Tech-savvy professors keep up with students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

An instructor with his laptop, cell phone, and cup of coffee

Jonas Hrebeniuk

THIS GUY LOVES HIS BLACKBERRY, AND WE AIN'T TALKIN' JAM. Back when Western's profs were young, blackberry was merely a tart fruit. Now, it's one of many technological items with which Western personnel have developed a proficiency.

Innovative professors from across Ontario are winning over tech-savvy students with the latest developments in digital technology.

Joseph Kim, a psychology professor at McMaster University, has employed a wide range of interactive technologies in his introductory psychology course.

“Sometimes a traditional lecture is not the best learning experience,” Kim said.

This summer, Kim pre-recorded psychology lectures and created 13 interactive internet lectures. Within the lectures, students can play, pause, rewind, and even search for specific topics or keywords.

The online lectures are supplemented by twice-a-week tutorials led by teaching assistants, Kim said.

“With web modules, students can go at their own pace,” Kim said. “Also, many students choose to watch my lectures late at night. I find students aren’t necessarily awake or willing to learn at 8:30 in the morning.”

In addition to online tutorials, Kim’s website is full of hidden content or “easter eggs.” These bonus features range from blooper-style lecture outtakes to mock public service announcements.

“Students discover these on their own, which creates a fun atmosphere,” Kim said, adding it is important web content is professional and polished. “Students don’t respond as well to homemade web content.”

But for a generation raised on video games and instant messaging, it is sometimes difficult for professors to keep up.

“It is so normal to them,” Tim Blackmore, a media information and technoculture professor, explained. “My generation has to come to grips.”

Blackmore said he uses a variety of digital media in his classes, noting professors who choose to completely remove technology from the classroom are making a grave mistake.

“You can’t work against the students,” Blackmore explained. “We live in an interconnected, technological world, and you can’t back up from that.”

Paul Kunynetz, a second-year Ivey student, said “It is possible [for profs] to overdo it, but generally technology is a valuable learning tool and should be used whenever appropriate.”

Despite technological advancements, both students and faculty agree face-to-face interaction experienced in a classroom cannot be replicated. “There is all kinds of subtle information exchanged in a lecture,” Blackmore said. “Nothing can replace that.”

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