Friday, September 19, 2008

Do Professors Need Technology?

The Advance-Titan ran this mocking editorial today about a professor that could not get youtube working in his classroom.  For Dan Shafer, the fact that there was some sort of technological glitch demonstrates that Professors need to be more tech-savvy in order to properly teach students.

Interestingly enough, the chronicle had an article on a similar topic this week.  In it, Mark Bauerlein argues that internet reading is shallow and less than reading on paper.  Studies suggest that reading on the computer involves much skimming and skipping.   He argues that we need to get technology out of the classroom and insist on the more careful reading that can be done with paper.

Is it obvious that I am sympathetic to the second view?  Technology is something that can help, but in measured doses.  It doesn't improve learning automatically and can very easily hamper what we are trying to do.   Youtube may provide a nice demonstration of something, but hardly seems essential to the educational mission of our university.  

The contemplative nature of learning and education is too often lost in the instant gratification of a google search.  How can we truly reflect on what is important and come to our own understandings if we don't take time to think and understand for our selves?

If anything, a liberal education is about instilling that need for critical thinking and contemplation in our students.  Technology can be a tool, but that is all it is.  It is not the utopian solution to all the problems we face.


Lammers said...

Yeah, see, this is why I avoid Power Point and stick to overhead transparencies and kodachrome slides. The only thing that can go wrong there is a bulb can burn out, and I know how to replace them tout suite.

An image of. e.g., white oak projected from a 2X2" color transparency onto a screen is not one wit better or worse than the same image digitized and projected onto the same screen via Power Point. The only difference is that the former is all ready to go, while the latter would take additional hours of work for me to create.

On the other hand, we must be careful not to eschew the new simply because it is new. Some of your arguments sound a LOT like the sorts of disparaging fuddy-duddy remarks that have met every new technology, from the dry-erase board on up.

I think profs should teach with the tools with which they are comfortable. I am comfortable with the technology I learned to use 30 years ago; I don't see any reason to change now.

There are MANY ways to get an idea across to the students; it's the idea that counts, not the medium of its transmission.

Anonymous said...

I think there is some merit to the AT editorial but not necessarily of the nature expressed by the author. From my perspective, the Prof probably IS familiar with the tech generally speaking -- certainly s/he was able to put the original PPT together and I'll bet it worked in his/her office. However, that Prof probably didn't take the time to ensure that his/her application of technology. The incident described appears to be the result of a lack of foresight rather than a lack of tech knowhow.

On the second article, I question Bauerlin's suggestions. In order to keep up with the Lit in my field, the vast majority of my reading follows the same 'scanning' pattern he frowns upon. When something particularly useful or intersting arises, only then do I more deeply engage. I'd be willing to bet my style is the norm.

Anonymous said...

That's OK. My students can't use a slide rule.

Actually, the bulk of them can't use their calculators either... But I guess it would be poor form to mock their inadequacies with such a ubiquitous technology.

On the more serious side, the few technical issues I've had have been with the computer in the classroom being in some bizarre state, missing software, or otherwise misconfigured. Since I started using my own laptop, I've been pretty much problem free.