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Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology 372

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-off-my-lawn dept.
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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Professors Rejecting Classroom Technology

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:00PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by koan (80826)

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sentrion (964745)

        Who else among academia are going to understand better that skills are usually made redundant by technological advance? Education is in high demand and salaries for professors have never been better. Why jeopardize that by replacing themselves with technology? After all, they know all too well that if they did it right a small board room of top tier professors could teach a whole nation with the right technology and eliminate the need for tens of thousands of workers drawing upper-middle-class salaries.

        • by 24-bit Voxel (672674) on Monday February 11, 2013 @08:01PM (#42866853) Journal

          You make a good point, but as a college instructor myself for about 10 years now I know the real reason.

          It's extra work. End of story. Nobody wants to do extra work for nothing.

          • by toutankh (1544253) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:51AM (#42869973)

            This. I've been testing web education or whatever it's called this week. I did the same course with and without the "technology" addon.

            For the students: I didn't notice a difference. No more or less success. Good students are good, lazy students are lazy, nothing will change that. And holding their hand will just make them take less initiative, which is not a good thing for society as a whole.

            For the teacher (me): extra work, plenty. Also some waste of time (e.g. 4 hour meeting to brief us on how to keep a forum alive, wtf). No extra money, thank you. Also no taking this into account when evaluating my research (i.e. publications).

            For the people setting the whole thing up: yes, they got paid for doing something absolutely useless and wasting my precious time. They were quite happy with themselves, being convinced that they did something useful. I even heard "35% of the students are happy with the online course, that's very positive". My reaction "wait a minute, doesn't that mean that 65% is either unhappy with it or doesn't care about it?" was met with silence.

            My overall conclusion: thanks but next time I'll pass if I have the choice. And please, let the teachers do the teaching, not some guy from the I-have-to-justify-my-salary department who thinks that technology can solve all problems and that whoever doesn't agree just needs to open their eyes.

            • by n-baxley (103975)

              Wow, 4 hours of extra work during initial setup. How do you stand it!? Of course with your course material online, getting setup for the next semester's course should take no time at all. Students are now able to access course material when and wherever they are, and can take their course work with them into the field. But let's focus on the 4 extra hours of work you had to put in

    • Get a Horse (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      >>>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.

    • by jythie (914043) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:20PM (#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'.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:40PM (#42864375)

        We are unimpressed *and* actively impeded by the University bureaucrats.

        I want to post a lot of things in a web-accessible fashion for my students: most of that is static, so the assorted CRMs are overkill (not to mention the giant PITA it is to post static content via the CRM *without* bullshit CRM dressing all over it), and for the content that has a *real* dynamic component (not just "I blogged again, teehee" dynamic), the CRMs are a nightmare.*

        Yet, if I want to just deal with rolling my own? Good luck with that. Uni. (and occasionally even Dept.) IT will not only be of no assistance, they will *actively thwart* attempts to do this sort of thing.

        *Maybe people accustomed to having their hands tied can tolerate that sort of treatment long enough to learn it, but not me.

    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:20PM (#42863015) Homepage
      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.
      • by RussR42 (779993)

        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.

      • by psmears (629712)

        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]...

      • by dj245 (732906) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:11PM (#42864841) Homepage

        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.

        I think you missed the point entirely. A hard copy is a paper copy. The point of the hard copy is that you "open" it instantly. No inserting a CD and hoping that the student wrote the CD correctly, that their CD writer is compatable with your CD reader, that their media isn't garbage. No juggling a stack of flash cards or USB sticks and trying to figure out whose is whose. No having to deal with that guy who didn't cough up the money for version X of the software, and your version Y has several small but annoying compatability bugs. No having to juggle dozens of emails with attachments for each assignment.

        Printed paper. The student's name is somewhere on the first page. You can start reading it instantly. Unless they really screwed up and used tiny or unreadable fonts, it is compatible with your eyes. Paper size is basically standard, and you can stack up all the papers and keep them together easily. Everybody can spend their time more productively doing better things.

        • by SillyHamster (538384) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:26PM (#42865055)

          No juggling a stack of flash cards or USB sticks and trying to figure out whose is whose.

          ... and hoping that their anti-virus and your anti-virus was kept up to date.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          It's really hard to have a paper break. For programming assigments even 30 years ago we had to have printed program and output along with the program (floppy or online). It's not a bad model and nothing has really improved on it that I can see. Hard copy plus soft copy.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:21PM (#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.

      • by whitroth (9367) <whitroth AT 5-cent DOT us> on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:07PM (#42864785) Homepage

        Reminds me of my first programming class, many many years ago - before a lot of you were born. It was a pseudo-assembly course, with a make-believe assembly language with 13 instructions, including add, subtract, multiply and divide. 36 or 39 statrted the course: 13 of us took the final, and three of us thought it was a Micky Mouse course, while the other 10 were barely treading water.

        We figured it was weed out for the folks who read You Can Make Big Money With Computers on the inside of a matchbook cover.

        I'd be shocked, shocked I tell you, if a lot of folks taking the first computer class weren't there because a) they confused it with playing games, or b) you can make big money with computers, and it cost less and is less yucky than medical school.

                        mark

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:24PM (#42863115) Homepage

      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.

      • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:19PM (#42864963)

        > 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.

        And who is paying for the class? We're not in kindergarten anymore where you need mandatory attendance for mommy and daddy.

        I've had my share of shitty teachers where it was more efficient for me to just read and do the exercises in the textbook then to waste my time listening to a prof that couldn't teach.

        The better teachers find ways to engage students by asking them questions then to simply spew useless facts.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:48PM (#42865367)

          Actually, many undergrads act like they're in kindergarten, and mommy and daddy and/or the taxpayers who are paying appreciate a little bit of nannying. Most professors hate it.

          If you actually don't need to go to class, then don't. I didn't, for certain classes. But don't expect the professor to go out of his way to help you. You've got the textbook, Google and the whole Internet. If you're so good why do you need the professor's notes and lectures online and packed up nicely for you?

          Yes, better teachers find ways to engage students... in class.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:00PM (#42865577) Homepage

          Better still are the teachers whose questions are spurred by the students' classroom experiences, who reinforce the knowledge while simultaneously encouraging curiosity, but that enriching experience will be lost on the students who decide in the first two sessions that participation isn't worth their time.

          You the student aren't paying the professor to teach the class. You're paying the university for the privilege of learning from the class that they're paying for. It's not really the professor's problem whether you get your money's worth or not, but it is his problem to determine whether you've adequately learned the material or not. Sure, you might be able to answer some exam questions to cover university-mandated bullet points, but the exam can't really cover all the details of the course material.

          The great lie of education is that the diploma means you know something. Rather, it just means you've demonstrated to a group of experts in a particular field that you should also be considered an expert in that field to a particular degree of mastery. Of course, each of those experts may set their own requirements for proof, within the limits upon which the group as a whole has agreed.

          This is not to say there aren't shitty teachers out there, or even ones whose teaching style doesn't work for some particular student. That's no excuse for missing material out of one's own arrogance. The student who skips class isn't entitled to credit if they hate their professor, any more than an employee who doesn't show up at work is entitled to a salary if they hate their boss.

        • by Alomex (148003)

          And who is paying for the class?

          Almost certainly not you. Pretty much the only people who go through university without aid from the institution itself or some form of help from the government are the wealthy mediocre kids of legacy Ivy leaguers. Almost every one else gets a break from someone.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:25PM (#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.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

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

        Donald Knuth might be more CS-y than Dijkstra, but he doesn't even use email!

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:25PM (#42863137) Homepage

      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.

    • by conorpeterson (2718139) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:29PM (#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.

    • by KalvinB (205500) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:34PM (#42863297) Homepage

      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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:13PM (#42863983)

      I'm a CS Prof and the online course support software we are supposed to use would get a very poor grade if any of my students wrote it.

      I suspect the reason many of us prefer not to use such technology is because it impedes, not enhances, the student experience. It's hard to find information, damn difficult to edit it, tricky to make the marks add up right, and shows the wrong people information they should not see (like other students' marks).

      Have you tried reading etextbooks as opposed to paper books? It is harder to find information when you do not know exactly what you want (no easy way to flip through material), and they also discourage prolonged reading of the kind necessary to develop sound understanding, as opposed to quick answers to a question on hand.

      It reminds me of the old chestnut of the Americans spending $1m to make a pen that would write in space, while the Soviets used pencils. Not all new technology is better or makes a job easier.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Is this about being uncomfortable about computers, or just being skeptical about the idea that computers and the web always make everything better? Yes, I know this hurts the people who just wish everyone would buy their expensive products and stop asking about whether it works or not...

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:07PM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:12PM (#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.

    • by cab15625 (710956) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:12PM (#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.
  • by brian1078 (230523) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:11PM (#42862835) Homepage

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:11PM (#42862839)

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

    Rattles or mobiles work wonders on undergraduates.

  • It depends (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • by kromozone (817261) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:15PM (#42862901) Homepage
    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.
    • 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.
    • by starfishsystems (834319) on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:03PM (#42863837) Homepage
      I think you've captured the essential value debate right here.

      It's okay if a person's goal in life is to be the equivalent of a factory race-car driver, taking the new software around the track, putting it through its paces, competing against others to determine which strategies and deployments and use cases are the most viable. There's a place in the world for that sort of talent, just as there's a place for people who want to occupy themselves with filmmaking or graphic arts.

      But using a tool is not the same as engineering it, and engineering is not the same as science, and science is not the same as math, and math is not the same as philosophy. I'd argue that a substantial part of an undergraduate education involves developing an awareness of these distinctions. What's important are the ideas and modes of thought that support a particular discipline. So, for example, science undergrads are not exposed to number theory because it will have direct application in their careers. Number theory is a way of opening a conversation about the essential nature of abstraction.

      Now, if someone wants to come along and make a really cool documentary about number theory, with powerful animations and interviews with contemporary mathematicians and a sound track to die for, more power to them. But please, let's not confuse the vehicle with the journey.
  • by helixcode123 (514493) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:15PM (#42862907) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • 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.

    • by jythie (914043)
      *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 staf
  • English (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mspohr (589790) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:16PM (#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.

    • 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 so
      • Re:English (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nbauman (624611) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:17PM (#42865833) Homepage Journal

        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.

        Teach a class of 1000 rather than 30? In a class of 30, a teacher can get to know every student by the end of the year. Students get to know each other. A class of 1000 is an assembly line. It's a mob. What's your measure of success? Students per dollar?

        I took a class in modern poetry, and I still remember a guy who was a car designer, who was taking classes in his retirement. He would tell us obscure things about poems by Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound that in the news when the poems were written. In my freshman humanities course, one guy was an atheist. One guy was a Jesuit-educated Catholic. There were marxists and army veterans. After a while you could get to know how these people approached the world.

        I also took lecture classes of 300 in physics. The teacher basically read his notes. He answered questions, but it wasn't the same.

        Humans evolved in the last 100,000 years or whatever to deal with each other in family-sized groups of about 6 to 30. You can't have the same kind of communications and interactions in groups much larger than that.

  • The professor went on to say: "Now get off my lawn!"

  • Flash Cards (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cab15625 (710956) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:16PM (#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).
  • by Covalent (1001277) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:16PM (#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.
    • by neurovish (315867)

      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?

      • How hard is it to copy a file to a webserver?

        Considering the idiotic bureaucracy of some college IT depts, it might be pretty hard indeed...
    • by rennerik (1256370)

      > 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.

      I honestly hope that's really not what you believe. I have a few profs who don't post their syllabi online, and it's really infuriating. I don't have access to my notebooks 24/7, and the syllabus contains enough information that I can't simply copy without spending a significan

  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tridus (79566) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:17PM (#42862951) Homepage

    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.

    • by Tridus (79566)

      ... 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 (Score:4, Informative)

        by hedwards (940851) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:26PM (#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.

  • by PeterKraus (1244558) <peter.kraus@member.fsf.org> on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:19PM (#42863001) Homepage

    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.

  • by nebular (76369) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:20PM (#42863017) Homepage

    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"

  • 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
  • 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

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:27PM (#42863161) Journal

    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

  • by dbc (135354) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:27PM (#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"

  • by Ziggitz (2637281) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:28PM (#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.

  • Since when were whiteboards old-fashioned? I remember chalkboards. Now get off my lawn!
  • by cfulton (543949) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:30PM (#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.
  • by Hozza (1073224) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:37PM (#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.

  • by LikwidCirkel (1542097) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:38PM (#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.
  • by sdavid (556770) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:47PM (#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.
  • by Jim Hall (2985) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:53PM (#42863655) Homepage

    I am an IT Director / CIO for a small liberal arts university, and I've discussed this issue on my blog [umn.edu] about IT leadership in higher ed. What many of us in technology sometimes forget is that technology is fairly new to the workforce, and that includes faculty. Remember, the PC was only introduced to office desktops in the 1980s (unseen mainframes in server rooms don't count). If people enter the workforce in their 20s and retire in their 60s, that's a 40-year work generation. So computers have only been part of the workplace for less than a work generation. There are still a lot of people out there who remember doing their work without technology.

    And faculty are less likely than, say, accountants to embrace change. Accountants realized that they could use the computer to add up the numbers and create a spreadsheet to track the income & expenses. People in sales used the computer to write letters and other communication. But for faculty, their job is teaching and for that they have relied on a chalkboard (or whiteboard) for pretty much their entire careers, going back to undergrad. Powerpoint was a stretch for some faculty, but Powerpoint isn't much more than a "captured" version of their whiteboard talk, so many faculty took to Powerpoint as a means of delivering lectures.

    One of the faculty at my university often uses the phrase "Technology should be like a rock; it should be that simple to use." And there's a lot to that. Faculty want technology that is easy to use. They don't want to tinker with technology, they don't want to try the latest thing. Faculty only want technology when it supports what they need to do for instruction.

    And that's where we in IT see things differently, of course. For us, technology isn't just our job, it's often our passion. We got involved with technology as a career path (programming, desktop support, server admin, databases, etc) because we were pretty much doing that already (building web pages, building our own computers, installing our own OS, etc) and what better job than to get paid doing what you love? So campus technology folks are going to gravitate to the latest technology: the Raspberry Pi, smartboards, video capture, and the like. And we get confused when the faculty don't want to use it, as TFA mentions.

    Faculty will adopt technology when they need it to do the job of teaching. The article includes some quotes along those lines.

    "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." What makes it easier for faculty to focus on teaching? Learning how to put a PDF on the web (or a course management tool like Moodle) when they've never done that before, or printing out a syllabus and asking the students not to lose it.

    "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."

    One quote that highlighted when faculty were interested in using classroom technology: "They're undergraduates - you need to attract their attention before you can teach them anything." Because that helps the faculty in the job of teaching students, which is the most important thing. In this case, using some technology in the classroom may help get the attention of students, which the professor says you need to do "before you can teach them anything."

    I'd also remind anyone working in campus technology to remember three important questions when trying to effect change on campus:

    1. Is it the right change to make?
    2. Are the right people behind the change?
    3. Is the campus ready for this change?
  • Soo many factors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sir_Sri (199544) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:57PM (#42863747)

    One first needs to keep in mind that the VAST majority of university professors are basically parents needing tech support people. They're in their 40's or later, they don't have time to be trained on the technology, assuming the training exists, and they aren't capable of taking advantage of it anyway. The ones who *are* capable already have solutions in place, and have for ages and don't need whatever the latest 'Blackboard or WebCt etc. product is. If you think it's a pain in the ass teaching someone to use their iPad (and that's bad enough) now imagine that all of their screwups effect a class of 1500 people.

    Technology doesn't help a lot in the classroom itself. Well, it does, in that powerpoint slides are a vast improvement over a lot of other types of slides, and if you use a slate/tablet you can write on your own powerpoint at the front of the room. But writing on the whiteboard is helpful too. You *need* to pace yourself when at the front of the room, and if any of my students care to pipe in on this, I am terrible at pacing myself with powerpoint, but it can be done, and done very well by some people but not me. Of course my writing is basically illiterate scrawl so I have to use powerpoint.

    The backend stuff. Getting assignments electronically is great. But it's actually really hard to mark things electronically, or at least efficiently. Yes you can write on PDFs and use all of the revision tools in Office or the like, but it's usually a lot faster for me to take a printed paper copy and put marks on it than it is to manage an electronic copy. I could write my own software to manage this a lot better than any of the tools out there because its very problem domain specific. If I have students writing an algorithms assignment I need a different type of submission than a iPhone project. I don't write my own because just doing it by hand for 20-30 students is good enough.

    Marks on the web are hugely valuable. Both for me and for students. Students can look and see what the grades are at any time, and I can make a change and students know I've made the change. So that's fine. There are the usual security concerns (TA's including me when I'm TAing and not teaching) can make changes to grades on webct, and in a big class I have no idea if a change was made to something, or if that change was because the TA got a blowjob, or discovered and error in their marking, or just has a crush on redheads.

    The multiple choice 'clicker' nonsense is worse than useless. First you make every damn kid buy some special device they only need for a handful of classes. Then you have to manage the bunch that are broken. Students that forget them, get them confused with someone else's. Ugh. Not worth it.

    Online quizzes and that sort of thing... I could take or leave. I don't think they actually add much. Too easy to cheat, too easy to have IT problems make things go badly.

    In classroom IT is also a problem because every damn classroom is different. I went to do a guest lecture at the place I did my MSc. They have a standard classroom setup for audio-PC-projector-screen, and I knew that going in. But I got to that specific class and... I couldn't set my computer anywhere I could access the screen or see my notes to myself while talking. And the 'screen' was actually touch sensitive. So rather than pointing at something on my slide to talk about I kept having it interpret my points as gestures. Bloody nuisance.

    In classroom IT isn't 'owned' by any of the teachers, so none of them feel particularly responsible for it, and as I say most of them are computer illiterate at best (even in CS), where they might know their way around linux, but not Windows XP with whatever specific hardware configuration or the like. So you go into a class expecting to play audio, and... nothing. So now what is it? Is the audio muted, are the speakers unplugged, where was the audio muted etc. And this isn't my computer, so even if it takes me 15 or 20 seconds to figure it out, which isn't

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday February 11, 2013 @03:58PM (#42863755)

    I don't really understand this fascination with getting computers in the classroom. As far as I'm concerned the only room computers should be in is the computer lab. Teachers should be teaching, students should be learning. Computers don't help that situation at all. If it were better on the computer, we wouldn't need the classroom in the first place. I love computers, and students should be learning how to use them, but when I walk into the local highschool and the teachers got digital blackboard that cost the school more that it would have to hire 2 more teachers... and the class is on literature... I have to question the sanity in that.

    The best literature teacher I ever had would prepare her work ahead of time, print it on transparencies and then just slide them onto an overhead projector. She could update them on the fly with a dry erase marker. Infinitely more useful, and substantially cheaper than all this tech being thrown at education.

  • I teach Engineering (Score:3, Informative)

    by Irate Engineer (2814313) on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:12PM (#42863959)
    IT for IT's sake in the classroom is ridiculous. Like all other technologies, it needs to be examined for its utility in a certain application.

    I teach engineering thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid dynamics. All of these courses involve using basic fundamental equations to solve real world problems (sizing pumps and heat exchangers properly, etc.). I do example problems in class on the board and walk through them step-by-step so the students can follow the *procedure*. Then I throw a modified problem at them, set it up on the board, and prompt the class what the steps are to solving this problem.

    If they had to solve these problems in the field they would have to pull out a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a book of property tables, so that is how we roll in class. There *are* some computer programs that will automate many of these calculations in the field, but I want them to understand what those programs are doing and to be able to verify the answers. I tell the students this - the good students understand why I am making them do it the long way, the poor students whine that it is a waste of their time.

    I do utilize Powerpoint to show photos and videos of real-world applications. Showing engineering students how things can blow up and fall apart when they don't understand the fundamentals is a great motivator, provides an entertaining break for the student from the number crunching, yet is still educational in the "big picture" sense. A few of my classes are amenable to demonstrations where I can get a student or two to come up and make something go *BANG* using some apparatus.

    I am working on digitizing my lectures using PDFs produced by a LiveScribe pen, which essentially produces an electronic lecture. My handwritten notes become visible at the rate I would normally write them during a lecture, and a simultaneous recording of my voice plays along with the text. A student could sit down at a computer, open this PDF and have an experience similar to following the lecture (unfortunately without real-time ability to ask questions). I consider this a fall back for students who for whatever reason cannot attend class.For everything else, there is email, phone, or my office hours.

    I generally try teach to the "B and C" students in the crowd - the ones that are putting their shoulder to it but are struggling with a concept or two. Exposing these students to these problems showing a basic procedure, then graphical illustrations of the importance, prodding them to think through the problem seems to work very well for these students. The feedback that I get from my students indicates that they like the flow of my classroom.

    "A" students generally could be handed a poorly-written subject text at the start of the semester, told when the exam dates are, and would still find a way to do well. "D" students might physically get their bodies to class occasionally, but their minds aren't there. All of the IT in the world won't change these outcomes, though it does probably improve the A student's understanding of the topic.
  • by UBfusion (1303959) on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:22PM (#42864095)

    Some preliminary thoughts, after having read the full research article:

    It is a provocative study and it's going to be either totally ignored (because the author is just a PhD student in a non-technological discipline) or really stir the waters of educational research (just take into account the hundreds of books, tens of journals and thousands of research papers arguing about the benefits of IT in the curriculum).

    One weakness of the study that will definitely be used against the author is that he (and, not surprisingly, the interviewees) seem to confuse instructional technology with information technology - these two "IT" are not the same. As an educator, I firmly believe that PowerPoint presentations (except when embedding animations/video) are totally equivalent to plain old overhead transparencies or even 35mm film slides - they are static images and are definitely not Information technology, just because a computer and a data projector are needed to project them.

    Another more important criticism is that the author did not seem to investigate (or mention) the professors' insights about the potential learning benefits of using IT. From what I understood by reading the paper, the teachers seem to implicitly or explicitly believe that IT has no useful aspects beyond the motivation of the students (to keep them from falling asleep during class). Apart from the fact that such responses could be argued to be a sign that the sample is biased, the major question is, are the students actually learning better/more by using IT or not? IMO teaching cannot be separated from learning. Therefore, I'd like to know explicitly what these professors think the learning outcomes of IT are, and if possible, interview some of their students too to see if they consider they are benefiting from such technologies.

    Finally, I think that four disciplines and 42 teachers are a very very small sample of the USA (and global) academia. However, the data presented should be very alarming to those universities (or secondary schools) that plan providing their students with free iPads just because they are offered free or at a bargain nobody can deny.

  • by siwelwerd (869956) on Monday February 11, 2013 @08:45PM (#42867153)

    Professors don't reject technology in general. They reject any particular classroom approach that doesn't fit their needs, whether it is technological or not. The latest fad is Blackboard and other course management systems. They are largely a complete waste of time. It is easier for me to use my rudimentary HTML skills to hack up a webpage with links to syllabi, assignments, etc.

    The one technology I am learning to like is the clickers. One doesn't learn mathematics by watching the professor, one learns it by doing mathematics. The clickers allow me to force my large lecture to work problems in class. It is also helpful in diagnosing their issues when they are too shy/reluctant/embarrassed to ask questions. Automated homework (e.g. WebAssign) is okay; it's kind of lousy for the students, but easy for me to assign/grade.

    As far as comments above about lazy professors just wanting to research and not wanting to teach, our priorities are set by the administration. They will tell us that we are evaluated 50% teaching/50% research, but they are not being honest (with us or themselves). Essentially, if you can speak English and aren't just naturally terrible at teaching, you are better served (from a tenure/promotion perspective) minimizing time spent on teaching so you can maximize the time spent on research. When students demand more focus on teaching, administration will adjust their priorities, but it's hardly the professors who set the rules of the game.

    Yes, IAAP (of mathematics) at a large research university.

  • by Peterus7 (607982) on Monday February 11, 2013 @09:51PM (#42867575) Homepage Journal
    So, there are a ton of issues here that I could comment on, but the bit about professors feeling administrators are being paternalistic and refusing it flat out for those reasons is particularly interesting. After having several interviews with a head of Instructional tech at my research college, they told me that the biggest frustration was the tenure system. Tenured professors would always teach they way they had always taught, while instructional technologists at private universities could leverage more control in getting a coherent LMS environment set up. It really seemed like one of the biggest roadblocks for getting cool instructional technology implemented was somewhat political and petty in nature.

    In a similar vein to the bit on smaller colleges, I later interviewed a professor at a community college who was able to implement really awesome instructional tech, and the trick there was to implement it in such a way where it saved professors time and allowed for more functional instruction. Too often it seems like another loop for them to go through, but if they provide the correct scaffolding and support on the academic side, it can be done right. It just rarely is, but that's usually caused by a number of factors all working together to create a really awful e-learning experience.

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