Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Educational Technology

edtech-imageThere is a lot of knee-jerk inclusion of technology into classrooms these days. Smart boards seem to be cropping up across all sectors of education, computer lab classrooms are now a common facility in many schools, and technology-equipped lecture halls have become almost standard in higher education. This proliferation of technology in the classroom suggests that plain-old teaching is also old-fashioned, and that we all ought to be putting every aspect of our pedagogy through the technology wringer.

This is not my approach to educational technology: I do not think that technology for technology’s sake works in any context, but in particular most classrooms do not need technology in order to deliver effective education. What interests me is not the wholesale digitalization of pedagogical areas where we already foster effective learning, but rather to bring technology to areas where conventional teaching falls short. We already have plenty of technology in our lives, so we need to use educational technology strategically.

For evolutionary biologists and ecologists, there is abundant opportunity to develop educational technologies that shine light on concepts that conventional teaching methods leave in the dark. Ecological and evolutionary processes are difficult to explore in the conventional classroom due to their complexity, large spatial and temporal extent, and overall abstract nature. Educational technologies that allow students to speed up evolution or to see the aggregated effects of complex ecological interactions have the potential to revolutionize the way we teach these subjects. This is the kind of evolutionary technology that I am excited to develop.

So far I have worked on two such projects. The first, The Sustainable Use of Fisheries, allows students to explore both the ecological and social dimensions of ecosystem service exploitation by providing a simple, flash-based game that can be played in a computer lab. The second, Easy Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, allows students to understand the dynamics of Robert Axelrod’s IPD tournaments by empowering students to run tournaments of their own design.

I also use my classroom as a laboratory for assessing the value and promise of various educational technologies.

Great educational technology resources from others:
Obviously, I am more often a consumer and user of educational technology than a producer of it. Below are some of my favorite educational technology resources for use in my classroom.


  1. Avida-Ed: Although it is poorly documented and therefore a bit of a black box, Avida-Ed is a wonderful tool for empowering students to conduct their own experiments in simulated evolution. I use this in my Evolution course as  the basis for an extended research project that is completed by each student.
  2. TimeTree: This simple site, which is also available as an app for iPhone, allows students to enter in any two known species and obtain a divergence time for the pair.

Cooperation, Conflict, and Multilevel Selection:

  1. VirtualLabs: For those teaching an advanced course on how cooperation evolves, this really thorough set of simulations with rich graphic output provides students with the opportunity to explore some commonly-used game theory models.

You can see all of my blog posts related to educational technology here.