By Alex Rockey
Graduate Student Researcher, Academic Technology Services
Many of the blog posts in The Wheel appropriately focus on instructional technology and faculty at UC Davis. In honor of summer vacation, this post will take us a little further afield … to Colombia. I had the pleasure of spending three summers in Colombia from 2014 to 2016 in rural Minca. Minca, a small mountain town off the coast of the Caribbean Sea, changed dramatically over the course of the three summers mentioned. WiFi, previously only available in a few select locations, began popping up at local restaurants. As an instructional technology enthusiast, I found my curiosity piqued and wondered what increasing internet access might mean for students in Minca.
Given this increased access to WiFi, I began to wonder, “How is technology being used in instruction in primary, secondary, and post-secondary school in Minca, and nearby Santa Marta?” To begin an exploration of this question, I asked a Peace Corps volunteer, Erin, who had taught and lived in Minca for two years, and a sophomore university student, Joseph, studying tourism at a university in Santa Marta, about their uses of instructional technology. After speaking with Erin and Joseph, I found that some of their uses of instructional technology were the same (e.g., supplemental videos), but that students in Santa Marta had more access to technology, especially WiFi, than students in Minca. These interviews illuminate the benefits of having conversations with all of our students about previous uses of instructional technologies. These conversations can help instructors determine what technologies students are already comfortable with and with what technologies students may need additional guidance.
Erin and I talked about her uses of instructional technology at a new internet Cafe. She had spent two years living and teaching in Minca and was about to finish her Peace Corps assignment. A lot of the conversation focused on what she would do next (grad school?), and as we sat and talked with the football game on in the background and the fan cooling us down, some of her students would stop by and chat with her in Spanish.
In our conversation, Erin talked about how most of her uses of instructional technology relied on music and videos. As Erin put it, “I do a lot of videos and a lot of songs in English because I think that’s obviously really motivating for the kids.” She went on to explain how she used songs in the classroom: “Here music is huge, so anytime I can download a song on my phone, I have a portable speaker, I do that.” For example, if preschoolers were learning body parts in English, the teacher would use the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to supplement the lesson.
Many of Erin’s students had cell phones, and many of their carrier plans provided free data usage of WhatsApp and Facebook. Erin mostly saw her students using Google Translate for her English classes, but lamented their struggles with using a hard copy of a dictionary. As she talked about students using cell phones in the classroom, it struck me how similar this discussion was to what I heard in the staff room when I was a high school teacher in the U.S. Though Minca was a small, rural mountain town, students’ uses of technology was not dissimilar from the students I taught in Northern California.
I met Joseph at Misión Gaia where he was volunteering for the summer. Joseph was pursuing a degree in tourism at a university in Santa Marta. Only about 45 minutes from Minca, Santa Marta was considered the big city and therefore was vastly different. One such difference included access to technology. Going to a university, Joseph had much more access to technology, especially WiFI, than the students in Minca. When I interviewed Joseph about technology and his education, he talked excitedly about never paying for textbooks. Most of his classes used e-books that he accessed for free. In addition, he described the availability of WiFi provided by the university and laptops that students could borrow from the library if they did not own a personal laptop.
He noticed that most of his instructors chose to use projectors and available computers instead of the chalkboard. Some of his professors let their students use cell phones in the classroom, but not all. In addition to scholarly uses, technology was on the campus to help students relax: “We have [common] rooms where there are big televisions, so you can relax, watch movies.”
Joseph uses technology as a student much in the same way that Erin uses it in her teaching: to access supplemental videos. Sometimes, Joseph’s professors will share videos that may help students better understand a concept. Sometimes, Joseph searches for videos himself that will help him understand challenging themes in his classes. In addition to this, he uses search engines such as Google as well as academic search engines to find information to supplement what he was learning.
These interviews provide a snapshot of how Erin and Joseph use technology to support their teaching and learning respectively. Thanks to this little journey to Colombia, we can see common themes and uses of instructional technology that we encounter here at UC Davis including videos, mobile phones, and e-books. We also see differences in access to technology. While Joseph’s school had WiFi throughout the campus many of Erin’s students used WhatsApp and Facebook to access the internet since carriers provided free data usage for these apps.
Erin and Joseph are not meant to be representative of all experiences with instructional technology in Colombia. I did however learn a great deal about what instructional technology looked like in Minca and Santa Marta through these conversations. I discovered the benefits derived from a conversation with any student about their experiences with instructional technology. As instructors, we will find that such conversations can help us better understand what technologies students will already be well-versed in using as well as with what technologies they may need additional support.