Winter 2010     ISSN 1096-1453     Volume 14, Issue 4        Editorial-2:

Learning technologies —technologies used to enhance learning, teaching, and assessment—are rapidly gaining popularity in higher education. The range of articles listed here is evidence of how learning technologies are impacting a wide range of disciplines from pediatrics and nursing to psychology, from teacher education to physical education. The debate concerning the effectiveness of these technologies over more conventional means of teaching remains ongoing. While there are many anecdotal stories of success in the classroom, evidence-based research on the efficacy of pedagogical technology is just now reaching critical mass. Because practical decisions of technology usage in the classroom should be based on empirical evidence of effectiveness, such research is crucial so that other practitioners can be reasonably confident that the technology and new pedagogical methodologies surrounding the use of these tools can be applied more broadly and across disciplinary boundaries and types of institutions.

This section of Academic Exchange Quarterly explores evidence-based research on learning technologies, especially techniques that rely on learning technologies; the use of learning technologies in assessment of outcomes at different levels; and comparisons of technologically-enhanced learning outcomes and conventional outcomes. The articles featured here do an admirable job of presenting research that shows the impact of learning technologies in a variety of teaching and learning situations. Each contributes to the growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of learning technologies thoughtfully applied.

Kenneth Cramer shows how the use of electronic voting devices (clickers) demonstrably improved student success in his classroom when compared to classrooms where the clickers were not used. He also reports that the clickers piqued student interest in the course material.

Conventional wisdom holds that teachers can capitalize on the technologies that their students already use. Mark G. Urtel finds, in “Academic Podcasts: The Student Perspective,” that students do, indeed, listen to academic podcasts, but do so quite differently than they listen to recreational podcasts. A teacher hoping to use podcasts would be well-advised to learn from Urtel’s study before assuming that students approach all podcasts the same way.

Dax Andrew Parcells and Cynthia Ann Blum examined how technology and learning preferences influence student learning. They gathered evidence from a number of different assessments and found that simulation and learning modality preferences impacted student outcomes. Their conclusion of the need to match learning and teaching modalities is applicable to instruction across all disciplines.

In addition to commonly available tools, learning technologies also include more specialized tools. In “A Mixed Method Evaluation of Pediatric Simulation,” Maria N. Kelly and her colleagues found that medical simulators can be effective in achieving numerous learning outcomes, including procedural knowledge, technical ability, competence, and confidence. Given the potentially greater expense and complexity of such tools, it is important to know that in the setting studied by Kelly et al., the tools were effective. Finally, Mauree P. Hall and Jan Bergandy conducted a study on teacher attitudes towards Unified Modeling Language (UML) within the broader context of K-12 teacher education and advocate for adapting existing technology to improving teaching and learning.

As we individually make decisions regarding the use of particular technologies in the classroom, we would do well to rely on careful, empirical studies such as these rather than on untested assumptions and conventional wisdom. Moreover, when empirical research on a particular technologically-enhanced approach is lacking, we encourage our colleagues and fellow AEQ readers to use their own classrooms as laboratories, and publish their findings regarding what works and what falls short of its promise. Ultimately, pedagogical effectiveness, not the glossiness of a particular tool, needs to inform our decisions regarding our uses of technology.

David S. Goldstein and Andreas Brockhaus
David S. Goldstein, Ph.D., is Director of the Teaching and Learning Center
       and a senior lecturer in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell.
Andreas Brockhaus, M.S., is Director of Learning Technologies at the University of Washington Bothell.