Professors disagree on benefits, drawbacks of technology

Senior Lecturer of English Karen Robertson, above, feels that Moodle and email should not replace in-person conversations. Other professors praise the potential of Moodle to enrich class discussion. Photo By: Cassady Bergevin
Senior Lecturer of English Karen Robertson, above, feels that Moodle and email should not replace in-person conversations. Other professors praise the potential of Moodle to enrich class discussion. Photo By: Cassady Bergevin
Senior Lecturer of English Karen Robertson, above, feels that Moodle and email should not replace
in-person conversations. Other professors praise the potential of Moodle to enrich class discussion. Photo By: Cassady Bergevin

For students, new technologies typically present nothing but opportunities for increased efficiency in their daily lives, whether it is in the classroom or during their free time. However, every new technological advancement can be a source of added pressure for professors, whose responsibilities to their students have the potential to expand beyond their traditional scope.

Even something as miniscule as sending an email can change what students expect of their professors, especially when it comes to availability outside of the classroom. “E-mail has made our jobs 24/7, which is difficult. Some of us like to be contacted by e-mail. I infinitely prefer the conversation that takes place during my office hours, because unexpected questions and areas arise. Students can sometimes avoid faculty members by using e-mail,” wrote Senior Lecturer of English Karen Robertson in an emailed statement.

Director of the Vassar College Writing Center Matthew Schultz, who has been teaching  since 2006, does not see much of an issue in using email as a means of communication. “By [2006], email use was ubiquitous. So, I’ve always had to answer a fair number of emailed questions and comments. I do try to set clear expectations, though. For instance, I might tell my students that I only respond to email between certain hours of the day. This isn’t necessarily to protect my time, but to get them thinking further in advance about a project,” Schultz wrote in an emailed statement.

However, he still believes it is important to establish a personal relationship with students.

“If a student stops by my office we talk about all their classes and how they intersect. We talk about residential life, plans for the future, and then the project at hand,” Schultz stated.

Robertson further explained that online interaction between teacher and students should not extend beyond its most basic purposes. “I don’t think that Moodle should be seen as the primary interface between the students and the faculty. It’s a mechanism for distributing readings and bibliography,” she said.

According to Associate Professor of Anthropology David Tavarez, while many professors enjoy using technology, some struggle.

“I believe that CIS should play a more effective role in terms of training instructors and providing adequate support for both teaching and research. At this point, CIS is understaffed, and therefore instructor performance in terms of new technologies is inextricably tied to the administration’s decisions in terms of providing or cutting resources to CIS,” Tavarez stated.

But technology does not rest only on the shoulders of the professors. Many students place much of their attention on laptops, e-readers and tablets, which some professors feel might be a distraction to the learning process.

“For discussion about literature, it is important that we all be on the same page in the same text. I think that people can get distracted when they are online and can wander far from of the class,” commented Robertson.

Tavarez, however, feels technology has a time and a place. “Personally, I allow electronic media use in classroom only to follow readings on PDF or for a collective viewing or discussion exercise. We all are human, and few can resist the temptation to check Facebook or their favorite newsfeed once the devices are out,” the linguistics professor wrote.

Conversely, Schultz does not think students having their devices out in class is necessarily a bad thing. “We’re there to learn as a group. I don’t have all the answers, and as a curious individual, I want to know certain obscure facts, or a word’s etymology, or other scholars’ perspectives when issues are raised in class discussion. Having technology in the classroom to help open up discussion rather than shut it down, I think, can be incredibly valuable. I also think that if students turn their attention to checking Facebook or online shopping that I’m not doing a very good job. I should be able to hold everyone’s attention for 75 minutes,” he wrote.

Indeed, embracing a technologically dependent world has definitely shifted both the classroom structure and the duties of being a professor.

Robertson concluded, “I think that students should be aware of the enormous workload shift onto faculty members at the College in the last few years. With the cuts in support staff, we are taking on more bureaucratic functions (as are the remaining employees.)  We are all pushed and I don’t know how much more we can take on.”

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