Published: Dec. 4, 2012
Stock photo of person typing on laptop in classroom

The average undergraduate today has been learning in front of a screen and typing away at a keypad since early childhood. "I do remember when we still could choose between turning in a typed paper and a handwritten one," says junior Mifa Kim. Yet, most students have never experienced a pre-digital classroom. "I remember computers always being there," says junior Jen Lee. If you ask a current college student, education and technology are fundamentally interlinked.

Perhaps the most important question today is whether or not our current education technologies are effective. This is is a question that teachers and organizations at CU (ASSETT included) are trying to answer. Which technologies contribute to learning? What hinders student progress? In my previous post, I discussed technology that has been shown to distract students. In an attempt to determine which tools are most successful, I sat down with twelve undergraduate art students to ask their perspectives on specific tools being used in classrooms at CU.

Triple major Yasmine Dawud puts down her paintbrush and considers my question carefully. "Lecture Capture has really saved me," she says. "And iclickers are helpful, but only in science classes." Dawud is an insatiable learner, as enthusiastic about oil painting as she is about finance and comic books. When I ask her to describe her experience with Lecture Capture, she gladly elaborates.

Dawud's Lecture Capture course is a long walk from her morning class, making it difficult for her to reach her seat on time. "It's not that students don't want to be there," she says, explaining that she learns more when she is "actually interacting with other students and actively answering questions." Lecture Capture, she explains, is valuable in that it allows her to keep up with classes that she wouldn't be able to attend any other way. Instead of falling behind when she is sick or late, she watches the lectures and reviews them for upcoming exams.

Most of the students agree with Dawud. Even those who have never used Lecture Capture are excited about its possibilities:"I would definitely take advantage of Lecture Capture" says sophomore Keegan Valaika who wishes his classes were recorded. "It would be very helpful to have the lectures available" agrees Kat Brown, a freshman in her first semester. She hopes to take her first Lecture Capture course next semester.

Despite these advantages, there is one drawback. "I haven't gone to office hours because of Lecture Capture," says Dawud. Based on her experience, the availability of lecture notes means that she is less inclined to ask her professor for help with the material. Dawud wishes she had more excuses to get to know her professors.

iclickers are a more divisive topic. Most agree that they are helpful, but only in large lecture classes. Many students seem slightly embarrassed by them. "I hate them because they know more than you do," says Kat Brown, although she admits "they also help you to to stay awake and pay attention."

"iclickers are impersonal," says Natalie Rechter.

"They punish you double," says Keegan Valaika, explaining that he doesn't think it's fair that professors can use iclickers to deduct points for missing class. "And they always choose to check attendance during the most boring lecture of the year," he adds.

Comments about Desire to Learn (D2L) were mainly neutral, though Jen Lee explained that she appreciates it when teachers post lecture slides and notes. "Reviewing PowerPoint slides helps me a lot in learning. Otherwise, things don't stick in my brain,"
she says, laughing. Other students enjoy being able to monitor their progress through regular grade postings on D2L.

The topic of blogging is met with a more enthusiastic response. Keegan Valaika who is drawn to classes that "allow creativity" enjoyed contributing to a class blog in Dr. Claire Farago's art history class. "I liked that blog," he says. "Everything was right there. We had WordPress and a syllabus. We had to post a summary every Sunday... an analysis of the previous class." An additional advantage, he says, was that "we didn't have to buy books." Kat Brown nods vigorously. She recently had to spend $230 on a single French textbook.

It is also important to note that many students are leery of the idea that technological tools can solve their problems. "More technology isn't the solution," says Dawud. "I want professors to be a physical being." Dawud, Brown, Kim and Kirkpatrick all said that they learn best by reading books. As discussed in the previous article, most students prefer taking handwritten notes and often feel distracted by gadgets inside and outside the classroom.

I wrap up the interviews by asking each student to invent a new tool to improve the college learning experience.

Like Kat Brown, several students want technology to help combat exorbitant textbook prices. Alex Kirkpatrick, a visitor to the class, spends several minutes describing a "practical and easy way to carry your books" before he realizes that he has re-invented the Kindle. Keegan Valaika begins inventing a "way to record lectures" before noticing that he is describing Lecture Capture. Natalie Rechter designs a classroom where each desk contains a built-in computer so that students won't have to carry their laptops back and forth to class.

In the end, Mifa Kim offers the most original answer: "I would like to invent a digital professor app," she says, describing a portable instructor-clone that students can carry in their pockets."That way I will be able to brainstorm with my professors any hour of day."

If these twelve undergraduates are in any way representative of the larger student population, it seems that students benefit from many of the tools available today. It is also clear that there are problems to be solved. While issues like high textbook costs may possibly have a technological solution, problems with technology itself will only be resolved through careful analysis and troubleshooting. Maintaining a dialogue with the students using these tools seems like the best way to move forward.