Thursday, September 3, 2009

Teaching with, and, or vs. Technology

Guest Writer, Linda Stine
Discussions of academic excellence, it seems to me, start and end with the teaching/learning environment. How are we presently trying to make sure our students learn well? How can we do it better? Does technology help?
In June the Department of Education published a scientifically rigorous meta-analysis of studies comparing online vs. in-class learning in a wide range of settings and populations. The two main conclusions:
* students learn just as well online as they do in face-to-face classrooms
* hybrid classes (ones that combine online learning elements with face-to-face instruction, such as a WebCT-enhanced course) are more effective than traditional in-class instruction alone.
Having spent much of my summer researching the problems and promise of online learning for my adult writing students, I’m still unsure what kind of educational technology to use and how best to use it. I would love to hear what the rest of you are doing. Are you using technology (WebCT, Smartboards, websites, clickers, multimedia, etc.) to do things that you couldn’t do otherwise or that you couldn’t do as effectively? What have you tried that proved to be more trouble than it was worth?
And how much technology should be used during the class period itself? Should we all be teaching naked?
No, no—not that kind of naked! “Teaching naked” is how the president of SMU describes reserving technology for the purpose of increasing student learning and engagement outside the classroom, creating online activities that require students to learn the content before coming to class and thus freeing up the actual class time for the kinds of personal interaction that only work face to face. His belief:
Coming to class has to ‘add value,’ and reducing the technology and increasing the human interaction is the best way to create something interactive that cannot be duplicated online.
He’s not arguing against educational technology, just against using it during classroom time when he thinks we could be more effectively engaging our students in conversation. (I’d be interested in your reactions to the article—it’s brief but quite thought-provoking.)
So, any thoughts on the complex technology/teaching/learning issue?


  1. The key to teaching with technology, for me, is how the technology is used. Is it enhancing what I am doing, or is it a detriment?

    The “teaching naked” theory has some good ideas that I might wan to incorporate such as e-mail for announcements to class instead of the 10 minutes I might take before class. Quizzes through WebCT instead of at the beginning of class would allow for more class time dedicated to the discussion those quizzes are suppose to spark and focus.

    But there is a balance with technology in the classroom that has also been helpful. PowerPoint allows for a visual aid that provides structure for any given class. Since I am planning on the computer anyway, using PowerPoint as opposed to Word is a lateral move. Internet access in class allows me to model research techniques while looking up an answer to a question that has arisen during class. The internet also provides a more “full”—if that is the right word—classroom experience. When discussing the “myth” of five paragraphs to an essay, we start talking about the “rule of three.” YouTube’s video of “3 the magic number” complete with song and trippy 70s cartoon video is both fun and enlightening.

    Of course the downside is, among others, the learning curve. Technology for the sake of technology doesn’t help. For instance, when someone reads verbatim from their PowerPoint slides, I am going to have trouble learning and taking that person seriously. Understanding how to properly use PowerPoint and learning the intricacies of the program takes time. The “clothed” use of technology today in my class led to a PowerPoint “structure” that did not match the conversation. The class felt disjointed.

    When using a “hybrid class,” out-of-class technology becomes one more chore to do in a long “to do” list of teaching, and preparing, and re-reading, and making changes to cater to this group of students, and dealing with an already over packed classroom because the budget does not allow for another adjunct so I have 29 students instead of 25, which is already 5 more than the max that the NCTE recommends in one class not to mention that I have 85 writing students in three classes and the NCTE says a writing professor should only have 60 per semester, and I am behind on my grading, and I don’t even have enough chairs in the classroom for all the students, yet the overall writing at LU is “incompetent” and I feel pressure from everyone to “fix” that problem. But I digress.

    I have been working on this comment all day. I started this morning before class. I was almost late to class because I was typing away. Now that the dust has settled and my desk is a mess, I have time to finish. The only question I have is “did my students learn something today?” I think so, but I better review my slides for Friday and post another assignment to WebCT.

  2. Bill, that was a great comment! It sent me off to YouTube (which, being old, I never think about using in the classroom...) where I happily reminisced with "3 is the magic number" followed by Victor Borge's "phonetic punctuation" and "conjunction junction" and a Monty Python sketch on language lab learning!

    And I agree with you that one of the biggest problems with using educational technology well, whether in or out of the classroom, is finding the time to learn how to do so, to make the learning object and to consider wisely when/where/how to incorporate it.

    Another worry I have is how to make sure my students would do the out-of-class assignments so as to come prepared to be "naked" in class. If we incorporate technology into our classroom teaching, we at least can be sure that the students are experiencing it.

  3. ... and hopefully experiencing technology in a new way, an interesting way, that breaks from the other ways students are experiencing technology, which I assume are mostly for entertainment or practical aspects of life (i.e. communication). Using technology can take the known (the internet) but introduce a new skill, as a critical thinking element and aid.

  4. Linda:

    I find read your article about technology and its use in the classroom. From everything I read Lincoln is behind most colleges and universities. Many colleges are now offering degrees online. I just read that the University of Kentucky my alma mater is now offering Masters degrees in library and information sciences online. I guest we need to caught up.


  5. Bill, you make a good point about using what students know and are comfortable but then taking them beyond their comfort zone. I'm sure you have heard about the Stanford study (Andrea Lunsford and all) and their finding that students are writing more than ever before as a result of all the IM'ing and twittering and texting they're doing. So meeting them where they are and taking them where we want them to be--members in good standing of the academic discourse community--is definitely what we ought to be doing. Of course the devil's in the details...

    And Albert, you're right that we need to think seriously at Lincoln about where we want to be with respect to technology. It's given pride of place in our mission statement ("...commitment to promoting technological sophistication") and vision statement (" the needs of those living in a highly technological and global society"), but there doesn't seem to be any concerted plan for what that translates into in terms of what we do with technology and what technology we use to do it. Maybe this year the Technology Committee could take a look at that?

  6. For me, technology is just a tool. By itself, it is neither good nor bad. It can be used well or badly. Whether it is used well or badly depends on your goal. Consequently, I am skeptical about the general attempt to recommend or prescribe its use. Whether or not one should "teach naked" or use or not use powerpoint or some other technology in a certain way should be determined by the class and objective or what one is trying to do.

    Secondly, we need to remember that there are different means to a goal. Hence, students may learn as well or as badly in face-to-face classrooms as online or in a jungle with no chalkboard or smartboard.

    Thirdly, for me, I find technology time-consuming, particularly in the preparation, setup and trouble-shooting aspects; hence the real or big problem for me is not about what to do with extra-time but what to do with less time. The answer may lie in having my own technical support staff who function as both a teaching assistant and a private secretary. Unfortunately, I cannot afford it! So, if "the goal of all of these technologies should be to spend more time interacting with your students," as Jos Antonio Bowen claims in "Teaching Naked," it is likely to be elusive.

    If one can teach, it should not matter whether one does it naked or clothed. Appearance may be deceptive as well as distracting. The point is to teach; the substance is in the teaching. The trick is to learn how to teach with or without "clothes."

    Sometimes the challenge in teaching has very little to do with technology and more to do with the physical and human environment. In some places, the university is more of a business than an educational institution. Its primary function may seem to be to award degrees and provide jobs rather than provide an education. That, for some, may be the main problem.

  7. Thought-provoking as always, Kwame. Thank you for adding your comments. And I agree that it's the teaching and not the tool that's the issue.

    But that raises the question of what good teaching is (maybe like pornography--we can't define it but we know it when we see it?) Effective teaching certainly depends on having the right mix of environment, methodology, students, and instructor, and obviously technology only figures in part of that mix. I think, though, it's an important enough part that it's useful sometimes to tease it out of the overall mix and consider it separately, although I agree that we can't consider it in a vacuum without acknowledging issues of time and technology support.

    I wonder what kind(s) of educational technology --if any-- are important enough to be considered essential to today's learning environment. I can't imagine teaching without having the ability to project materials I've created or assembled outside of class and without having computers available for students to try things out on within the class period; basic writing courses, I think, don't really lend themselves to teaching naked. My feeling is that students learn writing, grammar, organization, by seeing and doing, not by talking.

  8. The following comment is from Ken, and is much too good to miss:

    Bunch of girly men afraid of teaching naked.

    I mistrust technology evangelists. I certainly mistrust “scientifically rigorous meta-analyses” that conclude that distance learning works just as well as in-class. Learn what? Learn memorizable chunks of information that can be quantified prove students “learn” as well on-line as in-classroom? And while there doubtless are some minds that can “learn” something face-to-screen, is it now left to cranky dinosaurs to doubt that most minds can’t learn very much? And that no mind learns the liberal arts from a screen, no matter who is making the pixels dance this way and that? Learn me no “learning,” Mistress Stine.

    Of course, Bill is right. Technology can add value. It can make a point vivid. It can make a point relevant. It can add a context. These are valid uses, but limited ones. It can hold the eye of the short-attention-span generation way longer than any naked professor can, but the attention span of the graduate still needs bells and whistles to keep it awake, where is that graduate headed?

    So maybe I would make the case that we are already making too few demands upon our students. Even naked professors are singing for their supper. As soon as we call them “customers” and “clients” – and I have recently heard both terms – we are on the way to making entertainment the desideratum. Keep them sitting for five minutes of video, and maybe they stayed tuned to our advertisements for critical thinking, and articulate communicating. Even if they get a spoonful of education with every gallon of entertainment, they are not going to emerge as persons who can think in the way that “think” used to mean. (Which, I suppose, not everyone will think a bad thing. Just cranky dinosaurs)

    I do use technology. It does add value. But it cannot replace naked professors, though probably it will.

  9. I like the part that says "Of course, Bill is right."

    I am struck by two points. Have professors been naked up until technology? Are professors teaching the same way they always have until power point came into the classroom? Was the first class on Shakespeare the same as the Prof. Van Dover’s Shakespeare survey class today?

    I think and hope not. The conversation evolves. Similarly, the way teachers teach evolves, adapts, changes, recycles.

    And where is that student headed? That student is headed into a world that is much more convoluted than the technology in the classrooms at LU, where “reading” is more than mere text, where critical evaluation and determination and deciphering seem more clouded and complex even if the message is much ado about nothing.

  10. In order to develop standards, we must first identify key skills which students will need in the future. It's not as easy as you think to ascertain the identity of these skills, because it's difficult to predict the future. Although, within the next ten years, the paradigm of workplace technology is sure to change.