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The SPA Treatment
by James Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 01/27/11

Technology offers much more than a faster and easier way to teach and learn the same old things with the same old methods. Rather, today's digital networked information tools open up brand new approaches to our craft that have never been available before. A good way to consider the full potential of the new technologies is to take your teaching to the spa, to give your course or your curriculum the SPA treatment. SPA stands for syllabus, performance, and assessment.

Take the opportunities that technology offers to give your teaching a complete makeover, through the application of proven principles of learning, and the careful inclusion of digital technologies. This makeover -- think of it as This Old Course -- involves three steps:


Examine the structure of your course or curriculum, the objectives, the assignments, the readings, the nature of the class meetings, and all of the other elements of its syllabus, looking for opportunities to improve the course through the application of good learning design and new technology. Look to include a wider array of learning styles, more frequent assignments on the part of students, a richer collection of learning materials easily available to students anytime and anyplace, and more frequent assessment and monitoring. Review the article Digital Opportunities, in this series, for more ideas on this score.


A sure way to improve your teaching performance in the classroom is to look at yourself -- and get your colleagues to do the same.  Employ digital video technology to record your teaching, and your students' learning. Then subject these clips to a range of online analyses -- such as the faculty at Hunter College, which has been doing this now for five years. These include self-analysis, peer review, and expert consultation. Then compare your performance to the principles of good learning and teaching.


Technology can provide us with new ways to find out if our students have learned. So take a careful look at the nature of the assessments used in your course or curriculum -- quizzes, papers, tests, and projects -- with an eye to making them more frequent, adding self-assessment, putting them online, and ensuring they match well with course content, objectives, and materials. Online assessments allow you to allot less class-meeting time to test-taking and more to learning.

The role of technology

As your course or curriculum goes through the SPA treatment, look for opportunities to include technological tools that help students learn and help their teachers monitor their study and success. We know that certain applications of digital networked technologies can improve student success. These include interactive presentation and audience response systems; digital learning objects, such as podcasts and online tutorials; self-correcting quizzes; online lecture notes; multiple embodiment of course content (text, graphics, diagrams, audio, video); lecture transcripts; learner analytics (time spent with course materials, analysis of wrong answers, learner feedback); and so forth. Include these technologies, as appropriate, in the makeover of your course.

By subjecting your teaching to the SPA treatment, you can help students learn more, succeed in their coursework, and contribute to their rate of academic success.

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