Technology in the (Health Communication) Classroom

By Mike Mackert

There seems to be an almost endless debate about the use of technology in the classroom. I’m aware of all the normal concerns – it can be distracting, students often transcribe lectures instead of taking notes which synthesize key points in a lecture or discussion, etc. But as a learner, I’ve always preferred to use technology for many reasons. And as a teacher, I’ve learned there are things I can do with students in the classroom that just wouldn’t be possible without technology.

Sometimes students do things which are unexpected and add to a class in a way I couldn’t have predicted – something that happened earlier this week in my health communication class. We were discussing the case of a TV news report that went viral a few years ago which made a tenuous case between someone who got a seasonal flu shot and a rare neurological condition. (No link included for obvious reasons.) As the TV report spread, experts who saw it started to think this could be a hoax. A follow-up news story reporting on the potential for a hoax was put online as a text-only story, which of course didn’t spread in nearly the same way.

I could see one student in the back of the room who was really interested in this story, how it was covered, and wanted to dig in further. She started working away on her laptop, and the class continued for maybe five or ten minutes while she was focused on what she was doing. When it was her team’s turn to share on an in-class exercise we were doing, she took the opportunity to also offer an update: she uncovered a follow-up TV story about the potential hoax on YouTube that she shared with the rest of the students and sent to me after class. The follow-up story never went viral the same way, either, but it was an interesting effort by the TV reporters to pursue the original story and correct the record.

I’ve used that news story multiple times to have a conversation with students about health journalism, but no student had ever taken that step to pursue the story further on their own. Now every time I use that example, I’ll have another piece of the story to use – future students will benefit from a deeper look into that specific example.

This could have happened in plenty of classes, of course, it’s not really about my health communication class in particular. But I think it’s important in any context to weigh the pros and cons of technology in the classroom and think about how it can best be used to enhance student learning – in both planned and unplanned ways.