What We’re Reading: Intentional Tech

illustration by Clare Reid

As we continue to move our courses online for the summer semester (and beyond, perhaps), we have an opportunity to think about the various tools and technologies that are at our disposal in order to enhance our students’ learning experience. But it can be overwhelming—with so many tools with so many various affordances and capabilities, where can we even begin (other than reaching out to us at CNDLS, of course!)?

Derek Bruff literally wrote the book on using clickers in the classroom—Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments (Wiley, 2009)—and so it would make sense to look to his latest book, Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching (WVU Press, 2019), for guidance on choosing and using technology in your teaching. 

A slim volume, Bruff packs years of experience both as a Math professor and as Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching into an exceedingly accessible guide for faculty. Organized not around tools, but instead around pedagogical purpose or outcome, it puts the focus where it should be—not on the tech, but on the learning and the learner. 

He also backs up each of these pedagogical approaches with the science of learning, ensuring effective and high-impact teaching strategies that use tech. Bruff wants to help match tech to pedagogy, and not the other way around. He includes a plethora of case-studies with real faculty in real teaching and learning situations, using real tools. In each case, the affordances and limitations of each tool are explored, with multiple different tools being shown as options, depending on the situation. 

Bruff is no tech evangelist, instead engaging with the science of learning and sound pedagogical practices to inform decisions on technology and tools. But what he also shows is that technology, thoughtfully and carefully implemented, works as an effective pedagogical strategy, and the impact on student learning and experience can be profound.