Monday, August 08, 2005

What Professors think about the Internet

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Here is the summary of a large survey of college professors on the internet. I think I would have answered the questions in much the same way.

The internet has helped with student communication, but students are less able to use the library and particularly susceptable to plagiarizing essays. I have several each semester that I catch who have cut and paste off some website.

There also seems to be very little reflection on the problems of unmediated information out there on the web. They do not take a critical eye to what they find, tending to accept it as correct and true.

As we move courses away from the tradtional, paper-based world, we have to think more about how we teach students to interpret what they find electronically. We want them to treat our syllabi as gospel, but how can we stress that this is not true of most of what they find out there?

Professors Give Mixed Reviews of Internet's Educational Impact


Although campus computing is often touted as aiding education, many professors say the Internet has actually hampered students' academic performance.

When asked whether the Internet has changed the quality of student work, 42 percent of professors in a recent survey said they had seen a decline, while only 22 percent said they had seen improvement. But a majority of participating professors, 67 percent, said the Internet had improved their communication with students.

The nationwide survey, of 2,316 faculty members, was conducted in May 2004 by Steve Jones, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Camille Johnson-Yale, a graduate student in communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The researchers have been presenting highlights of their findings at academic conferences, and they have submitted a report on the survey to a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.

"What the Internet has done, judging by this survey, is increased the amount of communication and in some ways it's improved the quality of communication," Mr. Jones said in an interview. "But that, in and of itself, doesn't necessarily translate into increases or improvements in learning."

Student plagiarism emerged as a key concern of professors. Forty-four percent agreed that plagiarism had increased in their students' work since the Internet has emerged, while 23 percent disagreed and 33 percent were undecided.

A surprising number of the professors surveyed, 74 percent, said they were using the Internet or other high-tech tools to detect plagiarism.

Mr. Jones said he was not surprised to see professors reporting some negative effects of technology.

"The thing that I hear from faculty colleagues is that there's plagiarism and cheating going on over the Internet and that there's a worsening in the quality of students' writing," he said. "I hear complaints more often than I hear any kind of positive comments about how the Internet has affected students' work."

G. David Pollick, president of Birmingham-Southern College, said in an interview that the Internet and computer tools might be dumbing down student writing.

"The style of writing is changing -- it's becoming conditioned by models and forms," he said. Grammar-checker features of word processors, for instance, often mark flowery phrases as mistakes and suggest bland alternatives, he said. "You start to lose a lot of artistic and aesthetic quality."

"It increasingly makes the language a dead language instead of a live language," he added. "If a computer model starts to become the form of communication, then what you end up with is a language that is dying instead of one that gets richer and richer through use."

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