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Published February 9, 2016 | Multidisciplinary

5 Tips to Help Your Students Cope Better With ICTs

Written from the standpoint of a teacher, the "5 Tips" series is intended to be a helpful resource for teachers who are integrating technology into their everyday practice.

In college teaching, heterogeneous classes where students and diverse personalities converge are the norm. This reality is also evident when observing the different ways that they react to technology. In this article, I identify 5 situations in which students might have more difficulty when faced with technology. I also suggest a few options on how to provide them with assistance.

The "Novice" that is Apprehensive About New Technologies

This is most often the students that have very limited experience with technology. Often they do not have access to technology when they are not on campus (ex. no computer or Internet access at home). It is also possible that they see technology as an insurmountable peak. I'm thinking of the students who are going back to school, or who are not members of "generation net".

How to act:

  • Keep an open mind and stay patient. In 2016, people may feel ostracized if they can't manage basic computerized tasks. It's important not to add to the student's anxiety, if this is the case.
  • Teaching computing fundamentals to the novice student can be very involved. A good strategy may be to point them towards labs or other resources available at their college that will help them to get up to speed with the tools used in class. On-line tutorials, which often effectively summarize technologies in a user-friendly manner, are a big help in these cases. A good example is the series of ICT Profile videos.

Students with an Anxious Disposition

This type of student takes advantage of the ease of use of communication technologies to ask you several questions... on Saturdays... at 3:30 in the morning. They expect an immediate reply. At the end of the semester or when a deadline for an important assignment is approaching, they “over-communicate” with you in order to reassure themselves that everything is okay.

How to act:

  • Establish a clear framework for your students to get in touch with you  outside of regular class time. Specify the times that you are available outside of class and the average turnaround time for you to respond on evenings or weekends.
  • Encourage the students to use their tools independently and to call on their colleagues as potential resources. A good example of this is the forum that was created by Collège O'Sullivan to help interns. Moderated by teachers, this forum allows former students to help interns by responding to their questions. In addition to giving teachers' Inboxes a break, this tool is a way to acknowledge and involve graduates and promotes networking!

Compatibility Issues

The game of cat and mouse takes on a whole different meaning when it comes to compatibility issues. When you are working in a PC environment, there is invariably a student that brings a Mac, and vice-versa. Others seem to specialize in sending files that are either incompatible or impossible to open, especially at crucial moments during the semester, resulting in a bunch of lost time and energy for everyone involved.

How to act:

  • Be extremely clear in your instructions, especially when it comes to the required file format and the means of submitting the work.
  • Opt for formats like PDF that are less likely to cause compatibility issues.
  • Give your students the opportunity to submit a formative assignment or something worth very few marks that must be submitted the same way as the final assignment. This way, you will be able to detect compatibility issues and quickly intervene with the concerned students.

Mobile Devices Are a Source of Distraction

Among your students, there is surely at least one who is up on the latest applications and trends. He or she religiously updates every one of their sources of information. They post on forums, participate in various exchanges and comment like there is no tomorrow. This student may be connected to everything – except your class! Seated in the back of the classroom, they appear to be using their mobile device or laptop to take notes, but beware! He or she might be playing on-line poker or composing a Tweet about their latest culinary discovery.

How to act:

  • Clearly establish your expectations about the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in class. Even if taking a disciplinary action in class is never pleasant, it is vital to be consistent in your demands and not let students go about their business on-line if it is not related to the course content.
  • Channel your students' interest in ICTs as part of your pedagogical activities. For example, you can ask students to use their mobile devices in class to find the answers to a question you ask in class, with an application like Socrative.

The Perpetually "Unlucky" Student

We often find this student in the computer lab a few minutes before the start of class, hurling a variety of insults at the printer. Everything seems to have gone wrong at once - broken headphones, empty toner cartridge, power outage, the support technician is on coffee break... Your unlucky student is constantly tripped up by technical failures.

How to act:

  • Identify the cause of these failures. Are they caused by improper use of the material or by lack of planning on the part of the student (the student who waits until the last minute to print, for example)? If this is the case, you can sensitize the student to these issues.
  • You can also encourage the student to stay calm in these types of situations and take advantage of these snags to teach some important behavioural skills for the future.
  • Finally, if the technical issues that the student is experiencing are all simply part of a series of unfortunate events, you can do your best to try to find a rabbit's foot for them!

Regardless of which type of student you are teaching, if your expectations and instructions are detailed and clear and you know where to find support, you can nip things in the bud before they become a problem and avoid a number of headaches.

Do some of the situations above seem familiar? How did you react? Do you have some tips to share? Feel free to comment on this article in the space below.

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