Technology can be an effective teaching tool … or not

The effectiveness of various technologies in educational settings is often debated. For years, learning was done the same way: pen, paper and textbooks. Then in the early 1980s, personal computers, known as PCs, gained popularity, and education has never been the same.

Some wonder if technology has gone so far that it has become detrimental to the educational process. It might seem that with electronic textbooks, online quizzes and recorded classes, education has become more about how to use random technology, that will most likely be used only once, than actually learning the subject matter. The technology is not designed to be hard to use, but it can impede the learning process.

“I have had a few problems (with the new technology), but it has always been on the publisher side,” said Sarah Humfeld, MU biology professor. “Sometimes it will be their servers being down, or some other problem with their software, that we can’t control. The best way to avoid problems is just good outlook.”

Some believe that it is best to use technology in a way that doesn’t penalize students for not knowing how to properly use it.

“Things like the iClicker polling software that I use in class would be something I would make extra credit,” Humfeld said. “I will also watch for problems with homework and make sure that it is working before it is due, and if it’s not, I let the students know if the website is down and that I will move the due date.”

There may be a point where it becomes less productive to try to teach everyone how to learn a different way than it would be just to go back teaching and learning the old fashioned way. Some professors are even being used more as IT support for students than actually teaching their subject.

It is not always the fault of the of the university or the professors for the technology problems that students have. Some of the problems are the fault of the publishing companies that make the technology.

“If there is an issue, which there haven’t been a lot of this semester, it’s always been something I can’t fix,” Humfeld said. “So all I can do is tell the publisher of the e-text and wait for them to fix it, and let my students know what’s going on.”

Part of the challenge is that for every class there is a different professor who most likely uses different technology. So, instead of having to figure out how to use just one online textbook, some students may have to use four different kinds of textbooks with different features to use on the different websites they all use. Even sites that almost every class uses, like Blackboard, could change and create new learning curves

“It took me awhile to figure the online book out,” said Delaney Jobe, MU freshman. “I’m still not sure how to use all of the features that the online book is supposed to have. It just ends up creating a learning curve, and not everyone is good with technology, so I think it ends up being a struggle for most people.”

Adding to the current learning curve students have to overcome, the University may be switching to new learning management systems, or LMS, currently Blackboard. The University currently has trial groups testing the system Canvas, so a decision can be made whether or not to make a switch.

“A couple of years ago there were a lot of problems with Blackboard,” said Dana Vessell, director of educational technologies. “It’s now the time to see what other LMS are out there. Canvas is newer and has a lot of the same functionality that Blackboard has.”

One of the hopes for the new LMS is that it works better for everyone, including the growing number of people using their mobile devices.

“Students have been liking how the mobile app works,” Vessell said. “Canvas was built for mobile, whereas Blackboard is trying to retrofit their existing software into a mobile app.”

It has not yet been decided whether or not there will be a change in LMS, there is still a long process before it is made official. The recommendation from the Department of Educational Technologies will be sent to the Information Technology Committee for approval, then to the Provost to make the final decision.

“Hypothetically everything on Blackboard is supposed to just transfer over to Canvas,” Humfeld said. “It’s been working well for some and poorly for others.”

However, there are times when it can be more beneficial to use more technology.

“I’m not wed to the reading of text on a computer than a book,” Humfeld said. “So I don’t have any preferences in a sense of actually reading the book, but all the other tools publishers have with it, practice questions and note taking tools, make it worth it. It would be possible to package the online tools with a hard copy of a book, but that would be more expensive and just another thing that students would have to buy.”

Overall, there are both benefits and problems that come with trying to use technology to its full potential.

Thomas Hatfield

About the Author Thomas Hatfield

My name is Thomas Hatfield, I am a freshman currently pursuing a degree in science and agricultural journalism. I’m originally from Jefferson City, Missouri, where I was an editor/designer of the school newspaper “Red and Black.” Despite not having much of a background in agriculture, other than occasionally spending time on my grandparents’ farm, I decided that a science and agricultural journalism major would be best for me after hearing about my mother’s positive experience having gone through the program when she was at Mizzou. In my free time, I enjoy playing basketball with friends, working on designs in Photoshop, and InDesign to keep up my design skills, and watching and reading about sports.