Faculty need to walk the talk
It’s not enough to teach about teaching technologies – use them!
by Anthony Gurr
My graduate adviser, an academic of great
wisdom and wit, is currently on a one-year
sabbatical from Simon Fraser University. A
few months ago, he was living large in the
picturesque alpine town of Chamonix in
France, where he communed daily with herds
of goats, took classes in making ratatouille,
and wrote about the inherent benefits of
serving wine and cheese in seminars.
At least, that’s what I imagined he was planning when I first learned about his sabbatical.
Actually, he says he is using this time to finish
multiple projects, including a literature review
on the future of education for health professionals. Thanks to the wonder that is the
Internet, I am compiling a wiki of research
articles for this review, sending regular e-mails
to him about my progress, and holding direct
meetings each week, using the Skype voice
software package. There are nine time zones
between Vancouver and Chamonix. The
physical distance doesn’t get in the way of
direct collaboration online.
As a professional software developer studying
for a master’s in educational technology, I often
describe computers as eccentric toasters.
Nothing about them frightens me – I laugh in
the face of Windows Vista! However, I’ve
noticed that while professors in the faculty of
education encourage their students to use
computers and the Internet, not all of them
“walk the talk” when it comes to incorporating
information technologies into their teaching.
They still hand out paper copies of course
outlines and assigned readings to the class
when they could put all these materials and
media resources online through a blog,
website or wiki. Consider the delicious irony
of attending a weekly four-hour seminar in a
room full of gleaming computers, all net-
worked together, but rarely incorporating the
technology into the discussion. Has this ever
happened to you?
Today’s university students naturally accept
information technology as part of their daily
life. I confess to suffering from pangs of
withdrawal if my Internet connection goes
down for more than 15 minutes. I recently
discovered the joy of blogging with Wordpress; now I’m building an online presence
that complements my areas of interest.
But there appears to be a gap between
technology-savvy education students and
their professors that requires urgent attention.
Faculty need to incorporate the web into their
lectures and demonstrate how to use it
Technology in the Classroom - Digital Supplement
properly for academic research. Just because
students know how to surf the web doesn’t
mean they really understand how to
critically evaluate information online.
Faculty need to use online resources
like the wiki as a collaborative tool
with their students so the class
explores and shares what they learn
together. (Wikis also prevent the
family dog from eating homework!)
Faculty need to learn how to better
use presentation software like PowerPoint in their lectures and seminars – it’s
quite versatile for delivering information and
media content in a creative way. But this
software is criticized – unfairly I believe – because many people have no idea how to use
it effectively. I’ve sat through many academic
PowerPoint presentations that were not well
thought-out and didn’t provide a useful
reference for what the professor was trying to
say. I’ve also attended seminars where no
visual presentation was given when it was
desperately needed, for example, in a class
on statistical methods.
Professors need to learn how to use VoIP
(voice over Internet protocol) software like
OoVoo or Skype to provide an additional
communications channel during office hours
and when they and their students are not in
the same place. Such systems also let
students hold meetings online when they
can’t get together as a group. Discussing
academic progress in real time over the
Internet when the professor is on the other
side of the planet makes graduate studies
almost a magical experience, compared to
what was possible just five years ago.
So, when they’re exhorting graduate students to take advantage of today’s information technologies, faculty members need to
walk the talk. I’m not saying that new technologies should replace reading books or
collaborating at meetings and seminars. But
they do provide a very useful set of software
tools to complement these activities. Faculty
need to incorporate the web into their instruction. They need to learn how to collaborate using a wiki. They need to know how to
design informative visual presentations that
are meaningful to students. They need to use
VoIP software to promote accessible communication. They need to demonstrate how
to use online research databases and apply
good research practices.
Then they need to arrange for a seminar
retreat in Chamonix!