When Good Technology Means Bad Teaching

Colleges have spent millions on “smart classrooms” packed with the latest gadgets to assist teaching — computerized projection systems, Internet ports at every seat, even video cameras with motion detectors that can track the movements of a lecturer. But colleges have spent far less time and money giving professors the skills to use even the simplest technology effectively.

The result: Students say technology actually makes some of their professors less effective than they would be if they stuck to a lecture at the chalkboard. —Jeffrey R. YoungWhen Good Technology Means Bad Teaching (Chronicle)

An excellent observation from a student: “Sometimes overheads are better because you can draw on them, and that’s kind of an interactive feature that’s gone away with PowerPoint.”

I very rarely use PowerPoint. I am much more likely to blog on a topic related to an upcoming lecture, and then during class use the links embedded in the blogs as an outline. I ask my students to do the same, though I do find that students seem to have written a conventional paper on a word processor, then pasted it into their blog… it can be rather dry listening to someone read word-for-word what your eyes can scan much more quickly.

I do occasionally load up the word processor, and type examples and thoughts as they occur to me… I sometimes do this on the blackboard when a good discussion is going, but I can take the word processor file with me.

This strategy is an implementation of the “just-in-time teaching” method, which I’ve found very useful, since my curricular material just keeps getting longer and longer, with more links and more examples, with every year that I teach… and all that information can be overwhelming to a student who sees it all laid out on the first day of classes.

Another student complaint from the article, referring specifically to discussion forums: “Students don’t read other students’ responses, only those posted by the faculty member. They write responses in order to fulfill the participation requirements of the class.”