Volume 94, Issue 24

Thursday, October 12, 2000


Technology in the classroom

Technology in the classroom

Photos by Jeremy Brace

By Carrie Gennoe
Gazette Staff

It seems as though students are bombarded by technology left, right and centre in today's fast-paced world. There isn't anywhere you can turn without seeing a Web site devoted to the latest hot-ticket item.

This vast amount of technology is becoming ever more present in today's classroom settings, as Web sites are also being devoted solely to course material. What is the reason for this technological invasion on education?

Sharon Lee, co-ordinator of employment services at Western, said computers are like everything else. "The Internet is the best place to get information. It saves time and it's more efficient in that everyone can get information."

Computers are more affordable now than ever, said Mike Bauer, associate vice-president of information technology at Western. "You can now use software, which is meaningful in certain educational context," Bauer said. "Faculties find it more comfortable as do students."

The barrage of Internet resources has afforded students faster, more automated research capability, which has spurred concerns new technology might replace human interaction, but Bauer said he does not think technology takes anything away from the professor's role.

"The preferred way of learning is one-to-one, but sometimes that's not possible, so you have instead a variety of other possibilities," he said.

Rebecca Coulter, associate professor of education at Western, said she is somewhat more careful about her approach to technology in the classroom. "[It] can dominate what a professor is trying to say. Students miss the knowledge content."

While technology can be a valued aid, the intention is not to take away from the lecture, Coulter warned. "[Lectures] are the highlight to help students who are visual learners. Lecture experience is considerably more important than the notes."

"We get concerned when university administrators see technology as a substitute. We should be looking at how [it] can contribute to a well rounded education," said David Robinson, director of communications for the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Besides Web sites, some courses have CD ROMs that are issued with the textbooks. Michael Parkin, professor of economics at Western, said his Web site and CD ROM mainly contain quizzes.

"There's [also] study tips and a bulletin board where students ask questions. On-line hours are also available."

There is an apparent advantage, almost a necessity for students to own their own computer – but some may not have the funding to purchase a personal computer.

Bauer said he believed it should be up to the university to provide universal access. "It's part of the university to provide that. Departments have facility labs that are accessible. You have to find the right balance."

No one understands the term technology and all that it implies, like Nova Scotia's Acadia University. While most students purchase computers as a side option, students at Acadia are issued one directly from the university, said Jennifer Bolt, director of the Institution for Teaching Technology at Acadia.

"When students register, they receive IBM notebook computers," Bolt described. "At the end of the year they return them," she said.

Although students do not have to pay directly for the notebooks as the price is included in the tuition, Acadia covers any malfunctions which may occur, she added.

There are many locations where students can connect to the Internet, she said. "There's 6000 Internet connections and 3700 students. They can connect in dorm rooms, classrooms are wired [as well as] library and student centres."

There are many benefits of being "all wired up", a term commonly used to describe Acadia. "The idea is students should have access to the Internet at their own locations."

Instead of verbal conversations, students pass along their opinions via networks set up in the classrooms, Bolt said. "An e-mail group is set up, where students argue back and forth."

Physics classes are good examples of the benefits technology can have. Bolt explained, "If you're learning about velocity, the professor gives a small lecture and introduces the theory. Then students video tape others swinging a ball on a string, then download that video to their laptops.

"Applying the theory learned at the start of the class, they work together. The faculty member walks around and helps those who are falling behind [and] relate what they have learned," she said.

Despite the miniscule role of the professor here, some may consider the actual role of a professor disappearing, as this role is being replaced by technology. Yet according to Acadia, Bolt said it is far more important for professors to be involved.

Kris MacLeod, distance studies co-ordinator at Western, said he thought it was a possibility Western might be headed in the same direction as Acadia with on-line classes.

"We are definitely moving that way. Education is changing the way we are looking at the classroom [and] out of the classroom," he said. "It's too early to tell. Lots of factors go into it."

Western students have mixed feelings about technological advancements. Nicole Jones, a third-year sociology student, said she preferred notes she could carry with her, as opposed to having to log on to the net each time she wanted to study. "I like hard copy notes. It might take too long to get on the Internet," she said.

Jones said she felt technology could never replace the role of professors, since they provide something on-line material may not – tailor-made answers to off-the-cuff questions. "One reason I go to class is to get information that's not in the notes. We can learn ourselves, but we need someone who can answer all our questions."

Bauer said bourgeoning Internet resources should be viewed as tools – anymore might be relying on them too much. "Technology is a convenient way of doing things. It's not a means to an end," he said.

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