Graham Comstock — Contest Winner
I’d like you to close your eyes for a moment, and think back to videos you’ve seen and books you’ve read about schooling in the 1930s ’40s and ‘50s. Specifically think about college at this time. In my mind I conger up images of Ivy League schools, small classrooms, chalkboards, blazer-clad students, tedious studying, and wire-haired, glasses wearing, briefcase toting professors. Does this ring a bell to you? Some of this might be true as going to college was far more elite back in these days. According to the 2000 US Census, about 25% of the population went to college to earn a bachelors degree at this time, compared to today’s 80% (Garner). In these days, lectures involved writing on chalkboards, questions, and the professors lecturing for most of the class. It is easy to say that something in the college classroom has changed since these time, but what has changed?
Technology is a term that is thrown around quite a bit now, this is because it has been increasing in popularity recently. But what is technology? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines technology as such: “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve
problems” (Technology). However, I would define is as: the implementation of certain devices in order to make a process more simple and efficient. Things such as: internet, cellular phones, automobiles, video all come to mind. All of these are recent advancements in technology that have taken large steps in making our daily lives more simple and efficient. In short, technology makes life easier.
In recent years there has been many new technologies introduced into the collegiate classroom; have these advancements been beneficial to the student? Or have they been harmful? Since the times when professors used chalkboards and slide-rules, there have been many implementations of technology in the classroom, such as: the overhead projector, powerpoint, classroom response units, classroom testing
systems, online class systems such as Blackboard, and even entire classes taught online. It is my intent to investigate what aspects of the college learning experience these technologies have changed!
One of the first technological introductions was the rollout of the overheard projector. Many classrooms began to use overheads in the 1960s. This was because they offered revolutionary features; pre-printed material could be projected in front of the classroom, the professor could make alterations to the material and even work through problems from one workstation (Shapiro). They key was that these could be reused countless times. There was no need to erase, all that had to be done was to get another sheet. Many high school and college classrooms still have and use overhead projectors (although many have been digitized) today.
Many years after the overhead projector debuted in the classroom, in early 2000’s students began to see their professors utilize power point in classroom settings. Powerpoint was similar to the overheard projector in that pre-made material could be presented to the classroom, however powerpoint was a com- pletely digital process. There was no need to print material or slide through it. Many professors create their own presentations, however there are many available series that can be used that are packaged for an individual class. In recent years, many students have grown tired with powerpoint presentations. Stating, “PowerPoint is a convenient prop for poor speakers, it can reduce complicated messages to simple bullet points and it elevates style over substance; and that these three things contribute to its
popularity.” (Wright). It is true to say that powerpoint presentations make lecturing easy for the professor. I would like to include that sometimes powerpoint presentations may be necessary to present photos, data, graph, etc. Yet most of it’s uses are not for this purpose. Many times, the professor narrates slide by slide the bulleted information presented by the powerpoint.
Classroom response units are a relatively new technology. They are being installed in more and more classrooms around the country every year (Moreditch). Usually called clickers, classroom response systems are aimed to engage the students in a classroom through interaction presented by the professor.
Oftentimes with quiz questions, voting, polling, or even attendance. It might be a misstatement to say that clickers “engage” the class, because engaging means that the clickers are attractive and encourage the class to participate. However nothing is encouraging when it’s graded. Student find themselves taking notes with the threat of ‘clicker questions’ at the end of the presentation. But if this is the ploy of the pro- fessor, then so-be-it. One thing that the clickers do not take into account is how easy it is for a student to give their unit to another classmate (Ivers). Granted this is academic dishonesty, but I have to remark that the professor should not make it that easy to cheat.
Blackboard. Blackboard has been the most radical development to impact the classroom. Nothing discussed previously competes with the implementations that Blackboard offers the college community. Blackboard is a university wide class integration system that offers a multitude of online services. Black- board is customized for each application by each university. Many services available are: grades, home- work, announcements, content, quizzes, testing, etc. It is my opinion that each university supplies the fea- tures of Blackboard far beyond what professors utilize (Ivers). The most common use is the grading plat- form, and from personal experience I can say that many professors are unfamiliar with posting grades. Many features that blackboard offers are not utilized, even for such an simple activity as posting grades. Even if it is not fully implemented, Blackboard is still an excellent way for submission to the professor; on both the student and professors part. Wether it be homework, assignments, quizzes, etc.
Many marvel at the fact that online classes are now a part of many universities and colleges. On- line (oftentimes called distance learning) classes range from undergraduate classes, seminars, even gradu- ate classes can be offered online. Online classes rely on the use of online class participation systems, usu- ally Blackboard or a comparable platform, where the professor relays information throughout the week directly to the student. One factor that supports online classes is that students across the state, country and even world can enroll in the same class and benefit from learning. Regardless of their schedule, or loca- tion. Online classes are often considered an ‘easy alternative’ to traditional classes. But this is simply not the case, it is conditionally up to the professor to develop a class structure that is educational for the student, and even keeps them involved as distance learning classes can be monotonous and and the student easily become disengaged.
In my opinion, technology has been aimed to make the job for the professor or instructor easier. Advancements have been implemented to make the task simpler. Consider Scantron, a digital grading sys- tem that can grade hundreds of tests in minutes. This is revolutionary, yet there can only by five choices per question. This removed essay questions form tests (the most accurate for to show what you know), all in efforts of making grading easier and faster. As Jordan Shapiro states in a Forbes article, The classroom is not where my students listen (or consume what I deliver). Rather, in the class- room I become a sherpa. I guide them on the journey of their choosing. My job is to know where the treasures are, that all paths lead to jewels of critical thinking. This happens through nuanced conversation, through discussion, through debate and interaction.
Shapiro underlines that technology cannot replace the position of a professor in the classroom setting. Technology assists the professor, but can never replace this role in learning cycle. Simply put, technology has changed the way professors educate. Class time is spent with powerpoint, class response systems, as well as multiple choice exams. While time out of class is spent online. Many might say that the job of a professor is to get as much information through to the students in one term as possible. The objective of teaching, explaining, and clarifying has been taken out of the classroom. It is difficult to analyze the im- portance of technology in the classroom, especially today when many classes rely solely on technology Braiker). Professors must be careful with the way that they address their student, now that many technologies exists to lessen the burden of the professor, as many technologies take away from the collegiate classroom learning experience.