Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fighting against technology in the classroom

A great post over at Assorted Stuff about the debate over technology in college classrooms. He says:
A growing number of schools are turning off wifi in classrooms or even banning laptops from classrooms in an attempt to persuade students to pay attention to whatever it is the professor is talking about.
and then goes on to quote Ken Fisher at Ars Technica, who wrote:

While calls to make education "more interesting" are commonly offered as the solution to what ails the classroom full of web surfers, such demagoguery falls flat on its face the minute one remembers that students' interests are as broad if not broader than the collegiate curriculum itself. ...

The bigger question is, if Joe Baccalaureate got through Econ 101 with an "A" while spending his time manicuring his rotisserie-style fantasy baseball team in lecture, what was the lecture for to begin with?

I think this is actually a much more revolutionary idea than it might appear on the surface. As a student, I sat through too many lectures that were merely an outline of the chapter than we were supposed to have read. In grad school I even had a professor who read the book to us! Why should students pay attention if there is nothing new offered in a lecture?

There is a need to rethink education at all levels. I don't think we can really force laptops and wifi out of our classrooms. I don't even think we should. But we need to see if there isn't a way we can use the technology to our advantage.

And we need to think about what we do as instructors. I need to ask myself, "Did my students learn something today that they couldn't have gotten anywhere else?" The answer won't always be yes,I'm sure, but it should be at least some of the time!


Nathan Lowell said...

This is a great post, Nancy.

If the teacher isn't engaging the student, then no amount of suppression of remedy will help. Telling them they can't use their laptops just means they'll go back to passing notes in class.

Or doodling...

The anti-tech backlash is a reaction against their reflection in the students' minds. Breaking the mirror won't make their classroom performance any prettier.

Personally, I spent a LOT of time online with my machine ... often IMing with my buddy across the aisle critiquing the shameful displays at the front of the room. I was definitely engaged in the class...but not in the way the teacher probably would have appreciated.

joanna said...

I think that banning tech won't solve the problem, though I do love having the technology to control my students' computer screens. I don't think pure lecture works anymore--at least not day after day. Even those who do lecture are using electronic feedback (or index cards!) to monitor students' engagement during class.
Nathan, ain't nothing wrong with doodling if you are focussed on listening. I think the larger issue is attention and how to engage the students, but the truth is, I doubt that we'll all hit 100 % all the time.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've never even thought of the idea that student's might be surfing the next on wireless durning a lecture! I would have loved that during my undergrad days, I'd probably have been on related websites trying to catch the prof out or ask a really difficult complicated question with the aid of the internet. (I was that kind of student.

---Melissa, UTM