Teaching with Technology

by Kay Porter

The composition classroom has changed dramatically in the last fifty years, as have the students. The introduction of technology into our daily lives and classrooms has had a profound effect in the ways in which students learn. We are now reaching a point in time where professors who have grown up using current technology are replacing those who didn’t. However, professors that rely solely on lecturing, the way many of them were taught, are losing an opportunity to connect with the students. According to many theorists, including Cary McMullen, Dan Madigan, Marc Prensky, Mary Lourdes Silva, and Mark Warschauer, the assumption that the same methods of teaching that worked in the past will work today is no longer valid. From personal experience as a student, I can say that when technology is incorporated into a lesson, the monotony of the lecture is broken. In the composition classroom, a teaching method modeled on the students’ own day to day atmosphere of fragmented, simultaneous interactions with multiple applications will appeal to the mass of twenty-first century students as a whole and, through this appeal, will provide a more effective teaching model than classrooms sans technology. In this paper, I am going to discuss student’s today, some different technologies that can be used to instruct, and how to integrate these technologies in the classroom. For the purpose of this paper, technology will specifically include any programs used, such as computer applications, videos, and audio recordings, that require an electronic device to run.


Current technology changes as new products come onto the market, and today’s freshman coming in to the university are at the forefront of this technological evolution. Students now have applications on their cell phones in which they can shop on Amazon.com while they text, video games in which the character’s image is based on a live actor, and websites where they can video chat with someone on the other side of the globe. In order to understand how to teach these students, teachers have to understand the students themselves.

Technology is a foundation on which the students run their daily life. They use personal technology every day, sometimes several times a day, by facebooking, blogging, tweeting, or even using a video game console or cell phone. They use technology for a variety of reasons including for “seeking information, for participating in their social milieu, for communication, and as a way to learn” (Madigan 2). Not only are they actively using these applications and devices of personal technology, they are bombarded with it. In his article, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”, Marc Prensky writes, “Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV)” (1). This means that these students are spending more time using the technology for entertainment than studying the “traditional” way (such as reading and writing).

Even when they are doing school work, students are using technology simultaneously. As they are writing papers for various classes, many students will have a writing program open along with some social media page, (such as Facebook, Twitter). These students are used to receiving information very fast and at the same time. In fact, “parallel process[ing] and multi-task[ing]” (Prensky 2) are what the students are more comfortable doing, rather than sitting still, waiting on the vital part of the information. In his article, “The 21st-Century Digital Learner,” Marc Prensky writes about his discussion with students about the use of technology in the classroom. He quotes one student as saying, “it’s the way we want to learn, and the way we can learn” (2). When asked if computers cut them off from the world, one student responded, “Not at all. We share with others and get help. Technology helps—it strengthens interactions” (2). Because they have grown up with current technology at their fingertips, these students are dramatically different than the students from twenty years prior.

New students today have completely different cognitive processes. Prensky, in his article “Do They Really Think Differently” explains that data from several social psychologists’ research that has found children who were raised with computers, as today’s students were, “think differently from the rest of us [older generation that grew up without computers]. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential” (3). Because of their immersion into technology such as videogames for several hours each day, multiple days a week, these children have trained their brains to facilitate speed, graphics, sound, interactivity, and other aspects that the technology makes use of. Video gamers, especially, have enhanced certain cognitive skill sets from repeated exposure to these games including:

reading visual images as representations of three-dimensional space (representational competence), multidimensional visual-spatial skills, mental maps, “mental paper folding” (i.e. picturing the results of various origami-like folds in your mind without actually doing them), “inductive discovery” (i.e. making observations, formulating hypotheses and figuring out the rules governing the behavior of a dynamic representation, “attentional deployment” “such as monitoring multiple locations simultaneously, and responding faster to expected and unexpected stimuli. (Prensky 4)

These children are acquiring skill sets that, perhaps, previous children couldn’t and doing so for fun. Because of this early access to technology, teenagers have developed a different physiologically. Prensky writes, “teenagers use different parts of their brain and think in different ways than adults when at the computer” (4).


How can do these technologies change the classroom? They already have. Based on my experience, if a class is lecture based, chances are the students are taking out their phones and texting, playing games, or watching videos while only partially listening to the information being given because they are bored. Being used to doing multiple things at the same time and having a more engaging process of learning when out of the classroom and then coming into the classroom where there is only one thing going on is mind-numbingly boring for students. Why not have the students’ use the technology to learn, instead of using the technology to entertain them while they are supposed to be learning? Not only can we use the limited technology provided by the school, we can have the students use the technology that they have right in their pocket. By having an assignment tailored to the incorporation of technology, there is a greater chance of the material being retained by the students because there are several senses involved in the learning process.

Now this is not just a theoretical argument. Recently, there have been studies that support the use of technology to enhance learning in the classroom. The United States Air Force uses technology as a main tool of instruction before their pilots even step onto an airplane. The pilot must have so many flight simulation hours combined with classroom learning before they can fly. In the simulations, the pilot is given real world “rules” in which to fly under, and are given a set of circumstances in which they must learn to fly in.

There are also a few studies that are specifically important for the cognitive functions for composition. For example, the “Lightspan Partnership, which created PlayStation games for curricular reinforcement, conducted studies in over 400 individual school districts and a “meta-analysis as well. Their findings were increases in vocabulary and language arts of 24 and 25 percent respectively over the control groups” (6). These games improved the very basis of composition: vocabulary and language.

Another study was done by Click Health. In this study, they made interactive games in which kids participated in order to self-manage their diabeties. They found that the kids that played the games, showed “measurable gains in self-efficacy, communications with parents, and diabetes health care” (Prensky 6). By having higher numbers in effective communication, the child should be able to use his or her communication skills in a written setting as well. The software helps promote critical thinking and communication, which can contribute to good writing in the composition classroom.

In “Camatasia in the Classroom: Student Attitudes and Preferences for Video Commentary or Microsoft Word Comments During the Revision Process” Mary Lourdes Silva uses Site Stats and student surveys to get results of technology in the classroom. Students that used video commentary on their papers provided by the professor and the revision comments function in Microsoft Word when revising a written paper, did statistically better on their final paper than those who did not use the videos and commentary provided for them. In the student survey, the majority of the students surveyed preferred the video commentary over hand written instructions and lecture because they found them more “personable” (Silva 9). Several students preferred a mix of video commentary and Microsoft Word edits. They felt like the Microsoft Word comments were quick way to discuss “small corrections, such as grammatical errors, punctuation, syntax, word choice, and logical problems with cohesion and coherence” while the video commentary was better for discussing “global issues in writing, such as thesis, research question, organization and claims of evidence” (Silva 9). As Silva’s article shows, there are several different technologies that we can use in the classroom to facilitate the same kind of learning that the student gets with the technology at home.



One example would be blogging. A blog is a “web based publication consisting primarily of articles that are usually made public…Many blogs are interactive in that that they allow guests to post relevant comments or ideas in response to other postings” (Madigan 3). Blogging has rapidly become one of, if not the most, popular form of discussing news, opinions, and events. Many of the students have had or currently have a blog and are familiar with how they work. By having the student blog, the skills of reading, critical thinking, writing, and communication are promoted in an environment that is known, but has enough interaction to keep the students’ attention. Sites such as WordPress have features that could be useful for the composition classroom. The instructor can make a community in which there are blogs linked together. By linking these blogs together, it encourages the students to read each other’s blog, and, if the instructor assigns it, can comment on them. Also by linking these blogs together, the instructor can set the privacy of the community as private, so that only members in the community can read each other’s blogs and comment on them.


Another useful technology for the classroom is a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn. LMS systems are “software packages that enables the management and delivery of learning content and resources to students” (Madigan 3). LMS systems create a myriad of different types of learning environments. For example, Blackboard supports a discussion board in which the students can read a post and comment, much like a blog. Unlike a blog, Blackboard information, such as assignments, isn’t shared with the world, just between members of the class. Blackboard also has a feature that allows the instructor to post lecture notes in a file so that the students’ can go back and revisit the lecture as many times as they want.


Video sites such as YouTube, Teacher Tube, School Tube, Big Think, Ted, and Hulu are useful in the classroom for presenting media to the class. Students use sites like these every day, especially You Tube and Hulu. In his article, “Why You Tube Matters”, Marc Prensky explains the overwhelming popularity of You Tube, “At the start of 2010 the number [of You Tube clips] is fast approaching 100 million, with roughly 150,000 new clips posted daily” (2). Some of the videos get millions of views and the comment log can have thousands of comments. The best part about the video sites is that the students are getting the information through two senses: visually and auditory. By engaging multiple senses, the information presented is more likely to be retained than if it was presented just by lecturing. In his article, “A Huge Leap for the Classroom”, Marc Prensky praises the teaching method of Sal Khan called the “flip”. Khan uses videos to “flip” the way he teaches the class. The students watch videos, uploaded by Khan, at home. Because the lesson is on a video and not a one-time lecture, the student can replay the video until they feel that they are comfortable with the material being discussed. During the scheduled class time, Khan focuses on helping individual students with their understanding of the material presented in the video. He also has students pair up and discuss the video together. By doing so, if a student doesn’t understand, the other student can explain the lesson to them. In teaching the lesson to another, the student reinforces their knowledge of the lesson increasing the chance of retention.


Presentation software is very popular in classrooms that favor technology. Presentation software is computer program that allow the creation of presentations, normally in the form of a slide show. These programs allow the teacher to edit the material to tailor the presentation to the lesson by incorporating charts, pictures, or graphs. Microsoft Power Point has been the most popular presentation software for years, but other programs like Prezi are gaining support because of their incorporation of videos, complete web pages, and greater visual appeal with the use of colors, fonts, sizing, and smooth transitions. Presentation software programs are important because, like videos, they offer multi modes of information delivery. They offer visual and auditory sensory queues but, unlike videos, they also allow the student to interact with the professor when they have a question or insight about the lesson.


Smartboards are becoming popular with many classrooms. A smartboard is a “computer-driven, interactive, touch-\sensitive screens” that allow the professors to build presentations that can include, “audio, video, and internet access at the touch of a finger” (McMullen). These Smartboards can be used at any grade level, from early education to college, because of the ease in which they can be used. In an interview with Cary McMullen, Sarah Woodsby explained that Smartboards are important because it makes the student get out of their seats and moving (McMullen). Because the Smartboard is touch sensitive, it incorporates tactile, visual, and auditory sensory to help the students retain the information.


Email is also a decidedly useful technology that can be used inside the classroom as well as outside. It can be a tool to carry on discourse between teacher and student but also between students themselves. In “Technology and Writing” Mark Warschauer reveals that “teachers that use email substantially increased their communication with students over a time compared to teachers using the traditional modes” (5). Not only do the students interact more with the professor when there are no time limitations such as class time and office hours, but they are encouraged to offer more ideas with the anxiety of public speaking gone. When email is used in a peer review of another students’ paper, Warschauer found that students “offered more ideas for revision during email discussions than in face-to-face discussions…were influenced more by group comments received during email discussions than during face-to-face discussions, and produced better papers after email discussions” (6).


Perhaps the newest technology is right on our smartphones, iTouches, and iPads: the app. There, literally, is an app for everything. In “Eliminating the ‘App Gap’, ” Marc Prensky describes that with apps students:

students can learn to read and write, identify and learn about people, places, plants, and animals, have words or concepts thy don’t know explained to them, collect scientific data and run experiments, participate in history though simulation, participate in virtual teams through Face Time and texting, and participate in live world events as they happen through apps like Twitter. Unlike school books, there are apps for just about any area a student is interested in or passionate about. (3)

There literally is an app for everything, and the students are using them. By using them in the classroom, by having students race to look up information, teachers can incorporate this technology in the structure of a lesson while keeping the students attention.

Technology and its use in and outside the classroom as a way of instruction greatly increases the learning ability of students. Not only does technology aid in instruction, its incorporation in the classroom is the preferred method of learning by many students today. By tailoring our lessons to use technology as a way to build cognitive learning, we will be instructing the students in a medium in which they are already adept and comfortable with. Attention to lessons will increase as well as the retention of information on the students’ part.

Works Cited

Madigan, Dan. “The Technology Literate Professoriate: Are We There Yet.” The IDEA Center. The IDEA Center, 2006. Web. 20 Apr. 2012.

McMullen, Cary. “FSC Students Help St. Joseph’s Teachers Get ‘Smart’.” The Ledger[Lakeland] 13 Dec. 2009, sec. B: B1. TheLedger.com. Web. 4 Apr. 2012.

Prensky, Marc. “A Huge Leap for the Classroom: True Peer-to-Peer Learning, Enhanced by Technology.” Educational Technology & Change (2011). Web. 24 Apr. 2012.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon 9.5 (2001). Print.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon 9.6 (2001). Print.

Prensky, Marc. “Elimination the ‘App Gap’.” Educational Technology & Change (2012). Web. 24 Apr. 2012.

Prensky, Marc. “The 21st- Century Digital Learner.” Edutopia. The George Lucas Educational Foundation, 22 May 2008. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.

Prensky, Marc. “Why You Tube Matters.” On the Horizon 18.2 (2010). Print.

Silva, May L. “Camatasia in the Classroom: Student Attitudes and Preferences for Video Commentary or Microsoft Word Comments During the Revision Process.”Computers and Composition 29.1 (2011): 1-22. Print.

Warschauer, Mark. “Technology and Writing.” International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Ed. Jim Cummins and Chris Davison. New York: Springer, 2007. 907-12. Print.