Are you struggling to remain engaged in a large lecture? The University feels your pain.
Tuesday night in the Union, students and faculty engaged in roundtable discussions during the Provost’s Town Hall meeting to explore how the University can best use technology to transform education into a more engaged learning experience.
Though invitations sent to students suggested University Provost Martha Pollack would host the event, she was not present. Dean of Libraries James Hilton — who is also vice provost for digital education — told attendees that Pollack was busy.
Students at the event were quick to defend the value of social interaction within the classroom setting, and did not advocate moving the classroom completely online. Instead, most of ideas focused on ways to enhance the experience already in place rather than replace it.
One table thought live demonstrations of concepts are highly underutilized. If professors presented information in dynamic ways, the students said, the lessons might flow better and reengage students snoozing or scrolling through social media.
“(They’re) viewed as a luxury, as a chocolate after dinner,” said LSA junior Paul Hanona.
Hilton envisioned technology as the catalyst for a bright future where instead of sitting in a lecture hall, students would more frequently be out in the field — helping the community, working in labs and even partnering with artists.
“If 10 years from now we have students that characterize their first year as sitting in class, that just feels like this wasted opportunity to me,” Hilton said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Hilton announced plans to implement a task team to further explore all of the ideas and discuss how they might be implemented on a University-wide scale. The team will be composed of faculty and students selected from Tuesday’s event.
Many students are already stepping out of the classroom and into massive open online courses, or MOOCs. From the comfort of home, students can enroll in courses and interact with a global community learning the same material. Late last year, the University partnered with major MOOC provider Coursera and currently offers 10 courses. Currently, students can’t take courses for credit, and Hilton said the University has no plans to offer a for-credit option any time soon.
Nonetheless, many students find MOOCs helpful. Steve Howland, a first-year Engineering graduate student, has already taken five online classes, two through the University. Howland liked that he could rewind and review complex material that otherwise would have remained confusing.
“I’m excited that Michigan is involved in educating more people than just the ones taking degrees through the University,” Howland said.
Online media was another point of emphasis during the event. Students saw the potential integration of resources such as Khan Academy and YouTube into curriculum as beneficial for both struggling and high-achieving students. Such tools would bring in alternative perspectives students are for the most part unaccustomed to in a formal classroom.
Websites with large amounts of traffic, like Facebook, were proposed as an untapped gold mine that could be adapted for educational purposes. Hanona said professors could easily create a group for each of their classes and post provocative questions, links and related class material that would pop up on students’ Facebook News Feeds.
“You’re learning even when you don’t want to learn,” Hanona said. “But it’s a nice thing because you’re always exposed to things you’re eventually going to need to know.”