Matthew Rascoff, the UNC-system’s vice president for technology-based learning and innovation, said he knew that there was a need for better communication because teachers on one campus could use technology that they loved while other campuses didn’t even know it existed.
“It’s about building a community among our educators about what’s working and what’s not,” he said.
The Commons is a place where educators can review educational technology in detail, can have conversations with other faculty members statewide and can give technology developers feedback.
Some technologies reviewed on the Commons are easy peer-editing facilitators, mobile phone content projection systems and technologies that record classroom lessons for feedback.
Karl Rectanus is the CEO of Lea(R)n, the technology company that built the platform, and is a former educator himself.
“Teachers trust each other,” he said. “We happen to be making it more effective when it comes to ed tech.”
He said that small technology companies with quality products are among those helped the most by the Commons.
“Not everybody has to be going to TGI Fridays and Denny’s, sometimes that small mom and pop restaurant has the best food out there,” he said.
Rascoff said that competition in the market produces the best technology at the lowest price and is conducive to discovery.
“In the past it has been about marketing over merit,” he said.
Suzanne Cadwell, interim director of UNC ITS Teaching and Learning, said that she remembers teaching one of the first classes that used laptops back in 1999. She downloaded AOL instant messenger because her students had it, she said.
Rectanus said that an engaged teacher is the most important factor in the classroom, but also that technology is one piece of the puzzle that helps learning occur.
“In the modern world with everything going on, to engage students and personalize that process gets more and more difficult,” he said
But Cadwell also said that educators can’t rely strictly on technology — it must be combined with engagement.
Still, Rectanus said that UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC-system are on the forefront of working with classroom technology and called their system a game changer for both students and faculty.
“It’s worth celebrating.”