Education and technology

An article today on the increased use of technology (particularly ‘smart phones’) on college campuses.  I am really hesitant about such things.  

I have a few comments.  One person argued that these phones would facilitate more interaction.  ‘Abilene Christian experimented with laptops in class, but “we weren’t pleased with what it did for us,” Rankin says. “The screens created a barrier between teacher and students.” ‘

I guess the argument here is that phones are less of an obstacle to interaction than laptops.  What is strange is the seeming inevitability that we have to use technology somewhere along the way.  What about those of us that think that both laptops and cell phones create unnecessary barriers between the teacher and the student?

And here is the most ridiculous argument (an argument for ‘educational gaming’):

‘A game called “Savannah,” which was developed in Britain using Mediascape, lets students play lions and gazelles whose geographic locations are tracked via cell phones. Whenever a “lion” finds a “gazelle,” the virtual gazelle gets eaten. But if the lions eat all the gazelles, they end up dying of hunger. “By the end, the kids learn the balance of life,” McKinney explains.’

Really?  Did they really learn the ‘balance of life’ by having little lcd lions eat little lcd gazelles?  Aren’t those students just dumber for having played that little game?

My attitude: If students want to play computer games and gab/text on cell phones, let them.  But PLEASE let’s not start calling it ‘educational’ just so we don’t have to feel guilty about it.

All that said, maybe I am just a [fairly young] dinosaur.  So much has changed so fast.  I graduated from college in 1996, but my college and no email at the time, and no one but doctors owned cell phones (and they were giant).  I heard some whispers about the coming ‘information superhighway’, but it meant nothing to me at the time.  

Here is my question: are profs like me who dig in our heels against the introduction of these new ‘education facilitating technologies’ going to seem increasingly irrelevant?  If a prof does not use technology in his class (podcasts, blogs, computer assisted lectures, …), do you think twice about the value of the class?  In other words, does an old-fashioned books and chalkboard prof just seem like an irrelevant relic?

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About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

8 thoughts on “Education and technology

  1. jonadams

    Here we actually agree, Professor Kleiner.

    As a student, I wish my teachers were less reliant on technology in the classroom. PowerPoint abuse is particularly rampant. I’m glad you are not guilty of this.

    If I may air some grievances:

    Occasionally, teachers will waste time wrestling with software and fumbling with chords.

    PowerPoint makes for dull, aesthetically-challenged presentations. Most teachers are not trained in design (nor should that be expected).

    Students only passively learn (if they learn at all) from PowerPoint. After a few slides, the glow from the screen either puts me to sleep or into a blank stare.

    Teaching, likewise, becomes passive. Instead of reinforcing the teacher’s lesson, it often replaces the teacher altogether. The teacher just becomes the audio aid for the slides. One can interact with a whiteboard, however. Tapping the whiteboard, pacing the width of the board, underlining and circling key ideas–that’s teaching as it should be: a performance art haha.

    PowerPoint presentations are too scripted, too linear. It’s harder, then, to have spontaneous class discussions. Students are hesitant to interrupt the procession of the slides.

    Extensive national surveys have found that students share many of the same qualms. A recent scientific study, in fact, validated these qualms, finding that PowerPoint is an ineffective teaching tool:


  2. Kleiner Post author

    I wonder what the folks over in education technology think of these national surveys. Are they simply ignoring that data as the continue to pressure faculty to use more and more technology in the classroom?

    Any education technology people reading this who care to respond?


  3. shaunmiller

    I sometimes use Powerpoints when I started, mainly because I was nervous and so if I followed a structure, I could follow it and not concentrate on my nerves. Lately, I have a love/hate relationship with it. If I do use it, I try to implement more visual stuff (graphs, pictures, etc.) so that the students don’t get bored. But Jon’s right: students are more hesitant to respond or interact because they don’t want to interrupt the flow of the powerpoint. I try to switch between the whiteboard and powerpoint because if I stuck with one method, the students might get bored. Switching up might make things less monotonous.

    One thing with powerpoints, I’ve noticed many professors simply bring up a bullet point and then the professor repeats the bullet point. Or else they bring in a huge paragraph and expect the students to remember it or reply to it. I’ve never done it that way. I bring up points (plus some visual stuff) and then go over those points in detail or else discuss more about related stuff.

    As for technology advancing, I don’t think it has to do with age (I’m fairly young) and there’s some stuff that’s beyond me. I’ve never really understood Bluetooth stuff and the stuff that people can do with computers is beyond me. I do remember an article by Isaac Asimov (I forgot the name of it) where he was having the hardest time adjusting from a typewriter to a basic Windows-Dos computer. Everyone was telling him that computers are much easier and quicker to write things but he stuck with his typewriter. Finally, he relented and got a computer and it was just a daunting task to learn how to use one. In the essay, he was trying to figure out why he was relenting so much. His guess was that he didn’t want to learn something new, combined with a sense of nostalgia. I could see his point, but I think there’s something more than that, but I don’t know what to call this “something more.”


  4. Jon Adams

    Shaun, it sounds like you’re utilizing PowerPoint better than most. From what cursory research I’ve done on PowerPoint presentations, they are still very helpful when it comes to visual material. So good on you for trying to implement more graphs and such.


  5. Mike

    I know a bit about ed tech, i was half way through my Masters in Instructional Technology before I left Logan and recently bid on a decent sized educational resource for UCLA. Doug Holton is a USU edtech guy, perhaps a question to him would be useful (edtechdev – his blog).

    Most of the people in the InstTech department hate powerpoint and think it’s just barely better than nothing in most cases and sometimes it’s worse than nothing (for reasons that others in this thread have noted). Most of the time to do edtech right you need to be imaginative and customize something for the particular situation. Also, as far as I know there is no power relationship from the InsT department down to USU proper so if anything comes down from on high related to technology it’s unlikely that the instructional technology department has signed off on it or decided that it’s a good use of technology. Most of that stuff is done in a quite haphazard way as far as I can tell.

    The main part of instructional technology is studying learning theories and which of those work best and also which work best for different types of learners. The more pressing problem to me is that the banking model of education (Freire) is still so prevalent.

    I personally think chalkboard/whiteboard is a better technology generally than powerpoint. It’s more flexible and that by itself is better for students.

    The move towards truly interactive resources that can be used as a compliment to the classroom is valuable but most static resources (hi-tech or otherwise) aren’t all that useful. A new technology should be used when it allows you to do something you couldn’t otherwise do (like show a video, no matter how much chalk you have you’re going to have a hard time doing that).

    The really odd thing about “higher” education is that for some reason people are allowed to teach without being apprenticed to another teacher or studying educational methods directly as long as they have achieved enough in their specialized area. It’s as if they deny the fact that studying something directly might actually help you learn how to do that thing. Just because you know how to program doesn’t mean you know how to teach programming, just because you know how to write doesn’t mean you know how to teach writing, just because you know rocks doesn’t mean you know how to teach geology, etc.

    I’m not sure higher education is teleologically organized.


  6. Kleiner Post author

    I quite agree that the main problem is the problem Freire identifies (Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an excellent book), the ‘banking model’ of education.

    I guess what I don’t understand is this – if what Instructional Technology majors/programs learn about are learning theories, then why do they have their own department? Isn’t that just education then? If the name means anything, Instructional Technology must have something to do with ‘technology’. And, as best as I can tell, most of the ‘new teaching technologies’ out there just exacerbate the ‘banking model’ tendency rather than helping teacher to be more Socratic.

    What technologies are out there now that help teachers avoid the banking model? As I have posted here before, I don’t think [allegedly] ‘interactive’ tools like blogging or online ‘discussion forums’ are really that helpful.

    On education methods: I am not convinced that studying education ‘methods’ is all that helpful. I don’t think excellent teaching can be reduced to a ‘method’ or even a ‘science’ (and it is of course a very modern presumption to want to have a ‘method’ for everything in the first place). Teaching is, I think, an ‘art’ (which means it has an end). Part of me wants to say that you ‘either have it or you don’t’ (sort of like the madness Plato speaks of in the Ion). In other words, I am not sure teaching can be taught. For those of us that don’t have the ‘art’, it seems to me that imitation is the best bet. Just trying to not do the things your bad profs did and trying to do the things your good profs did seems sufficient for above average teaching. (This is your point about apprenticeship above). But even in that case I am not sure that studying ‘educational methods’ is of much value.
    That said, I am open if someone wants to persuade me that studying educational methods would be helpful for my teaching.


  7. Mike

    What’s interesting to me about studying education explicitly is understanding different types of people and how they learn differently. This corresponds to learning theories. They do teach technologies in INST but usually in the context of learning theories. Usually the specific technology is part of the larger vision for a class which is sometimes oriented around a specific learning theory or a hybrid. A lot of what’s taught there might better be taught via philosophy. I didn’t think I picked up much that I hadn’t already covered elsewhere in philosophy but that doesn’t mean I had much of an idea of how that knowledge would apply in the educational context. Both the subject matter and the types of learners you’re dealing with have an impact on what theory might be best. I wouldn’t say there’s a hard line between learning by imitation and learning methods since imitation is just mimicing methods. I wouldn’t say thinking about methods has to be reductionist, you’re really just looking for guidelines. That would be like saying when an artist draws a line drawing before applying paint that the first part is “reductionistic” when in reality it’s just a helpful, natural first part of a more complex process. Experience is certainly better than method by itself but I would argue learning methods in relation to education is at least better than learning nothing in relation to education. Since each learning situation is likely to be different it’s nice to hear how others have dealt with various situations and what methods worked and which failed.

    An interactive educational resource would be something that actually interacts with the user, more like a video game does than an online discussion. A good example is modeling software, if you want to become an architect and need to learn how to build buildings, it’s useful to be able to model how that stuff would work in the real world. Some sort of 3d design software in that case is the bread and butter of what you’re learning. To think of an educational technology that would actually be useful for philosophy would require some imagination. I have some ideas I might work out with Charlie.

    Constructivism (learning theory) (it’s even based on Aristotelian epistemological assumptions!)

    In the end I think it’s better to study philosophy and computer science separately and merge the two on my own instead of going the INST route (which has more of an emphasis on psychology) but I’m not afraid of learning “methods” or “sciences”.

    Oh, another note, in the real world instructional technologies are usually put together in a haphazard way because there are limitation on resources or the people in charge are unwilling to put forth the money/effort towards the better solutions and just go for the quick cheap versions. Because of this most people think all educational technologies are lame (and most of them are lame).



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