The University has invested in technology and equipment, such as web-based ctools, in-class responder units and online video library software. But students say the University is not instructing the teachers on how to use this technology properly, or in some cases at all.
LSA sophomore Stuart Wagner said PowerPoint slides often are not prepared well and teachers aren’t given proper classroom support.
“In Econ 101, the teacher’s laptop didn’t boot up, so I went up there with some other students to help. It took 20 minutes of class time to get it to work,” said Wagner, a member of the Michigan Student Assembly.
The Educause Center for Applied Research — a Colorado-based nonprofit organization that promotes informational technology in higher education — released a national survey last month that found that professors nationwide use technology poorly. After surveying 13 schools across the United States, such as Ohio and Miami universities, findings revealed that students believe most professors are not technologically proficient.
The University says it provides IT instruction for faculty but does not require them to use it. Kim Bayer, who runs the instructional support for LSA faculty, said the University puts on a weeklong conference with more than 100 technology workshops called “Enriching Scholarship” every year. In addition, there are online manuals, a resource center and training workshops offered throughout the year.
But these resources go to waste if professors don’t utilize them. Bayer said non tenure professors — whose long-term positions at the University are not secured — are less likely to experiment with University technology because they would rather spend their time researching to get tenure.
“(Non tenure) professors don’t get credit for using technology. … If folks aren’t rewarded, then it’s not a winning situation for them,” Bayer said.
Tenured professors, by contrast, have guaranteed spots at the University, and consequently can take the time to learn how to use new skills, Bayer said. “For professors with tenure, using technology isn’t taking away from their portfolio,” she said.
The Educause center suggests that most professors surveyed aren’t willing to research new technology on their own. The firm queried professors at Brandeis University, Wesleyan University and Williams College who did not use technology such as class websites, online chat rooms or online grading for assignments.
Of the 184 professors surveyed, 24 percent said they didn’t have the time to learn the technology. Twenty-seven percent said they didn’t know about the benefits, 17 percent said the technology was inappropriate for their classes and 23 percent said it wasn’t worth using.
Unlike most professors, tenured University geology Prof. Ben Van Der Pluijm took the initiative to acquire an in-class responder unit for his geology lecture. Each student can answer his questions by punching buttons on an electronic answering device at their seats. The responses are further discussed in class. Van Der Pluijm said he requested the unit because he “wanted to make the large classroom setting more interesting and engaging.”
Van Der Pluijm said he doesn’t blame younger professors for not embracing technology since they have so many career pressures. He said “classrooms should be better equipped to use modern technology, so professors can see the potential and set it up.”
Stephanie Teasley, the director of the user support and design lab for Ctools — the University’s web service for online coursework — said she agrees with Pluijm that technology should be more readily available to professors. “There is a void of knowledge about how technology should be used in the classroom,” she said.
LSA students say their professors do not use the simplest technology, such as PowerPoint, effectively. Wagner said “you can fix the problem by teaching teachers how to create an effective PowerPoint presentation.”
Some students say professors have more trouble with equipment at the beginning of the semester but adjust to it as the semester progresses. “Technology slows the class down,” LSA sophomore Jeff Leibovitch said about his musical composition class. “Now, it’s fine, but at the beginning of the semester my professor wasn’t used to the equipment.”
LSA sophomore Ely Key also said professors have difficulty. “There just always seems to be some type of technical difficulty. Sometimes you go into class and the professor seem to have no idea what he is doing,” he said.
James Hilton, associate provost for academic, informational and technological affairs, said there are instructional services offered to teach technology to all University faculty, but a lot of training is upheld by each college individually.
“I don’t mandate if faculty are going to use (new technology). Some of the tools are going to work really well for some faculty and some will not,” Hilton said.
Bayer said it is very difficult to “match the right technology to the learning activity. It can take years to master the “sweet spot,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Paul Killey, executive director for informational technology at the College of Engineering, said since there are fewer lecture halls and less information technology classroom support, it is harder to promote technology in engineering.
“Some of the faculty are getting pretty good at this stuff. … However, it’s a process that doesn’t happen in one day,” he said.