Teaching with Digital Technology: An Introduction

Photo by Lilly Rum.

As an instructor, you may have a strict policy on the use of laptops, tablets, and mobile phones in class. Perhaps you ask students to keep their digital devices off or to disable their wifi connections. Yet the reality is clear: students browse their phones and laptops anyway. According to a recent study (McCoy 2016), 96.7 percent of college students use their portable devices during class for activities not related to the class. Teachers, too, increasingly rely on digital technology: for presenting new material, laying out a lesson plan, monitoring time, and other pedagogical tasks. So the question is, if digital technology is ubiquitous among both students and teachers, then how open are we about incorporating technology-based methods into our classrooms? How can we strategically and effectively use digital technologies to accomplish learning goals?

In this series, we plan to explore a variety of available digital technologies, specifically addressing how they can be used in anthropology courses. We review a variety of digital tools such as learning management systems, presentation software, and social media applications. Furthermore, we explore both advocacy for and resistance to using digital technology in education, and we offer suggestions on how to decide whether and which digital devices and applications might work in particular types of classrooms.

Previous Teaching Tools posts have already covered some digital resources for teachers. For example, Angela Jenks offered tips on data management platforms such as Evernote and image curation resources such as Pinterest. Katya Wesolowski has written about blogging and the value of public websites and forums as pedagogical tools.

We propose education scholar Liz Kolb’s Triple E Framework as a working way to identify the most useful teaching technologies. In this model, Kolb argues that technology should only be introduced into the classroom if it advances three principles:

  • Engages students in their learning
  • Enhances learning goals
  • Extends learning beyond the constraints of the classroom

We open this series of posts, which will explore different aspects of the teaching process, with these principles in mind. This introduction will be followed by a post on digital platforms and services used in the classroom. Another post will present a review of digital technologies that students and instructors can use outside of class. The remaining posts in the series will address critiques of technology commonly heard from both teachers and students, reflecting on the changing nature of knowledge in the era of the Internet and the effects on learning and its assessment. Our last post will offer an additional set of principles that should help teachers to skillfully choose digital technology to enhance their classroom and deepen their engagement with students.


McCoy, Bernard. 2016. “Digital Distractions in the Classroom, Phase II: Student Classroom Use of Digital Devices for Non-Class Related Purposes.” Journal of Media Education 7, no. 1: 5–32.