Technology and education: A mixed bag

The greatest downside to educational technology is that it creates a divide between student and instructor.

As time progresses, I’m seeing more and more crafty ways that technology gets mixed into education. CDs that come with textbooks. Interactive Web sites for courses. Classes delivered to two different classrooms at the same time via video feed. But is it really necessary? By increasing the amount of technology in the classroom, are schools creating better and smarter students?

There are some great advantages to educational technology. For many students who have a hard time coming into class, lecture notes and slides hosted online allow them to capture material they missed. All students have likely experienced one class or another that they skipped lectures entirely and studied on their own to get their A; the perfect solution for both student and professor is a course Web site that allows the students to get the materials they need without needing to drag themselves into class.

Then there are some downsides. In my entire college career, I have only looked at one or two CDs or interactive Web sites that came with my textbooks. Most students skip these textbook tech goodies, focusing their time on the text and lecture material. Given how expensive textbooks are and how little those CDs and sites are used, students would benefit if textbook publishers eliminated those tech goodies and lowered textbook prices.

The problem with so much technology in the classroom is that it ends up being a distraction. In some of my courses, we have interactive video feeds to classrooms in other locations. While this sounds cool, it is actually very frustrating because of the technological glitches, the freezes, the poor audio and video quality that really just take away from the live human delivering lecture.

I have known many instructors who are frustrated with students expecting everything to show up on the course Web site, including detailed study guides. These instructors are used to earlier times when there were no online course notes or indignant demands for study guides. These instructors know the value of digging up, sorting through and prioritizing information – that is how these instructors have become so knowledgeable. Technology increasingly devalues this skill.

The greatest downside to educational technology is that it creates a divide between student and instructor. Through the benefits of technology, the University is able to bloat the size of classrooms and increase the number of students to one instructor.

For many students accustomed to a setting where instructors know them by name and face, a megaclass is an overwhelming environment. That most freshman classes are taught this way is a shame. No wonder so many freshman from smaller communities feel so lost and alone when they come to the University.

I do not agree with the wholesale shift of modernizing education. When used thoughtfully and judiciously, technology can be a great benefit in education. But when classrooms are inundated with technology just for the sake of “modernization,” education suffers.

Quynh Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected]