Now, I am no expert here. I am just a prof with 15 or so years behind me, in the generation of folks who have seen the digital revolution up close and personal. The fact that I went to college as a freshman with a typewriter and left grad school on my second or third laptop says a lot.
The digitization of everything has opened great new options for teaching but also posed some headaches. On the plus side, the fact that I no longer have to sort slides in a tray prior to every class meeting is a huge win; the can’t-miss-’em monuments exist in handy PowerPoint slide shows that are three or four clicks away. On the negative, I was never sold on laptops and other keyboard-enabled note-taking devices in class, and recent studies have backed up my suspicions. They are bad. Students will continue to use the oldey-timey technology of pens and notepaper in my classes, even if they have to do it through weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So, I am trying to be pretty thoughtful and selective about how to manage the class through online resources (make no mistake, this is not an “on-line class;” we still meet in a room, three times per week). Most of what happens here, I think, can be divided into one of two categories:
- digital delivery of traditional materials: links on the website open PDFs of traditional course materials (calendars, assignments, etc.)
- all-digital format: pages on the website have active elements, e.g., thumbnail images that link to big versions of the image for study purposes, a calendar that includes links to study materials
One of the concerns I have, and which requires this split approach, is the threat of making too much of a big deal about the technology and allowing it to get in the way of the material. I resist the Celebration of the Gizmo. I also recognize that the myth of the “digital native” is just that; I’ve had plenty of students with personal tech issues and don’t believe that all students will cotton to an all-digital class. There’s also the matter of my university’s readiness to adapt fully to the potential of these resources; central admin will still require a PDF version of a paper syllabus to file in the provost’s office. And if I have to generate one for him, why not just keep everyone on paper? Students are notoriously bad about reading this document that is full of serious and important info. Are they more or less likely to absorb it in digital or paper form?
I’d love to hear from others who are depending more and more on electronic devices to facilitate their teaching. In the meantime, I am trying to be very selective on the course site to turn to digital options when they truly promise to facilitate my teaching and my students’ learning; otherwise, we will stick with the tried and true.