Feb 08, 2013 (11:02 AM EST)
Classroom Technology Faces Skeptics At Research Universities

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

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Professors at top research universities are highly skeptical of the value of the instructional technologies being injected into their classrooms, which many see as making their job harder and doing little to improve teaching and learning.

That's the conclusion of "Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate," published in the January edition of Science, Technology & Human Values. Based on interviews with 42 faculty members at three research-intensive universities, the study was funded under a grant from the National Science Foundation and particularly focuses on professors in the sciences, including chemistry and biology, with anthropology thrown in as a point of comparison.

Consider the opinions of two different chemists. "I went to [a course management software workshop] and came away with the idea that the greatest thing you could do with that is put your syllabus on the Web and that's an awful lot of technology to hand the students a piece of paper at the start of the semester and say keep track of it," said one. "What are the gains for students by bringing IT into the class? There isn't any. You could teach all of chemistry with a whiteboard. I really don't think you need IT or anything beyond a pencil and a paper," said another.

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The most positive remarks professors had for classroom technology amounted to faint praise, with some saying they used classroom technology to cope with very large class sizes in introductory courses. In those settings, technological razzle-dazzle could be helpful, they said. "They're undergraduates -- you need to attract their attention before you can teach them anything. In my mind that's the name of the game … With video game culture or anything, you know, I think that will get 'em involved, you know, a little remote control."

The study got picked up by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported it under the headline "Professors Say Technology Helps in Logistics, Not Learning," prompting a lively discussion in the comments section. Although many readers agreed that universities too often adopt technology for technology's sake, without a clear strategy for integrating it with instruction, others objected that the sentiments expressed in the article were misguided and missed the revolutionary potential of new technologies.

The author of the study, David R. Johnson, said he read those comments with interest but suspects some of the defenders of the technology who posted there are instructional technology professionals "who think by definition things are better just because they are technologically rich." University administrators also seem to be inspired by a "ceremonial myth that being a cutting-edge university means being high tech," Johnson said.

The professors he interviewed, on the other hand, were technically sophisticated in their own fields but had no vested interest in the success of instructional technologies, which many felt were being imposed on them by the university administration with no regard for their preferences. "I've been very disturbed at the way this university has tried to ram these technologies down our throats," grumbled one anthropologist. "My belief is that we should have a wide range of choices for teaching technologies, but what goes on here is the higher administration has decided what's best for us in a very paternalistic fashion. I've become hardened in my resistance to these attempts to impose the adoption of technologies. And even though I once might have been more receptive to some of them, I'm now saying no, I'm not going to do it."