Does Technology Unnecessarily Complicate?

by Dr Davis on October 3, 2011

The Kansas State Collegian has an article entitled Technology Complicates Classes, Frustrates Students, written by Mary Renee Shirk.

Now professors post a syllabus and change it, sometimes daily, sometimes more than once a day. They expect you to check it every single day and adapt your understanding of the world around you and your work schedule, and your finances, and fit this new set of commandments into your life.

Now, professors are requiring a thumb drive or hard drive or DVDs or CDs or camera or flash card or batteries or six reams of paper, not to mention access to a high-volume color printer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Some professors now require you to get a Google account or YouTube account or WordPress account or new Facebook account or join some other random website used specifically for and only for that class. All these accounts, of course, require different usernames and passwords that you’ll most likely forget.

Now added to the regular class load and all of the above is watching the latest YouTube video or following the class on Twitter and networking with your classmates on LinkedIn.

Just to make things even more interesting, every professor has a different requirement for the number of times you’re supposed to check your email, the syllabus, K-State Online, the WordPress blog and any/all of the other online resources for that class.

I can totally understand these issues, even the ones I haven’t personally experienced. And I confess to having cringed a bit over changing the syllabus every day, since I know that I do more of that right now (with new classes at a new uni) than I should for the good of the students.

The idea of requiring students to print of hundreds of PDFs (for us oldies, those are the copied books we’d get full of different essays from different sources) is both ludicrous and expensive. However, it may be that the professors expect the students to read the PDFs and this particular student knows that reading online is of poorer quality than reading paper. So the PDF printing might be a feature of the student’s desire to do well in class rather than an actual requirement. However, I can also see the possibility of a professor requiring that they be printed out so that he/she can see that you have at least looked at them. That’s a problem if there are more than one or two.

Then there is the problem of multiple accounts for various things. Since I’ve required students to register for my classroom blog and for Twitter, I know that those can be an issue. However, the blog is available for a semester and a student can change the password without my help, so I don’t see that as a problem. Twitter didn’t have to be only for the class, though they did have to post and follow me (not my @DrDavisTCE account) for credit. But I also know my students have to get on Blackboard and blogging is available there, so my classroom blog might unnecessarily complicate their lives.

So, if technology can unnecessarily complicate students’ lives and definitely frustrates them at times, why am I such a proponent?

Two reasons. (Remember. I have at least two reasons for everything.)

One is that students often have a very limited view of technology. They do not understand how what they do for fun and play and personal things can transfer to academics and the business world. I try to bridge that knowledge gap by giving them experience doing tech for school and/or work projects (in business writing). The students need to know that businesses and schools can access some of their accounts and see what they are doing and that the students should be careful what they post. Discussing this in terms of the classroom situation helps to make that clear.

Another reason is that students often have very limited experience with technology. Ten percent of my students last year had never touched a computer prior to my class. Only ten percent of my students this year had done any blogging and none were on Twitter. Many people, especially older people who might hire my students, assume a much greater experience and facility with tech than my students (both at CCs and at the SLAC) have had. This is a problem for them when they get out into the working world.

A third reason (see, I said I often have more than two) is that all of the colleges at which I have taught in the last five years have felt like it was part of their mission to expose students to technology. One required use of technology in the classroom. All of them offered the option of having tech in the classroom, which I availed myself of eagerly. And my present university focuses on technological innovation being used within the classroom, so I need to be engaged with that.

If social media is such a big deal, and it can be, then why aren’t all the students active participants in it? Why don’t they know tech as well as the older generation assumes?

I think some of this is the fluency with texting, which most older folks don’t have. Also, no one knows how to do something they haven’t been exposed to. Some of the students just haven’t ever heard of programs and opportunities on the net. Some have heard but have never tried them out. I give students a safe place to move beyond their own technology boundaries and learn more. And I don’t just give them the opportunity, I require it.

While technology can frustrate students, and teachers, I think that I would be failing in my mission of teaching my students to write what they need to know how to write in order to graduate from college if I weren’t having them work in technology. Even when that “writing” is a digital presentation.

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