Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Faculty and Classroom Technology

I've been interviewing students for a technology-related internship this week. On the application, I had asked them to describe their worst technology experience in a class. Almost all of them have described a faculty member fumbling around with the projectors and computers and lights in the room. They have explained how this takes up class time and how annoying they find it. On the flip side, I've recently heard faculty complain about how hard the equipment is to use and that it often doesn't work.

When I press the students, I ask them what they think should be done. Their response is to provide more training. To which response I laugh and say that we offer such training, but no one comes. Every semester we recommend that faculty go into their classrooms with or without someone to help them and make sure they know how to operate the equipment. I'm certain this happens about .0001% of the time. We have laminated, fairly clear instructions in most classrooms. Still the struggle. The students also say that often a student will finally raise their hand and offer to help. They find nothing wrong with this scenario. Remember when teachers picked students to run film projectors and turn the filmstrip? Same thing, I'm thinking.

The students have no problem helping once. It's when the faculty member seems to not retain the information that they begin to have doubts. And all of them say that the equipment may look difficult at first, but once you know which button to push, it's not that big a deal.

I do think the equipment should work and should be fairly easy to use. But when you have data projectors, dvd players, vhs players, and computers all piped through the same system, there's complexity there. In most cases, the process has been simplified as much as possible. It's then up to the faculty member to learn how to use it. Honestly, we've had people who've wanted someone to show up and turn things on for every class. Not going to happen. I've also had people want to know if their presentation, which includes images, video and/or sound will work in classroom x. I don't know, I say, go try test it out. It has to work, they say. I'm not clairvoyant, I say. In what scenario is it anyone else's responsibility other than the faculty's to make sure that whatever presentation, whether for a class or a conference, works? Why is it that when classroom technology is involved, it suddenly becomes someone else's problem?

Yes, the equipment should be functional and the complaints are legitimate if it's not. Beyond making them functional, however, it's not anyone else's responsibility to learn how to use it. Or, just don't use it. That's legitimate too.