DETROIT – Today’s college classrooms are high-tech marvels: overhead projectors and grease pencils replaced by document cameras, handheld clickers, and interactive whiteboards.Multimedia carts with a TV and DVD player? Relics. Even PowerPoint has lost some of its shine.
And faculty – most of them see technology as a way to better connect to students in their interactive, multi tasking, apps-ready world.
“Some are not going to change without kicking and screaming. But for the most part, even our older faculty are embracing it,” said George Preisinger, Oakland University’s assistant vice president for classroom support and instructional technical services.
In some classrooms, a professor can watch each student’s computer screen simultaneously to monitor their progress on a project.
A lot has changed since his first days in the tech department, Preisinger laughed: “We were the ones wheeling the old AV carts around.”
Technology has its limits and it still takes a skilled speaker to engage students, said Charles Parrish, political professor at Wayne State University.
Likewise, a lack of technology is far from debilitating, said Parrish, who uses the Internet and posts his notes on the university-wide Blackboard system for instant student access.
“A good professor is a good professor,” he said. “Socrates sat under trees and didn’t have PowerPoint.”
Central Michigan University this year opened its $50-million Education and Human Services Building. Inside is 76 miles of Internet networking cable, 11 miles of phone cable, and 27 “RoomWizards” – keypads outside classrooms to allow users to reserve rooms.
Motion-sensitive cameras follow a pacing professor or link out-of-town students with the classroom. Whiteboards upload to e-mails.
Clickers, tiny remotes in which students send answers instantly to a professor’s hand held computer screen, allow professors to pop-quiz a class or take quick surveys.
At Wayne State University last month, Tynise Penn , 29, was studying at the library. She finished her master’s degree through classes and her laptop, finding the most up-to-date research and discussion online.
Books? She shrugged, chuckling: “No, never picked one up.”
The contrast of education old vs. new is tangible at Eastern Michigan University, where an ongoing $90-million upgrade to the Mark Jefferson science complex will offer state-of-the-art, reconfigured class and lab space.
The university has set aside about $2.5 million for audiovisual and communications technology and security, Scott Storrar, head of facilities planning and construction.
Nearby is a one-room schoolhouse – much like the one where Eastern’s President Sue Martin began her education in the 1950s. But just as her teacher engaged 30 students every day with no more than shelves of books and a piano, good teaching transcends time and light-speed changes in technology.
“A faculty member still has to lead the experience,” Martin said.
Such gadgetry is hardly a surprise for many students. Even in the K-12 system, book reports have been replaced by interactive presentations on interactive whiteboards.
Rather than being fed information like their parents once were, students have learned to explore and research, even teach each other.
“It even changes the idea of show-and-tell,” said Denise Brandt, media specialist Lone Pine Elementary School in Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Schools.
Still, how much is too much?
A dean of Dallas-based Southern Methodist University recently stripped computers from lecture halls. Meadows School of the Arts Dean Jose Bowen challenged staff instead to “teach naked,” as in, without computers in the classroom.
But technology has its place. Today’s faculty should offer podcasted lectures, hyperlinks, and online study sessions to prep the students with materials before class, leaving classroom time for discussion and debate, Bowen said.
Yet all this leads to yet another pedagogical debate. If, in a wired world, knowledge is hyperlinked and answers are searchable, how do you test?
For example, should a student be able to consult with the Internet during a test to find the answer to a complex math formula? asked Jim Gilchrist, Western Michigan University ‘s vice provost and chief information officer.
The definition of “cheating,” Gilchrist said, hinges on the definition of learning.
“Does successful learning mean you’ve memorized something and can bring it back without looking it up?” he asked.
“Or is successful learning knowing how to find the necessary information?