Academic Technology Expectations – Highlights from a Conversation
By Rhett McDaniel
On October 27th, the CFT hosted a Conversation on Teaching titled “Student Expectations: Academic Technology.” The group investigated some of the assumptions and beliefs we might hold regarding student expectations around academic technology. We also discussed various potential conflicts and consequences around the issue. The conversation was exploratory in nature, designed to surface various perspectives on the different expectations students and faculty can have about their respective responsibilities but not necessarily to leave participants with concrete solutions for negotiating these expectations.
Technology is often promoted as an empowering tool that can help faculty work more efficiently and students understand more deeply. In a response to a belief that faculty and students both want and need to use these technologies, many classrooms have been fortified with cutting-edge equipment. In addition, technology units, like ITS, are meeting the demand for consumption by continually increasing network bandwidth and offering access to upgraded cloud-computing services like virtual file storage and application hosting.
Meanwhile, we see pockets of faculty who are successfully using a variety of technologies, including course management systems like OAK, to meet a student expectation for a level of technology use they can only assume to be true, as much of the research has not been able to accurately document them.
The conversation included faculty, students, and technology staff members, allowing for a variety of viewpoints to be voiced in the discussion. Some of the themes we surfaced during the exchange are outlined below.
Communicating with the Instructor
- Opinions around the expectations for electronic communication vary widely. It was suggested that instructors should remain flexible and ask students about their preferences. (e-mail, list-serve, chat group, etc.)
- The frequency and methods of instructor-student communication should be clearly outlined in the syllabus so that no misunderstandings occur later when the professor doesn’t return a 2:00 a.m. e-mail within the hour.
- An opinion was also recognized that some students are more likely to prefer chat or text to ask a professor a question, rather than e-mail. The reason given is that students feel that an e-mail will be judged more critically, as it requires a more formal tone and necessitates careful formatting.
- One point the students raised was individual professors prefer different software applications to conduct similar activities across all their classes, requiring them to juggle various technologies to accommodate these preferences. It was suggested that if faculty within a department could standardize some technology practices, it would be easier for students to manage logistics and develop proficiencies. OAK was identified as one possibility for creating more standardized practices.
- Students felt that it was a reasonable expectation for them to be proficient using the software required to write and submit a paper or project.
- One expectation that both instructors and students expressed in common was an expectation that the technology infrastructure, like the wireless network and OAK, will just ‘work’ in the same way they expect the lights or the power outlets in a classroom to always work.
- However, it is important for instructors to have a plan ‘B’ in the event the technology fails. One student recollected an incident where class was almost canceled because the professor had trouble getting PowerPoint to work.
- It was also noted that instructors who rely heavily on classroom technology can put themselves at risk of receiving poor student evaluations if the technology infrastructure is unreliable.
According to a 2010 Educause Quarterly article, “A Comparison of Student and Faculty Academic Technology Use Across Disciplines,” authors Kevin R. Guidry and Allison BrckaLorenz identified some takeaways from their research on technology use by both faculty and students:
- Students and faculty use course management systems much more frequently than any other technology.
- Professional students use classroom response devices (“clickers”) and Education students use e-portfolios more often than students in other fields use either.
- Faculty in all disciplines rarely use blogs, collaborative editing tools, and games and simulations.
- Students and faculty have different expectations and use technologies in different contexts, which can create tension and misunderstandings between the two groups.
This conversation is part of the CFT’s ongoing work on the topic of student and instructor expectations for teaching and learning. Want to know more? Read more CFT blog posts about student expectations.
Image: “Wooden Desks” by macattck