools officially supported by campus for instruction are outlined in this resource by Learn@UW. When a tool is centrally supported for instruction, that means that the university dedicates resources to keeping it in working order and FERPA-compliant, and that you and your students can reach out to DoIT for technical and pedagogical support for using it.
      2. Are the selected tools accessible on multiple devices and browsers? As Miller puts it, “You don’t need to worry about becoming a deep technical expert.” Spend time doing web research into the tools you are considering to see how they work on Macs and PCs, as well as in different browsers. Take a few minutes to test proposed tools on your mobile phone, too. 
      3. What can you learn about your students’ individual access to technology? One strategy for addressing technology access once the semester has begun is to survey students as part of a course orientation or other early communication with your class (see Recommendation 2.3 Course Orientation). The Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence (MTLE) program offers examples of survey language from UW-Madison instructors have used to confirm what types of technology students have access to and to identify students with urgent technology needs.
      4. What steps can you take to expand access for students with varying needs? See Recommendation 1.4: Flexibility & Accommodations for strategies for accommodating students with a range of needs.

Scrutinize your choice

After you’ve thoroughly used a tool for a semester or more, reflect on your use of the tool and solicit feedback from your students (see Recommendation 1.5: Collecting Student Feedback). Did it meet your needs? What unexpected issues did you and/or your students encounter? Is it working well enough that you want to stick with it, or is it time to try something else? You’re not locked into continuing to use the tool if it isn’t meeting your needs.

Provide technology support resources to your students (from Quality Matters)

For students to be successful, it is important to provide access to technical support services and resources from your Canvas course so that students know how to use tools and how to get help if they run into technical problems.

  • Build technology resources into a course orientation. Developing a course orientation for your Canvas site is one of the best ways to organize any foundational information for success in the course, including technology resources. See Recommendation 2.3 Course Orientation for further suggestions and templates.
  • Use ready-made tech support resources for centrally supported tools. For prefabricated, customizable orientations to campus-supported tools, see Learn@UW’s student tech modules. You can upload these modules to your Canvas course in order to familiarize students with key technology tools and skills. 

Additional Resources

Background Information

What is this?

Online and hybrid courses require various technologies to help you develop and organize content and facilitate communication and interaction with students.

Why is this important?

It is critical to be intentional about selecting and explaining the technology tools used in a course because of the demands it places on both students and instructors to learn new tools and practices in an environment where time and mental energy are at a premium.

Where is this?

The most commonly used technology is the learning management system, Canvas. Other technologies utilized should be explained and linked to or, when possible, integrated within Canvas to help students find and utilize effectively.

Success Factor 2: Supporting Students

An inclusive learning environment is established when all students are supported in adapting to the structure, schedule, expectations, and technologies used in the course. Supporting students requires thorough communication about how their course is set up, what they have to do, how the course is run administratively, and what resources and services are available to help them succeed.