Technology in Classroom: Who's Driving?

There’s lots of buzz about the millennial student, the net-genn’ers who are turning teaching and learning on its ear. Well, maybe.

The core issue pertains to how students learn best in light of the fact that they have vast amounts of information at their fingertips. How can we capture their attention when they have so many connected devices? Should we cater to their shorter, multi-tasking spans of attention or help them adapt to our traditions of teaching and learning? Better yet, how can we best prepare them for the work world they are about to enter?

Teaching a class online, I find that students are circumventing the required text. When I post discussion questions designed to elicit concepts from the text, I get responses with reference to Wikipedia and a host of other online resources. The online discussion is designed to get them to synthesize content around core concepts. My first reaction is to send them back to the text, but then I look at the course objectives. We may discuss the validity of the material they produce, but in the end, if they meet the objective, should I care whether they read the text or not? Frankly, if they can retrieve the material and synthesize it well, I don’t really care if they get it from another source. But they do need to be discerning on their information sources.

The classroom environment is another story. How is an instructor to deal with students who have internet accessibility on laptops, phones or other devices in class? If they are text messaging, emailing or surfing elsewhere from the topic at hand, should we care? On the other hand, if an instructor is lecturing on, say, the origins of the species and a students pulls up some additional information and/or related questions from the web, is that a problem?

Some interesting comments from faculty…

“Naomi S. Baron, a linguistics professor at American University, says she too feels pressure to meet the demands of Millennials: "It is very common to hear people say, Here's the Millennial or the digital generation, and we have to figure out how they learn. Poppycock. We get to mold how they learn." (subscription, also available in the Chronicle issued October 7, 2005)

That ship may have already set sail, Naomi.

Michael Bugeja, of Iowa State, wrote recently; "If professors don't want their students to have access to the Internet during class," Hughes adds, "they can remove wireless installations or ask their students not to bring computers to class." (subscription, also available in the Chronicle issued January 27, 2006)

Not so fast there, Michael. If your IT department will let you, that’s one thing, but students are surfing on their cell phone provider’s networks, over which you have no control.

UK: Students Forced to Sign 'I'll Try Harder' Contracts
Oxford is to become the first university in Britain to protect itself from litigious students by introducing legally-binding contracts requiring them to attend lectures. Undergraduates will be told that they risk being in breach of contract if they fail to attend lectures and tutorials in a move certain to be copied by other universities, worried that the introduction of £3,000 annual tuition fees from next September will usher in an era of student litigation.

OK, now we’re playing hardball.

Frankly, much of this relates to classroom management. However, if we as educators cannot keep pace with new methods of teaching, acquiring information and learning, then I’m with the students. Engage me or lose me. If I’m in meetings that are not well run, or listening to someone blather on while reading from PowerPoint slides, I’m surfin’! I have a limited span of attention and an internet wanderlust. If someone is talking about something I can find just as easily—and quicker—online, why bother attending. For that matter, why bother paying for classes?

We as educators need to think of ways to engage students through the use of information. Encourage students to surf on ideas and concepts, have them offer up ideas to provocative questions. Point them to audio and visual resources online, then have them discuss their impressions. Gone is the sage on the stage; we are the guides on the side. Facilitate their learning and we will do students a much greater service in the long run.

3 thoughts on “Technology in Classroom: Who's Driving?

  1. Your last paragraph is the telling one. The real issue revolves around pedagogy and interpersonal communication skills. Technology is simply expediting long overdue but necessary changes in our teaching practice. It should be noted that technology is not a panacea, it is simply a tool. A tool which can be wielded by faculty and student alike.
    In our practice, technology is the means, not the end. It will never replace our skilled dynamic educators although it is now and will continue in the future to challenge those educators who refuse to improve their pedagogy.

  2. Pingback: Life After Coffee

  3. You're right about your comment concerning IT and cell phone networks.

    I support proper use of technology, a terrific tool, of course. My research shows that the problem has little to do with teaching or teaching practice and much to do with corporate revenue streams. The iPod can do amazing things educationally, but the one thing it does best is download music at $1 per pop.

    Interestingly, I have been called a professor who yearns for technostalgia. Here's a bit cut out of my Chronicle piece. One of my sources used the word "nostalgia" on a pre-exam review, and soon after students were e-mailing his teaching assistant, asking what "nostalgia" meant. He replied, "Nostalgia is a yearning for a time when students at a major university would not ask that question."

    The on-demand consumerism that we confront in the classroom is something I never anticipated.

    That's why I am asking higher education to teach "interpersonal intelligence," explaining when, where and for what purpose technology may be appropriate ot inappropriate.

    Thank you for hosting an invigorating discussion.

Comments are closed.