Maria Emelianenko
Department of Mathematics
Pennsylvania State University
Portfolio Home Teaching
Public use of
Digital media
Reflection on
I taught
Evaluation/Reflection on Use of Various Technologies

The ultimate goal of teaching is learning. Since learning strategies differ from group to group and from individual to individual, the art of teaching lies in recognizing the specifics of a group of learners and choosing the right approach and the right set of tools to make learning process effective. I believe this is the universal guideline an instructor should follow, especially when choosing which technologies are appropriate in which context.

There are people who argue that the question of efficiency should carry the most weight in the discussion about teaching methods. I think this approach is too simplistic. If "easy does it" way is always preferred, we may run into the danger of overlooking some deeper effects of learning and ultimately waste the time and effort we thought we were saving. In my opinion, it's effectiveness that should be of greater concern to teachers, and it should dictate which methods are to be used. It doesn't mean that the best methods are necessarily the most time consuming. Sometimes all it takes for a brilliant lecturer is a piece of chalk and a bright imagination. But, and I'll repeat myself, it all depends on the audience. For me the students are the people who make things happen, I'm only guiding them along the way.

Let me draw a couple of examples from my experience. The students I taught up to this moment may be roughly divided into two categories: engineering and humanitarian type. The first group naturally responded more enthusiastically to classroom technology than the second one. The reason behind it is the difference in the level of computer literacy. Taking into account this issue, one can try to determine the level of technology and the set of teaching techniques appropriate for each of these classes. For instance, students in Math251 would most definitely benefit from electronic group projects and examples of engineering applications, while some Math22 students would not feel comfortable in computer intensive environment and might prefer pictures and some real life analogies instead. This rough division can be refined further and same analysis can be made within each of the smaller groups. In the scope of this Portfolio I tried to showcase the technologies I exploited in my teaching and discuss their strengths and weaknesses in light of the aforementioned difficulties.

Of course it is hardly possible to satisfy everyone, but in my opinion there are technologies one can use without much fear of being misunderstood. These are the communicating tools I already mentioned in my philosophy statement. E-mail correspondence, online quizzes and various web tools already made their way into today's education, so why not take advantage of them? There are always things that don't work, like email implemented within Angel: students are very reluctant in changing their email account, so if instructor chooses to use Angel mail, he should always make sure to forward a copy of a message to another account. There are also software glitches, system malfunctions etc. which can make students feel angry or disappointed, but if you have the confidence and are flexible enough to listen to suggestions, you can always find an optimal strategy and make best use of available technology, enabling live and enriching communication between class participants. The other thing I realized is that no matter what class I teach, making solution sets to homeworks and quizzes helps students a lot in preparation to exams, so it became a tradition. Only recently I realized that there is a way to couple effectiveness with efficiency by making electronic reusable versions of the solutions.

An underestimated truth about education is that knowledge can by no means be conveyed without student's good will. If you come to think about it, good teacher, like a good chef, should always prepare a variety of sauces for the dish he's serving to make it most appealing, but the task of tasting and judging the dish is always left to the guest. Technology is just another way to help make the outcome enjoyable to both parties, and I hope my students will retain the taste for learning, questioning and discovering long after my classes are over.


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