Technology as a Mode of Learning in an Introductory Social Psychology Class

Article excerpt


Technology use is rapidly becoming a tool for academic and professional success (e.g., Brent, 1999). Indeed, it may best be conceptualized as a "life like" activity with individuals responding to technology as they would respond to human interactions--in a very social and natural manner. (Reeves & Nass, 1996). It is from this perspective that technology converges easily onto topics in social psychology (the study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another, Myers, 1999).

Using technology as a supplement to a class may work best if the assignments highlight specific class concepts (e.g., Goldstein, 1998). Several recently published social psychology textbooks now include a web site that offer additional learning resources for students (e.g., Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 1999) and/or a supplemental instructors manual replete with web links applicable to certain topics (e.g., Bator, 1999) or both. There ate also several social psychology courses designed exclusively for on-line presentations (e.g., Acker, 1998). Although useful, this type of information utilizes technology (specifically the Internet) as a medium for information presentation. However, the Internet may also function as a tool for actively engaging the user to seek and apply new information to specific problems or ideas (cf, Kuechier, 1999).

The purpose of this paper is to describe an example of how students can use the Internet to research specific topics and integrate that knowledge into class concepts. This may emphasize for the student the relevancy and usefulness of technology to the classroom experience as well as enhance learning of the class material. Six technology assignments are presented that were used as a supplemental mode of learning to a traditional lecture style introductory social psychology class. The impact of the mode of learning on class performance, as well as perceptions of, experiences with, and motivation toward technology use were assessed in addition to the general evaluations of the assignments themselves.

Technology Mode of Learning

In 1998, the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah implemented a mandatory requirement that all students take at least two different "modes of learning" (e.g., collaborative learning, service learning) prior to graduation. A mode of learning can be offered (via the instructor's decision) in conjunction with any psychology class, and is worth an additional one credit hour (usually on a pass/fall basis). The type of mode, however, depends on what the instructor builds into his or her class and can be tailored to meet the individual goals and needs of the instructor and the class topic.

Students have the option of enrolling (of not) in a particular mode of learning as long as they have the required two modes completed for graduation. Therefore, separate requirements are often made for the class as a whole and the mode of learning course. Because technology is becoming increasingly important for the occupational and educational success for students (e.g., Fetler, 1985), it was selected as the mode of learning for use in conjunction with an introductory social psychology class.



Class performance data were available from a total of 26 students enrolled in an introductory social psychology course. Twelve of these students did not enroll in the mode of learning whereas 14 of the students did enroll. Complete attitudinal and motivational data were available from only 21 of the total number of students, seven students (5 females, 2 males) not enrolled in the mode of learning and 14 students (8 females, 6 males) who did enroll.

Assignments and Instructions

Each assignment title, description, and "to get you started" Internet addresses (which students were not required to use) can be found in Appendix A. Regardless of enrollment status, all students completed the first technology assignment, a hands-on tutorial of email and web use. …