Thanks to recent technological advancements, reduced costs and ease of access to online digital media, instructors in higher education have been increasingly adopting forms of media and technological innovation in their curriculum. Nowadays, instructors can embed digital media in their teaching, instantly and remotely communicate with students via social media or discussion boards provided in virtual learning environments, create videos and record lectures to be shared online, or test students’ preparation online. Similarly, most students now possess devices that allow them to access, anywhere and often at negligible cost, digital resources provided by module convenors.
For instructors considering various forms of teaching innovation, it is important to have an idea of students' own preferences regarding technology in the classroom. In summer 2013 the non-profit organisation Jisc released a Student Innovation Competition calling for student-led projects to explore novel uses of technology in learning. Interestingly, the submissions provided very useful insights regarding what students really want from technology in higher education. Two main areas could be highlighted. First, personalised learning; specifically, students seemed keen to personalise lectures (for example communicating and interacting—possibly anonymously—with instructors during lectures), tracking their learning progress online and have effective tools for revision. A second area was networking; students were interested in platforms that would connect them with students in different years and with those studying the same subject at other universities.
The use of technological innovation applied to teaching should also be considered when designing the whole curriculum. According to the curriculum design cycle a curriculum should meet the changing needs of students and employers. The use of technology as part of the curriculum design would include ways to improve communication with stakeholders to facilitate discussion and collaboration, to capture and record information, to increase consistency both in terms of the learner experience and quality assurance.
Figure 1: the curriculum design circle
The aforementioned recent improvements in software and hardware offers a number opportunities for instructors to improve students’ experience. In addition, the costs are now significantly smaller. Indeed, instructors entering the higher education sector can now find, not just useful software and advanced devices, but also helpful support, guidance and the experience of colleagues who have been pioneering new technologies and reported them in the literature.
While technology has become widely available and it clearly meets some of the requests of students, economics instructors have been historically reluctant to consider innovative forms of teaching in favour of a more traditional "chalk and talk" approach. Nonetheless, in the last decade instructors have increasingly opted for a blended approach, where innovative use of technology and media has been integrated with more traditional forms of teaching.
This chapter is a guide to the most popular forms of technological innovation in higher education teaching, with a particular focus on economics. Given the continuous advance of technology and practice, the guide cannot exhaustively cover all possible forms of innovation. Rather, our objective is to offer a critical description of the most common practices currently in use. Our approach will be based on personal experience and indirect experience of other instructors and students, as reported in a growing body of literature. We shall point out where the technologies' features align with students' preferences. We shall also point out possible issues, pitfalls and problems associated with some of the technologies considered. What we hope will be clear is that innovative uses of technology are important for any instructor to consider. They are sometimes a necessity; indeed, due to the large number of students attending introductory modules, online material (for example slides, video clips, online practice and assessment) often provides a coherent and consistent substitute to personal interaction.
The use of media and, in general, technology can also help freeing valuable time during lectures that can be used in more effective ways. We shall stress the advantage of asking students to contribute in producing digital material (this is case with social media, but also videos/photos). Digital, online accessible, interactive material would also prove very helpful for those students affected by disabilities. All in all, the use of media can improve students’ engagement and improve their learning experience.
A caveat to keep in mind is that innovation often comes at a cost. This is true for instructors, who need to learn how best to apply a new tool; for students, who need to learn appropriate use of the technology and for the institutions that will be asked to pay for the innovation. The increased availability of technology inside and outside the classroom decreases these costs, but they are significant nonetheless and the pedagogical advantages should always be compared to the potential costs (see Stephenson and Cortinhas (2013)). Innovation for the sake of it would not improve students’ learning experience.
Each section of this chapter focuses on a particular type of technological application. In Section 2 we discuss the use of lecture recording. In Section 3 we discuss the use of media files (for example visuals, audio files, video clips, online media) embedded in classes. In Section 4 we describe the use of personal response systems (sometimes called clickers) that allow students to answer multiple choice questions interactively and anonymously during lectures. In Section 5 we describe the use of mathematical software to produce dynamic images and to create adaptive online assessment. Finally, in Section 6 we consider the use of social media to communicate and interact with students. We shall discuss how each technology can be used to improve students’ learning (for example, digital media can provide examples and applications), provide learning support to students (for example via the use of recorded lectures and social media), entertain and engage students (see Mann and Robinson (2009)), provide practice and revision opportunities (for example using clickers during lectures or recent platforms for online assessment).