Teaching in the Digital Age | Work of Arts
Teaching in the Digital Age | Work of Arts

Teaching in the Digital Age

by | September 23, 2013
Photography by Ryan Parker (’08 BFA, Acting)
Heather Zwicker, Vice-Dean of Arts and English professor, uses digital technology in the classroom to engage students.

The internet isn’t just for finding nearby restaurants and shopping deals anymore. It’s become an important teaching tool for teachers like Heather Zwicker, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Arts and a professor in the department of English & Film Studies.

“Digital technology has changed so much about the way we move through the world. We absolutely have to teach it in our classrooms in order to produce informed citizens,” says Zwicker.

Since students learn in different ways — for example, some respond to visual tools, others learn better with written ones — Zwicker constantly strives to incorporate assignments that challenge all her students. “One of my commitments to myself as a teacher is to reach the people who learn differently than me, which is an ongoing challenge. I know how to teach the people who are exactly like me – those are easy students to teach! But my classroom is full of people with different learning styles and different abilities, and the way I push myself is to reach people who are different.”

Zwicker must be succeeding: she recently received a 3M Teaching Fellowship, Canada’s highest award for excellence in undergraduate university teaching. It is awarded to teachers who make exceptional contributions to teaching and learning, and at 40 recipients, UAlberta leads the country in its number of 3M teaching fellows. Of those 40, seven have been from Arts.

“Digital technology has changed so much about the way we move through the world. We absolutely have to teach it in our classrooms in order to produce informed citizens.”

One way Zwicker reaches a wide range of students is by incorporating multimedia projects into her classes about the culture and literature of Edmonton. She is particularly interested in teaching and learning the history and stories of the city. One popular assignment asks students to map part of Edmonton in a personal way. Students then exchange maps and walk a fellow classmate’s map, experiencing what that classmate sees and recasting those experiences through his or her own eyes.

In addition, Zwicker requires her students to create videos and write blogs. “Blogs are great for helping students to develop a voice. That’s so hard to teach through the formal method.”

“One of my commitments to myself as a teacher is to reach the people who learn differently than me.”

Incorporating many different assignments and teaching techniques is important because “no assignment does everything. Certainly not the exam,” says Zwicker. Exams are great for testing a student’s ability to answer questions under pressure, but Zwicker cautions that exams are a limited reflection of what students have learned. Students need other types of assignments to demonstrate and develop their abilities.

Zwicker hopes her students develop the ability to express themselves and to develop new ideas. “We need creative responses, we need creative possibilities, and we need to be able to approach problems in entirely new ways. And my hope is that classes in the humanities train students to do that and make them confident in their ability to think creatively.”


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