Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities - InformationWeek

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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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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.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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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?
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, IG«÷m 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 doesnG«÷t.
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)
The_Wolf
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The_Wolf,
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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: 105G«Ű119. 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 | 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
2/13/2013 | 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,
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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...
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
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.
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
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.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
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...
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