Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities - InformationWeek

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2/8/2013
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Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities

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

A "very, very small group" of the professors interviewed showed a more active interest in the innovative use of technology, Johnson said. One chemistry professor was not only using interactive response clickers to provide more feedback and evaluation for large classes but mining the data to understand the response of students with different learning styles. "I thought that was an interesting, pedagogy-motivated use of the technology," Johnson said. The majority of the professors, however, weren't going beyond the use of PowerPoint and online distribution of course notes, he said. Many of those interviewed also said that the technologies they were given to work with tended to make more work for them, rather than making them more productive.

Johnson conducted the research while working on his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia; he has since moved on to post-doctoral research post at Rice University. His research interest is more "technological change and its impact on skilled and unskilled labor" than innovation in educational technology per se, he said.

One educational technology enthusiast who posted on Twitter his objection to the Chronicle of Higher Education report on is Mark Greenfield, an educational technology consultant and director of Web services at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In an interview, Greenfield said he disagreed more with the implications about the true value of instructional technology than the fact that some professors might be skeptical of its value. Where educational technology tends to fall down is where professors use it to teach the way they have always taught, rather than understanding the advantages of new media.

"In defense of the faculty -- and I have many faculty friends -- they often don't have the resources to use the technology correctly," Greenfield said. There is a tendency to add technology to the classroom without adequate training in how to use it effectively, he said.

Still, Greenfield thought the attitudes expressed in the study seemed extreme. "I would not say that attitude is pervasive among faculty," he said, noting that the sample size was too small to make generalizations. "I also think it's interesting that this is looking at research universities. I'd love to know what the results would look like from a wide survey, with a research university compared with a small liberal arts college."

Johnson said he noted that criticism is a recurring theme in the comments on the Chronicle's website, but he called it a misunderstanding of the research, which was qualitative rather than quantitative. Instead of creating a survey with per-defined choices that could be distributed broadly and run through a statistical analysis, he conducted interviews with a smaller set of subjects who were asked relatively open-ended questions. Also, the focus on science professors at research institutions reflected the interest of the sponsoring institution, the National Science Foundation, in improving science education.

"It's not meant to extend to all contexts of higher education," Johnson said. Professors at research institutions are rewarded more for research than for teaching, with instruction treated almost as a side job, he said. The attitudes of professors at a small liberal arts college might well be different, he said -- since teaching is a bigger part of their job, they might be more interested in new methods of teaching. Although he has no plans for further research on this topic, a natural follow up would be a broader look at the attitudes of faculty at multiple tiers of universities, he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr or Google+.

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falco_rules
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falco_rules,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/11/2013 | 5:16:08 AM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
My experience as a chemistry professor at a research university is that most educational innovations, including new educational IT, are faddish in nature, much like the latest exercise dance craze. They are very poorly documented as to their benefits, and before you know it, they have been discontinued in favor of the next big thing to hit the educational fad mill.

Treat us as the scientists that we are, and show us a well-crafted study that proves that the technology leads to better education when compared to a control group who is taught in a more traditional manner. Then we will adopt that IT with some enthusiasm. Instead, the hype is always overwhelming, and the substance is often extremely thin. Then don't change the IT again until you can show me another study that proves the change is for the better.
offramp
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offramp,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/11/2013 | 6:44:06 AM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
Interesting article!

Pedagogical alternatives will have to address the on-line capabilities at some point. Personally, IGm reluctant to have chemistry lab in my kitchen. An iterative approach will be required to start the process of what fits (on-line) and what doesnGt.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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2/11/2013 | 4:32:22 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
I would have been interested to see some more differentiation between different types of educational technology and how they were being received. Because this was presented as an open-ended question on the uses of technology, the study covers everything from PowerPoint to the use of course management systems like Blackboard.

This was NOT a study about online education (courses offered solely or primarily online), although it was supposed to cover the potential for web-based extensions of the classroom experience such as materials made available to students for later review online or "flipped classroom" scenarios where material is presented online first, with classroom time reserved for questions or more in depth discussion.

I didn't get a clear sense of whether these institutions were particularly sophisticated in their use of educational technologies, but the study's author said they were top 60 research universities that were putting plenty of money into new technology. The question is whether they are spending that money the right way and whether the professors are adequately trained on how to use it effectively or interested in the potential to improve instruction (assuming that potential exists)
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/11/2013 | 4:33:39 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
Have you seen any educational technologies that have gotten you excited, or does it all leave you cold?
The_Wolf
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The_Wolf,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/11/2013 | 8:55:42 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
I grew up with computers in my classrooms (yes... in the 60's and 70's - large cables through the walls)... So I have seen technology work well... and I have seen technology try to replace "teaching".

My Father was a Research Psychologist and my Mother a Director of Research (looking at how well learning was achieved). Computers used to augment learning and enhance training is extremely important in my eyes, but real teaching is becoming more and more rare (at least in the US). To teach you have to understand the level of the people you are training. Helping them understand and spew facts, can be accomplished by a computer. I spent over 20 years of my life writing AI programs and have relegated myself to understand that computers, even with the highest sophistication can eventually prove no match to a good teacher.

While I have worked with Chemistry Departments that augmented their Chemistry program (the wrote memorization and basic learning) to computer based training, I was still needed in many cases to help students understand "more easily" what the computer was asking. The component missing is CBT (Computer Based Training) is that it is only as good as the person who programmed it. Cultural, language, socio-economic differences make it difficult to meet all the end user's needs.

Sometimes there just needs to be that extra bit to get a person who has even better understanding than the Paper Trained "Master's" or "PHD" level person trying to teach/train them or who is sitting in the same class next to them. The more intelligent/book trained a person is, the harder it is to "teach" them. They only want the information, not necessarily how to use it, they believe they know how to use the information.

Hence the need for different methods of teaching. Rememeber, Children learn easier and faster than adults as they have no "preconceived notions" and do not have to unlearn things in order to move ahead.

Computers are just a tool to move the ball ahead at a standard and basic pace, not to replace real learning or teaching.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/12/2013 | 2:18:15 PM
re: Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities
There is the concept of providing different styles of instruction for different styles of learning (audial, visual, left-brained, right-brained, etc.) or even just providing access to alternate ways of explaining something -- if you don't get the way your math teacher explains something, look at Khan Academy for a different approach to the same material. Whether this potential has been realized in any big way is another story, but it seems to me the potential is there.
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.
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 | 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...
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...
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