Technology changes how students learn, but not what they learn

Monday, June 2, 2008 | 5:51 p.m. CDT; updated 12:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA—Smart boards, document projectors, Blackboard and instant assessment clickers. While technology is changing how students learn, Columbia College, Stephens College and MU agree that it isn’t changing the basics of what they learn.

As colleges invest in the newest technology, students and faculty are at the forefront of the technology wave, and their classes are evolving. But for all three colleges in Columbia, it’s up to the professors to decide how and when they want to integrate technology into their classrooms.

“It takes faculty wanting and needing to integrate technology into courses to make it happen,” said Kevin Bailey of the MU Division of Information Technology.

Use of technology in the classrooms can be very helpful if the professor does it right. “Technology doesn’t make up for bad teaching or bad students, and it can get in the way,” said professor Mike Perkins of Columbia College. “It’s tricky to incorporate, you don’t want to use it just to use it. The hard part is figuring out when it’s appropriate and when it will just get in the way.”

Educators implied that it’s the correct use of technology that doesn’t change what students learn, but rather improves it. “You don’t want students to just use the technology, you want it to enhance what they’re learning,” Perkins said.

Bailey agrees that students are still learning the same materials. “The basics of the courses haven’t changed,” he said. “You still have, for example, your basic writing classes. Too much technology would just get in the way.”

Technology integrated into classrooms helps engage students and creates a rich-media learning environment, said Kevin Palmer of Columbia College Technology Services. “For example, faculty can make notes available online, and so students can pay better attention in class knowing they will be able to refer back to the info online later.”

Things like document projectors allow professors to show examples to large lecture classes. Professors are able to show students documents such as magazine articles that they wouldn’t normally be able to see. The document projector has a lens similar to a video camera recorder that focuses on objects and transfers the image in real time to a large screen, said Stefanie McCullom of Columbia College’s Technology Services.

Kayla Johnson, a student at MU, agrees that technology allows for better understanding of class material by permitting professors to show students more examples. “It helps apply examples or other ways to think about a topic in the class material that may further understanding,” she said.

Smart Boards allow professors to better explain and show examples to students as well. “Although there is an extensive software ‘tool kit’ that is included with the Smart Board and available for a professor to use, there is also the simple advantage of being able to ‘capture’ electronic notes and then post those screen shots to the professor’s course web page,” Palmer said. The tool kit also helps professors communicate concepts and ideas in visual forms to students, and when professors merge classroom content with virtual form, students can then access the exact information provided in class for review on their own schedule, he said.

MU has some Smart Boards on campus, but they are a little more complicated to use, said Bailey. Columbia College has 41 classrooms on the home campus, and they are all equipped with Smart Boards, data projectors, and document cameras, Palmer said.

Both students and faculty must learn to use technology for their classes, and there are many ways to go about it.

Professor John Fresen of MU uses a program called R in his Statistics class. Students bring laptops to class and practice using the program, and then they are able to explore new concepts using practical data in R, Fresen said. “You learn by doing. It’s pretty obvious once you get started.”

The program allows students to ask questions about what they are doing and it calculates the answer they are searching for, said Fresen. “Other programs only give out the data they are programmed to give when you input certain things, but with R you can tease out exactly what you’re looking for.” The program allows for a better understanding of statistics overall due to the ability to ask and answer specific questions.

Perkins teaches the same way. “I just show them what it can do and give them examples, and they learn it easily,” he said. “Every year it gets easier to learn. Basically students teach themselves. The new tech is that good; you learn as you go and students are good about teaching each other as well.”

For example, in a Families class Perkins has students make a video about their family using Microsoft Movie Maker. “I spend very little time showing the students how to use the program,” he said. Perkins demonstrates the program and provides students with resources on the web and shows them examples of prior movies. “After that I’m available to trouble shoot, but for the most part they teach themselves,” he said. “Technology has advanced to the point that for many tasks, for most computer tasks, the program will guide you without having to need too much help unless you get stuck.”

Johnson, the MU student, agrees with the professors. She received some direction from teachers, and “the rest I have either received tips from fellow students or have used trial and error and past experience to teach myself. I feel they are veryuser-friendly.”

Johnson has used PowerPoint to give presentations and speeches in many classes, she said. “I have used Microsoft Excel and Word to assist those presentations, and for written papers on an everyday basis.”

Teachers learn the same way. The colleges have programs to help, like MU’s Academic Support Center, but faculty also learn by themselves and from each other. “I learned to use the technology alone, from my colleagues and through Columbia College,” said Perkins.

Fresen has also taught himself to use new technology. “I’m still learning to use R as it continues developing,” he said.

At MU, the first personal computer was installed in a classroom in 1984. Beginning in 1964, the campus had multiple television displays in various auditoriums for closed circuit television instruction, said Bailey.

Reaves said Stephens College began introducing multimedia equipment into its classrooms in the late ‘90s, and Palmer said Columbia College began introducing technology as recent as five years ago.

“Most classroom technology is funded via the Information Technology Fee that students pay per credit hour taken,” said Bailey of MU. Last year MU budgeted about $470,000 for classroom technology and that level of support is expected to continue into the future, Bailey said. “This is about double what it had been in the past as the campus prioritized classroom technology and its support starting with last year’s budgeting cycle.”

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