Approaching new semesters, community college’s teachers are confronted with a variety of levels of technology skills and fluency of their students. At first it can be difficult to ascertain what level the students are across the spectrum. It may not be until you assign a writing assignment or one which requires internet research that you can identify large gaps of skills in using web applications, software or current operating systems effectively. I would like to recommend a few of the tools and strategies that I use to better understand my students and differentiate my instruction to meet their needs. Addressing student skills early can help find common ground with the use of technology and enable them to feel connected and part of a team.
Start group work with technology sooner than later in the semester
Engage students in group projects so that they can share skills while working together and engage more quickly with the technology needed in your course for projects. This is the perfect opportunity to help them learn a new tech skill together such as an online presentation with Google Presentations or even just develop a PowerPoint together. Some of the essential fluency skills such as creating, saving and uploading files is part of the collaboration of the group.
Provide a skill assessment of your new students
Identifying the essential skills students need to be successful with technology will help you focus on what you need to teach. Whether it is formal or informal, assess student technology skills based on your expectations for the course early. Create an online form/survey for students to take to identify high need areas such as knowledge of browsers, software, saving or how to navigate the web. Identify high need areas quickly and efficiently and address them with your instruction.
Use Google Docs for collaboration
Create and share work using Google Docs. Collaborate and share ideas around central topics and even if your course does not require technology you can integrate a valuable technology tool into your course. Google Apps technology, which enables students work in the cloud, also assists in commenting, editing, sharing ideas and projects efficiently.
Make screen-cast tutorial videos of often-used content materials
Presentations you use often or online documents you discuss or share can be short informational videos you host and narrate online. Provide access to students at home and school with your ideas and content. The additional time engaging with the videos can address high need learning areas and increase efficiency of using class time for more meaning full engagement. Providing learning resources outside the classroom which can be revisited anytime can be the first step to “flipping your classroom”.
Show students the value of collaborating online & building their brand
Show students the value of their online identity and improve their LinkedIn profiles for job prospecting. Sit down with small groups of students and discuss the valuable skills they are acquiring. Highlight profiles of professionals in their field of study and discuss related skills.
Teach them to be efficient with Web 2.0 & 3.0 tools
Teach students to shorten and personalize links with tools like Bitly.com and organize commonly used links with sites like Diggo or Pinterest. Efficiency with the resources they collect online will help them stay organized and improve how they share resources and work. Show students the value of taking the resources they collect beyond your course.
Model technology-fluent behavior yourself
Provide a syllabus or assignment document conveniently at one web link for easy access; model ways other than email that the class can meet and collaborate (Webex, Google Hangouts) online. In the Northeast right now classes have missed several hours due to inclement weather, use this as an opportunity to find an effective way to share the weeks work.
The variety of backgrounds that students within community colleges are coming from makes it a challenge to always teach all students with technology. I hope this list has provided you with a starting point for better connecting with your students and improving their skills and supporting their learning at home and in the classroom.