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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Professors should focus more on teaching than technology

Published: March 14, 2014
Section: Opinions

I tend to grow frustrated whenever a class starts after the scheduled time. If I put in the effort to wake up and get myself to the classroom prepared and ready to go by a certain time each day the class meets, then I expect the professor to have the same diligence. Regardless of whether it’s a morning or afternoon class, the professor, who is paid to be there, should hold him- or herself to the same standards to which students are held— arrive to class on time and ready to go. Yet it is not a factor of the professor’s time management that causes these delays most of the time.

Instead, my professors are typically preparing their lecture or discussion by the time I arrive to class. This is where the problems occur, that look of confusion trying to turn on the projector, find their PowerPoint presentation or simply connect to the Internet through the computer provided in the room. They have these lofty ideas of utilizing technology to aid the class, yet it almost always crashes in a blaze of glory, or at least delays the start of class by a few minutes, completely agitating students like myself.

The most ardent offender to the sanctity of the schedule is Learning Catalytics software, where the professor posts a question online to be answered by students at the start of class on their phones, laptops or tablets. What is meant to take two minutes to keep the students honest about completing the readings for each class winds up lingering 10 minutes into class, with problems of students unable to sign in or not being able to see the question causing this delay. It adds nothing to the subject matter and forces the professor to rush through the lecture.

Of course Learning Catalytics is not the only plague on our education, nor is there a better way to make sure a lecture of over 100 students read the selections from the text. More concerns arise from just trying to integrate outside sources into the classroom. One professor wanted to show a YouTube clip of a lecture a colleague gave during class. After taking some time to get the sound to work from the multimedia device, the lecturer in the video had problems proceeding through the slides on his PowerPoint presentation. This issue is not exclusive to Brandeis.

It is extremely ironic that these professors with multiple degrees and years of honing their craft are afflicted by such trivial things to students, yet they still attempt these forays into the digital sphere. The university supplies each classroom with projectors, screens and multimedia devices that are supposed to make it easier for the professor to utilize all these tools. It is nice to see professors using what is provided to try to make the class more interesting and go more in-depth. Someone has to use the technology, or else students’ tuition would just go to waste, but it would be nice if it could be used correctly.

Yet these professors were not hired because of their computer literacy. They are some of the best minds in their fields and should be more focused on the actual subject matter of the course than trying to incorporate digital media into every aspect. I don’t know if the faculty attempt this because they actually believe it will add to their presentation or if they assume the modern student requires some sense of technology in their instruction to stay engaged. If it is the former, the professors need to realize that it isn’t helping and only hinders the class; if it is the latter, then they are grossly misinterpreting the current generation.

Perhaps I’m not speaking for everyone in saying this, but the reason that I’m enrolled in this school is primarily due to the quality of the faculty. Just as with any musical act or stage performance, spectators will flock to wherever they can hear groundbreaking and vital information. Students here at Brandeis are quite fascinated by what it is their professors are teaching, which is why we are so involved with the class and going beyond the requirements to get a better understanding. We are not a group of rambunctious second graders that needs to be over-stimulated in order to be reached; we will be attentive in our studies regardless of the means used to present it.

This sort of discord leads some to think that the veteran professors here at Brandeis are no longer able to teach. Certainly some of the older faculty have not been able to adapt to the present day and age of teaching, but the same problems occur to those professors who have recently finished their dissertations and just beginning their academic careers. And of course there are more factors at play in this argument than that some professors are unable to teach, but the problems most accustomed to students are the ones that take place in the classroom.

What the professors need to understand is that there does not need to be such an eagerness to completely overhaul the educational process. I despised the requirements in high school that forced students to complete arduous online projects that rarely offered any substantial knowledge to the pupil. I understand that the sort of technology utilized in our courses is not as obnoxious as Prezi or Glogster, but the faculty here were not hired based on their overall computer literacy. Otherwise we would have classes all taught by bachelors who still live in their parents’ basement. The professors are here to teach, and they are among the most prolific at that in their fields as it is. They do not need to be supplemented by YouTube or music.

If the faculty here at Brandeis could keep focused on the subject matter and spend more time lecturing than trying to figure out how to get their PowerPoint up to full-screen, it would benefit both the students and the professors. The students would get more out of the lecture, and the faculty would be more comfortable teaching material they know by heart instead of trying to get the projector to work. We are enlightened by some of the best professors in the country; let’s not deride them over insignificant technology.