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Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities

Professors at research universities prefer teaching with old-fashioned whiteboards, one study says.

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Professors at top research universities are highly skeptical of the value of the instructional technologies being injected into their classrooms, which many see as making their job harder and doing little to improve teaching and learning.

That's the conclusion of "Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate," published in the January edition of Science, Technology & Human Values. Based on interviews with 42 faculty members at three research-intensive universities, the study was funded under a grant from the National Science Foundation and particularly focuses on professors in the sciences, including chemistry and biology, with anthropology thrown in as a point of comparison.

Consider the opinions of two different chemists. "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.

[ Is online education over-hyped? Read MOOCs: Valuable Innovation Or Grand Diversion? ]

The most positive remarks professors had for classroom technology amounted to faint praise, with some saying they used classroom technology to cope with very large class sizes in introductory courses. In those settings, technological razzle-dazzle could be helpful, they said. "They're undergraduates -- you need to attract their attention before you can teach them anything. In my mind that's the name of the game … With video game culture or anything, you know, I think that will get 'em involved, you know, a little remote control."

The study got picked up by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported it under the headline "Professors Say Technology Helps in Logistics, Not Learning," prompting a lively discussion in the comments section. Although many readers agreed that universities too often adopt technology for technology's sake, without a clear strategy for integrating it with instruction, others objected that the sentiments expressed in the article were misguided and missed the revolutionary potential of new technologies.

The author of the study, David R. Johnson, said he read those comments with interest but suspects some of the defenders of the technology who posted there are instructional technology professionals "who think by definition things are better just because they are technologically rich." University administrators also seem to be inspired by a "ceremonial myth that being a cutting-edge university means being high tech," Johnson said.

The professors he interviewed, on the other hand, were technically sophisticated in their own fields but had no vested interest in the success of instructional technologies, which many felt were being imposed on them by the university administration with no regard for their preferences. "I've been very disturbed at the way this university has tried to ram these technologies down our throats," grumbled one anthropologist. "My belief is that we should have a wide range of choices for teaching technologies, but what goes on here is the higher administration has decided what's best for us in a very paternalistic fashion. I've become hardened in my resistance to these attempts to impose the adoption of technologies. And even though I once might have been more receptive to some of them, I'm now saying no, I'm not going to do it."

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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2/19/2013 | 6:26:21 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
This story on simplifying interactive presentations wound up being a sequel of sorts: https://www.informationweek.co...
dkincaid547
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dkincaid547,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2013 | 1:50:48 AM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
I got a chuckle out of this. When is the last time a professor at a research university actually taught a class themselves? Especially the lower lever undergrad classes that most of these MOOC's etc are geared toward right now.
PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/18/2013 | 9:42:52 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
This is a great read and it clearly demonstrates the future of learning along with how classes were taught more traditionally. I happen to attend the number 1 school in the country for Information Studies, and you would be shocked dot learn that they still currently use a paper payroll system. It is not due to the lack of technology, but more the lack of ambition by the current facility and students. I say that to say this, in a place that revolves around technology and teaching cutting edge technology, there is a lack of technology being utilized by staff and students. I believe that any professor or teacher that is not using technology in some form or another in the classrooms is severely limiting the resources that are available to them. I would like professors to at the very least be consistent, if the school you are teaching for has some type of learning interface for you to interact with your students then by all means use it! I attend classes where professors still hand out paper.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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2/15/2013 | 9:15:05 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
When I mentioned this study to an instructional technology leader at Penn State, one of the things he told me is that it's often the liberal arts professors, rather than those in technical or scientific fields, who make the most imaginative and enthusiastic use of classroom technology.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/13/2013 | 9:06:19 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
This just turned up in a Canadian newspaper

The myth of student styles - via @winnipegnews http://shar.es/YJuZy
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/12/2013 | 10:58:27 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
Interesting. Is that paper easily available online somewhere?
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/12/2013 | 6:46:35 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
I also enjoyed this comment on the superior compatibility of low-tech solutions

"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."

http://news.slashdot.org/comme...
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/12/2013 | 6:41:25 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
This story generated a good stream of comments over at slashdot, too, including some stories about computer science profs who fail to take advantage of the available technology on their campuses http://news.slashdot.org/story...
NiallT
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NiallT,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/12/2013 | 4:30:10 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
Unfortunately the concept of different styles of learning is entirely unsupported by current research. This is not to say that learning styles don't exist, just that it's all rather academic, as even if they do exist, we're completely incapable of identify how to differentiate according to them.

Pashler, H.; McDaniel, M.; Rohrer, D.; Bjork, R. (2008). "Learning styles: Concepts and evidence". Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9: 105G119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x.

David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/12/2013 | 2:20:38 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
BTW, most of the discussion of this differentiated learning stuff seems to be directed at K12, rather than higher ed. But I was just reacting to the argument you seemed to be making about computer based education only being good for rote learning.
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