From the Students’ View: Thoughts on Technology and Learning
This article was originally published in the Fall 2000 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.
Victor Sung, Senior, A&S, Neuroscience; Benjamin Crist, Freshman, A&S, English; and Dayle Savage, Graduate Student, Peabody, Human Resources Development, reflect on the use of technology in the classroom.
CFT : How do you best learn? And how does technology help you in your learning?
Benjamin : I am a visual-kinesthetic learner. What that phrase (which I learned in middle school) means for me is that I learn the quickest that which I can see before me, and when combined with activities by me or the professor, I achieve the maximum from the class. For example, I have no problem reading a book in order to do well in the class. But as man students know, this is a poor substitute if the class is less than engaging. That is why I then require active participation of the professor and the rest of the class in order to really grasp the material. But I do not sit in the back of a class waiting for this to happen. I do everything I can to start discussions or continue ones which my professor and classmates have already begun. The reason that I am so adamant about the necessity of discussion and active participation is because I know that learning is an exchange-an exchange of ideas, beliefs, and knowledge. But in any exchange you will only receive as much as the other party wishes to give. I think that the only way to truly learn is to facilitate exchange in the classroom as best I can.
Victor : I learn best by seeing things presented in different ways and then going over them again. With this I mean that I don’t think I would learn very well if I had to listen to an audio-tape of someone drone on and one about something Visual stimulations keeps me interested and also helps me remember things better.
Dayle : The focus of my doctoral work is adult education and how adults learn. Therefore, it is interesting to ponder how I learn. As a graduate student in the 40-soething generation, I value my thirst for knowledge. It is abundantly clear to me that I have always been a seeker. I question. I am very curious and my questions today do not embarrass me; they motivate me to continue learning. My greatest teachers have been those who have encouraged me to seek the answers myself with unabashed vigor while providing steady support. I have found the journey to a “higher education” is the ultimate test of independence, determination and authenticity.
CFT : Given the ways in which you learn best, how does technology help-or fail to help-that process?
Benjamin : Technology is a great aid in my learning. Not only does much of it allow the professor or students to communicate knowledge and ideas in new and exciting ways, it also eases the ability to then access that information for later perusal. For example, a group could present a PowerPoint presentation and then allow the teacher to publish or stream it from a web site which the students could access form their dorm rooms. This is a great way to reinforce an exchange that took place in a classroom earlier in the semester without requiring more time and resources by the professor in a latter class period. Also, new technologies inherently attract the attention of the younger generation as we move farther into the information revolution. Look at the number of cellular phones and laptops being carried by students today. This makes the technology transfer easier in the classroom because many times the teacher will only have to gloss over instructions on how to use the technology Because so many already use it) and there will be less new resources consumed overall. Such examples in the classroom allow one to see how the learning process is enhanced by new uses of technology.
As I said earlier, the learning process can best be defined as an exchange. That exchange requires both parties to actively participate in order to get the most out of the exchange for everyone. Technology only increases the ability to accomplish this task and eases the transition into the digital world of the future.
Victor : Technology comes into play because it can serve to enhance the visual presentation. The classic example of this is the increasing use of PowerPoint presentations in lectures. This is helpful to me because the visual gives me a clue on how I should take my notes or how the information is structured and categorized. Things like diagrams, pictures, and even movies can be integrated directly into the text of the lecture, and this helps me to get a vivid reinforcement through visual examples of the material that has just been presented. One of the greatest advantages of having lecture son PowerPoint is that the drawings and diagrams so prevalent in my science courses can be much more effective in full color and not hastily sketched onto a chalkboard or copied onto a transparency.
Some potential disadvantages of having lectures in a PowerPoint type format include the tendency of a professor to move too quickly through the slides since he or she does not have to write out or demonstrate the material much more than what is already displayed on the screen. Some students also get too caught up in copying down every last thing on the screen and do not listen as well to the professor’s deeper explanation of what the slide is showing. This is often remedied by the professor offering the chance to view the lectures online either by putting the files up on Prometheus or by putting them on the class web site. I have found both of these options extremely helpful because I do not feel pressured to copy every word off of each slide if I know that I will have access to it later on. It also helps immensely in review for a test to be able to go through and inspect the color diagrams again to test my understanding, and to review each lecture again in order as a way of grasping the big picture and seeing how the different lectures fit together.
Other instances where dependence of lectures on technology has been a hindrance have been related to the classroom setup. I have a class this semester in which the classroom itself does not have a projector, so each class, we hope that the projector to be connected to the professor’s laptop is already there by the time we arrive. If not, then we have to wait for it to get there, which uses up some class time. Also there are the frequent glitches where certain pictures or movies do not display correctly. These kinds of glitches, though, are often solved by early setup by the professor or by afterwards printing out the pictures that did not show up or otherwise correcting the presentation and then putting it up for view on the web.
All this is not to say that all lecturers must make the move towards the integration of technology into their lectures, but rather that the most effective learning occurs when the material is presented in as clear a way as possible. Sometimes this means presenting the material multiple times in multiple ways. Since all students do not learn in the same way, the availability of new technologies allows for the presentation of material in a variety of ways that can be effective for all. Finally, I think that use of technology in the classroom should not be an excuse of the educator to remain glued behind a podium without interaction with the students; instead the technology can clearly be an opportunity for interaction between the educator and the material, the material and the students, the students and each other, and finally, the educator and the students.
Dayle : Technology has been a blessing and a curse for me. Fortunately, I took a class last year on the technology of learning organizations that demystified the technology enigma. I learned that I really couldn’t break my computer. With that freedom, I became willing to experiment. Today, I can try anything. Using a learning contract was a very good tool for this class. Each student was asked to complete a contract to learn a new technology or improve a technology skill. For example, members of the class created web sites, learned video conferencing, developed digital photography, and created PowerPoint presentations with sound, movement and videos.
In addition, as a class we learned to create on-line curriculum and used the chat room on Prometheus to have discussions about articles and readings assigned. The class was paperless except for the handouts produced during our final class projects and the books we purchased online. It appeared to be a gratifying experience for the luddites and experts alike. Technology allows me abundant opportunities to explore, create and communicate.
I have witnessed the frustration of technology from my instructors, as the tools we possess sometimes do not cooperate, and the training received is inconsistent and often nonexistent. As a teaching assistant, I have found myself in techno-hell in front of a class of students. It is embarrassing but I have also found students who are very forgiving and willing to assist. None of us can be literate in all of the wonderful technology available to us-it is constantly changing and differs depending on the setting in which one finds oneself. Practicing patience, becoming willing to learn new things, and knowing that “I can’t break it” allow me to let technology enrich my world and send me to places I would have never dreamed of going.