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Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the get-off-my-lawn dept.

Education 372

CowboyRobot writes "The January edition of Science, Technology & Human Values published an article titled Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate, which details interviews with 42 faculty members at three research-intensive universities. The research concludes that faculty have little interest in the latest IT solutions. 'I went to [a course management software workshop] and came away with the idea that the greatest thing you could do with that is put your syllabus on the Web and that's an awful lot of technology to hand the students a piece of paper at the start of the semester and say keep track of it,' said one. 'What are the gains for students by bringing IT into the class? There isn't any. You could teach all of chemistry with a whiteboard. I really don't think you need IT or anything beyond a pencil and a paper,' said another."

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The funny thing at my university (4, Interesting)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year ago | (#42862645)

At my university, the CS department are, counter-intuitively, some of the most reluctant to use our online capabilities and classroom presentation tech. I'd say about half of the CS profs still want everything handed in hard-copy and don't even post their syllabi online. And we have a pretty robust system for online content too, if a prof chooses to actually use it. But many don't want to even touch it.

You would think programmers would be more comfortable with computers.

Re:The funny thing at my university (3, Insightful)

koan (80826) | about a year ago | (#42862771)

I wonder if there is some element of job loss associated with it.

Re:The funny thing at my university (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862787)

You would think programmers would be more comfortable with computers.

I think you answered your own dilemma there; at my university most of the CS professors equate programming with writing out algorithms on paper.

Re:The funny thing at my university (5, Insightful)

MBGMorden (803437) | about a year ago | (#42862989)

I think you answered your own dilemma there; at my university most of the CS professors equate programming with writing out algorithms on paper.

To some degree they're right. Computer Science isn't Software Engineering, just as Physics isn't the same as Mechanical Engineering. Its really about data structures and algorithms more than it is about software. You must learn programming languages but mostly as a vehicle to demonstrate concepts.

I think some of the confusion would be lessened if they called it Computational Science rather than "Computer" Science.

That said, in the modern world. I would expect some level of online precense from everything. I think a lot of the "collaborative learning environment" stuff like online discussion forums is a bit of a waste (people will just use existing communications technologies if they want to collaborate), but at a minimum putting a syllabus online isn't much work. Being able to check your grades isn't a bad idea either.

Re:The funny thing at my university (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862797)

A lot of the stuff we had (I graduated in 2007) was such utter crap I'm not surprised that our CS department either rolled its own or didn't use it. My single best professor in all of university taught on a blackboard, handed out homework on hard copy, and only let you turn it in on hard copy. He was fine with you doing your homework on a computer and printing it though. That was discrete math though, so doing it any other way would seem nuts.

Get a Horse (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862959)

>>>You could teach all of chemistry with a whiteboard. I really don't think you need IT or anything beyond a pencil and a paper,' said another."

Or with Khan Academy, without the $10,000 upfront.

Re:The funny thing at my university (5, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#42863005)

I suspect it is less that they are uncomfortable, and more that the are unimpressed. Though if they are not even willing to do basic stuff like posting documents online that is a bit odd.. though thinking back, not all that surprising either. Last time I got to play with one of those 'professors, get your stuff online!' packages that are peddled to universities, the barrier to learning it and getting it to do anything useful were pretty high, esp since the most people generally wanted out of it was 'act like a damn ftp site'.

Re:The funny thing at my university (5, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#42863015)

Most of the CS profs aren't really programmers, but true computers scientists, and really computer science has very little to do with computers, or programming. Also, most of the professors have probably been around for a long time, and know what works and what doesn't work. They want you to hand in hard copies of stuff so that they don't have to deal with any excuses about how the system lost your assignment. The only problem I would really have with handing in hard copies is that nobody uses floppies anymore, which is what I used to hand in my assignments on, and USB sticks and SD cards are a little too expensive to be passing around to teachers for assignments. They really should make Low capacity SD cards for really cheap so that people can us them for passing data around in cases where you might not get the SD card back.

Re:The funny thing at my university (1)

RussR42 (779993) | about a year ago | (#42863219)

They really should make Low capacity SD cards for really cheap so that people can us them for passing data around in cases where you might not get the SD card back.

There are still some [amazon.com] laying around. And I'm sure it wouldn't take much for any university to get their hands on a big pile of them and hand them out to students.

Re:The funny thing at my university (2)

psmears (629712) | about a year ago | (#42863273)

The only problem I would really have with handing in hard copies is that nobody uses floppies anymore,

Floppies don't really count as hard copy [wikipedia.org]...

Re:The funny thing at my university (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863029)

I went to college 2003-2007 as a CS major, and I had a few classes where we had to hand in our coding assignments on floppy disk.

I shit you not.

Re:The funny thing at my university (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863051)

In my experience students pay more attention to a piece of paper handed to them than if I say "the syllabus with all the test and assignment due-dates is available on-line". If an instructor assumes that everybody in the class is comfortable with computers and will actually look at an electronic-only syllabus, it's a recipe for disaster, although I admit that in a computer science department it's probably a safer assumption than usual.

In one of my classes with over 100 students, it's a month into classes and I still get questions about where the electronic class notes are, even though I explained it on the first day, it's on the syllabus (both on paper and on-line), and it's in the same location for almost every other course at the university. Although most students get it, some students are quite clueless. At least if you hand them a piece of paper in class they don't have the excuse that "they couldn't get it to work" or "my computer was broken", or "my interwebs aren't working from home". I treat it the same way as e-mail versus paper mail: if you want people to pay attention, send it to them on paper. It's harder to ignore or claim for technical reasons that you somehow missed it.

Re:The funny thing at my university (1)

Beetjebrak (545819) | about a year ago | (#42863631)

CS grads who can't remember or figure out where to find critical documents lack the basic intelligence or the motivation needed to finish the program: they should fail. Same goes for those who can't click their way around a basic OS + wordprocessor combo and manage backup copies of their docs: epic fail. Electronic courseware is a godsend as far as I'm concerned: thousands upon thousands of pages fit in a simple tablet or ereader which puts it all at your fingertips. Back when I was a student books and other paperwork took a sizable chunk out of my already cramped living space. A tablet with a usable browsing/searching app would have been most welcom.

Re:The funny thing at my university (5, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year ago | (#42863115)

It's not that they aren't comfortable with computers, but rather that they know the computers' failings.

Sure, that online testing package is nice, but it can't prevent cheating like a proctored in-person test can. Posting syllabi is nice and all, but students use that as a way to just read the book before the exam rather than attend class. Having a real-time chat for office hours is a nice shiny toy, but it's not really useful for demonstrations or sketches.

Then, of course, to actually use any of those features, there's a time investment required to learn the specific mechanism the system uses. Your CS professors already know how to put a video online, should they choose to do it. Learning to do it through the fancy new system is just a waste of time. It's not a new capability to them like it is to professors in other departments who may not know how to set up their own content server. It's just the same old crap, with the same old problems, but now it takes longer to do it.

Last I knew, my alma mater's CS professors each just ran their own server, configured however they liked. Some used them extensively, and some didn't.

Re:The funny thing at my university (3, Informative)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#42863127)

At my university, the CS department are, counter-intuitively, some of the most reluctant to use our online capabilities and classroom presentation tech.

Why counter-intuitively? Dijkstra has been very vocal on this topic throughout his whole life. And you can hardly get more CS-y than him.

Re:The funny thing at my university (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42863137)

At my university, the CS department are, counter-intuitively, some of the most reluctant to use our online capabilities and classroom presentation tech.

I don't find that counter-intuitive -- the longer you work with technology the less you want to use it for the sake of using it. And there's lots of students who would simply read the syllabus and then show up for the exam thinking they've got it covered without knowing what the professor actually taught in class.

I'd say about half of the CS profs still want everything handed in hard-copy and don't even post their syllabi online

Supposedly, Donald Knuth had his secretary print out his emails.

You would think programmers would be more comfortable with computers.

If it helps the problem sure, if it's just busy work, not so much. Sometimes, technology doesn't really add anything but extra steps of little value.

I find at work someone always is pushing us to do all of our work in some form of social media like Sharepoint. And it's not something that helps me get my work done (in fact it usually makes it harder), it's something that the people in charge of these can point to and bray about the adoption of it. A discussion thread is more trouble than it's worth for most things I find.

Re:The funny thing at my university (5, Insightful)

conorpeterson (2718139) | about a year ago | (#42863207)

I'll say this as a cynical adjunct: the instructors who are the most integrated with CMS are the instructors who are likeliest to be replaced by a MOOC. Not to discount online learning, but since I prefer it the old-fashioned way I've changed my approach to emphasize the strengths of conventional classroom instruction. My IT needs are a lab, projector, audio system, LAN file share for course materials and submissions, and a whiteboard - anything more is likely to be more trouble than it's worth.

It's knowledge, not "comfort" (4, Insightful)

KalvinB (205500) | about a year ago | (#42863297)

People who make a living with technology know what it's good for.

That's why they use is sparingly (and to greater benefit) than instructors that fully embrace a bunch of expensive junk with no actual educational value.

Whiteboard, projector, laptop, document camera. That's my ideal set of technology for a classroom.

Re:The funny thing at my university (0)

Nimey (114278) | about a year ago | (#42863445)

Oh dear god. My alma mater had an absolute dinosaur chairing the CS dept. In 2001 he still taught machine organization using 8086 assembly language on MS-DOS, which (among other things) was intended as an intro to assembly.

Re:The funny thing at my university (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42863611)

he still taught machine organization using 8086 assembly language on MS-DOS... was intended as an intro to assembly.

As a guy who learned assembly in the early 80s, its not a bad choice. There are architectures that are absolutely beautiful and nearly perfectly orthogonal, like the 6809 and 68000 and dec pdp-11 but thats not real world anymore. MIX and MMIX literally are not real world and the simulators that exist usually don't provide much training in device driver development (if any). Stuff like IBM BAL or whatever its called is too high level CISC'y. Stuff like ancient (pre-pic24, pre-pic32, etc) PIC microcontroller assembly would simply scare the kids away. Hell, it used to scare me. Overall you would do worse by selecting most anything other than 8086 assembly. Have you got a better suggestion?

research universities = only about research (3, Insightful)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#42862755)

and the professors don't want to teach and have the big lectures that at times are just out of the textbook and are sleep though.

Re:research universities = only about research (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862855)

"... that at times are just out of the textbook and are sleep though."

What? You seem to have nodded off at the end of that sentence.

Re:research universities = only about research (4, Insightful)

cab15625 (710956) | about a year ago | (#42862863)

An alternative perspective is that the research faculty want the hopeless cases to realize as soon as possible that their niche is not in the subject that the professor teaches, and are teaching primarily to the better students. Why do you think med. schools in North America still want students to jump through the hoop of first year chemistry? Is it because every MD out there needs to know how to titrate? Or is it because if you can't even learn something as trivial as titration, the med. schools know that your chances of safely learning about surgery, anaesthetics, and prescription medication (including doses) are almost zero.

Re:research universities = only about research (1)

m00sh (2538182) | about a year ago | (#42862953)

and the professors don't want to teach and have the big lectures that at times are just out of the textbook and are sleep though.

I don't see the point of a lecture anymore. Why not make each class into a movie and show that movie? With sound effects and flashy animations? Then have lab hours to work on the problems.

Anyway. students enter a comatose state right after the professor starts talking and hardly interact with the professor. There is absolutely no point of a lecture in the modern environment.

Re:research universities = only about research (3, Informative)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#42863059)

Interaction? Unless the class size was ~200, I can not recall having any professors who were unwilling to stop and answer questions or expand on points that the students seem to be having trouble with.

Re:research universities = only about research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862961)

You probably shouldn't be sleeping through your classes.

Re:research universities = only about research (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | about a year ago | (#42863129)

How are students supposed to stay awake in class? Is most of your stock portfolio in energy-drink companies?

Re:research universities = only about research (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a year ago | (#42863195)

Depends on the person. Putting myself into a sleep state was the only way I could slow myself down enough to comprehend the slow linear thinking of the teachers without dying of boredom.

Re:research universities = only about research (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863287)

There are plenty of faculty, even at the big research universities, who enjoy teaching. At my school, the Dean of Sciences stepped down from that position specifically so he could teach 1st semester organic chemistry. They aren't rewarded for teaching, so many of them will focus their attention on parts of their job for which they are rewarded, but very few set out to shirk teaching

Time is the real problem. Lecture content exists. It's often compiled, in more or less usable form, into textbooks, so the tried-and-true method of read, lecture, exam is the simplest way to teach effectively given limited resources. Smart-classroom content - interactive, animated, dynamic - does not generally exist, and takes an amazing amount of time to create. I mean, it takes me at least half a day to put together an hour lecture on material I know very well, using images I've already collected; closer to 2 days if I have to create images. It takes days to put together a nice, 3 minute animation, and I'd have to hire out creation of any interactive content. "Smart" classrooms will only become useful once someone else creates content to fill them.

Lame (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862769)

But how do I justify buying a $3000 Macbook Pro and $900 iPad for school. :(

The old college system is not cut out for todays (1, Interesting)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#42862803)

The old college system is not cut out for today's needs and today's tech / IT settings.

Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863079)

Why? What do "today's tech/IT settings" bring to the table that is of actual benefit to the learning environment? How does a big CMS and computers help teach a university course? I'm not saying there aren't uses and benefits, but that is the question that is posed. Your summary dismissal of the university system does not remotely answer that question and in fact lends pretty heavy evidence that formal education is sorely lacking in today's tech/IT settings. It seems to me that the university system is exactly cut out for today's needs...people with little grasp on critical thinking, literature, culture, history, logic and reasoning, writing, debate. The games played in the media and in politics wouldn't work if the people demanded better. But they don't know better precisely because many people have tried to use a degree as a job training program and we've apparently let them, so long as the tuition gets paid. That's the problem.

Technology should serve a purpose. You seem to think that purpose should serve technology.

Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (3, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#42863087)

I think it would be more accurate to say the old college system is not cut out for the needs of today's vendor commission expectations.

Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863341)

What makes a college system effective is not and never has been the use of technology. It's the quality of the instructor and their strategy when teaching. Its tough to specify what will do that, but modern technology is not a necessity.

What's falling short in many cases is students with brief attention spans who think glitzy technology is necessary to keep them awake and learn, and who think merely writing or speaking to students or leading them in a hands-on lab exercise is a deficient way to teach. If you are easily impressed by the use of technology in teaching, then I suppose the traditional ways can seem suboptimal, but I've seen a great many attempts to use technology that are clear failures in terms of both cost and teaching results. Technology for its own sake is not useful, so it's not surprising that many instructors shun it or use it sparingly.

I program and use all sorts of computers, and I build and repair electronics at home. That doesn't mean I use computers or other technology in every exercise. Sometimes I still draw on the board because I think that will get the point across more clearly. If you mean that a college with an instructor speaking to a bunch of students learning from them isn't a good way to learn, then I'd argue that the last few centuries of education suggest otherwise. Yes, there is a place for new technology and new ways of learning -- always -- but the basic principle that someone with experience and a long period of study can help students who are starting their studies is a pretty obvious and time-tested one that does work. I can't see how that could be replaced by technology, or why you would want to.

Who built those toys? (2)

KalvinB (205500) | about a year ago | (#42863389)

Meanwhile, the people who were smart enough to figure out how to make today's tech, didn't have today's tech to learn with. Today's kids are too busy playing video games to know what math is good for. Something they'd see no end of if they had actual hobbies.

Doesn't matter to me though. This idiotic obsession with technology just makes me more valuable in the work force.

Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (3, Insightful)

Phillip2 (203612) | about a year ago | (#42863407)

The idea that technology necessarily improves the way we do things is the fallacy in your argument. In practice, many people avoid this technology because it is really not worth the hassle for didactic gain that it brings.

Want to use a whiteboard? Take a pen. Want to use an "innovative" tablet approach -- well make sure the battery is charged, take your gear to the lecture theatre, discover that it doesn't work in the lecture theatre you are in.

The second point is that most "e-learning environments" are lowest common denominator. I asked once how big a file can I upload? Pretty big came the answer, think the limit is 60Mb or so. Not so useful when I want to upload an 7Gb ISO, or a 100Mb data set. Use of these environments is largely limited to uploading your powerpoints because uploading your powerpoints is all that they will do reliably.

Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (2)

fermion (181285) | about a year ago | (#42863487)

The old college system essentially is a few intense hours a week with a professor, a lot of time studying what the professor said, then doing reading, or writing, or calculations, or whatever.

This works, except when a computer is brought in the classroom, the prof is no longer the center of attention. It is the computer. It is correct to say that there is no advantage to putting the class on the computer. It takes a lot of work, and the payback at the college level is not that great. This is especially true when you consider some profs just come in, read from the book, assign from the book, and don't really give it any more thought.

The value of the class system, which really does not have to cost very much, is that they silllybus is no longer a separate document, but an integrated set of readings, activity, etc. Students can be given the option of online or paper texts. It is easier to refer to a variety of texts. For freshman lit, for example, anthologies can be collated from online source. listed in the proper place in the syllabus, instead of having students buy a book. For science simulations can be collated. Online tests can be created so that each student had an individual test. TAs can be used to tutor students instead of grading test.

Using such a system, though, is a skill, and it is time consuming. I have heard of that hourly profs are not given time to set such a system up, so I understand why it is not popular.

Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (2)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | about a year ago | (#42863617)

Yeah, we no longer need philosophy, art, theater, or any course of study that doesn't lead directly to the only job remaining in a modern economy: programmer.

small sample population? (5, Insightful)

brian1078 (230523) | about a year ago | (#42862835)

They only interviewed 42 faculty members for this study? Seems like too small of a sample to come to any kind of conclusion.

Faculty at the large public research university I work at have embraced the technology that has been provided to them.

They're undergraduates... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862839)

They're undergraduates -- you need to attract their attention before you can teach them

Rattles or mobiles work wonders on undergraduates.

It depends (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862869)

Honestly, it really depends on the subject and the lesson whether or not technology is going to help. Technology for the sake of technology is money that could have been used on things that matter.

I teach English and I'll use technology, but it's mostly technology that's a decade old and only for certain things. In fact I tend to avoid using it because I'm then at the mercy of the hardware to be functioning when I need it and I can't shuffle my lesson around if I need to.

anything beyond a pencil and a paper and they want (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#42862883)

anything beyond a pencil and a paper and they want to tech IT???

This is why CS has big skills gaps.

Re:anything beyond a pencil and a paper and they w (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863067)

He was talking about Chemistry. Do you have some sort of learning disorder? You fail at reading comprehension and forming cogent sentences.

Also, do you really need to make a half dozen posts?

Re:anything beyond a pencil and a paper and they w (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | about a year ago | (#42863255)

He is actually a poster child for TFA

Re:anything beyond a pencil and a paper and they w (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863435)

Yep, learning on pencil and paper might have made him look less retarded.

Features lacking in paper course materials... (5, Interesting)

kromozone (817261) | about a year ago | (#42862901)

You can't highlight every piece of text, run a search on it and then spend hours jumping from one wikipedia article to the next, losing track of where you even started. You can't take a screen grab of an amusing typo, caption it, and post it to some social media network. No little bubbles pop up on your piece of paper to let you know you have a new instant message, email, completed download, software update or follower... Perhaps class in a Faraday cage isn't neo-Luddism, but a practical lesson in focusing on one thing at a time for 40 minutes straight.

Re:Features lacking in paper course materials... (2)

Un pobre guey (593801) | about a year ago | (#42863313)

I agree. It is unsubstantiated horseshit to insist on moving every little gadget, app, or web innovation into the classroom. Like any other tools, they should be leveraged when there is a significant benefit in doing so. Being up to the minute on Web-Whatever-Dot-O just to be cool and futuristic is a fool's errand, not to mention a potentially large waste of resources.

Re:Features lacking in paper course materials... (1)

Zapotek (1032314) | about a year ago | (#42863501)

You are missing the point entirely, all the things you mentioned are optional and in addition to the functionality of a single piece of paper. If you can't handle the distraction, opt out of it.

Personally, I wouldn't have made it through uni without these distractions during class and without having all the lectures posted on-line for when I didn't feel like attending -- which was most of the time..pretty much all of the time actually.

People learn at their own pace so why not let them do just that -- and it works best for the university too.
I still paid tuition and I imagine I saved them some money by not using their facilities/resources that much; and because I had a lot of free time I came out of uni with both a degree and a nice OSS project -- which have been much more helpful in finding employment than my degrees.

Technology != Effective teaching (3, Insightful)

helixcode123 (514493) | about a year ago | (#42862907)

I don't see technology as inhabiting much of the universe of effective teaching. A good teacher with deep subject understanding and good communication skills is always going to be better than a crappy teacher festooned with the latest IT.

idiots don't know how to test it (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about a year ago | (#42862915)

Look, if you go up to a chemistry teacher in the 15th century and said "Here's a printing press, use it to teach chemistry", they would laugh in your face.

You don't "use technology" to teach, you use specific, customized products to teach.

You don't offer generic technology. You custom design specific software.

As in the Khan Academy. Or as in Cargo Bridge, or similar physics games.

Re:idiots don't know how to test it (2)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#42863171)

*nods* to build off that, if the people doing the teaching are not seeing how some new widget will get them better results, there is a good chance the problem is the widget and the lack of understanding of its designer rather then the teacher simply being stubborn. Many in industry (esp sales people) seem to have very low opinions of anyone who teaches, and that low opinion is often very clear in the sales pitch and the pressure that comes down from administrators who listen to vendors more then their staff, so they end up with some tool that fills a salesman's image of what 'looser' professors need that is then pushed by administrators who only kinda understand the problems.. which even if the tool has merit pretty much taints it.

Re:idiots don't know how to test it (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a year ago | (#42863259)

Which alternative universe are you talking about? Or were you unable to learn anything in history because you were glued to your tech?

Re:idiots don't know how to test it (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | about a year ago | (#42863537)

Rubbish. That's a very naive straw man. It is very unlikely that such a person would laugh in your face. Books were manually transcribed at high cost, low availability, and uncertain completeness and accuracy back then. Demand for printed books exploded precisely because everyone in academia and business already had a burning need for them. That is most certainly not the case with arbitrarily moving every web or device innovation into the classroom. The distraction alone from this or that messaging or social media service is highly disruptive. In learning you want to engage people's minds. Not much technology is really needed for that. If it buys you convenience then great, do it. Otherwise it's a waste of time and resources. Unfortunately, it will be another 10 years before it becomes clear what was useful and what was cosmetic paraphernalia fetishism.

mod 3o.wn (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42862923)

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English (4, Insightful)

mspohr (589790) | about a year ago | (#42862941)

My wife teaches English (composition) at a local University and she used "Blackboard" for the sylabus, supplementary reading material and communication with the students. She also put up a few short lectures (combination of slides and voice over narration) on a few of the important topics in her classes.
I think this is about the limit of possible use of technology for this type of class where learning depends on sitting with a student and their paper and working on how to make it better. I think that technology is over-sold in education.

Re:English (1)

khb (266593) | about a year ago | (#42863343)

I used Blackboard once, seemed unhelpful. As for teaching English, the class I got the most out of involved rewriting, rewriting and rewriting until we got it "right" (viz. what the Professor decided was right). Had we had the technology for e-submission, his markup, our re-submission many students could have improved faster (couple of day to 1 week turnaround isn't conducive to optimal learning).

Optimal technology usage should vary by subject, but in pretty much all cases (performance art, plays, stand up comedy ... as counterexamples) I would expect that good use COULD be made. But Professors have no incentive to innovate in this area (tenure, and increased workload/increased student expectations of turnaround) so I am not optimistic that most Professors will make the attempt.

Re:English (2)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#42863345)

Not sure about English composition, but there are other subjects that can benefit from technology: visualisation, learning with feedback outside the classroom, gamification... and other than just improving learning effectiveness, could you think of a way where technology could help a teacher effectively teach a class of 1000 rather than 30 or so? Or reduce the cost of learning so you can justify the expense for a far larger group? I can... and I am not the only one. We're not there yet, though.

And sometimes it's about more than just learning. There's a series of courses taught at a company I work with, which comes with a meter-high stack of binders containing the course materials. That stack got replaced with an iPad for every student. Some managers screamed about education funds being spent on stupid, shiny toys. They didn't buy into the fact that these professionals got more effective since they now always have this refererence material with them on the job (often in remote locations). Or that this reference material is being kept up-to-date over the air. Or that errors in the material were pointed out far faster and more frequently through the iPad's software. But what they did understand, in the end, is that handing out iPads actually turns out to be way cheaper than handing out the stack of binders.

Flash Cards (3, Interesting)

cab15625 (710956) | about a year ago | (#42862947)

The most common thing that I see in chemistry is that online resources are used to post powerpoint slides for first year courses. This is mostly done as a concession to placate students who complain that they can't follow the lecture if they don't have something to follow. Fair enough I suppose. The problem comes when students then go to study for exams and think that a few collections of what amounts to flash-cards are sufficient to study from and are shocked when not a single question on the exam ever appeared in lecture (though all of the concepts were there, and all of the concepts were explained in even more detail in the textbook).

I am a chemistry professor... (5, Interesting)

Covalent (1001277) | about a year ago | (#42862949)

...and I can see why technology is not more thoroughly embraced. For starters, the OP makes a good point: How hard is it to keep track of a syllabus? If you're the kind of person who can't keep a piece of paper, or who can't enter the important information from that piece of paper into the data device of your choosing, you're probably not going to do well in the course anyway.

But more to the point, learning technology is almost always more suited for the student than for the instructor. I can project a video on the screen and talk about it, but students who sleep during lecture are still going to sleep through lecture, and students who pay attention will learn either way. For students on their own, the technology can be more useful. I have used technology, and will continue to, but it's not a major part of my instruction and I could easily do without it entirely.

Re:I am a chemistry professor... (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year ago | (#42863265)

IANAT but from my systems engineering point of view when you say:

For starters, the OP makes a good point: How hard is it to keep track of a syllabus?

I think .. well OK .. keeping track of 1 piece of paper is no problem, but I bet that there is more than one syllabus to keep track of, in fact probably lots of them. And in an non IT environment those bits of paper are stored all over the place, and the teachers need to keep track of where they keep their syllabi .. but wait a minute .. if we define a standard location to store the syllabi of one teacher, then that solution (by the magic of computers) can be extended ver easily to all teachers .. and all students .. and everyone can see everything.

All of a sudden the whole question of "where did I put/where do I store my syllabus?" becomes a solved problem for everyone involved .. and they can all get on with the task of teaching being taught without having to worry about that issue .. ever again.

Congratulations (1)

Dareth (47614) | about a year ago | (#42863369)

Congratulations, you reinvented the filing cabinet. The good or bad news is that unless it has a picture of a certain mouse on it, all copyright/patent/trademarks on said invention have likely expired. At least until you add, "in a computer system" to them and start all over. Maybe your post now counts as "PRIOR ART.

Eric Mazur's research in pedagogy (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | about a year ago | (#42863301)

Are you familiar with Eric Mazur's research in physics education? [harvard.edu] He's not interested in technology as an end in itself, but in developing more effective techniques for the teaching of science. Technology has a role [harvard.edu]. I saw him speak about this work about 10 years ago and it was compelling. Too bad his group's Web site seems to be missing links to most of his papers, but the short blurbs there give an idea of his findings.

Re:I am a chemistry professor... (1)

khb (266593) | about a year ago | (#42863403)

Pity. Obviously there's still a place for live lab work (hands on does matter), but a lot of relatively dangerous experiments could be carried out in a virtual lab, and closely tying the labwork (virtual as well as real) to the lectures makes the subject a lot less "dry" and builds intuition faster.

Sure, creating such virtual labs would be a considerable amount of work (but at least could be self grading), and tying the lectures to the labwork wouldn't be trivial.

But it would improve the learning experience (hard to sleep AND do the labwork).

Re:I am a chemistry professor... (2)

neurovish (315867) | about a year ago | (#42863447)

So you have a syllabus. Is it handwritten or did you type it up on a computer?
If you typed it up on a computer, then you will have a file saved.
If you take that file and save it somewhere that can be easily accessed...like maybe some shared storage space on the department's webserver, then there is no syllabus for anybody to keep track of.
How hard is it to copy a file to a webserver?

Re:I am a chemistry professor... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863557)

are you walter white?

So what? (5, Insightful)

Tridus (79566) | about a year ago | (#42862951)

I'm not sure I care. I had classes with lots of fancy tech, and classes with next to none where everything was done on paper. It made no particular difference to how good the class was, or what I got out of it.

Occasionally there's a good reason for it (submitting 50 pages of code by printing it out really makes no sense at all), but in my experience most of the time the technology costs a lot of money and doesn't really add anything of value. If the prof actually wants to teach and knows how to do it, the class is going to be good even if he's using stone tablets. If he considers teaching to be that thing he has to do in between research projects, it's going to suck no matter how much tech you throw at it.

They could probably get better outcomes if instead of spending the money on tech, they spent it on instructors who want to teach so the professors that don't can go do the research they actually want to do instead. Everyone is happier that way.

OTOH (1)

Tridus (79566) | about a year ago | (#42862997)

... a friend today got an assignment that has to be five pages, double spaced, times new roman 12 pt with 1 inch margins, and I thought that was a curious anachronism. So maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. :)

Re:OTOH (3, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#42863149)

No, that's actually more recent. I remember when I was a kid having to do a lot more work because my handwriting was much smaller than my classmates. The reason for the specificity is that students get rather good at using the largest margins, typeface and font size that they can get away with to pad their work. It means that if they want to pad out their work, they have to go to a lot more work than just adding additional points to their report.

Teach chemistry with a whiteboard (5, Interesting)

PeterKraus (1244558) | about a year ago | (#42863001)

Well, I have to say, from personal experience, the best received lecturers in my undergrad course have been those, who used pen + paper and an overhead projector. The speed of writing was just right, and it also helped to understand the (organic) chemistry quite a bit. Hello, Dr. Sutherland.

I do appreciate that other parts of chemistry - mainly physical and inorganic, and even more advanced organic chemistry - are bit more difficult to draw on the spot, but some of the slides our lecturers have published are absolutely inexcusable.

In any case, I believe the lecture material should be available online at some point - and by that I mean all of it. This bullshit of "I will print ultra boring slides with 50 slides per lecture, with gaps, so you pay attention" was, frankly, not helping. Also, I believe all lectures should be recorded and posted online - maybe after the whole course is over - too. Size is not an issue, and the students are already paying for that content, and it doesn't cost the lecturers anything extra, once set up properly.

But interactive electronic classroom jazz in university-level chemistry is either good for the computational chemistry lab, or a waste of time.

Teachers need to change (3, Insightful)

nebular (76369) | about a year ago | (#42863017)

The professors don't grasp the tech because they haven't used it themselves. They don't see how much more information they can present to students with these tools. Chemistry can be taught using only a whiteboard, but if you put some of that information in an easily accessible and dynamic format that can be used outside the classroom then you can cover so much more.

It's not about them rejecting technology, it's about them rejecting an overhaul of their teaching methods to best use the tools at their disposal.

The old adage is "Those who can't, teach", but I would say it's more like "Those who can't adapt, teach"

True at GMU (1)

tambo (310170) | about a year ago | (#42863025)

Coincidentally, this was posted two hours after my EE lab TA asked us to ignore the directions at the end of the lab assignment about submitting it to Blackboard, and instructed us NOT to submit it via email. Instead, we were directed to submit it via hard copy. To be clear, these lab assignments involve programming in a $200+ mathematics package. And these instructions were given in the computer lab, surrounded by tons of machines that have internet access... but no printer. I can't even begin to imagine the logic behind that decision. I mean, Blackboard sucks, but isn't email submission (using the GMU email system that that we are required to use for classes) more convenient for everyone, more environmentally friendly, AND verifiable?

'submit via e-mail' (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about a year ago | (#42863463)

You're obviously new to e-mail.

SMTP works through 'store and forward' ... and many systems won't alert that they've had a problem forwarding e-mail for at least 2 hours, possibly as many as 48.

So by then, your homework's late ... but what if it got caught up in a spam trap? Then you might get *no* indication that it wasn't delivered. When I worked for GW, we had a little incident when an update to our mail system's anti-virus flagged every e-mail with a 'w' in it ... and all of that e-mail was trashed.

I once went to a conference where the abstract submissions were via e-mail ... they ended up cutting the conference from 5 to 3 days because of the low number of submissions ... but it turned out that their spam filter had eaten over 50% of the submissions.

I took a class once where we had a take-home final; but the teacher e-mailed it to us. Luckily, I gave him more than one e-mail address, as my university e-mail was locked a few days before the final. (I worked for the university, and was fired for 'use of sarcasm'). The email account had been set up as a student e-mail account, but they refused to unlock it, and their system wouldn't let me create a new account as I already had one associated with my SSN. (I mean 'GW ID number ... it's just a conincidence that they were your SSN ... they'd never put those so that every adminstrator could see them, right?)

If you're going to take submissions electronicly, you'd be better off using FTP, or a website, or anything that has a positive confirmation that the file's actually been submitted.

Most professors aren't trained teachers (1)

sirwired (27582) | about a year ago | (#42863039)

One thing to keep in mind is that professors are not, for the most part, trained teachers. They are experts in their own field, but that does not necessarily imply a particularly good ability to pass that knowledge to others. By the time they become professors, most have of course taught some classes, but that is not the primary criteria used to anoint new professors.

I agree with some of the sentiments in the article that technology can be useful for your prototypical large lecture class. Anything better than the current situation of 200+ bored students and a one-way lecture that could just as easily have been posted online as a video would be an improvement. But for regular-sized classes (which was most of mine, outside of the "everybody takes these" classes), I don't see technology as enhancing the experience much. The smaller class size induces the back-and-forth conversation that makes advanced technology more of a distraction than anything else.

can it be better? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863099)

The comments from the faculty members are, I think, factually correct: you CAN teach any subject with very little technology. Heck, you probably don't even need a chalkboard. But, what you CAN do isn't necessarily the best way to do it. I think technology can help teach better in many fields. Demonstrating this improvement can be challenging, however, and all technology has resistance to implementation. Often, customers will push for change before a vendor will. In this case, when enough students are asking for the course web site, the course lecture videos, and the course homework aids, then the professors will follow.

Similar issues are currently occurring in the medical profession...

Not surprising at all (5, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year ago | (#42863161)

Imagine this: you have a notebook of your course content - basically and outline and examples - you've used for years. Each year, you walk into class grab a marker and go to town on the whiteboard. Nobody can get ahead of you, everybody has to concentrate on what you're saying or miss the details, and you can actively let your theories blossom infront of them. By the third or fourth time you've taught the class, you spend almost no time at all preparing. Each class can get a customized window of your knowledge that suits them. If you make an error, you just say "oops" and change the mark on the board by erasing the last one with your sleeve and everybody fixes it with a pencil. Done.

Now, in the name of "connectedness" and "interactivity" you are expected to produce a full picture book of your entire semester's class work and examples, all worked to the nth degree. Everybody is supposed to download them and you just point at the board as your slides go by. There's no way to correct them on the fly, and any corrections you make require everyone to update their local copy. Those that take notes have to insert the new slides and just hope that the pagination doesn't change so they have to redo the whole back half of the presentation. Everybody is working from their laptop or their tablet, so nobody is really "taking notes" - even the good equipment sucks at it - and half are off checking facebook or playing games.

It's not wonder profs are loathe to incorporate stuff into their lectures - more work for them, less interaction from the students. The whole idea of having a professor is getting a customized version of the class. Otherwise you could just go out and buy the (e-)text, take the exam and skip college altogether. It's not a business presentation where nobody gives a shit, and pretty slides makes up for the lack of real content. It's actual learning.

College professors aren't, in general, very high on my list of respected professions, but I've got to side with them in this case. There are lots of things IT can do to help out, but in the classroom the experience should be very human and very hands on. /rant

Maybe not *in* the classroom... (0)

sootman (158191) | about a year ago | (#42863169)

... but I'd sure appreciate the course materials, schedule, policies, etc. being available online so I can check in from home and know what's going on.

Marginally better never sells. (4, Insightful)

dbc (135354) | about a year ago | (#42863177)

It's always a tough sell to get someone to buy into a major change in methodology for a marginal improvement that is not clearly demonstrable. The only way to sell any new technology is to clearly demonstrate a marked advantage to adopting the new technology, with a demonstration that is clear and awakening. Thus it was ever so.

My translation of the summary is "I made my pitch, but people keep asking me: 'Why bother?', I shouldn't have to answer that! They are so mean! WAAAHHHH"

The reason is simple (4, Insightful)

Ziggitz (2637281) | about a year ago | (#42863193)

Students are the ones who are to gain from IT in the class room, not professors. Easily accessible and detailed syllabus online? Professor already has it memorized. Easy access to slides and notes from classes? Doesn't help the professor. Online study material? Again, does nothing for the professor. Online submission of coursework? Professor might actually take longer to grade it or even have to print it out to hardcopy, or else learn to use a software solution to mark the paper. Professors aren't motivated to use it because it means changing their existing process and they see no direct benefit to themselves.

"old-fashioned whiteboards"? (1)

whoever57 (658626) | about a year ago | (#42863197)

Since when were whiteboards old-fashioned? I remember chalkboards. Now get off my lawn!

Study Computer Science any way you like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863235)

Does not matter if you study it the old fashioned way with a pencil, paper, and a copy of "The Art" or on your latest i-toy, but when you will come to me for a job interview, you better be able to write, debug, and analyse code on a sheet of paper or our interview won't last long.

On Point (2)

cfulton (543949) | about a year ago | (#42863237)

This is completely on point. Technology is great! I have been in the business for a long time and we can make many things better through the use of technology. But, pushing IT off on every supposed problem (what was wrong with the classroom that we are trying to fix) does not make things better. For instance I like to cook, but putting my oven on the internet doesn't make me a better cook. It is just a waist of technology. A solution looking for a problem. A teacher has stood in front of students and taught them to understand a subject matter for literally millennia. Adding high tech online line cloud based learning solutions is an answer to a problem that does not exist.

The reason we got to the moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863271)

We didn't have computers.

Tech is not the solution unless (1)

Stonefish (210962) | about a year ago | (#42863277)

Technology is not the solution unless you're talking about changing the nature of the classroom. For example if yoush to enable remote learning a content management system might be of assistance. If you want an efficient mechanism for evaluating teaching methods, technology may be of assistance. However technology can just be a waste of time, MS word is great for writing stories but is possibly the biggest time waster in corporate history, playing with templates, creating documents that noone reads that you store multple times.


methano (519830) | about a year ago | (#42863305)

I don't know what this has to do with anything but I had to learn FORTRAN in a chemistry class about 36 years ago. This was before whiteboards.

except one thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863319)

I mostly agree. Having all these expensive tech solutions seems like a waste of time.

However, powerpoint is awesome. I'm in CS and I had an algorithms and data structures teacher that only wrote her notes on the board, and let me tell you, if you didn't have immaculate notes, you were not doing well in that class. Furthermore, mistakes and errors were very common, and it made the class very difficult. More difficult than it needed to be.


Some uses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863323)

Some technologies I saw that were actually useful:
      Classroom clickers for student participation (not so great for attendance)

      Online class message board for students to ask questions versus catching office hours

      Online site to view current class grades for each assignment/exam

      Online calendar to remind students of assignments

      Video recording system to allow online students (very useful if one missed class due to illness or didn't want to spread their illness to other class members)

Some technologies that weren't so useful
      Online quizzes (always technical problems or just slowness)

      Online submission of assignments (always limited and difficult to use, some students always had issues when the server would crash, small file limits)

      Microphones at each desk (usually captured too much background noise)

      Allowing laptops,tablets, etc in classrooms (nobody took notes just played games or IM)

Whiteboards are critical, you see the mistakes. (3, Insightful)

Hozza (1073224) | about a year ago | (#42863363)

I have to say, I agree with them that the best way to teach is often writing everything by hand on a whiteboard. Why? It's the best way to create interaction. Talking over a PowerPoint presentation is only slightly better than just giving people a book to read. Working out everything out by hand in the lecture lets the students see how you work through the problem, and, critically, they see you make mistakes. Spotting these mistakes and either correcting them for you, or seeing how you approach going back and correcting them, is one of the most important things for the students to learn. In their later careers its often more important than the actual content of the lecture itself.

So, yes, it's helpful if a course has a good website, and some simple CMS may be useful too, but it is absolutely critical that many of the lectures are still done by hand.

Solution looking for a problem (1)

Kardos (1348077) | about a year ago | (#42863375)

The web based classroom management stuff is largely a solution looking for a problem. Having used two such systems, it's largely an exercise in frustration to figure out how to figure out how it works. They're loaded with hard to use features. For those of you who have access to such a system: create a survey. Then go to surveymonkey.com and create a survey. Which one was easy?

The only actually useful features are posting files (assignments, lecture slides, solutions, etc) and posting grades. The requirements are simple, yet the solution is horribly complex. No wonder the profs don't want to deal with the huge learning curve.

They're half-right. (2)

LikwidCirkel (1542097) | about a year ago | (#42863385)

I can understand some of this. There are people who push technology where it really is cumbersome. Blackboard, for instance, is a horrible tool and costs more time, money, and effort for both instructors and students than just using paper would. At my university, only the most incompetent computer professors used Blackboard. The best ones used their own simple web sites and pushed content with FTP.

There are places where technology does help, but it's not universal. I still strongly believe that math and theoretical physics should be taught on a whiteboard and pencil/paper. I was using a tablet PC, way before the tablet craze, which worked pretty well.

In liberal arts classes, however, a laptop and keyboard was invaluable. I could type way more content than people with pens and paper, and if somebody missed a class, sharing notes was trivial.

In the end, it's about the right too for the right job, and fancy tech often simply doesn't add any value. It all depends on the kind of course and learning environment.

I think that reflects their lack (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863395)

Of skill, there are lots of math concepts I did not learn as taught to me in school but as an adult seeing the concept animated on a computer I understood instantly.

Incentive is the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863451)

Professors, even the techie ones, need a reason to adopt new technology.

Making Tenure (just to cite one example) is usually tied to how many scholarly articles a prof. can publish in a year, and NOT how well they use the latest technology.

Until that changes, we can expect more of this type of behavior. Not that professors should use technology just because it's there, mind you...

To save time and money (1)

bufke (2029164) | about a year ago | (#42863469)

On large scale a LMS is cheaper than printing tons of paper. Electronic white boards are a convenience to teachers they don't help students in any way. Electronic attendance means you don't need a secretary tallying everything up. But for the teacher it's not better, it's just different.

I can't think of any technology that actually helps students learn better, outside of directly learning about using computers. This isn't a bad thing as long as your IT costs are justified by savings and aren't harming student learning.

Research Universities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863497)

At research intensive universities, professors are not at the school to teach, they are at the school to do research and are basically required to teach. If they can push work onto the student instead of having to do it themselves, they will. Pen and paper notes and using a whiteboard or overhead projector means spending as little time out of the classroom doing things involving that class. Technology is designed to make things easier for the students (and in some case the professor as well) but they require more investment in time in order to get them populated or to learn how to use them. At schools without a research oriented philosophy, teaching is the main component of the school and the teacher actually wants to teach or they wouldn't be there. As such, they are willing to spend the time to learn the technologies and the effort to populate them with the information needed to make them work for their students. My experience in general is that professors don't really care about a student's success, they are just duty bound to pass on information and want to make it as easy on themselves as possible. Teachers, on the other hand, care about a student's success and pass on the information, but also try to give the students the best chance of success by using what they have available to them. Obviously you have exceptions to both categories, but I've found this true in general. I also work at a research oriented university, so I see it every day.

Yep. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42863499)

The simplest systems are most often the most efficient and effective.

There is a reason these systems such as paper and whiteboards are still dominant. They work, and do their work well... on the cheap.

I'm a classroom technology skeptic. (3, Informative)

sdavid (556770) | about a year ago | (#42863551)

I teach in the social sciences. Early on in my teaching career, ten or fifteen years ago, I was pretty gung ho on some of these systems, but over time I've become increasingly skeptical about them.

The reason is that using technology properly is hard, time consuming, and can detract from classroom teaching. A simple example: put up too many slides, and students concentrate on them and ignore what I'm saying. Put the whole lecture on those slides (and put them online) and students won't attend class. Students rightfully understand that there's no point attending unless there's something to be gained by doing so. Of course, what they miss is that skipping removes the important interactive component to learning that they get in the lecture setting, at least for small to mid-sized classes. Now, you can replicate some of that interactivity online. There are a lot of techniques: online discussion groups, student created wikis, that sort of thing. They work, although not as well as class discussion, in part because students can easily game whatever scheme you put into place to make them participate in a way that can't in class. They are also hugely time consuming to use. If I'm mandating using a discussion group, I or the TAs have to moderate it and keep track of participation quality. Moodle, the courseware package we use, can count participation events, but that tells you little about the quality of a student's participation. I think, for a fairly traditional lecture course or seminar the benefits of using courseware are comparatively small and the costs in my time and in TA time just too great to be worth it. I think there is an important place for it where you do away with the traditional lecture component, but I'm not willing to go that route, at least not yet.

I do use Moodle for online readings, communication with students, posting the syllabus and class slides, receiving assignments, and returning grades and comments. I also usually turn on the student forums, for those that like to use them. All of this is useful stuff, but it just replicates things that we could do using paper and bulletin boards. Heck, my powerpoint slides could just as well be presented using an overhead projector.

It's not any of that (0)

neffezzle (1862994) | about a year ago | (#42863563)

It that it's an insulting waste of money is being spent on it, all the while it shows little to no benefit to the student. The money that is spent reduces the potential for raises that could be spent on the teachers who don't make very much to begin with. It's about the same as dumping all your extra budget into a stadium for the highschool the football team and telling the faculty/staff that no one is getting raises except dept heads the VP and the principle. Books aren't that expensive and can be reused year after year with out having to constantly upgrade them (if an edit needs to be made then it can be taught in the class instead of buying all new books) or have an entire staff that simply keeps them usable and replaces all of them every 3-4 years. Put the computers back in the lab and the library and leave the teaching to teachers with books and boards and quit wasting my damn tax money.
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