Technology as an alternative form of teaching
by Roberta Nicora

Many students are forced to master the art of multitasking during lectures as they try to frantically capture what is being taught whilst the speaker dictates. As a result, they can often struggle to reflect on what has been discussed which can lead to significant points being missed out and, consequently, grades being affected.

Additionally, many educational establishments have to squeeze more of the curriculum into a shorter amount of time and students are often left to have to lug heavy textbooks around between lectures. To try to combat this problem, some forward-thinking schools and universities are beginning to embrace technology in an alternative form of teaching known as the 'flipped classroom' technique.

The flipped classroom is a new model of teaching which turns the typical classroom structure on its head, as the lecture and homework elements of a lesson are reversed. In the flipped classroom, students take the time to view video or podcasted lectures before joining their classmates for discussion sessions.

So why is the flipped classroom approach beneficial and in what ways can it be used?

There are a number of key advantages to this new inverted way of teaching and combining it with the latest education technology:

1. Students can work at their own pace

In the flipped classroom, the use of prerecorded media and etextbooks enable students to revisit lectures as many as times as they need. It gives them the ability and freedom to access course information both at University and at home on any internet enabled device such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. Using this type of resource, lecturers can upload course material for the semester online, or advise which etextbooks to download, so that students are able to learn at their own pace. This encourages independent learning and allows confident students to work quickly through the material, while those who take in information at a slower pace can methodically make their way through the work in a time and setting that suits them.

2. Encourages active participation

The flipped classroom can help to facilitate social interaction and peer-to-peer learning amongst the students as more emphasis is placed on collaborative projects. Once students have digested the information in their own time, then the all-important time with lecturers can then be used to discuss findings, identify any problem areas and apply the knowledge learnt in the interactive, group orientated sessions. Those referring to etextbooks on mobile or tablets can then take notes down quickly and easily on each page as each point is discussed. Whilst in the more traditional model of teaching students play a rather passive learning role, the flipped classroom requires more active participation.

3. Promotes better student-teacher interaction

In the traditional classroom, teachers stand at the front and dictate lessons, however in the flipped classroom, teachers have more time to actually circulate the room and talk to students on an individual level - as the lecture part of the lesson has already been completed by the students beforehand. Not only does this increase engagement between the pupil and teacher but also makes for a more rewarding classroom environment for both parties.

Research into the relationship between students and teachers has proven that having teachers that respond to students' individual needs is just as important to academic development as instructional practices, such as lectures, and the flipped classroom helps to facilitate this. To enable lecturers to offer regular and meaningful feedback and strengthen student-teacher relationships there is analytics software available which shows how well students are engaging with core etextbooks reading and resources. For example, Kortext Analytics can be used to improve student engagement as data can be correlated with other university stats and broken down into an easy to digest format using graphs, tables and charts to track student's overall progress.

4. Adapted for the modern student

According to teachers John Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who initially developed the idea of the flipped classroom, the model of learning can 'speak the language of today's students'. Today's students have grown up using the web and social media as platforms to obtain information. Most are familiar with working on tablets and smartphones, so can easily adapt to new technologies. Moving towards a more digitalised approach to teaching is clearly a natural progression.

Putting it into practice

The first few months of transferring to new methods of teaching can require a complete shift in thinking on the part of both the staff and students, however new learning technology is helping to bridge the gap for those making the change.

To provide a modern alternative to clunky university textbooks, Kortext has developed a digital learning platform which gives students access to thousands of etextbooks. The Kortext digital learning platform can be used in conjunction with the university's existing learning environment to provide an entirely interactive learning experience. Integrating Kortext into the existing university learning environment can also allow lecturers to see in real-time, how students are engaging with their learning materials through the integrated analytics dashboard.

More and more universities are benefiting from this type of digital learning solution. Last year, one of the UK's most tech savvy universities, The University of East London (UEL) made the decision to invest in more than 4,200 Samsung Galaxy Note tablets and loaned one to every single first year. The tablets came installed with the Kortext app to provide students with complete access to their etextbooks, eliminating the need to carry heavy books around.

Students were able to take their tablets home with them, and to class, and incorporate them into lectures. The core etextbooks for each module came pre-loaded on each device and the smart tools on the Kortext app allowed students to have a personalised learning, having the possibility to compile extra resources, link articles, search, highlight and add notes. After trialling the use of Galaxy Note tablets and the Kortext application for 12 months, lecturers noticed the students were responding positively, as a result the University of East London decided to make another investment of around 5,000 tablets for the following year.

The students and lecturers involved in trialling the software found that it helped to improve overall engagement and facilitated active learning as it made it much more convenient to access college services. They also agreed it provided students with an important business skill as it helps develop a digitalised method for compiling resources, linking articles and organising notes.

Moving forward, increasingly students are expecting a more digitalised approach to learning that complements the way in which they obtain information and view the world. With this in mind, it is expected that more and more universities will begin to adopt a flipped classroom approach to teaching and integrate learning technology into the mix. As encouraging active participation and independent learning outside of the classroom can help to increase overall engagement and can provide a more rewarding environment for both teacher and student.

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