Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Smash Your Computer

It's been awhile since I posted, and it'll likely be awhile longer, as I'm pretty intellectually and emotionally spent right now, but I did want to call readers' attention to this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Here's the main thrust:
A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw. The survey consisted of 211 students at a university in England and was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire.

Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but also to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities, even interactive exercises in computer labs. "The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions," said the report. In other words, tech-free classrooms were the most engaging.

I realized that pretty quickly. My first semester of teaching, I used a lot of technology aids, which ended up mostly being crutches for me, and the students didn't respond very well. I had a much harder time getting them to speak up about something on the screen than about the things they read, and my evaluations reflected that problem.

Last year, I used technology only twice--once in Comp I when I showed them a variety of clips from Disney films and shorts to demonstrate racial stereotypes (it's hard, after all, to do visual analysis without technology!), and once in Comp II when I gave an introductory lecture on poetry and needed to be able to flash poems up quickly and efficiently. The rest of my classes were composed of group discussions, with very little lecturing on my part. This, it seems to me, is as it should be. It demands something from the students, and while they're resistant for the most part at the beginning, 75 to 80 percent of them will eventually get into the rhythm of the class and will offer their opinions. Unsurprisingly, they know the material much better this way than through lecturing--perhaps surprisingly, they engage more with the material this way than the times I tried to use technology.

Two caveats: (a) I'm not a particularly technologically advanced person even in my private life, and so the possibility exists that if I were creative in that arena, I'd be able to come up with an interesting and effective way to utilize technology in the classroom; and (b) the Chronicle, as usual, manifests a humanities prejudice. It's all very well and good to conduct English or philosophy classes via group discussion, but I can't imagine that science and math classes don't benefit from technology. Then again, it's been half a decade since I've taken classes of that sort, so I'm out of touch. Anyone have any thoughts?