BY SHANNON WILEY
As technology pushes the world forward, classrooms across the country are discovering the new benefits and feats that this brings.
In 2013, Public Broadcasting Society Learning Media released their findings from a national survey of preschool through high school teachers which revealed that 74 percent believe technology enables them to reinforce and expand on content, while 68 percent expressed a craving for more technology in the classroom.
The same satisfaction with and yearning for technology in the classroom is reflected at the colligate level, especially at Salisbury University.
“Technology has expanded the ways that faculty and students can access information, share ideas, and engage in intellectual conversations,” Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Diane Allen said.
“It provides personalization especially in a class where you have a lot of different level learners,” sophomore education student Emily Tucker said. “You can really personalize the lessons to your students.”
Many classes at SU utilize technologies like university provided computers in labs, projectors, screen sharing technologies, PowerPoints, video clips, clickers and more.
“I use clickers in my intro to journalism class and my writing for the professions class for quizzes and sometimes to interact throughout the lecture,” assistant professor of communication arts Jennifer Cox said. “But they’re kind of a pain… but they are nice for grading to just kind of have everything in the system; and the students really like it because it’s more interactive and engaging, and that is kind of the goal.”
The technology used by teachers and students is not limited to what students hold in their hands or have in the classroom, though.
“We use social media in all of my classes,” Cox said. “We primarily use Twitter, we have in some of my past classes used Instagram… and my study abroad class uses Facebook.”
Teachers also communicate with students to post announcements, have discussions, post PowerPoints and notes or even post full lectures through MyClasses and e-mail. Likewise, students have the option to take online, hybrid or long distance classes.
In an African literature class taught by associate professor of English James King, students dove further into the meaning of the novel they were reading, Arrows of Rain, by Skyping with the author of the book, Okey Ndibe.
“I wanted to give the students an opportunity to discuss a text with the author,” King said. “I think it helped them a great deal because they were able to ask specific questions to the author rather than having to derive answers from an interpretation of the text which might be inaccurate or not reflecting of the attitudes or opinions of the author.
Students asked him about the reason for the title of the book, if he identified himself with any of the characters and similar questions.
“In class you can only speculate as to what the author was thinking,” sophomore Chaimaka Ezeonyebuchi said, a student in King’s African literature class. “But you won’t actually know what the author was thinking unless you ask him that, and we got a chance to do that.”
This was the second time King had used Skype to speak with Ndibe for a class, and he has also used it in class to speak with Congolese author Emmanuel Dongala.
In many other classes, students use their own forms of technology to help them learn.
“In mobile journalism the technology is all in the students’ hands so it’s whatever they bring into the classroom,” Cox said. “It’s an iPhone usually, but I’ve had students bring in Galaxies, I’ve had students bring in tablets, laptops, whatever. Mobile is mobile. Anything you can pick up and take with you to report a story—that’s what we use.”
In the future, teachers and education students only see this technological presence growing, leading to more online classes and degrees, Smartboards and more. In fact, this semester an online social work masters degree was launched at SU, and an online Mmasters in business administration will begin in the fall.
“Honestly, as a future teacher it’s a little scary as to the extent it is growing because they are replacing us in a lot of respects,” Tucker said. “Now there’s online school for k-12 and in some states, it is a public school option depending on your qualifications. Now one teacher can speak to a couple hundred kids.”
SU students may feel more of a technological presence next year as well, when the campus fully switches to Canvas’ MyClasses, where teachers can post assignments and readings when classes must be canceled.
“State regulations require the University to provide a specific number of contact hours each semester,” Allen said. “Using Canvas is one way we can meet this requirement without extending the semester. Many faculty used online assignments during snow days this past semester, and I believe that number will increase.”
Although technology can streamline classes or allow for more opportunity for enhanced learning, both students and teachers can fall prey to leaning on technology too much for the wrong reasons.
One way students do this is by using the technology available to them in physical classrooms to occupy their minds with content other than that given by their professor, like scrolling through Facebook, checking e-mail or doing other work.
“Everybody thinks that they can multi-task,” Cox said. “But science and research has shown over and over again that you can’t. If you’re tuned into something else, you can’t focus on another thing. So unfortunately, when students are off task during class on social media, on the computer or texting even, it’s a hindrance to them.”
Although Cox said she understands this temptation because she has the same problem when taking seminars or classes, she feels bad for students now because there used to be no other options in class but to sleep or learn.
“Now, we’re so bombarded with distractions that it is hard to focus,” Cox said. “So I sympathize, but at the same time you have to be responsible for your actions and you have to be willing to give your education its full potential to impact you because otherwise you’re just cheating yourself.”
On the other side of education, occasionally teachers will use technology as a crutch so that they do not have to think of their own lesson plans or create their own teaching material.
“I definitely have an issue when I walk into a classroom and I see teachers sitting down and I see up on the screen a video of them lecturing, which is just weird, or sometimes it’s another person lecturing, and that is not okay,” Tucker said. “I think in that respect, if you don’t use it effectively, technology becomes less interactive because students are just watching.”
“I think for some teachers, it’s laziness,” Tucker continued. “There are things online that they can use like video clips, rather than them (explaining something). It’s one thing to use ideas or one video clip, but constantly using video clips or constantly watching videos or constantly using other peoples PowerPoints, it kind of gets to, ‘Why are you here?’ When you’re using those things and others’ full lesson plans found online to that extent, is it really personalized to your students? Is it really what you need? Is it really what’s in your curriculum? Or is it just convenient?”
Tucker suggests that if teachers cannot think of three specific ways that the technology will benefit their students, they shouldn’t use it.
However, many feel teachers and students are using their time and technology in valuable ways.
“As users of technology, each of us determines the impact, negative or positive, of its use,” Allen said. “I believe that faculty who use technology do so because it enhances their courses. Students who use technology for research, presentations and communication also have a responsibility to use technology in appropriate ways. In all instances we must maintain academic integrity with the work we do using technology.”