In 2000, I was impelled to computer science and technology department by my dad’s decision. In 2004, I transferred to computer software for my master degree at the same university. In 2007, I got my first job as a university lecturer and in the following six-year-teaching, all my courses were technology-related or -involved. In 2013, I started my PhD journey in the Learning Technologies program in UMN. Generally speaking, all my academic and professional life has been filled with technologies based on this simple timeline. I use technologies, I teach technologies, I learn technologies, I research technologies.
But until very recently, I have noticed a new title appearing among websites, people’s business cards, conversations and talks, that is learning/educational technologist. According to the Association for Learning Technology: Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology. According to this definition, I would say I have been a learning technologist for 15 years!
In my 15-year-learning-and-teaching-technologies experiences, there are countless moments that I have felt strong connected with technologies. Here, I would love to list three important moments of technology integration in my teaching and learning process. The first moment happened in my first semester of my undergraduate study in 2000. In a computer introduction and foundation course, we were introduced to the first computer lab in our university, and would have several class sessions in that lab. The lab was on the ninth floor of the main teaching building. When we got there, the elevator was out of service. However, with the desire and enthusiasm of trying new computers and technologies, we decided to climb the stairs to the ninth floor. When we got the ninth floor, we were almost out of service ourselves. But suddenly, a 90-square meter room with 100 microcomputers attracted us. We rushed into the lab and started our first computer and technology practices. At that moment seeing my peers’ enthusiasm, I realized that new technology has the appealing magic to young people and it was so feasible and practical to integrate technology into the higher education.
The second moment was at my fifth year of teaching in the face-to-face classroom context in China. After five-year-traditional-teaching, I started to try new technology integration in my teaching practices. Since micro-blog was so popular among my undergraduates, I tried to integrate it into the formal education. I created a micro-blog group for my students, and they had the opportunity to communicate and collaborate in the group with their peers. They also had the great chance to reach out to some famous educators who were also active in micro-blog. At the end of that semester, a small group of my students posted a group project on micro-blog and the project got many constructive comments from educators and peers. At that moment, with seeing my students’ awesome performance, I knew that creative online communication and collaboration are of paramount importance to motivate and engage students, and to enrich their learning experiences.
The third moment happened in my online course in the USA. I, as a graduate instructor, have facilitated an online course in my department for four semesters. This is a totally new experience for me in my teaching journey. Since I have never taught a completely online course in my teaching career before, I started to take online courses with experienced online instructor and observed how they facilitate an online course. I tried to integrate various kinds of applications, online tools, websites, software, online learning platforms in my course. One night, I got an email from my student and she told me she applied a couple of online tools she learned from my class into another business project and got great feedbacks from her instructor and peers. I felt so proud of her at that moment, and also realized that integration of practical tools and technologies into online courses has great potentials to equip undergraduates and improve their capabilities in their work and life.
In my future journey, the role of being a learning technologist will involve and evolve with three interrelated and complementary roles: researcher, instructor and designer. As a researcher, I will make efforts to explore how learners learn and how instructors can motivate learners; as an instructor, I have great opportunities to observe learners’ behaviors and performances in their learning processes, which would be of benefit to my research; as a designer, I have opportunities to design and develop creative learning contexts in order to engage learners and enrich their learning experiences. These three roles will be interweaved in my journey of being a learning technologist.