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January 31, 2013 10:00 AM Professors Use Technology, But Mostly Just for Logistics

By Daniel Luzer

A recent survey of college professors indicates that, contrary to expectations, many academics might think that technology can improve collegiate education. They just don’t think it helps much with the learning part of education. At least that’s what one might conclude from their use to technology in the classroom.

According to an article by Jake New in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A report on the study published this month in the journal Science, Technology, & Human Values, “Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate,” includes interviews with more than 40 professors at three universities. It suggests that professors often use such technologies for logistical purposes rather than to improve learning.

In other words, they use the fancy new technology, they just don’t use it to improve their teaching.

The report suggests… technology is more often used by professors for managerial reasons, such as to help with the demands of growing class sizes. While [the study’s author, Johnson, a at the University of Georgia Ph.D. candidate in sociology David] Johnson said most college administrators are not yet requiring professors to use instructional technologies, the pressure of teaching more than 300 students at once, for example, leads faculty members to adopt technology in ways unrelated to improving learning.

Professors are certainly using more technology, but mostly to do things like “help with the demands of growing class sizes.” That means PowerPoint slides and online notes. Colleges often discuss new technology as if it’s “more sophisticated than prior approaches to instruction.” But the reality is that the instruction itself is pretty much the same.

It may even be worse. According to the article, the use of things like PowerPoint can encourage students to skip class or avoid paying attention when they do show up.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • matt w on February 04, 2013 5:21 PM:

    I'm not sure I follow the distinction here. When I use PowerPoint slides in class, I'm using it to teach -- for instruction. It's different from using a spreadsheet to keep track of an calculate grades (which is of course not very new technology, I've been doing it since I started teaching).

    Am I using it to improve my teaching? Well, I don't think it improves my teaching compared to when I was teaching a smaller class in a smaller room where everyone could see what I was writing on the blackboard. But I do think it improves my teaching compared to what it would be if I weren't using PowerPoint with my bigger class in my bigger room where the students are just too far away to make writing on the blackboard practical.

    Anyway, the moral seems to be that technology is helping us teach more students, but not quite as well. Who expected anything different?