Dr. Donavant received his Ph.D. in Adult Education from The University
of Southern Mississippi, and is an Assistant Professor of Criminal
Justice at UTM. Previously serving in a variety of capacities during his
21-year law enforcement career, programs under his direction have been
recognized nationally as models for providing multi-agency,
collaborative training. A frequent presenter at regional and national
conferences, he is engaged in research in the areas of police operations
and training, curriculum development, experiential learning, and
educational delivery methods.
1. Do you think using technology helps you teach better? If so, how?
I KNOW that the use of technology helps me teach better! In order to reach students in today’s digital world, I am convinced that new technology and evolving methodologies must be incorporated into educational activities. If we don’t meet the needs and expectations of our students within the context of their lives, they simply will not participate, or their participation and the benefits they derive from it will be minimal. Consideration of these factors and incorporating into our teaching the technology to which our students have grown accustomed in their everyday lives is paramount to effective education, whether in the traditional classroom or online. Using various technologies helps me reach more students and provide them with meaningful information in ways to which they can relate and with which they are more comfortable, which creates a more conducive environment for learning.
2. Is there anything at UTM in regard to technology that you would like to mention that makes a difference for you as you do your job?
First of all, the University has made great strides by installing modern equipment in our classrooms to facilitate the use of technology; and, we are very fortunate our administration allows such freedom in educational styles and encourages faculty to develop new and exciting ways to reach our students. I have spoken with colleagues in other institutions where this is not the case. UTM supports the efforts of faculty to develop new methodologies and incorporate technology into their classes, and I have received funding from the University to conduct research in this area. This has enabled me to better understand what works best for my students and allows me to continually revise my approach so that my students receive the greatest benefit from their time in the classroom. Finally, the ITC has been invaluable in assisting me in developing the skills to use these tools to help reach my students. I’m not a “techy”; so, most of the technology I’m now using was completely foreign to me. I would go to ITC workshops or their annual Blackboard Blitz just trying to wrap my head around some of the tools that were available. In every one of those sessions, I’d hear about a new tool that sounded intriguing as a way to reach students or facilitate their learning. The ITC staff was always eager to help me learn more about these tools and show me ways to incorporate them into my teaching.
3. What are some current things that you are doing with your courses and your students that you are particularly proud of and want the campus to know about?
I think I’m probably like a lot of faculty in that I often use Powerpoints to facilitate my class lectures, but that was about as ‘technological’ as I had gotten. I find that my greatest strength in the classroom is the ability to relate various examples of practical application through the use of dialogue and discussion, but I had difficulty transitioning this to the online environment. This provided the original impetus for developing some of the tools I use now. First, I started recording my face-to-face class sessions and posting them in iTunesU to develop a unique component for my online classes. Rather than just assigning students vast amounts of reading and making the online course nothing more than a correspondence course with an inanimate instructor (lack of personal interaction is often cited as the most negative factor in the online environment), my students could now hear live discussion, which allowed them to identify me as a real person! This greatly improved students’ engagement in the class. Students in my traditional classes also can download these sessions to review for tests, or can catch my lecture if they have to miss class for some reason. This is a great tool for all students since just about everyone has iPods now.
I’ve also learned to use Wimba Voice Tools for audio discussion boards and emails. Not only can my students and I say so much more in a brief 3-minute recording than most people would ever type in a traditional discussion board, the use of voice inflection brings so much more meaning to the topics being covered. Although first-time users are sometimes a little anxious about using these tools, they acclimate to them very quickly. It is amazing the depth into which my students now go in the discussion boards. And, not only do they hear me, they can hear each other, which helps develop a sense of community among the class because all of them become ‘real people’ as well.
Finally, I’ve begun developing narrated Powerpoints through Adobe Presenter. This allows me to post Powerpoint presentations to Blackboard; but, rather than simply giving students a slide show, these presentations include the same slides I use in class plus comments from me, just like they get in class. Students can glean only so much from slides projected onto a screen. It is the anecdotal information provided by the instructor, the real-world examples, that bring the material to life. These narrated Powerpoints have become one of the primary components of my online classes. But, online students are not the only ones who have benefitted from them. I also make the presentations available to my on-campus students, who can use the presentations as study material to supplement their lecture notes and to review for upcoming exams.
My use of technology in the classroom has been an evolution, and I try to develop something new every year. Developing new skills can be a little intimidating. The key is not to try to do it all at once, but add a little at a time. The exciting part is that what, for me, began as tools specifically designed for my online students has become a valuable resource for all of my classes and demonstrates how each of these tools is simply one component of a comprehensive educational approach.