Emerging Technologies for Online Learning 2015 Presenter Profile – Dr. Ulanda Forbess

TechSmith is proud to be part of the 8th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium 2015, where educators share ideas and best practices for using the latest technology to transform teaching and learning. Come see our presentations or visit booth #809 to hear innovative ways educators are using visual content.

Meet Dr. Ulanda Forbess

Dr. Ulanda ForbessUlanda is the Director for Faculty Professional Development and Distance Education at North Lake College in Irving, Texas. Her PhD in Higher Education, specializing in Educational Technology, plus her years of experience working with faculty give her valuable insights into how to train educators to teach online using best practices in distance education.

We are honored to have Dr. Ulanda Forbess co-present at the symposium.

Catch the virtual session

Session Burn the Box: Emerging Technologies That Educate, Engage, and Empower
Date: Thursday, April 23: 11:10 a.m. – 12:00 noon
Presented by: Ulanda Forbess and Sherry Boyd

An Interview with Ulanda

Can you tell us more about what it means to “Burn the Box”?
People are always telling us to “think outside the box” and “try something different”. Well, we want to burn the box – do away with preconceived ideas about how technology can be used, and create our own unique ways of using it to educate, engage, and empower not only our students, but ourselves. We ask students to become critical thinkers, but we must also think critically to kick teaching strategies into the 21st Century, break the mold, invent something new, and deliver curriculum that provides a deeper and more robust experience than we had back in the day.

Gone are the days of the ‘red ink pen’. No more chicken-scratching on students’ papers. That style of feedback is not engaging or productive. How many times have we said, “Students just don’t read the comments we put on their papers!” Well, it’s no wonder. We are trying to teach them with a style that is not conducive to their learning methods or way of life. What if we, as educators, stepped off the stage and let students create the learning paths? What if we allow students to teach one another and us? What if we incorporate technologies that challenge and change our current methods of teaching and learning? Would our education system be better off? As a technology proponent, I say, “What do we have to lose?” We might be pleasantly surprised with the results! Bottom line – we won’t know if we don’t take the risk and make the change.

How do you use new technologies in your typical day of teaching?
I strive to reach the students where they are – sitting at a park, eating at a restaurant, or visiting their favorite Starbucks, because I believe learning should happen all the time, not just during class. I am constantly on the hunt for technologies that are exciting, efficient, and effective – with effective being the operative idea. Technology should not be used just for the sake of using technology. When I am browsing the web or searching through apps, I am constantly thinking, “Will this tool create a better process for my students?” If the answer is yes, then we give it a try. Sometimes what we think might be wonderful turns out to be not-so-wonderful, but at least we took the risk and found out the answer, and I think that in itself is a teachable moment for students.

I teach a technical writing course, and have changed the curriculum to include writing for social media. Why? Because one of my former students came back to me after graduation asking for help on how to build a company blog. That event was the catalyst I needed to change some of the assignments I teach. I still teach how to write instructions, emails, proposals, and memos, but now, I also have students create a blog and a web page because more and more companies are asking this of their employees. If we listen, the students will tell us what they need. When we find activities or technologies that assist in their educational goals, it is our responsibility to at least give those a try.

Honestly, I often learn about emerging technologies from my students, and in fact, those conversations were what prompted me to incorporate some of these “cool tools” into the curriculum. Students are using these in their daily lives, and I wanted to take learning to them on their terms. I asked my students to teach me what they were using, and they seemed excited to have taught me a thing or two. I think I earn their respect when I am willing to learn. It shows students that learning is a life-long process, and you are never too old to learn something new!

What are the benefits to you as a teacher – and to your students – of using new tech?
One of the greatest benefits to me as an educator is that I don’t become stale, my lectures and ideas stay fresh and new. For my students, I am challenging the way they have done things in high school, or even in life. I am asking them to take risks, use something new, and find out what they discover in the process. I didn’t have to sacrifice the course content to incorporate the technology. In fact, I don’t think I can go back to my previous ways of teaching. Technology adds spice to a subject where most students struggle – writing!

Recently, we had a few bad weather days where no one could get to the campus. Rather than just throw up our hands, and say, “Oh, well,” I asked my students to join a WebEx class discussion about the next essay assignment. Almost the entire class attended, and the students were so excited to be doing something different and contributing, not just sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture. Those are the days when I love my job the most! This impromptu process has apparently created a monster – the students are asking to do this on a weekly basis!

What challenges did you have to overcome in order to incorporate new technology?
First, I just want to start off by saying, yes, there were and still are challenges, but the efforts have been worth it. The biggest challenge is funding – we need the bandwidth to support the technology. We realized one day how horrible the Wi-Fi was at a Spring Leadership Retreat when we were all trying to sign-up for and use Twitter. The system crashed and the results were dismal, but a good lesson learned – we needed to revamp our system, and quickly! Another time, at a faculty retreat, our entire Internet system crashed and burned. To say these events were frustrating is an understatement, but we learned that we need funding in order to support the technologies that our students are demanding. We have a very supportive and innovative administrative leadership and for that we are extremely grateful.

We now have a majority of our full-time faculty onboard with us using various types of technology, but a remaining challenge is in reaching our adjuncts who are not as available for training and professional development, and we continue to work to find ways to reach them.

Do you have any advice for other instructors who want to start using innovative technology?
Start by looking for technology that “fixes” an issue you have been having in your classroom. Do your students fail to read your feedback on their papers? Maybe Camtasia is the answer. Give your students verbal feedback instead of written. Maybe they are constantly asking, “How do I participate in discussions?” Use Snagit to help guide them through the process. Maybe you want students to experience something first-hand – a tree budding out, or a bird building a nest. Use TechSmith Fuse to record with your phone and then post to your students. Whatever issues you are having, look for a tool that solves the problem, then put your fears aside, and take the risk.

Tell your students you want to try something new and you need their help – they love to teach the teacher. I tell our faculty that it’s not important which technology you use, just use one that you like and enhances the effectiveness of your teaching. When you have mastered that one, find another, and another, and before long, you are like me – searching for new ways to do things with emerging technology.

If you are new to using technology as a teaching tool, you might be nervous at first, apprehensive, and frightened. These are all normal reactions. As educators we have been taught that we are the ones with all the knowledge and our job is to impart that knowledge to our students, or at least that is what I was told in the long ago distant past. But things have changed, students have changed, and we have to change as well in order to keep our students on the right track to earn their degrees and be prepared for the ‘real’ world.
Connect with Dr. Ulanda Forbess during the conference at her virtual session or on Twitter (). She can also be reached by email at: uforbess(at)dcccd(dot)edu.