Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

March 4, 2010 Volume 31, No. 22

Teaching with technology

Oscar Chavez

Technology isn’t a silver bullet for teaching success, says Oscar Chavez, assistant professor of mathematics education. "Teaching with technology isn’t about making fancy presentations. It’s about challenging students to think dynamically." Rachel Coward photo

Change agent

‘A teacher still has to ask the right questions’

There was once a time when a piece of chalk and a blackboard were the only technological tools implemented in a classroom. Then along came computers, and keyboards replaced chalk while blackboards morphed into Blackboard.

For Óscar Chávez, MA ’01, PhD ’03, an assistant professor of mathematics education in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum, today’s technology can be used to teach.

Chávez discovered that the technology Ellis Library was using to teach professors how to upload documents to Electronic Reserves could be used to teach just about anything. As a result, he began using an open-source screen recording program called Jing to communicate online with his distance learning students — showing them how to use software in the math classroom.

“Using Jing solved the problem of not being right there with the students to explain step-by-step processes,” says Chávez. “To watch these videos, students never had to download anything. Their Web browsers could show any video I decided to send.”

While Chávez is using this technology — along with other programs — to teach his students, the end goal is to show them options for teaching with technology that exist for use in high schools when they enter the workforce. His students are responding well to the new approaches. One even nominated him for a teaching award. Chávez won an Excellence in Teaching with Technology Award in 2009.

“I haven’t been innovative,” says Chávez, modestly. “It’s mainly about how I use the technology. Teaching with technology isn’t about making fancy presentations. It’s about challenging students to think dynamically.”

Chávez has experience in trying to convey complicated curriculum to confused students. A native of Mexico, he taught math in a Mexico City high school that had no technology resources for students or teachers before coming to MU for graduate school in 1999.

Graduate school in the United States meant the ability to learn how to harness new teaching methods and prepare the next generation of educators for the classroom. He sees the free, open-source technology he uses as a way for teachers to experiment by presenting concepts in new ways without getting school administration involved in spending money on software licenses.

“And with the increasing likelihood that students have access to a computer at home or in a library, learning can now follow them anywhere,” Chávez says.

Math is the tool that humans use to understand the universe, according to Chávez. He has a passion for its certainty, and his use of technology in teaching the subject has certainly inspired confidence in the future of math education.

“But I know technology isn’t a silver bullet,” says Chávez. “By itself, it does nothing. A teacher still has to ask the right questions. The teacher will always be the primary agent of change when it comes to learning.” — David Wietlispach