TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM --|
EDUCATING FOR VIRTUE OR VIRTUAL REALITY?
B Y L I N D A E L L I O T T , E D I T O R
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series about the increasing role of technology at PLU. This issue focuses on technology in the classroom, especially use of the Internet and what the new medium means for traditional learning. The prevalence of technology is truly larger than life in some areas of campus and is just beginning to flourish in others. Subse-quent Scene stories will touch on various aspects of the campus technology plan as well as how technology touches our everyday lives.
Sign up for one of Eric Nelson's Latin or mythology classes and you could spend as much or more time studying on the Internet than in the library - a practice unheard of five years ago. Nelson '82, assistant professor of classics, is one of the instructors actively promoting greater use of the Internet and other new technologies in the classroom.
Nelson sees himself as a prophet of technology's impending impact. "I want to let the faculty know that, hey, there's something going on here," he says. "We really have to be ready for next year's crop of students because they've been on computers since they were five."
A common tool Nelson and other professors employ is frequent fact-finding missions to the web site Perseus (Tufts University), which displays more than 15,350 pictures of early art objects, sites and buildings with incredible color, detail, accuracy and thoroughness.
Lost your syllabus? No worries. It's posted on Nelson's web site where it is updated regularly. Print out a copy whenever you like, but take advantage of the web version that includes links to sites all over the world -- links you can access even when the class has moved on to another subject. Tired of dragging around those language flash cards? Simply surf your way to the University of Texas Latin Department home page and within minutes complete a set of interactive vocabulary drills.
Nelson also hands out disks at the beginning of the semester that contain files of information, assignment templates and bookmarks for relevant Internet sites. He accepts papers on disk and by email. He also sets up discussion groups through the Internet and encourages students to talk to each other, and to him, by email.
"New technology allows me to leverage my class time and resources better," explains Nelson, who has taught at PLU since 1989. "It gives my students access to top-notch resources. It can add a depth to what we're studying -- suddenly it's not just raw words on a page. Homework can become a conversation through email. Students who have to be home with a sick child can still be involved in discussions and assignments."
As wonderful as this all sounds, however, Nelson and others caution it is not to be seen as a cure-all, a Pollyanna. None of the stunning new technologies can or should take the place of traditional learning styles or resources, they argue.
Doug Oakman, chair of the religion department and self-described computer junkie, takes a rather jaundiced view of the new techno-revolution.
"The overly optimistic sense that people have for this new technology is almost religious in nature," he says, tugging thoughtfully on his goatee. "Personally, I love to program and to take computers apart and put them back together again, but that isn't what education is all about. A true liberal arts education requires that students and teachers be together."
Oakman, who has written extensively on the subject of the pedagogical implications of technology, doesn't shun the role of technology in the classroom. He maintains a website, encourages dialogue by email and uses the Internet for some of his research. But he tempers the new information tools and resources with established learning practices. For instance, he will not accept term papers via email (there's something about having to correctly paginate a term paper, he says with a twinkle in his eyes), and he restricts the use of Internet resources on those papers to 20 percent.
Educators must, Oakman stresses, meditate on what these new tools will do to the way we teach, learn and live. "Technology does modify our environment. Click a mouse and stuff just rolls past you on the screen. You don't even really have to think about it. Pick up a book and you'll have to think, absorb. Traditional learning methods require you to work harder."
Provost and longtime philosophy Professor Paul Menzel agrees. "I have no doubt the (new technologies) will allow us to deliver a fuller and better education, but there are inherent problems that need to be addressed," he says.
For instance, Menzel points out that more students are turning away from the library and turning to the Internet for many -- if not all -- of the resources needed in their academic projects. Students have even been known to download finished papers and pass them off as their own. Some PLU professors have already faced this situation and say it is a far greater prob-lem nationwide.
Relying so heavily on the Internet may also be unfortunate, Menzel says, because it contains so much information that is unverified, opinion oriented or unclear in its sources. While just about anything can be found on the Internet, the hand-picked collection in a college library contains largely those resources that are valued by professionals for their scholarly worth.
Worse than that, Menzel continues, "Students may become more trustful and less critical of sources found on the Internet. If anything they should be more suspicious."
While some faculty and students feel the university has been too slow in its adoption of new technological practices, others say a more guarded approach is needed.
"What I like about our community here is that we are thinking about this as a cultural event. The significance of this
new technology is along the same lines as the invention of the printing press and the steam engine. It has major implications for our culture and we definitely need to be thinking about how it affects us," says Oakman.
"Web-based instruction can do a lot," adds Menzel. "Is it just the same substance with a superficially different delivery vehicle? We don't think so. I suspect it pushes toward a shift in instructional strategy. You have to think about at what point do you build in student interaction, and what, if anything, is changing in our learning?"
Much of this debate may be lost on the students who are simply trying to get the best traditional education they can while taking advantage of every technological invention to position themselves better in the marketplace. Today, students are demanding more Internet connections in the residence halls, better computers in the computer centers, and more courses that deal with basic computer operation. And they are encouraging their sometimes reluctant professors to use more technology in the classroom.
"The information age is all about being quick, timely and professional," says Lisa Birnel, a junior political science major and president of ASPLU. "Technology is so prevalent in the workplace that if we don't learn it in school we won't be marketable. That's why it's so important for the university to take a stand on technology."
|PLU's new Language Resource Center, located in the library, is becoming a crucial research spot for students of all disciplines. Here, Assistant Professor of Classics Rochelle Snee (BOTTOM RIGHT) goes over an instructional computer program with David Uhler, a junior biology major and classics minor. Assistant Professor of Classics Eric Nelson '82 (LEANING OVER) talks with senior classics major Carolyn Berglund. In the background is Wally Sims, a junior biology major.
Birnel says one of her goals as ASPLU president is to advocate that a technology requirement be added to the core curriculum. "If we're going to be competent in the workplace, we need to be able to do more than word-process."
Technology-based instruction is usually interactive, and the value of that to harried students can never be underestimated. "Students have so much going on that they're not getting a whole lot of sleep," Birnel says with a laugh. "The more interactive classes are, the more I'm able to pay attention. Having this kind of creative lecturing would make PLU stand out, too, as far as teaching styles at other colleges go."
One practical consideration: how much of the technology is available to faculty for use in their offices and in the classroom? Strengthening PLU's technology infrastructure has been a high
priority of the administration, says Sheri Tonn, dean of infor-mation resources.
By the end of the semester, as directed by the campus tech-nology initiative (see page 10), PLU will have put 200 Pentium-level computers on faculty desks around campus. It also will have started adding computer projection systems to some of the larger classrooms. In addition, a case will be made to purchase more portable computer projection systems for the classroom, or to have them permanently installed. Currently, PLU's Media Services Department has two computer projection systems and a desktop computer system on individual carts, and one laptop computer. All are heavily used across campus.
"Over the summer all residence hall rooms will be connected to the campus network, and we've found a reliable, low-cost Internet provider for off-campus use," says Tonn. "At present PLU does not require students to purchase computers, so we will continue to offer user rooms. Both students and faculty need reliable, compatible and easy-to-use computers connected to the PLU network. It isn't enough to put computers in faculty offices. We also need connections in classrooms, labs and the library."
While few classrooms have permanent computer work stations, every classroom is now equipped with a permanent TV/VCR stand thanks to a four-year effort by PLU's Media Services to upgrade and add equipment.
Layne Nordgren, associate director of Media Services and Library Systems, hopes someday each faculty member will have a laptop computer that can be moved from his or her office to the classroom, thereby eliminating the need to equip, maintain and update computer systems in both places. Nelson also sees this as the wave of the future, especially for professors who use non-standard programs that currently have to be transferred by disk from an office or home computer to classroom computers.
When all is said and done, we must carefully assess how the new advances in technology fit within PLU's mission to nurture a one-on-one relationship between student and teacher, and then act responsibly from that standpoint.
"We want our students to be technologically literate when they graduate," says President Loren Anderson. "Education here is not fundamentally about the technology itself, but how the uniqueness of a PLU education can be enhanced through technology. We must keep that idea at the forefront."
The complete texts of Doug Oakman's articles on technology can be found at: www.plu.edu/~oakmande/compute.htm