Teaching and Learning | Feature

Students Tell It Like It Is

Educators need better direction and support from their campus IT organizations in order to successfully implement technology in their classrooms, said University of Michigan (UM) student Tyler Hughes in a panel discussion at last month's Campus Technology 2012 conference in Boston. The all-student panel was part of a conference session, "Learn Now, Lecture Later: The New College Experience," which focused on the application of new learning models in the classroom, what students want when it comes to education technology, and what's next for education. Led by Andy Lausch of CDW-G, the discussion highlighted findings from CDW-G's recent education technology report

CDW-G surveyed 1,015 students, faculty, and IT staff at both the high school and college level in May and June 2012. Not surprisingly, the students in higher education use more technology for learning than high school students. At the college level, 74 percent use digital content, 72 percent access learning management systems, 55 percent use smartphones, and 53 percent take advantage of recorded lectures.

And yet there appears to be a fairly wide gap between students' vision of how technology could be deployed in the classroom and the current reality, noted Lausch, CDW-G's vice president of higher education, in the session. "Only 23 percent of students say they are very satisfied with the way faculty members spend class time," Lausch said. Those very satisfied students listen to fewer lectures than their peers and use more technology in class, he noted. "Students say classroom time is moving in the right direction, but they want a greater mix of learning models, with more hands-on assignments and more virtual learning."

Hannah Davis, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNCC), agreed. The UNCC business school student said that she would like to see a broader use of technology in the classroom. Most of her classes have been traditional lectures with an old-school chalkboard, and some faculty members don't allow phones or laptops in class. Recorded lectures are only available if students request them ahead of time for a specific reason such as a medical absence. "I do learn more with a mixed style, where the class is opened up to group discussion," she said, adding that she would like to see use of interactive whiteboards and student response systems.

Support for Faculty

Davis said faculty members need more support when they do try new things. "They are hesitant to use new methods because they are so accustomed to what they have been doing," she said. "It is difficult to implement changes." (All four panelists agreed that they see something of a generational split among faculty members in terms of their enthusiasm about trying new technology in the classroom, with younger faculty much more comfortable with trying new things.)

UM student Hughes speculated that faculty members may not know how to research and implement new technologies. If they are teaching 200 students, it would be terrifying if the technology failed them, he said. "It is up to IT to push the new technologies toward faculty and to be there to support them," he said. "I bet at schools where the relationship between IT and faculty is closest, you will see the best use of technology."

Mario Solorzano, a student at Arizona State University (ASU), noted that it is difficult for instructors in very large classes to implement new technology, and many of his classes are lecture-based. Yet new modes of communication are impacting how he learns, he said. For instance, one English professor is available on Skype after office hours. A graduate student for one course created a study group using a Facebook page. Solorzano has been able to download three of his textbooks to his tablet, and he has taken hybrid classes. "I like having the lecture online, so I can pause it and rewind," he said. Lectures are here to stay because they work well, he said, "but the use of technology in the classroom will help us retain more and allow us to do things our parents' generation couldn't do."

Tech Wish List

One thing Hughes would like to see is standardization of formats and cost reductions for e-books. "I find e-books priced much the same as textbooks and can't bring myself to buy it for the same price as a hardcover," he said, "even though I would find them beneficial."

Katisha Sargeant, a student at North Carolina State University, told session attendees that she would like to see increased use of student response systems. Instructors polling the class regularly would help her assess whether she understood the material. She also would like to see more classroom activities developed that use tablet computers. "Tablets in class that we don't have to purchase would be amazing," she said. (Other students on the panel expressed enthusiasm about tablet use, yet it was not one of the top five technologies ranked by student interest in the survey.)

With students clamoring for more technology deployed in the classroom, what are the roadblocks? Based on survey responses, Lausch said lack of budget is the No. 1 impediment cited as preventing new learning models, followed by large class sizes and lack of time for professional development. Overall, 88 percent of faculty members see challenges to moving away from the traditional lecture model.

Despite the difficulties, Hughes described one success story: a professor using software called Lecture Tools developed by UM professor Perry Samson, who also presented at the Campus Technology conference. Through the technology, students can rate their comprehension slide by slide and the instructor can see the feedback in real time. They can ask questions that teaching assistants can answer while the lecture continues. Answered questions become anonymously visible to the entire class, and they're saved into an archive of student inquiry. "No one wants to raise their hand and ask a question in a class of 200 people," Hughes noted.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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