As the previous chapters make clear, instructors have many choices and decisions to make that require careful consideration. This is equally important with the use of educational technology. The opportunities to integrate digital tools are quite vast for a college instructor, and can be overwhelming for someone who’s just beginning to explore these choices. Whether and how you choose and combine tools depends on your course goals, your comfort with technology, the digital access available to your students and on your campus, and ethical considerations about the implications of the tools at your disposal. In this section, we’ll discuss how you and your students can use educational technology in ways that will enhance student learning with attention to the ethical and privacy implications of your choices.
- Getting Started
- Digital Teaching Platforms at CUNY
- Digital Tools
- Digital Literacy
- Accessibility and Educational Technology
- Student Data and Privacy
- Online and Hybrid Courses
As a faculty member, you’ll decide if and how you would like to integrate educational technology into your teaching. As you start planning your course you should think about the ways you’ll want to communicate with your students, and how you might like to incorporate digital tools to connect meetings, foster community, or facilitate specific kinds of writing and multimedia assignments.
Here are some questions that may help you better understand both your comfort level and goals with educational technology:
How comfortable am I with . . .
- new tools?
- fielding technical questions from my students?
- organizing digital spaces?
Do I want to use technology to . . .
- share course content and information with my students?
- facilitate conversations beyond the classroom?
- create a record of what’s happened in the course?
- integrate open resources into my teaching?
- help students acquire a digital skill?
- create a public-facing project?
There is no “correct” answer to the question of how much digital technology you should use in your classes. Classes with few digital tools can be effective, as can those that integrate many tools, and this holds true across the disciplines. The key is to integrate digital tools into your teaching intentionally and purposefully. You want to avoid using too many tools since this can introduce too much complexity to your course and may make it harder for students to remain engaged.
Let’s consider an introductory history or literature course. You’ll likely be asking your students to
- do a significant amount of reading and perhaps some limited research;
- write short informal papers and longer, higher-stakes papers;
- participate in class discussions;
- attend lectures; and
- complete assessments such as quizzes or exams.
It’s possible to integrate digital technology in each of these instructional moments in ways that can enhance the experience of your course for both you and your students. Digital tools can help you easily distribute reading materials and other artifacts to your students, while facilitating the storing and organizing of those materials for later revisiting and reuse during or across semesters, or across classes. Delivering materials via the web can also facilitate the easy integration of both open-access and primary source materials into the reading your students do.
Additionally, asking students to write in a networked, digital space (such as a blog) encourages them to imagine a range of audiences and gives them practice producing multi- and mixed-media compositions. The resulting archive of your class’s reflections can be useful as students are reviewing for exams, constructing longer pieces of writing, or revisiting the work of the class in subsequent years. Networked digital spaces also provide the instructor with a great opportunity to assess what’s worked and what hasn’t over the course of a semester.
Tip: Networked digital spaces provide students who are reluctant to participate in class discussions a potentially more controlled environment for engaging with their classmates, course materials, and you. Such reticence in the moment can result from a number of cultural, emotional, intellectual, social, and psychological factors. Digital spaces for informal participation can thus foster a more inclusive learning environment.
Digital tools determine how you deliver course content and how students engage with your course beyond the classroom walls. They can also shape how your course interacts with the larger world and foster the development of communities inside and outside the classroom. When choosing a platform to host your course, consider the affordances of the platform, what it allows you to do with content, what the platform can offer students and how these possibilities map onto the learning goals for your course. Making sure the digital affordances connect with specific learning goals for your course will help ensure that the digital tool integrates as seamlessly as possible into your course design.
Below is an introduction to some of the institutionally-supported educational technology platforms at CUNY.
Blackboard is a Learning Management System (LMS) available for all courses offered at CUNY. Blackboard course shells are automatically created for every CUNY course based on CUNYfirst data. When students authenticate into Blackboard, they will see a list of courses in which they have enrolled for the semester (see note below). Because Blackboard is available across CUNY, students will likely be familiar with the platform and may have used it in prior courses.
Please note: students will only be able to view your course if you make the course available in the Blackboard settings. Blackboard is centrally supported and managed by the Office of Computing and Information Services (CIS), though dedicated staff on each campus offer localized support. To learn more about Blackboard or for support using the platform, contact your campus IT department.
Blackboard offers spaces for course content,discussion boards, assignments submission functionality, quizzes and tests, and a gradebook. Blackboard also has a video conferencing tool, Blackboard Collaborate, that facilitates online, synchronous meetings.
Blackboard is a “siloed” environment, meaning the course content and student work is only accessible to participants and instructors in the course. This offers students and the instructors privacy, but it also means that students cannot share their work beyond the course and the class cannot invite outside participants to engage. Blackboard also offers very little customizability, has a rigid information architecture, and restricts access to course materials to the semester in which a course has run. There is, then, a fundamental difference between the Blackboard LMS and open, flexible platforms like the CUNY Academic Commons.
At CUNY there is a robust network of open source platforms developed by and for CUNY faculty and staff to facilitate teaching with technology. These free and open source platforms connect seamlessly to OER and provide opportunities to deepen engagement with course materials through annotation, sharing, and remixing. While fully supportive of student and course privacy, CUNY’s open platforms also allow students to engage with wider audiences and to directly address public issues that connect to course content.
Open platforms available to CUNY faculty and students include the CUNY Academic Commons, Manifold, and several campus specific platforms.
The CUNY Academic Commons, a WordPress teaching and learning platform based at the Graduate Center, is being used by faculty in a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses across CUNY. Courses can be hosted on the Commons via a course website, a course group, or both. Sites and groups offer varying affordances that will facilitate different pedagogical approaches. Faculty have used WordPress/CUNY Commons in place of and in conjunction with Blackboard. To explore open courses on the CUNY Academic Commons, visit the “Courses” tab on the Commons homepage.
A word about WordPress: Several platforms throughout CUNY run on an open-source web framework called WordPress. WordPress is a web-based publishing platform that, when used in college courses, can facilitate a variety of writing and multi-modal assignments and can help faculty harness the power of networks in and across their teaching. WordPress easily integrates a variety of web applications in ways that empower students and instructors to take full advantage of the open web, while also offering granular privacy and design controls that allow educators to build the kinds of digital teaching and learning spaces they want.
- Description: Blogs@Baruch is an open-source WordPress/BuddyPress platform for students, faculty, and staff at Baruch College. It enables any members of the Baruch community to create individual, group, or course websites and groups.
- CityTech OpenLab
- Description: OpenLab is an open-source WordPress/BuddyPress platform for students, faculty, and staff at City Tech. The platform supports teaching and learning, and enables connection and collaboration across the college.
- BMCC OpenLab
- Description: BMCC OpenLab is powered by Commons In A Box OpenLab provides a WordPress teaching and learning platform for faculty, students, and staff at BMCC.
The Graduate Center, in partnership with Cast Iron Coding and the University of Minnesota Press, has developed Manifold, an intuitive, collaborative platform for scholarly publishing and social annotation. Using Manifold, instructors can publish dynamic course editions of public domain texts and OER along with supplementary notes, files, images, videos and interactive content in a single project, and it supports collaborative annotations that allow students to “meet” in the margins of your texts.
There are a wide range of digital teaching tools that can be integrated into your in-person classroom or your digital teaching platform. Below, we offer a selection of tools you might consider, organized by the type of learning activity they support. When weighing what tools to use, you should consider several factors: does it require students to register and establish a new account? Does it cost anything for you or your students? What types of data does the tool collect and will this raise issues for any students? What are the tool’s data policy and privacy standards?
It’s best to start with one tool and one assignment in order to grow accustomed to integrating digital assignments into your course and to troubleshooting any tech issues. Whether and how you choose and combine tools depends entirely on the intersection between your course goals, your comfort with technology, and the level of uncertainty you’re willing to tolerate in an assignment or a class.
- Loom (free with educator account)
- Runners up
- Camtasia (campus may have a license)
- Imovie (available on Mac computers)
Many students are quite comfortable using various consumer technologies, but don’t always have experience or the opportunity to reflect upon their choices in doing so. At CUNY, you can also be quite certain that you will have at least a few students in your class who have far less experience engaging with technology than other students, and who need extra guidance and may be uncomfortable asking for it. Your choices and instructional design should take both of these common personas into account.
Working with students to build their digital literacy is a worthwhile use of class time and should be considered part of the course content itself, no matter the discipline. CUNY students may have irregular access to the web, may be able to access the web only via devices that have data limits, or may be relying entirely on services provided by the school for access to technology. Thinking about how you will teach students digital literacy skills will help you then make more informed choices about the tools you deploy in your classes; doing so will allow you to pass on a critical sensibility about using digital tools to your students.
All faculty must be mindful of and vigilant about making their courses accessible. This has significant implications for choices of educational technologies. Your teaching campus has an office that provides services for students with disabilities, which may or may not have expertise in educational technology and instructional design. In your syllabus you should alert students to the services available through the campus accommodations office and also encourage students to discuss their access needs with you if they are comfortable doing so.
Not all disabilities are visible, and necessary accommodation may be different from student to student. With mindfulness and a commitment to inclusivity, faculty members must make sure their courses and assignments are accessible, and that all students with particular needs get the support that they require in order to participate fully in the course.
Some students may be visually impaired or may have auditory impairments that can present barriers to engaging with multimedia content. However, this does not mean that you should strike audio and video content from your pedagogy. Instead, make sure that all of your course content is accessible in multiple modalities. Multiple access points makes it easier for all students to engage with course content. Making your course accessible will include:
- Making sure all readings and PDFs are equipped with Optical Character Recognition [OCR] so that the readings can be read by a screen reader device. Campus accessibility offices can provide guidance for OCR-ing readings.
- Offering captioning on all video content and live-captioning functionality on video conferencing platforms
- Providing transcripts for audio content (e.g. podcasts)
- Ensuring all pertinent digital images are captioned and have “alt text” that provides a description of the image. Alt Text is text that will be read by a screen reader device.
- Using digital platforms and tools that can be navigated with keyboard navigation and accessed on any kind of device (phone, padlet, etc.)
- Planning to share slides and resources with students after the class session so they can return to the content and work through it at their own pace as needed.
Faculty should keep in mind that some CUNY students may have limited access to computers and high-speed internet at home. Many students use tablets and smartphones to keep up with work, often completing reading assignments on their commutes. Faculty should ensure that the web platforms and digital tools they decide to use for the course are “responsive,” meaning that they are accessible and legible on various devices.
Some faculty are uncomfortable with students using their laptops or phones in class. Keep in mind that students may be using assistive technology devices to take notes, or to record the class session for study use. For some students, using a technology with which they are familiar and comfortable may actually make it easier for them to pay attention and follow the conversation. If you are concerned about students being distracted by their laptops or phones, or participating in conversations unrelated to the class, consider integrating active learning opportunities into the session.
Developing an accessible course also requires instructors to consider how we frame dis/ability in our classroom and how we include wellness and mental health as part of our access practices. To work through how you will define equity and accessibility in your course and to take a closer look at artifacts like syllabus statements, assignments, classroom activities that are equity and accessibility-minded, check out the asynchronous workshop: Equity and Access in the (Online) Classroom.
Before requiring students to use a particular tool, instructors should assess how the tool engages with its users’ data. Here are some questions that can guide such an evaluation of a digital tool:
- Assuming it’s web-based, does it require users to display their name or other identifying information such as an email address?
- Does it allow users to do their work with the tool under an alias?
- Does it afford users control over who sees their content and activity, or does it require all work to be done on the open web?
- If you’re planning to have students use a mobile application, does it depend upon location services in order to function?
- Does it require access to other applications to unlock its full functionality, and if so, might a user’s privacy be undermined?
You’ll find that tools you use, from Blackboard to Twitter to WordPress to publishers’ tools, have different approaches to protect user privacy, and some may be more in line with your values than others. Though our preference at the TLC is for tools that give end users total control over their privacy, there may be use cases where this is not possible. In those instances, it is the instructor’s ethical responsibility to make sure that students understand the privacy implications of assigned tools. If students are uncomfortable with what an application asks of them, you should be prepared to offer them an alternative method to complete the assignment.
When assessing a tool’s functionality, consider how it approaches the question of user-produced content and data.
- Who owns content produced through a tool?
- What rights to user-created content does the company that supports or hosts the tool claim?
- If a student wants to remove, revise, remix, or otherwise make changes to the content after they’ve produced it, are they able to do so?
- Can students easily take their work with them after the semester has completed?
Check out this handout for more questions to consider when thinking through digital tools to incorporate into your course.
Selecting tools that empower users to own what they’ve created can signal to your students that faculty see the knowledge and work that they are producing during the course of their studies as valuable and connected to work that moves beyond the boundaries of a single assignment or class. The Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) project at the University of Mary Washington takes this idea a step further by giving students their own web domains, and then offering curricula that empower students to build their digital and scholarly identities completely within spaces that they own and control. In a similar vein to UMW’s Domains project, at CUNY the CUNY Academic Commons offers students and faculty the opportunity to build their own websites to develop their courses, projects, and digital identities online using free, open source software.
The 1974 FERPA Act or Buckley Amendment is designed to give students some control over how their information is shared and amended. Universities have slightly varying policies about how to disseminate student information such as grades in compliance with FERPA. Though the act has not been updated to account for web-connected communication, FERPA impacts how campuses and instructors approach the use of educational technology. If you try a new tool, you may have a colleague or an administrator ask you if it is “FERPA-compliant.” To answer this question, you will have to consider the privacy implications of the tool you’ve selected and have a strong pedagogical argument for its deployment.
A good rule of thumb is to select tools that require little to no personally identifying information to use beyond supplying an email address. Even if a tool does require additional information, that doesn’t necessarily mean it violates FERPA. As long as students are made aware of what a tool captures and displays about them and they have the ability to opt out, your use will comply with FERPA. If you’re unsure of the policy on your campus, ask your department or the campus registrar, but a guiding principle is to try to avoid exposing student data, and to allow students who are concerned about doing work on the open web to opt out or complete required assignments via other avenues. Finally, never post student grades to a public or non-secured environment, which is a clear violation of FERPA. Many faculty members maintain grades in the gradebook on Blackboard, even if they use other tools for more dynamic activities in their classes.
Some schools interpret the Act to mean that no grade information may be shared over email, while others allow grade information sharing through the internal school email system, and others still allow comments and scores on individual assignments but not midterm or final grades.
Even before COVID19 forced a shift to emergency remote teaching, an increasing number of college courses were being offered either partially or fully online. Successful online and hybrid courses often require even more intensive planning than face-to-face classes. This is especially true if it’s your first time teaching in this instructional mode. Once you know you will be teaching an online or hybrid course, you should email your students to make sure they also know that it will not be a traditional in-person course.
One challenge of hybrid or online courses is that there are fewer built-in opportunities to gauge student comprehension in-person. Often students are confused about what faculty expect of them, and this is true of classes in every mode of instruction. In face-to-face classes, this confusion often becomes readily apparent to mindful instructors, but it can be harder to detect online. Careful assignment design clarifies the expectations you have of students in your online or hybrid course. Creating an organized and well-structured course is especially crucial in these contexts and harnessing educational technologies to connect with students outside the classroom is paramount for delivering course content, checking student understanding, and facilitating discussion to develop class community. Once you have a structure in place that connects online deliverables and face-to-face interactions, it becomes easier to carve out time and opportunities for you and your students to improvise.
Here are some guidelines for scaffolding assignments in a partly or fully online course that will offer you multiple opportunities to intervene in your students’ knowledge-making process:
- Consider workflow: Ask yourself what assignments from face-to-face classes might be better accomplished online.
- For hybrid classes, design online assignments that prepare students to take full advantage of the time the class spends meeting in person.
- Articulate for students the reasons for assignments, the method of assessment, and the grading process.
- Tie low-stakes and high-stakes assignments together to build upon each other in a gradual progression.
- Construct tasks that give students practice before assessment.
For more details, see our TLC Guide to Online/Hybrid Course Development.