Technology opens new doors, says humanities professor

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Donald Ipperciel, a philosophy professor and former principal of Glendon Campus, has 26 years of experience in the classroom. He is also fascinated by the changing technology available to educators, including the benefits to teaching that are associated with artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

“Teaching is the best way to fully master your own area of expertise,” said Ipperciel, “and being around students is the most energizing and fun part of the job.” He shared his thoughts about the future of teaching and learning with “Innovatus.”

Donald Ipperciel
Donald Ipperciel

Q: How has teaching changed since you entered the profession?

Ipperciel: When I began teaching, everything was very much old school with chalk and blackboards, and, since academics had no real training in teaching, the way you taught was the way you had been taught. I became an early adopter in putting course material on the web and, now, I’m at the point where I do everything online – nothing uses a tree. Even readings are PDFs. I can’t imagine not being able to use an interactive whiteboard that’s media-rich. I can grab visuals that would have been so complicated to display 15 years ago. I also use an online attendance tool in eClass that allows students to grab a QR code to indicate their attendance, so there is no time wasted taking attendance.  Everything seems more efficient.

I am also experimenting with new technologies. I have an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant to answer all the logistical/procedural questions about my class, such as when assignments are due. The AI assistant can answer those questions so I can focus on meaningful interaction. I am also experimenting with virtual reality (VR). Next semester, I hope to teach a course about technology and its impact on society, and the VR module will take place using VR headsets in a VR room.

Q: Is technology the driver of change?

Ipperciel: Pedagogy remains the driver, but you can experience new things through technology. Technology has to make sense from a pedagogical point of view. The main questions to ask are, “How do we determine which technology to adopt?” and “How should we apply it?” We’ll all need to be more conversant with educational principles in order to decide.

Q: Will technology allow more flexibility to accommodate different learning styles?

Ipperciel: Three principles guide me in designing a course: universality, personalization and making it active/experiential. Following the first principle, I try, among other things, to build a class using universal design for learning (UDL), and it’s so much easier to do with technology. We can more easily accommodate different interests, needs and learning styles.

Q: Do we lose something when we don’t meet face-to-face?

Ipperciel: For me, the future of learning is not online. It will be a niche area for those who can’t attend class, which is about 20 per cent of the market. It will always be second best. Learning is a profoundly human experience, and you get that best face-to-face. The future is hybrid.

Q: Will interdisciplinary courses become more common with advances in educational technology?

Ipperciel: The future of teaching is also in the teams that will build courses. The level of course complexity is increasing, technology is multiplying, and information is more available. You can’t be an expert in everything. There are new interdisciplinary avenues to explore. I envision first-year courses being created by a team that includes the professor as subject specialist; a project manager; other subject matter experts; an instructional designer to look at user/interface design; educational developers to look at course structure, pedagogies and learning outcomes; a learning technologist to consider tools and platforms; a graphic designer; and a programmer. How great would courses be if the whole first-year program was designed by this team?

Q: Do you expect courses to become more individualized in terms of deliverables, assessment, etc.?

Ipperciel: Students have different backgrounds and interests, so I certainly give leeway in choosing essay topics. In the future, personalization will go much further with the help of adaptive learning. It will start with a questionnaire to set a baseline and determine where students are weaker and stronger. From that information, personalized courses will be created for individual students.

You can also use AI to further personalize courses using analytics, but that isn’t easily done without the team mentioned earlier. Personalized learning is all about self-paced progression and providing different paths for each student according to their needs and interests, while ensuring they reach the same learning objectives.

Q: With regard to assessment, what matters?

Ipperciel: I started thinking about this during COVID and the failure of e-proctoring. The answer I came up with is pedagogical: no mid-term or final exams but many more points of evaluation. I give weekly online quizzes that students must take before class, and technology makes that easy.

What really counts, however, is discussion. For each class discussion there is a presenter who highlights the main ideas and asks questions. The presenters are peer-rated using a rubric, and the discussion group must submit a summary of the discussion and receive a group grade. Technology makes it easy. There are also some additional assignments.

My goal is for them to be able to discuss the topics in an intelligent way, looking at all possible angles and justifying their thinking. It’s not only about writing.

Q: How do we prepare students for careers of the future that may not even exist yet?

Ipperciel: There are fundamentals that students will always need in the future, and they can enhance those with skills that will change over time. They will always require communications skills, collaborative skills, leadership skills and analytical skills, including the ability to think critically and consider different points of view. And creativity will never go out of style. As for special skills, they’ll have to decide individually about the specialized skills they’ll need for their chosen careers.