Tuesday Teaching Question

So, I made a PowerPoint presentation for one of today’s classes–the first one I’ve made since 2007. (I was inspired by a phrase I came across–“PowerPoint Karaoke,” which describes the experience of having someone read their slides to you–to try out a new activity. I thought that was hilarious.)

Anyway, as I was doing it, I started thinking about an article I stumbled upon a couple of summers ago in Wired called “PowerPoint is Evil” which pretty much persuaded me that my suspicions (that I was better off without it) were justified. The preparations I was making for class were fairly mindless and rote (copying and pasting), so I then started thinking about some other great tech related articles I’d read through the years (like this one and this one) and some interesting  research I’ve seen here and there.

And then I started thinking about the IPad, and all its hype/hootenanny, not to mention speculation about what it will become even as it is in the process of becoming it, which got me thinking about the Digital Divide and how long it had been since I’d heard that term (and how much more difficult it is now to justify ongoing belief in it within our society, at least, given the ubiquity and power of cell phones (examples abound–last week I admonished a student for texting in class, only to have her show me that she was reading looking at the day’s text, which had been posted on Blackboard, searching for a quote. On the train home tonight, there were six people with books, two with newspapers, one with a printout of some pages, and six reading their phones. Not playing games on them, not just reading email–reading long form text on their smart phones.)).

And as all of this was swirling around in my head, I started to wonder if there is such a thing as a “too techy” classroom and, conversely, a classroom that is “not techy enough.” I know that technology is killing me–once upon a time, a mere nine years ago, I handed out a syllabus at the beginning of class and that was their guide. Students who lost it might ask me for another copy, but the syllabus was the info, and for most of them it was one and done.

Now, I give them a syllabus, then I post it on Blackboard, then I post each day’s assignments under Assignments on Blackboard, with occasional, additional announcements reminding students about key projects or dates. Yet, despite all this redundancy, I still have students who email or ask about dates and assignments and the rest. I can’t just blow any of it off, though, because best practices and research of all sorts state the importance of all of these techniques for maximizing student learning. I understand that, certainly, but all of it comes at a price, too. That’s all time that I don’t have to talk to students or respond to their work a little faster.

There was a time when “technological literacy” was a legitimate goal for our courses–when our students were systematically excluded from tools of cultural power and capital building (like computers and Internet access), but you’d be hard pressed to find a student in any of my classes without a cell phone and a Facebook page. I realize that these things don’t make them technologically literate, but it is the very rarest of students who don’t know how to navigate the ‘net and email and the rest these days. The so-called age of the Digital Natives has dawned.

What if I told you I were considering teaching a class next semester without technology of any sort being involved. What would you think? Can it be done? Should it be done? Should it not? How much is too much when it comes to technology and teaching? How much is not enough?

4 thoughts on “Tuesday Teaching Question

  1. Dave, … we have to talk. … It’s like this. … You have to slow down here. Once again, you have a very interesting area of discussion. But you’ll be on to five other things, and this topic will be completely off the page, within hours. I suggest you try taking certain “major inquiries” — such as this one — and keep them topmost for at least a full week. That might buy time for input from more colleagues, and more meaningful input at that. … But maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. What do others think?

    • I have never been confused for Mies van der Rohe, philosophically speaking or otherwise–that is for sure.

      I did try that, Art, a few times early on (bumping posts back up to the top after a few days had passed, but it didn’t seem to draw any additional commentary (or votes)–the lurkers just kept lurking, so I stopped. I could make the page so it shows more posts (10 or 20), then you’d just have to scroll down or I could try to bump them up again.

      What I’d really like is to get more regular contributors (people willing to post things once a week or every couple of weeks, not to mention more commenters like the Realist–talk about prolific!) who would have the power to re-raise issues or re-introduce them or spin them, etc.). That is a long term goal, though. My short term goal is to keep people interested and coming back (regularly or occasionally)–to throw as much stuff up on the wall as I can to appeal to as many interests as possible until the site gets somewhat established in the faculty consciousness as a useful and usable tool.

      I’m not opposed to bumping discussions back up though. I’ll do it with this one and see what happens…worth a shot, certainly.

  2. OK, I’ve given it some thought. I’ve clicked on the links and did some quick reading. What can I say…
    PowerPoint is both good and bad. Agreed. In the wrong hands it can be the wrong tool to use in a lecture-based course. In my opinion, the articles and studies fail to mention or include the idea of Multiple Intelligences founded by the research of Howard Gardner. We are all different learners and we all have our strengths (visual, kinetic, auditory, natural) that allow us to maximize our learning potential. We need to really focus on this aspect of education THEN introduce the technologies that would enhance the educational experience.
    There are certain courses that will always benefit from good visuals. What’s wrong with showing maps using PowerPoint? The tool is then slave to the educational experience, not the other way around.
    I could go on but, one cent for this and
    the other for this…
    I always remind myself that we have technology because corporations stand to profit from the marketing and selling of these fancy gadgets to students and teachers. Some of us adopt this technology because we have been sold on the idea that it is good for students, but in actuality, it is good for the stockholders.
    When we stop asking questions about how we can best communicate with our students, then it does not matter what software, hardware, freeware, or shareware we use – it will all go to pot.
    I use PowerPoint and now after reading the articles, I’ll think twice about how it is benefiting my group of students.
    I’ll keep my philosophy text nearby too.
    Oh yeah, and a link to The Lounge on my browser.

  3. OK, here goes…
    I only use Power Point when I present at conferences – I no longer use it in class.

    I like my in-class time to be about interactions.

    I do think visuals are important and I often pull up websites, or videoclips to show briefly in class and I certainly post many links in Blackboard for students to browse on their own.

    I don’t like spending time putting Power Point presentations together because, in class, I like to do ongoing spontaneous assessment of student learning. This means I will skip around the material as needed based on what I am hearing from students. If I have a lovely PPt that I have spent tons of time designing, then I am more wed to how I wanted to “present” the material and less involved with how students are learning it.

    On the other hand, I engage the students regularly in online interactions. I’ll ask them to read an article or find one on a particular website and then write a reflection, students create class blogs that are kind of practice newsletters that they would eventually send to parents when they are in the field teaching, I post NPR stories (This American Life, Third coast) or lectures (TED), so students can hear from real people as well as leading thinkers in the field and finally students put their learning artifacts together into an e-portfolio that they review/revise each time they take a child development class.

    I have a practically paper-less class and I rather like it that way.

    I do need to spend time with students in class and during office hours to help some of them build their computer skills. The students who come to me without knowing how to use the mouse (yes, you heard me) are so appreciative when I take the time to show them what to do. And so far I’ve noticed that everyone can learn more – even the most skilled digital native.

    What was the original question again?
    Oh yeah, I think it is entirely possible to teach a college course without gizmos and I would back you up if you wanted to experiment with a paper syllabus again Dave! Why not? Mix it up. Students need all kinds of leaning experiences and I think it would be kind of freeing.

    It would be hard to resist sending out those reminder e-mails though…

    About the Lounge:
    I like the amount of information right now. I like that it keeps coming and that there are regular weekly features .

    I agree that it would be great to spend more time on teaching topics in particular with more comments from colleagues and I think that it would be interesting to re-visit ideas again. Maybe there could be a Review session at the end of the month or something – to review the hot topics that got the most comments.

    I’ve told Dave I would contribute to the Lounge, but other than posting comments, I have not done my own post yet…working up to it I guess 🙂

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