• August 30, 2015

College 2.0: Teachers Without Technology Strike Back

College 2.0: Teachers Without Technology Strike Back 1

Jeff Haller, Keyhole Photo for The Chronicle

Mark James, of the U. of West Florida, banned laptops, cellphones, and such in his summer class in English literature. "The students seemed more involved in the discussion than when I allowed them to go online," he reports.

Mark James, a visiting lecturer at the University of West Florida, declared his summer course in English literature technology-free—he skipped the PowerPoint slides and YouTube videos he usually shows, and he asked students to silence their cellphones and close their laptops.

Banishing the gear improved the course, he argues. "The students seemed more involved in the discussion than when I allowed them to go online," he told me as the summer term wound down. "They were more attentive, and we were able to go into a little more depth."

Mr. James is not antitechnology—he said he had some success in his composition courses using an online system that's sold with textbooks. But he is frustrated by professors and administrators who believe that injecting the latest technology into the classroom naturally improves teaching. That belief was highlighted in my College 2.0 column last month, in which some professors likened colleagues who don't teach with tech to doctors who ignore improvements in medicine.

Many low-tech professors were extremely distressed by that charge of educational malpractice. (They told me so in dozens of comments on the article and in e-mail messages.)

After interviewing a few of them this month, it seems to me the key debate between the tech enthusiasts and tech skeptics is really over broader changes in colleges, and anxieties about the academy being turned into just another business.

Teaching is not car assembly, the skeptics say, in that there's no objective checklist to follow. Nor is it brain surgery, because there is no agreed-upon group of vital signs to check.

"I see teaching as more of an art, and a relationship thing," said Mr. James. After we talked it out for a while, he settled on the metaphor of a carpenter's workshop to replace that of a doctor's clinic: "Let's say I want to get a really well-made table. I might go to someone who knows the old-style way of making a table, and I'm willing to pay a lot for that," is how he put it. By extension, tech-based learning feels more like IKEA—a lower-price, build-it-yourself option.

In that way, some professors see emphasizing the benefits of chalk-and-talk methods as defending their craft against pressures to cheapen it.

"This is where we have to ask, What kind of education do we offer?" said Mr. James. "We're preparing citizens that need to be able to communicate with each other. Knowledge isn't always something that's able to come out nicely packaged."

In Defense of Blue Books

When Barry Leeds explains why he makes his students write papers in blue books instead of on computers, he quickly recalls a favorite professor from graduate school. That was a long time ago—Mr. Leeds is 69, an emeritus professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, and he took that course when he was 22.

His professor made students write short papers and then gave extensive feedback, which forced them to hone their arguments and express themselves more clearly. And he made them write out the papers in longhand, in blue books, during class. "There's something about the immediacy or exigency of it," Mr. Leeds said. "When I took those written exams, I found that I made connections that I didn't know I knew—it shook up my brain cells like a supernova."

So today Mr. Leeds requires his students to write short, in-class papers. In blue books. By hand. Just like his favorite professor did.

How do today's students respond? "Once they're done kvetching about the blue books, they ultimately tell me for the most part that they found that it was a revealing experience," he told me. In other words, Mr. Leeds manages to get good teaching evaluations with an old-school method. And he feels that the students emerge with the same kinds of dramatic revelations that he experienced nearly 50 years ago.

His teaching has changed and evolved, though. For his favorite Hemingway course, he has dropped some books that didn't resonate, and he spends more time on ones that students connect with. At first he lectured for most of each class and left five minutes for questions. Gradually, based on students' response, he turned classroom time into more of a discussion.

"There's the danger of becoming like the ancient mariner and telling the same tale again and again and again," he said, adding that he knows of professors who cling to their yellowed lecture notes. "I have to safeguard against getting too hidebound and giving the same presentation each time."

He's never felt pressure from administrators to try blogs, wikis, or any other technology, although he said he "resents" what he sees as a lack of recognition of the time teaching takes. "There's an overemphasis on scholarship and research and only lip-service paid to teaching," he said.

So even though his classroom is low-tech, he feels that his teaching skills are honed by the trial and error of years at the podium. "It's just like you wouldn't want to go to a dentist who just got out of dental school," he said. "You'd like them to practice on someone else for a few years."

Wariness of Fads

Jason B. Jones, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut who helps run the ProfHacker blog, on The Chronicle's Web site (and thus enthusiastic about the promise of technology), said he understood why some longtime professors are wary of the latest gadgets in the classroom. After all, ed-tech fads have come and gone.

"There are still braces on the walls from where they had the last technology that was going to transform education—that was the TV's," he said. "Just about every semester I almost crack my head open on one of them." The television sets once supported by these metal brackets were long ago removed.

Some professors who are receptive to new technology attend the latest workshops and then decide it just doesn't work for them.

That was the case for Joanne Budzien, a postdoctoral lecturer in physics and engineering at Frostburg State University, who attended a session on using "clickers," devices that let professors instantly quiz students. The students click small remote controls, and professors can display the results on a screen.

"My classes are very small—I have at most 24 students, and it just seems impersonal to put up a question and use a clicker," she said. "I can just have a raise of hands, and I can call on them and say why do you think this and why do you think that."

Still, she remembers professors from her undergraduate days who put little effort into teaching—and she doesn't want to end up like that. "One would tell a joke that was way, way, way out of date," she said. Others' idea of a technological upgrade was taking their old transparencies and using them in the same way as PowerPoint slides.

So who's right? Fans of both old and new teaching approaches say they that have the students' interests at heart. Perhaps a better question is why there is a digital divide at all when it comes to teaching.

Some commenters have argued that tech enthusiasts lack research to prove that their methods work. In fact, reams of research have been produced, much of the results showing gains over those old-school methods. Some of the work is cited in a recent government report on the future of teaching, the "National Education Technology Plan 2010.". Teaching experiments seem to deserve more attention than a flip dismissal.

Yet professors who worry about a move toward assembly-line education should be at the table as well, checking for oversteps. As one commenter on my last column put it: "Problem is, higher education in this country has rapidly taken on many of the qualities of business corporations, with instructors being expected to serve a student clientele in whatever way that is convenient for that clientele. Coming along as a student, I learnt a great deal from some 'boring' professors."

Both old and new approaches will probably have to live together on campus for many years to come. So why not get to know each other a bit better?

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to jeff.young@chronicle.com or @jryoung on Twitter.


1. cmcclain - August 15, 2010 at 02:05 pm

I have students who think that they can somehow get around learning. They truly believe that passing a class is merely a matter of compiling information from their memory or hearsay. It just never occurs to them that they need to build new connections in their brain. They develop no intellectual depth or appreciation for facing new problems. I also have students who think that if they don't understand a concept immediately, there must be some better way to teach it. Again, they are somewhat adverse to learning, but in this case rather than try to "remember" new things, they expect the teacher to provide some sort of magic bullet.

I think that many faculty and administrators exhibit similarly disturbing characteristics. Some feel that they already "know" everything about teaching, and they just have to "remember" and execute. Some of the true technophobes are examples of this. Others feel that they just need some new fad to make it all magically click. Some of the true technophiles are examples of this. We are actually just seeing two different types of laziness.

We must remember, however, that there are teachers who use technology well without being technophiles, and there are teachers who use little technology without being technophobes. Ultimately the importance of technology or its absence pales in comparison to the importance of a teacher's attitude, effort, and success. More opinionated academics and nonacademics alike need to view teachers in action and see whether they connect with their students and get the job done. Some of these wonderful and successful teachers will have beautifully planned and integrated technological endeavors, and some will have a whiteboard, chalkboard, or a circle of desks in the center of the room.

Sometimes I use the internet for hours, and sometimes I have face to face conversations for hours. I learn a great deal from both, as long as the people/pages are of high quality.

2. emmadw - August 16, 2010 at 06:22 am

cmcclain said:
"Ultimately the importance of technology or its absence pales in comparison to the importance of a teacher's attitude, effort, and success. "
I fully agree :)

And, as also pointed out, the students have to also supply attitude & effort - I guess it's one of the debates we often have - should we be talking about "learning" or "teaching" - some students will have that attitude / effort - and learn despite the teaching (tech or not tech centric!) - some teachers will inspire / enthuse (again, with or without relevant tech) - but some students will never learn. It's the two way partnership that's the ultimate key.

3. phdeviate - August 16, 2010 at 11:46 am

Having just recently taught for the first time at a university where laptops in the classroom are an assumed ubiquity, my biggest problem didn't seem to be of a particularly high philosophical level. It was mostly that it's really hard to tell from the front of the room the difference between note-taking and IM'ing! Both are typically short bursts of typing. And unfortunately, the net-enabled classroom offers so much more *interesting* scope for not paying attention! The old notebook tic-tac-toe, doodling, reading a magazine under the desk, etc. just didn't seem to have quite as much draw.

However, I'm also aware that onscreen composing offers many more accessibility options that serve a variety of different learners. I haven't formulated my official classroom technology policies yet, but the goofing off prospects worry me more than what the students are doing when they're actually working. And as much as reading handwriting is a dizzying prospect, I'll probably be continuing to do some of it.

4. migwar - August 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

cmcclain - You find students to be "adverse" to learning. To my mind, this means that you are AVERSE to the liberal use of a dictionary.

5. migwar - August 16, 2010 at 01:08 pm

The ideal combination, of course, is a student who knows how to learn and is willing to do so with a teacher who knows how to teach and does it well. I was "spoiled" by having excellent teachers through most of "middle" [then called Junior High] and high school, to the point where I tuned out the occasional "bad" teacher and did badly in his or her class. This became even more of a problem at university, where I recall a renowned biology professor, aware that many of the students were enrolled merely to fulfill their science requirement, lectured in what seemed to be a deliberately boring and disparaging manner. To top that, the graduate student in charge of my lab was a rampant sexist who would not give me the time of day. I dropped the course [and too Logic, which I knew I would love after being exposed to it in two high school Math classes] to fulfill the requirement. Poor teaching was only topped by occasionally poor administration: I was not allowed to apply my AP credit to the required English 101 or 102, despite being an excellent writer who had scored 788 on my English SAT. But I was allowed to use the AP credits to get credit for a course on The American Novel [or somesuch] which I would have enjoyed, and which included many books I had not yet read. Lit & Comp 101 and 102, needless to say, included many books I had already read for school or on my own - some more than once before. So, I received credit for coursework I had not done, but was required to repeat coursework I had already covered extensively in high school Then, in my 2nd or 3rd semester I was denied access to a poetry writing class because I was not "an upper classman." Anyone surprised that I opted not to major in English, even though I ended up with almost enough credits in English to qualify as an English major?

6. migwar - August 16, 2010 at 01:09 pm

Sorry about typo: I TOOK Logic.

7. a_voice - August 16, 2010 at 01:59 pm

"And he made them write out the papers in longhand, in blue books, during class." Unfortunately, this is the sort of pain that students pay a bunch of money to endure. Many people in this world have intellectually challenging occupations, and they do just fine with word processors. This activity will make those students better critical thinkers?No wonder some people would rather go to jail than to college.

8. arrive2__net - August 16, 2010 at 04:51 pm

Higher education is changing in response to new technology, so it seems to me that you can expect a lot of debate on the subject as higher education seeks its new truth and norms. I think this article gets to an essential truth that the real answer for classroom technology has to do with the given class and professor ... what will work better that particular context (not what is better ... "in general"). It is important that the prof should be comfortable using whatever technology he or she is using, because otherwise time is wasted on nerves and struggle. At the same time, the students should be comfortable with it, so they can focus on the learning, not coping with the technology. Still, it is a fact that colleges and professors are in a competitive environment, and they have to seek to improve continuously if they are going remain successful in the long term.

If technology does indeed make the work of professors and students more effective or more efficient, as the source Young cited suggests, the pressure to add technology to the classroom will continue. This pressure is added to the traditional pressure to learn and improve which has been with us always.

Bernard Schuster

9. lenrose - August 16, 2010 at 05:29 pm

Technology is not a substitute for knowledge or wisdom.
Have you noticed that teaching students 4-function math
with a calculator allows them to know mechanics without
understanding the underlying meaning? The same often
happens with technology in the classroom. It helps quicken
the ability to mimic without mastering concepts. I teach
technology, including MS Office. I avoid wizards and templates
because students use them as crutches instead of developing
skills. Teach to master the subject. Do not entertain to
merely captivate the audience.

Len Rose

10. ucc_business - August 17, 2010 at 09:23 am

A key paragraph was way down near the end of the piece:
... reams of research have been produced, much of the results showing gains over those old-school methods. Some of the work is cited in a recent government report on the future of teaching, the "National Education Technology Plan 2010.".
Using technology is not just having students with clickers in their hands or laptops on their laps.
phdeviate said "really hard to tell from the front of the room the difference between note-taking and IM'ing!"
That is because the old style lecture simply replaced a pad and pencil for taking notes of what the "sage on the stage" had to say. Rather the profess needs to be the "guide on the side" posing questions that will help the student make connection when the locate and communicate the answer. With a laptop at their fingertips, the students can use the Internet to find answers that they share either with the entire class or their seat-mate a "pair and share."
Maureen Greenbaum

11. harry_2_claudia - August 17, 2010 at 10:59 am

The pervasiveness of technology continues to permeate every sector of society, and for this reason it is very important for professors to learn how to use technology. However, it is not essential for them to use technology in order to deliver every course they teach. For some courses it is more effective to deliver certain components of the course using the traditional classroom lecture method including discussion and a great deal of face-to-face interaction. For example when teaching a course about communication it is essential for my students to be able to develop the skills of being able to interact face-to-face in the classroom environment and then to be able to use these skills effectively and efficiently in the workplace environment. Furthermore, my communication course also contains the component of 'how to develop a business plan', this can be done online, because it involves step-by-step guidelines which the students must use in order to develop a good business plan. Indeed, although it is important for professors to be knowledgeable about the technology it is more important for them to be able to determine how effective and efficient their course content will be delivered in order for their students to gain the knowledge and understanding of the course content and to be able to apply this knowledge to the real work-world enviornment.

12. landrumkelly - August 17, 2010 at 11:38 am

Even when I do not use advanced technology during the class meeting itself, I typically use it in some way during the course. I could teach Plato's _Republic_ without modern technology, but I find the use of certain tools to be very useful even when teaching ancient political theory.

Technology should fit the learning objectives. The errors are usually committed at the extremes, and most professors know full well which type of technology is appropriate to the task at hand.

Landrum Kelly
Livingstone College

13. mlaumakis - August 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

"The students seemed more involved in the discussion than when I allowed them to go online," he told me as the summer term wound down. "They were more attentive, and we were able to go into a little more depth."

This is the quote that is at the heart of the controversy regarding the use of technology in the classroom. Look at what he said. He presumably has no quantitative data to back up the statement. What needs to happen is that faculty have to think about taking an inquiry approach with them into the classroom, gathering data from students to help evaluate the effectiveness of the use of technology in the classroom. Until faculty do so, we're just arguing without evidence to support the argument, which feels like a waste of time to me. Show me some data!

14. eevee - August 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

This article gives the impression that not using technology bolsters learning, that using technology weakens learning.

Neither claim is true. This teacher actually teaches more effectively without technology, which seems easy to do in an English lit class. (However, conducting research must include using and evaluating online sources. Whether the students finds an article in a journal in the library or from an online database is hardly detracting from critical thinking. Research is conducted largely online.)

What is true is that many poor teachers use technology ineffectively in teaching and fail to engage their students. Technology is a tool only offering a pedagogical choice to assist learning. If students aren't learning and teachers ineffective, I'd examine the teacher's choices which may or may not include technology.

15. fhull - August 17, 2010 at 01:10 pm

Wishful thinking as the old days are exactly that and students everywhere in the world are now using technology. We use to require Latin in High School too. Was it helpful? Sure! Do we still do it? You can hold on to the past for ever but once you've gone to your heavenly reward the world will continue moving forward.

Dr. W. Frank Hull IV, Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila

16. saraid - August 17, 2010 at 04:37 pm

@a_voice (#7),

The brain works differently when confronted with different challenges. Writing an essay on paper in an hour is different from writing an essay on the computer over a day or two. Much different. Many writers today continue to switch off the computer and break out notebook and pen for their sessions, even though the result ends up typed and perfectly spaced when published.

17. a_voice - August 17, 2010 at 05:13 pm


How about writing the same essay in an hour on a computer? I would assume that what matters is what goes on in the brain to write some sort of articulate piece in a constrained timeframe. I am just having a hard time with the need for the pencil and paper.

I can understand that someone may prefer to write the essay with a pencil and paper, and that someone else may prefer to write the paper on a computer. But why force students one way or the other?

18. saraid - August 17, 2010 at 05:47 pm

@a_voice (#18),

Because you want them to think differently. When I take out a notebook and pen for my writing, I'm not doing it because I like the feel of a pen in my hand; I do it because it changes the way I approach writing. For example, I've noticed a distinct emotional charge that goes into something handwritten, not just on the part of the recipient, but also on the part of the writer: it's both more vulnerable and more safe at the same time.

If it's the "same essay", then there's no soul in the craft to begin with. There's no need to reference McLuhan's well-trodden maxim. Here, typing in this comment box, I'm constantly glancing back and wondering if I should self-edit: a luxury I don't have on paper because the cost of doing so is higher. Posting to a forum, I often stitch my remarks with hyperlinks; writing in MS Word, I have a tendency to play with boldface and alignment; scratching on paper, I find I more often respond to myself whole cloth: my last handwritten missive included a paragraph self-described as filler while I collected my thoughts. That poetic list I just crafted would have been far less likely to come out on paper; this sentence is the last one I wrote in this post, but it's in the middle: the symmetry between my thoughts and yours is necessarily different because I'm writing this in a different order than you're reading it.

It's not about preference. It's about exercising different parts of your brain. The product is a different essay, because the point is writing that essay, not regurgitating it. The time scale matters, for instance, because an overnight assignment permits revisitation and depth born of checking extra sources.

An unrelated point: CHE put up an article on plagiarism recently; if a student can hand in a plagiarized, handwritten essay, I'd be pretty impressed. I also wouldn't mind: they had to read it well enough to memorize it verbatim, after all.

19. jabberwocky12 - August 18, 2010 at 02:03 am

Why stop at laptops and cell phones and PowerPoint? Let's ban that stupid technology called the "pen" Yeah, I know it's been around for a while, but it's probably also just a passing fad. A return to the oral tradition, I say.

Good Grief!

20. lfp98 - August 18, 2010 at 08:45 am

Technology is the great leveler. A mediocre teacher who would be terrible if he taught with blackboard and chalk can do a decent job with a well-prepared slide show. But for a great teacher, the old way is much more engaging, though it takes more effort.

21. rt_firefly - August 18, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I want to second the comments by mlaumakis.
"The students seemed more involved in the discussion than when I allowed them to go online," he told me as the summer term wound down. "They were more attentive, and we were able to go into a little more depth."
In the hands of a skilled practitioner, the EXACT same thing could be said of a class bathed in technology.
What continues to plague this general argument is the flippant reliance on AFFECTIVE information in place of objective data.

22. tee_bee - August 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I liked this article though; unlike the prior one about tech dinosaurs (I am not one, but I don't buy into every single fad, either), this article didn't read like a long-form Educause press release.

@jabberwocky12: Teach much? [I didn't think so.] A pen: used for taking notes. In my seminars, laptops: note taking, but also web browsing, IMing, Facebook, twitter, (also on the phone), etc. These are great tools, but when abused, I tell my students to put them away. Because they distract me, and don't promote learning. The fact that they distract me is reason enough to limit their use, or to ban them--they help make me less effective, No, I am not going to "catch up with the times." The times don't yet require everything be done on a laptop. Listening, thinking, and reflecting are important. And while one can make an argument for laptops in class, I see no need for student to do anything with a cell phone except to turn it off before class. Call me a luddite--I'm not, but the tech foamers and fronts for sketchy software companies will always trot that out.

The tone of your comment also shows that you are utterly unfamiliar with the research on how Powerpoint makes people passive (or utterly bored) and how it actually inhibits creativity and problem solving--or, if you buy Tufte's argument, how it contributed to killing the Columbia astronauts. I used it all the time. Then I got rid of it, and became a more effective teacher.

23. tolerantly - August 18, 2010 at 10:42 pm

What a silly conversation.

For English lit, unless you're a very silly person indeed, you're reading books. And then what are you doing? Thinking about them, talking about them, writing about them. What a lovely inexpensive thing to do.

Of course, if you insist on equipping prof and students with thousands of dollars' worth of computers apiece, and making sure that they have to keep buying software and paying for IT trainers and website designers and content and manual writers, well, then -- as a writer and sometime trainer, I thank you. Dummies.

24. a_voice - August 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm

@tolerantly: I love reading books on my iPad, but for you I may not be reading those books. I may be just distracted with a screen. I do my writing with my iPad and my laptop, but why should that matter if one is still thinking and talking?

If you prefer to read printed books and write with paper and pencil, that is great for you. But the reason why we invest in new technologies is to accommodate people that have grown up with or that have adapted to these new ways of doing some things. Sort of like the people who invested in printing presses in the past.

25. commcollcolleague - August 19, 2010 at 06:05 am

mlaumakis makes an important point. Before trashing the use of technology, a far better case would be made with data, rather than to say, "The students seemed more involved..." in a discussion. Perceptions are fine, but they can also be self-serving.

I am always amazed at HiEd faculty's disdain for the use of technology in learning and teaching. That technology is a huge part of the world in which students will function.

26. annon1234 - August 19, 2010 at 07:45 am

Different parts of your brain light up when you type, vs hand write, vs listen. There are PET scans of the brain that demonstrate that. When you are trying to learn something and then recall it the same parts of your brain that light up when you first learned it are the parts that light up when you try to recall it. Handwriting lights up more parts of the brain than typing than just listening.

We used that finding in a study. Students who hand wrote notes did, on average, 1/2 a letter grade better than students who typed who did better than the students who just listened (and all had the powerpoint slides to refer to, given after the fact) on the test questions that tested the material where the note taking/listening portion was tested. We controlled for GPA, major, entrance exam scores, age, (these were all juniors in integrated business core, required of all majors in the college of business and almost all of them were traditional college age students, this was a residential campus where nearly all of the students in the college were full time), etc.

While we were only looking at note taking and test results (not multiple choice), these classes had plenty of interactive components some of which involved their laptops and some did not. All students had laptops (and so we did have the distraction issue which is an alternative explanation for why hand notetakers might have done the best - they were not on their laptops surfing the internet).

27. wdrexler - August 19, 2010 at 08:10 am

I find it interesting that this article and others like it present the view of a "technology free" classroom as if it is some kind of uprising from an over-teched education system. The technology-free classroom continues to be more the rule than the exception. The frustration as presented in this article has more to do with classroom management than ineffective technology. It is ok to ask students to close the computers, put away the cell phones, and engage in personal interaction. But, this doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Technology for the sake of technology will never improve teaching or learning. As always, it is the instructional design and effective integration of technology that has the potential to transform teaching and learning. This is not to say that we shouldn't have deep, face-to-face classroom discussions or focus on a well-crafted lecture from time to time. But disregarding the potential of technology for teaching and learning is irresponsible. "Technology" also covers a wide range of tools. It may be that clickers or interactive white boards do not fit your teaching style. However, providing students the opportunity to collaborate online via wikis or discussion forums or to use online conferencing tools to interact with subject-matter experts may greatly enhance the learning experience for your students. We also need to be very careful about generalizing the teaching experience with one type of technology (e.g. clickers) and transferring that disdain to every other technology. Remember, it is only "technology" if it was invented after you were born.

28. pcoop - August 19, 2010 at 08:35 am

Yikes. We seem to be missing the point about the use of technology entirely.

29. 22228715 - August 19, 2010 at 08:50 am

Yes. Yikes. Modern technology is just the latest in a long line of tools that might or might not improve learning. I could buy the fanciest commercial stove on the market and still make crappy food, whereas a chef with a pile of sticks and a match could put me to shame.

For what it's worth... I teach graduate students, and I'd say about half (or a bit less) come with the idea that an assignment that looks pretty is worth an A. They can do the most amazing things with animations in PowerPoint, and can make MSWord-produced papers look like they came from a printing house. But they struggle to identify themes, analyze arguments, or tell a story.

30. ls0106 - August 19, 2010 at 08:55 am

It seems like we're missing a middle ground in here. We all know that effective teaching allows for multiple learning and thinking styles. A classroom can have a balance of powerpoint and technology free discussions. I did not like using online discussion boards (I'm not a huge fan of reading a screen and I think tone says a lot that is not always conveyed through online postings) but would happily have had in person reading groups had one of my faculty members presented that as an option. On the other hand, several of my classmates loved the convenience of "hearing" what their groupmates had to say on the boards.

Balancing different learning and teaching styles would be wonderful if it could ever be achieved.

31. cleverclogs - August 19, 2010 at 09:05 am

As some have pointed out, it's not about the technology - it's about the way technology is used. You can't just throw a wiki at a class and expect it to work miracles.

All good tech people will tell you the same thing. The question is not, what tech can I use to spice up my course? The questions are, what are the problems I face in this course and is there a tech solution to them? (There's an added benefit in that reworking a course to include technology forces you to really evaluate each piece of the course to see if it's worth keeping.)

Professors who fail to ask those questions and then argue that the technology didn't work are not unlike students who fail to study the material, do poorly on the exam and blame the teacher for making it so hard. In both cases, there's an element of personal responsibility that is not being met.

I will also add that often professors will add tech elements without understanding the underlying system that gives rise to them (which is actually pretty insulting to real tech experts). They assume that their ability to use, say, Camtasia gives them expertise. It does not, no more than the ability to read makes one an expert in English literature or the ability to add makes one a math whiz.

32. cleverclogs - August 19, 2010 at 09:13 am

One other thing:
I think we're going to be seeing more and more students who are very comfortable with technology. And therefore, the cognitive challenges that technology presents to newbies will simply not be there for them. It may, therefore, start to appear that technology is less effective than it was while more traditional teaching techniques will suddenly seem revolutionary because the students, who have never had to write a long hand essay perhaps, will have to work harder to make cognitive assimilation (i.e. learning) happen.

Again, it's not about the technology, but about what will make that learning happen.

33. tuxthepenguin - August 19, 2010 at 09:21 am

I use technology not when it helps me teach, but when it helps the student learn. I don't use much technology, but when I do, it is because that is the only way to make the point clearly. Too often the focus is on using technology to teach, when the focus should be on using technology to help students learn. I see too much substitution of technology for preparation.

If technology were free, I'd probably use it a lot more. Many of our classrooms have not been upgraded, and because technology is far from free, I avoid it when possible.

34. copesan - August 19, 2010 at 09:58 am

Teaching is a technology. The "tech" of computers et. al is a technological choice among the different technologies that teachers may choose to employ, but to not use computers et.al. is not to reject technology.

35. jokroll - August 19, 2010 at 09:58 am

Anyone who uses and understands technology knows that it is NOT the technology but HOW the technology is used.

36. murleenray - August 19, 2010 at 10:08 am

As a grad student, who has done it and watched classmates do it, technology in the classroom often serves as a distraction from what is occuring in the classroom. As a tutor in the campus Writing Center, I once allowed a student to have his laptop in the small group writing session until I heard, through the observations coming from others around me, that this student had naked women as his desktop picture. One teacher I know banned tech in her classroom when she caught a male student covertly taking photos of females in the class (under the desk was his favorite angle) and posting them online.

Once I began to teach, I decided that my policy would be no tech in class that wasn't part of the lesson. These students can give themselves the "gift" of 50 minutes of their day without the incessent distraction of cellphones, laptops, and ipods so that may they partake in a productive classroom discussion.

There is something about the heuristic qualities of hand-eye-brain connections and learning that we seem to be losing with the use of technology. This may be why using the BlueBook helped students to make surprising connections in their own thinking and writing.

As an instructor, I use technology and believe in the "old school" methods of learning by writing and thinking on paper. There is a time and place for the use of technology to learn, and there is also something visceral and valuable to learning in the act of making meaning with paper and pen...even if it is only because it slows us down. I think the secret lies in balance and how we use technology in learning.

37. fadecomic - August 19, 2010 at 10:35 am

See, Mr. James is the perfect example of why I was irritated supremely by the torch and pitchfork carriers in the comments of the last article. His table analogy is absolutely horrible. As I said in the comments there, who says you have to give up traditional teaching? Tech is more like the nice place setting on your table rather than the table itself. You are the teacher. I don't recall anyone saying to replace yourself. I don't recall anyone saying don't have your students turn off cellphones or online access or write physical essays. The concept that the people who want some tech in their classrooms are somehow self-replaced robots allowing the class to run tech-rampant is as much a stupid strawman as saying that anyone who doesn't incorporate tech is an outdated dinosaur.

I take exception to calling some of the new methods a "fad", too. The Stanley steam car left brackets on the wall, metaphorically. But people still ended up adopting the auto as a way of life. Or to put it a very different way, the current technologies are different than the last generation. A lot of those were kooky proprietary things that were uncomfortable to wedge into students' lives. The new generation of tech is based on stuff the students are well familiar with, like web-based forms, for instance. Or blogs. That's hardly "untested" or new or unfamiliar.

Finally, before this gets too long, a lot of this new generation of tech is about enhancing the way you already do things. I wish I could put that in italics. That kind of goes to the heart of this article. No one said replace your antique table. Lord knows you'll see it as gorgeous even though others may see a beer-stained dumpster candidate. Like I said in the last one, if you're already holding office hours, add an online element, for instance. If you're holding a successful round table class with 15 students, congratulations. Really, I mean it. But that doesn't mean that adding, say, a wiki to capture round table discussion outside of class (which is also non-fad very proven tech) isn't an almost investment-free enhancement (read as "not robotic replacement") to the class.

38. rsgwynn1 - August 19, 2010 at 11:23 am

I took a shopping bag into one of my lit classes. From it I pulled a hammer and an old cell phone. I dropped the phone back into the bag and then hit it several times with the hammer, then dropped the pieces on my desktop. "Are we clear on my cell phone policy?" I asked. If a phone comes on during class and I see or hear it, the student is dismissed with a zero for the day; a second offense gets a permanent dismissal. I also strongly discourage the use of laptops, though I haven't banned them outright.

We do view some videos in my lit classes, and students are supposed to take notes or answer questions about them. I bought 30 led keychain lights on eBay and pass them out whenever we watch something. I am waiting for inexpensive wifi "jammers" to become available for classroom use.

Mark James's approach is creditable, though a little extreme for me, for I use a lot of computerized photos and YouTube videos (very useful when teaching drama, for example). I've never seen the need to use PowerPoint as most of the presentations I've seen involve the lecturer just reading the PP notes from the screen. I prefer the chalkboard, even though I'm allergic to chalk dust!

I was recently at a university lecture for which a well-known writer was brought in for major bucks. The number of blue lights going on and off all around me was a constant distraction and demonstrated bad manners to the guest. I am asking our Sigma Tau Delta chapter to launch a "no phones" campaign among our students.

39. a_voice - August 19, 2010 at 11:36 am

Reading these comments made me realize that maybe the good-old tool we ought to replace is the teacher. Apparently many of them cannot see beyond the paper and the pencil. Who needs a tool that is so tool-oriented?

40. 11122741 - August 19, 2010 at 11:38 am

I really love these techies and their comments; anything but standing up there and walking around among students and teaching face to face and eye ball to eye ball and thinking on your feet and engaging and developing minds.

Better the TV digital jingle and commercial and the Zip Pow and glitter of the technology. Remember what F. Scott Fitsgerald said about Hollywood after trying to work there are a screen writer for a while because it is true about a great deal of teaching technology: "When you scratch away the glitter and tinsel, you get down to the real glitter and tinsel."

This is not to say that tecnology isn't useful and that there are not good uses for technology in teachnology (I have recently begun using a quill) but that so much of the use and usage today is mindless and low quality and continually fopped off as otherwise.

There is nothing like being eye-ball to eye-ball with another sharp mind and being told your full of it and here is the flaw in your argument and then showing that your not. That's what the "big bucks" are about.

Lastly if I attend another paper sessions at a conference where all of these yound presenters spent half of their presentation time fumbling about trying to make technology work or it blowing up in the middle of their presentation or I see a slick power point presentation that is just total junk, I MAY GO POSTAL. For god's sake, stand up there are present your question, design, methodology, results and what the hell it means in terms of the literaute. And the same with my techie doc students too.

Stand and Deliver substance not wrapping paper and eye sugar.

41. mzamon - August 19, 2010 at 11:57 am

I was glad to see the above discussion open such passion. I offer a simple thought-
Why not concentrate on what we intend students to learn, and then see what teaching methods will help them do that- pedagogy first!

It might be a method with technology or without -or -as one poster said- old technology like a pen.
My father- a dentist and inventor - advocated a pencil because it had an eraser and he referred to the eraser as the thinking end of the pencil.

I applaud those who try out methods they believe can promote learning. For any method to succeed, that method should be one the professor knows how to use, is comfortable with or openly says -this is an experiment and gets appropriate feedback from the students.
We should not be using tools just because they are present- no good looking tables will come from that!

42. davidbinder - August 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Having both observed and participated in the increased use of technology in the classroom over the past 15+ years, my observation is that some technology is helpful to student learning and some is not. The problem is determining a priori whether a new technology will improve learning. My own approach is to be a late adopter ... I'll let others be on the bleeding edge. Ultimately to me the question is whether a particular technology does improve learning outcomes (and not whether it is a nifty technological tour de force) for my students in the courses I teach.

It is not that we should ignore all technological advances, but we do need to avoid over-generalizing research results and we need to be selective as to what technology we as individual faculty incorporate into our courses. Not all technology is appropriate for all disciplines or for all faculty. If it improves student learning in one's own courses, I would argue to use it. If it does not, then using it or not is an individual decision based on non-learning outcome factors.

43. goldish - August 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Good points, #41.

Saying we should use technology because students are comfortable with it is no more valid than saying that students think that "learning" means memorize and regurgitate, so that's what we should expect from them. What do we want students to learn? In what way does classroom time contribute to that learning?

Not all subject matter is alike. Technology can be wonderful for illustrating material, but it can get in the way of students thinking for themselves. If students need to learn strategies for solving problems, they have to think about where to start on a problem, then what to do next. That doesn't happen if they see a solution already done, whether it's on Power Point, textbook, on-line answer book, wiki, or anywhere else.

44. iartzi - August 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I don't see the issue as being in favor or against technology, but about how different methods and tools affect the efficiency and efficacy of teaching and learning facilitation.

There is a bit of a "chicken and egg" problem: for a professor to really employ technology successfully in the classroom, he or she must become expert users or at least power users of that technology. When one is reluctant, does not have the time or the inclination to learn and master a new technology, one denies him/herself the opportunity to speak objectively about the merits of that technology.

For example, cellphone text messages might be disruptive, but might also be used to conduct simultaneous in-class debates across groups and topics - silently!

Students can write on a discussion forum and critique each other's work. They can take the time to think before writing, come back and add to a thread and read the entire body of correspondence among ALL their classmates.

Video conferencing enables one to bring in guest speakers from far away, even from another country and conduct interactive sessions.

Technology, if used intelligently, can expand the footprint of a class' collective intellect and broaden the stimulus, opportunities, creative horizons, and fundamental knowledge of all.

Thank you for sparking this debate.


45. saraid - August 19, 2010 at 01:07 pm

It should be pointed out the the classic citation of Socrates' opposition to the technological threat of writing is entirely valid and still relevant. And yet we still use writing, do we not? And we continue to teach the techniques he felt were threatened: conversation and true understanding.

46. betterschools - August 19, 2010 at 01:24 pm

Good for you Mark!

How churlish to think that 50 years of brain and cognitive sciences have discovered anything that would permit us to teach better and students to learn more or at a faster rate?

How arrogant to suggest that modern measurement sciences (1950 ff.) can teach us anything about how to evaluate student performance in a way that secures greater performance.

How could a righteous person think that advances in technology might be exploited to improve the rate, depth, generalizability, or retention of learning.

You have reminded us all that teaching and evaluation methods were properly positioned in 1906 and that no further changes are needed, even as our students worlds have changed in unimaginable ways.

Yours in an unchanging world.

A. Tavist

47. bekka_alice - August 19, 2010 at 01:53 pm

Six from Column A, Six from Column B. Technology can be useful when applied appropriately and kept to some modicum of control by the instructor. Laptops open so students can surf or cell phones being used to text are distractions. A central connection to a web site of interest to the course that everyone views can be helpful instead. I don't know if I would always have students write essays in blue books, but doing so on occasion is a valuable exercise. I find a stronger visceral connection to words I write, which may or may not be a shared psychological bias, but even if it's not shared, the exercise would still be useful on occasion because it makes the student slow down and think about what they're writing more than when they're tapping keys at 60 words a minute. Use clickers in courses with larger attendance numbers or where you might want students to be able to reply anonymously. Don't use laptops in courses with students who do not have a lot of computer literacy (unless it's a computer course of course >.^). Apply technology when and how it is useful in your classroom; as long as you're thinking through the application points and the reasons behind when you do and do not use it, you're doing it right even if your chosen mix doesn't match the guy in the next classroom.

48. kathden - August 19, 2010 at 02:00 pm

A major part of the problem is evident on the first text page of the executive summary of the "National Education Technology Plan 2010": it advocates a revolution and disdains evolution in teaching practice. As historians often point out, a revolution can in the end bring you right back to where you started! If the authors of the report really understood education, they would see that their starting point is false. A small error at the start can lead to catastrophe in the end.

Just a minor linguistic point regarding an early comment: migwar, in comment #4 you took cmcclain (#1) to task for saying his students were somewhat "adverse" to learning. I suspect that you are right in thinking that "averse" was the intended meaning. But beware of too much sarcasm: "adverse" is possible (though a little old-fashioned) and certainly in the dictionary. And it would be the perfectly appropriate term if the point being made were that the students were hostile to learning....

49. philosophy - August 19, 2010 at 02:09 pm

cmcclain et al. A technique that sometimes helps students move from learning = regurgitation to learning = comprehension is the SEE-I procedure.

Look up SEE-I in Wikipedia!

50. waghodekar - August 19, 2010 at 02:35 pm

I believe that there is no process called as such teaching. Teaching is essentially a process meant for learning to learn. There are different tools used for enahncing effectiveness of this learning process. Intellectual excitement and reltaionships are at the heart of matter. E-learning or new technology can certainly boost up effectiveness but personal rapport is a must that is missing in new technolohy. Hence, e-learning is merely an accessory. Without it we can move. Its presence is desirable. Hence a good blending of face to face approach and e-learning will be more productive.

51. optimysticynic - August 19, 2010 at 03:36 pm

If we all spent a little less time engaged in inane (not always but too darn often) blogging, commenting, and venting and spent a little more time thinking about and modifying our teaching, we'd all (students and faculty) be better off...

Here's a study: compare teaching effectiveness (actual student learning, not satisfaction) as a function of the amount of time faculty spend posting comments and blogging. Perhaps the CHE would be willing to fund such a study.

52. betterschools - August 19, 2010 at 04:48 pm


Great research idea. I'm all for it. I think we should also determine correlations between teaching effectiveness and knowledge of the teaching/learning-related feeder sciences. I don't know what we would see in such a study. It is true that some of the most knowledgeable people still teach 1906 style while others who don't have much formal knowledge have good "instincts" for optimizing learning. Overall, though, it is rational to expect that the more knowledge one has related to teaching effectiveness and learning, the more aligned one's behaviors would be with that knowledge.

Of your colleagues, how many do you know (percentage) who seriously engage in your notion of systematically modifying teaching behavior based on results; i.e., a continuous quality improvement model? Most people teach a synthesis of the two or three ways they were taught that stuck with them.

53. kleinl - August 19, 2010 at 08:56 pm

It would be appropriate for Jeffrey Young, who wrote this article, to back up his assertion that "reams of research have been produced, much of the results showing gains over those old-school methods." Where is Young's necessary citation in his article to support his claim? I don't think he can cite it.

I am very much versed in this issue about technology and whether it has helped improve learning and student achievement and also have read studies done on it. I have not encountered any major, extensive research yet which authoritatively establishes evidence that the use of electronic technologies in the classroom are more effective than so-called "traditional" methods of teaching.

As far as I am concerned, we have wasted millions of dollars in schools and universities buying technology for teaching and learning, without any theory behind how to effectively use this technology and what the quid pro quo is in using it. The cost/benefit issue has also been ignored in the debate. I am anxiously waiting to see results of a longitudinal study that should be done on the University of Phoenix students; to see whether those graduates have a better grasp of knowledge and learning than students exiting from non technology programs.

54. moldorf - August 19, 2010 at 08:59 pm

While I agree that the basis of a strong literature class involves engaged discussion, I disagree that technology can't enhance the students' experience.

One of the novels I teach is Ragtime, a book awash in historical references. While students recognize many names, such as Henry Ford and Harry Houdini, they are not familiar with others, such as Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White. With a computer in the classroom, I can quickly pull up Charles Dana Gibson's famous drawing of Nesbit. Better yet, students themselves can look up unfamiliar references.

In general, I find that we can integrate technology organically into our discussions and that an audio file of Scott Joplin or a Library of Congress photograph of 1906 New York City adds much to the students sense of context.

Yes, "treasure hunts" might at times slow down a discussion of gender or narrative perspective, but I strive not to overuse the technology. Rather, I reserve it for when the students are truly curious or excited to learn that a "character" has a real-life counterpart or that a "fictional" event actually took place.

55. ejb_123 - August 19, 2010 at 09:10 pm

In a growing number of high schools, districts provide students with laptops, and some districts even have high school courses that are paperless -- that is, the students submit everything as electronic documents, and the teachers mark and assess that work (including research papers) electronically, using styluses, and then electronically return the marked and graded work to the students.

And then these same students attend university courses where they have to write in Blue Books and where they might not even be allowed to have laptops and other devices to type notes with in the classroom, and I'm guessing that they feel as if they have stumbled into a medieval monastic scriptorium.

As Victor Hugo wrote in _Les Miserables_: "'I have civilized you,' says the convent. To this there is but one reply: 'In former days.'" Universities should keep this quote in mind so they don't suffer a similar fate.

56. jennyh - August 20, 2010 at 12:37 am

As a Secondary School Teacher (not certain how your US colleges compare to our schools/Universities), and previously as a school and then university student, I would say that I found technology/audio-visual aids negative. My husband was worse than me -- he used to go to sleep.

Students tend to tune out when the technology creeps in.
I really worry about the use of computers/word processors for doing assignments on. I like the idea of exercise books or at least handwritten assignments. It ensures that at the very least the student has written out the material. It is just too easy to get someone else to do it all for you or simply plagiarise.

I LIKE chalk and talk. Both for teaching and for learning. It is SO much easier to follow than being shown a complete text -- Power Point is just too awful :-( Chalk and talk also allows the teacher to absolutely gear the teaching to the students -- no trying to decide ahead of time what particular point needs greater elaboration/rewording.

The ONLY thing you should need computers for when teaching is when teaching the students how to use a computer. Essential in our day and age, though.

57. hesterlfuller - August 20, 2010 at 05:57 am

as a technophile, i must acknowledge that technology can distract teachers just as effectively as it can students. We prep for class, and then we get a back-up plan ready in case something goes awry. One might argue that good preparation always includes contingency planning, because students are the great variable and we need to have alternative strategies at the ready. But I would argue that complex information technologies require additional contingency planning that is not the same as prepping alternate strategies in response to learning differences. As a colleague once observed, "I can't remember the last time the chalkboard dropped off the wall in the middle of my lecture."

58. my2cents - August 20, 2010 at 08:28 am

For students today, who consider IMing or mingling at a party "a lively conversation," it is important that the classroom, especially, an English class, model different types of discussion, debate, groupwork and critical thinking...

Writing a paper without a spell checker, Internet resources, Sparks/Coles notes, under time pressure, is also an essential skill.

Alas, that will not happen as classes are larger and larger, the computer replace teachers and scantrons replace essays.

59. terrigordsia - August 20, 2010 at 10:49 am

I'm chiming in as the stepmother of a 19-year-old who took an English comp class at a community college this summer for the second time. (He got an F the first time. This time he earned a C-.) Like most people his age, he has a nice laptop and a cell phone, and is big into technology, texting, IM'ing, etc. I'm sure he did all of his research online, including Wikipedia, and probably believed it all to be 100% accurate. He complained that his teacher graded "too much" on grammar and spelling and "not enough" on the content of his papers, which he considered to be well written. His dad and I read one of his papers, which he posted to his Facebook page, and we agreed that there's NO WAY this kid wrote that paper! It was way too good. I agree with those who say that a lot of students these days talk the talk about the big careers they will have, but too few are willing to walk the walk to do the work it takes to get to those careers. They think they should be able to do the bare minimum amount of work and have what's taken years for many of us to achieve. Most students these days are spoiled.

By the way, I loved writing papers in blue books.

60. drprof - August 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm

My syllabus states that all electronic devices, including laptop computers and cell phones, are to be turned off and put away during my classes. I did not always have this policy, but I found that time and again some students were surfing the Internet or texting while pretending to be taking notes. Often, they were toward the back of the classroom and would be laughing or otherwise making inappropriate facial reactions (I'm funny, but I'm not THAT funny, and not all the time) as they watched YouTube videos, etc. I found it disrespectful of me but could live with it; the real problem was that it invariably distracted the other students who were trying to concentrate on the actual lesson plan. It is very hard to sit near (especially next to or behind) someone who has a big visible browser window open and is watching movies or even (frankly) porn. Even if you want to look away, the moving images and flickering screen, plus the person's constant murmured tittering, automatically draw your attention. Therefore, so as not to disadvantage my good students, I cause everyone to put their electronics away. The result is that students who wanted to surf in class get frustrated, but forced to listen to me and/or doodle for 80 minutes they begin (against their will) to actually learn something about the course subject, and their marks improve (as do those of their non-distracted classmates).

So, now I use technology, but they may not. What I mean is that I make good use of our digital projector, so that my lectures include lots of juicy images, have bullet points pre-fabricated for easy jotting in old-fashioned notebooks, and I often use (when relevant) websites or other media to explore or illustrate my topic in class. But the students can't use their tech in class, because it just always leads to trouble. Outside of class, I make use of technology too, such as Blackboard-type course forums and dropboxes, homework assignments that involve students searching or otherwise using online resources, and so on. So I'm hardly tech-phobic. But I've been around the block a few times, and I've seen that no amount of tech can begin to replace the necessity of me making my own lectures, q&a's and in-class exercises interesting and relevant. Human interaction in the classroom is a great privilege and a fundamental tool that I maximize in order to give them the strongest possible learning opportunities.

61. abichel - August 20, 2010 at 01:02 pm

kleinl's remarks in post 53 are well taken, but for the sneering attitude that inhabits them. Painting with broad strokes, kleinl stains first the author and then all forms of instructional technology - citing his/her own expertise all the way. In conclusion we are privy to kleinl's inner feelings about the march of both progress and time. Lastly, we await the definitive study that might prove kleinl's verse wrong (nevermore...nevermore).

Alas, bias is such a wicked and delightful thing - let's all have some.

62. molneck - August 20, 2010 at 04:17 pm

When I served on the UW-Madison, School of Education's IT faculty and staff advisory board, we were often asked to describe our own use of technology in the classroom. I always answered that I utilized books, chapters, and articles, and chalkboards.

I managed to retire after thirty-three plus years from teaching, proudly having never learned to use PowerPoint.

On a serious note, I would prohibit faculty job candidates from using PowerPoint at their job talks. Lacking experience, they regurgitate what everyone can see being projected, and they lack any reflection and extemporaniety as they present.

63. molneck - August 20, 2010 at 04:21 pm

Re # 63, that's "faculty and staff IT advisory board." Clearly, I was not among the "IT faculty and staff."

64. vlghess - August 20, 2010 at 06:15 pm

A very wise colleague in teacher education used to talk about having a "bag of tricks." Tech tools go in the bag. Black/white board and chalk/markers do to. So do lectures,(yes, even lectures), pair-share, cooperative learning, one-minute essays...and the beat goes on. The trick is learning what to use when. The clickers that are overkill in a class of 24 can breathe the life of involvement into a 150-student gen. chem. lecture (as can some of the other tricks in the bag, of course...) The author of this article uses some of the tech tools--he just chose not to IN THIS COURSE, and reminded us of some possible unintended consequences of our choices.

65. eslombard - August 20, 2010 at 11:13 pm

A propos of nothing, I guess. There is the story at U of P about a history prof who used to march in with his notes and ask what date he'd stopped at. The students would respond helpfully, but one day they decided to trick him and got him to repeat the lecture of the previous meeting. Word got around the university and the hall was filled with other students and incredulous faculty who observed the snickering students as they had the history deliver the selfsame lecture for the third time that semester. Do any of you remember Frank Baxter's 1950's lectures or psychiatrist Edward Stainbrook's TV presentations. Unforgetably wonderful! Just talking heads, but marvelous.

66. zefelius - August 21, 2010 at 04:58 am

Apropos of #13:

The request for quantifiable data is reasonable: it helps to objectively verify or refute the opinion you quoted.

But at the same time, I don't think Professor James' observation was necessarily unjustified. Many of us teachers and professors know how to determine in an immediate, direct way when a student is following and absorbing an idea. Quantified data is one source of viable measurement, but it is perforce indirect and mediated by way of large numbers. It is not the same as a more subjective interpretation, which has its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of accuracy. Indeed, whether or not one acknowledges the possibility of this kind of distinction between the quantitative and the qualitative is itself a part of the debate concerning technology in the classroom, and thus it can't be automatically presumed that Professor James' personal reflections are irrelevant.

67. aldebaran - August 21, 2010 at 09:54 am

"In fact, reams of research have been produced, much of the results showing gains over those old-school methods."

I'd like to see these "reams" of research, as well as an impartial analysis of it, to determine whether it really reflects the "improvements" over "old-school methods" (whatever they are) that the author claims. I certainly would not expect such impartiality from him.

68. artsvoice - August 22, 2010 at 03:50 pm

Last year I cut back on the tech in the classroom with mixed results. I found that many of my students view a powerpoint presentation or a computer screen much like the television set. Looking at the students when they stare at the screen I noticed their eyes get glassy and their mouths hang open. When asked about what they just saw most do not respond, and many say they don't remember. Because television was used as a babysitter for many of my students during their developing years they are at home looking at a screen because a screen does not evaluate you or expect a relationship. Turing off the computers, picking up the chalk, moving around the room, and making direct eye contact and seizing on the teachable moment is best for all parties.

I also decided to have more blue book short essay exams. Most students hated them and ended up complaining about sitting and thinking about one topic for an hour. Some however found it a wonderful experience to construct arguments in the classrooms and gained the confidence to engage more often in classroom discussions. For me, I was able to find out what was in the mind of my students.

Writing in my own handwriting is a personal thing. Seeing my ideas in my own hand is an important step toward academic ownership and individuality.

Do you remember you emails from earlier in the semester?

On a related issue, if texting and cell phone use is more dangerous on the road than driving drunk, what does that say about our students doing similar activities in the classroom?

69. sambet - August 29, 2010 at 03:54 pm

Dear all of the above professors, TA's, etc.,
I really wish that I had seen such enthusiasm in my professors when I went to a large university for my undergraduate degree. Thank you for your zest, regardless of which side of the aisle you stand on.

My opinion:
I believe that anyone teaching a college/university course should be extremely well educated in TEACHING. I'm not saying this to be inflammatory, and I myself do not have a degree in Education. However, I am familiar enough (through friends and family) with the undergraduate- and graduate-level degree plans to know that a significant amount of time is spent on learning how to teach to people who learn in different ways (visual, tactile, etc.) I am a huge proponent of the concept that we CAN have it both ways when it comes to low-tech vs. high-tech. Technology has simply opened up new options for the teaching tools available. Why have a strictly low-tech (or for that matter, strictly high-tech) learning environment? Would you say that a student who learns best by hearing things and uses a tape recorder is a worse student or is less engaged (because perhaps they are taking fewer notes) than someone who learns best by writing things down (I'm a mostly tactile learner, so I would fit into this category) or than someone who learns best by seeing words or a presentation displayed at the front of the room and takes perhaps limited notes? Of course not. Please keep in mind that you will have students in your classes that cover the whole spectrum of learning styles. You will have many students who truly learn best by typing, or by researching material online, during class. This is because throughout their lives, technology has been an OPTION they have employed in their learning, though they have also spent countless hours putting pencil to paper, and reading traditional books. I believe that you will best engage your students if you interact with them, and if you also mix things up in each class, using both low-tech and high-tech teaching tools, and also allowing all students (regardless of their learning style) an opportunity to take part in the class.

One subject that some of you have touched base on that upsets me is the concept that automatically, only a small percentage of your students are truly interested in learning what you are trying to teach. As an undergraduate student at a large "research university", due to family issues that I need not go into, I was truly dependent on my educational scholarship to fund most of my costs. (The rest I payed for with earnings from a part-time job.) In 100% of my core courses (and most of my electives), I can say with utmost assurance that there were only a few students who did not share my unquenchable thirst for knowledge (I guess those were the kids who knew they were just going to inherit Dad's business.) We were in a very challenging program that required tremendous amounts of individual preparation and review/reflection outside of class. However, MOST of our professors had the "weed-out" mentality, and treated us as though we didn't care about learning their subject. Direct quote: "Only 1% of my students pass each semester. They get C's. That is my curve." My only theory as to why they treated us this way is if they had no desire to teach their subject, and were only "professors" so that the university would fund their research projects. Every semester, I saw fewer and fewer of my study partners. (Did they change their major? Their school? I never saw them on campus again.) I lost my scholarship after my 2nd semester, and held 3 to 4 part-time jobs (totalling perhaps 50 wk hrs per week) each semester after, in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. This lasted until winter break of my senior year. Yes, I went to financial aid. Yes, I went to my advisor to see if there were any professors who taught my needed classes, but didn't have such a lousy attitude. That last winter break, I had to pack up my bags and move back home and live with my parents (no dorm payments), transferring to a local school and needing to go through two extra semesters because they didn't have the same program/classes as my old school.

I wish I could say I was the exception, not the norm, but I have numerous friends and have met countless people of my age who went through identical/almost identical ("I had to drop out even though I was smart enough and had the initiative.") experiences. PLEASE DON'T DO THIS TO YOUR STUDENTS! PLEASE KEEP YOUR ZEST AND VERVE FOR TEACHING! BUT PLEASE OPEN YOUR MINDS AS TO THE POSSIBILITIES IN HOW YOU TEACH! Thank you.

70. sambet - August 29, 2010 at 05:46 pm

Re #60 Drprof's statements regarding students at the back, middle, or front of the classroom's seats:
I would find such behavior highly offensive (while you see it as disrespectful but livable).

Example that will really resonate with you parents out there:
If your 2 1/2 year old bites your 6 month old in an attempt to get your attention, would you find it troublesome but livable? Absolutely not! The very first time, and every time, you will call your toddler out on it, remind them the rules of the house and how what they did broke those rules, and reprimand them in whatever way your family deems appropriate.

Those porn-watching, laughing, texting, you-name-it students are acting JUST like a toddler. Treat them that way. Not cruelly. But show your anger on your face and in your voice (yelling is not beneficial though; it just scares toddlers; and go for your "highly disturbed" voice). Remind them in front of the class (so that the message transfers to all the other toddlers in your class) that they are legally adults and officially students, and so they need to act that way. Remind them the rules of the classroom. As for the reprimand, I suggest that you go to your dean in advance to make sure YOU don't get reprimanded. But my suggestion would be for that student to have lost computer "rights" for the semester in your course, and that they be required to sit on the front row of the class for the remainder of the course in order to pass the course with whatever grade they earn (that way you can supervise them better). Afterwards, I suggest you go to your dean with that student's name, so that if they try to transfer to another teacher and pull the same stunt, their transfer is denied or maybe their reprimand transfers with them. Likewise for if they drop your class to do it to another teacher next semester. The dean will remember. I can tell you mine sure would.

I apologize on behalf of my generation. Yes, many of us were raised by televisions because we had one (single parent household) or two working parents, and the babysitter/nanny/daycare was lazy, overworked and understaffed or just didn't care to raise us with proper behavior and values. (I lucked out in that my mom didn't work until I was in the 5th grade.) Then, when we got home, our parents felt sorry for us and/or didn't want their only time they got to spend with us to involve negative feelings, so they didn't discipline us at home. Then we grew up into a completely overloaded and understaffed public school system where the teachers just didn't have the time, or the teachers had already given up. So now you get us. This is not a cop-out excuse, but this is our upbringing. It's going to be a haaaard lesson for those 20 year old toddlers to learn, because time and countless events have taught them that behaving that way is okay. We're seeing it in the workplace too, and THOSE toddlers just get fired; they never have had anyone teach them proper behavior. This is scary.

I have been fortunate enough that I teach and have taught (TA) almost exclusively adults (middle aged typically). They act like it too so I allow laptops, and when I walk around constantly, I have never seen anything non-class-related. They WANT to get this credit because they are dying to get their degree, because then they will meet the requirements to move up at their company. And in this economy, if their company dies, they have that piece of paper to help them when looking for another job.

Warning: Political? view ahead: The only solution I can think of will involve a major culture change, where a family can afford a modest house/apartment (my parents' generation call them "starter homes") if (and) only one parent works 40 hours each week, and the family members can interact all the time. But right now, lots of my friends who are married and living in a 1,000 sqft apartments, with both adults working. (In one case, the husband has 2 undergrad degrees and 1 masters, plus he's trilingual. The wife is a slacker in that she just has her bachelors.)... They tell me they can't afford a baby but really want one. (And my friends are as frugal as I am, and I'm half German and half Scottish! Meanwhile, I'm lucky because my husband doesn't want children.) That, and I had to voluntarily (insane in this economy, I know) leave an engineering management position because we were all suddenly working 80 hours every week, every month, and my body and husband could take no more. (I kid you not; my state's labor laws allow companies to require 24 hr/7 day workweeks from their employees, and that's how some companies are getting them to quit, so it's not a layoff, and the company doesn't have to pay into the state's unemployment system) If Daddy is working 80 hours this week, every other hour will be spent eating or sleeping. Trust me. They will not be involved with the kids; so even if a couple could afford a child, they are still living in a single-parent household, where that parent is working as well, only maybe not as many hours.

71. aschulze2001 - September 03, 2010 at 12:28 pm

As I think about my own work place, we have similar debates and viewpoints. The education department constantly ponders which education delivery is most effective, which education delivery methods do people prefer, which education delivery makes more money, etc. At my job we have to remind ourselves we are not competing with one another (face-to-face VS. technology delivery). Using technology as a delivery platform is not always the best solution and only having instructor-led, face-to-face classes is not always the best solution either. Technology is just another tool we can use to achieve the learning objectives. I guess my thought is though why wouldn't you use technology in the classroom in some instances? If students are already using technology to communicate with peers and form social groups or play games, why wouldn't you want to tap into this medium and link it to learning? If students enjoy using the technologies, couldn't teachers assist students with enjoying learning with the same technologies? Learning can be fun, it can absorb you and draw you in so you do not even know you are learning, which is where a teacher can assist and make the links to learning.

To prepare young people for a future where they have to work with others and negotiate with people located all over the globe, I think technology can be an amazing tool to use in teaching valuable life lessons.

72. chinua - September 03, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Responding to all, but specifically to the retired UW-Madison prof in #62 who was proud of having avoided learning PowerPoint...

As an undergrad, I avoided reading Hamlet. It almost became a badge of honor that I had taken several Shakespeare courses, both of which required reading Hamlet, and gotten A's in both. I was a literature major who had not read Shakespeare's greatest work, yet here I was at the end of my time having thrived for almost four years! How awesome was that?

A night of drinking with faculty led to me spilling the beans about Hamlet. The Shakespeare professor was shocked, but did not react visually. Instead, he made sure I was his TA for the final semester. And guess what? We were going to learn Hamlet. We were going to spend six weeks in Freshman Comp on Hamlet. And I was going to be teaching the whole thing.

I think we know how the story ends...not only did I read Hamlet, but I loved it. I bought critical versions, watched the nearly dozen film adaptations, saw stage versions, directed a scene for a drama workshop. Here I was thinking I was awesome for having avoided Hamlet, but the joke was on me, because I had avoided a wonderful piece of literature that had a great effect on me personally.

And professionally. I studied Olivier, Branagh, read the majority of Shakespeare's tragedies after that, looked at work that Hamlet inspired. I used some of the critical theory I learned in reading Hamlet in future work I read. I fell in love with Christopher Marlowe. And the research of that made me a better writer and student, and led me to a masters and a doctoral program.

PowerPoint is overexposed on this day in 2010 in the realm of education. But you could make the same argument for Hamlet. The key here -- why would someone be proud of having avoided something that could not only have been beneficial to students, but something that could have propelled them into a world that would have made them a much better teacher, the kind who enjoys learning and shares that with his kids instead of the kind who bristles at change and sticks to what they started with because in their opinion it worked? My excuse was that I was precocious and 20.

Plato believed that the proliferation of books would destroy education, dumb it down and make it banal. Every time some sort of technology comes into the world, there is resistance. Let those who want to fight fight it; they retire and gloat about it on message boards (ironic?), and the next generation works to set it better, and that trend just continues.

73. calluna - September 17, 2010 at 01:39 am

I always find discussions like this one about technology in the classroom interesting, mainly because it seems to always bring out the two opposing sides of the spectrum in favor or against technology, while often leaving out the critical point that it isn't the tool that teaches the class, it is the teacher. Technology is a tool, as is chalk or an overhead projector. Knowing how to judiciously apply them to teaching is the key. Recognizing that students have a variety of learning styles is also important. For some, having Powerpoint lectures that can be recorded and played back really enhances their learning. For others, following a process step-by-step on the chalkboard or whiteboard makes much more sense.

It all needs to be used in context of the course objectives, learning outcomes, and your audience. I would not advocate using clickers in a small, graduate level course where topics are better discussed among the class with open-ended answers. On the other hand, in a class of 300 where many students might be shy about raising their hand and risking being wrong in front of all their classmates, using clickers as a way to spot-check comprehension seems appropriate and even beneficial. Of course, it's only beneficial if the feedback the student receives leads to some action if they find out they are not understanding the lecture. Does the lecturer revisit concepts if many in the class miss a clicker question? Or are those who missed it encouraged to come to office hours?

As an example, I have one class that enrolls many students who are typically not very technologically savvy when they start out in college. They do need to acquire these skills, but they have enough to learn in my class without needing to become computer whizzes at the same time. So, I mix up my use of technology. I have online homework assignments that give them immediate feedback on their answers so they know sooner where their weak areas are to study more. In class, I use Powerpoints and record the lectures for them to listen again on their own time if they missed something, but instead of using clickers, I use plain old-fashioned index cards with letters printed on them for the answer choices, and they work in groups to answer questions that force them to use critical thinking to apply the lecture content. This way, the class time is focused on the lecture and discussion of lecture content, not battling with technology support issues.

Likewise for note-taking, our students are all required to purchase laptops, and most feel they need to use them for their notetaking after spending so much money on them. However, while some students just love the ease of taking their notes directly on the Powerpoints on a laptop, others just do not absorb anything in this way. There are still plenty of students who simply learn better by having a pen or pencil in their hand and taking notes on paper. And, yes, there are students who spend their class time surfing the internet, updating their Facebook status, etc., but I don't think that's any different than those of us who used to do the daily crossword puzzle during lecture. Just like with the old crossword puzzles, if your lecture style is engaging, the students stop trying to distract themselves online to stay awake and instead stay awake by paying attention to the lecture.

So, I think the key is to neither immediately reject new technology just because of the perception that the old way worked, nor to immediately hop on the bandwagon of adopting it just because it's shiny and new. Instead, give some thought into how it is used, what it can do, and if it makes sense to incorporate any part of it into your specific courses to make them even better.

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