What Do We Mean When We Talk About Technology in the Classroom?


This week, I read “Professors Say Technology Helps in Logistics, Not Learning” from the Chronicle‘s blog, Wired Campus, and one sentence stood out. It stated that one “anthropologist interviewed for the study said technology-rich courses, in which PowerPoint presentations and online notes are used, can give students less incentive to attend class or pay close attention to the material as it’s being taught.”

I bring this up because it’s a reference point in the conversation about technology in education. When we talk about technology in the classroom are we talking about PowerPoint or something greater? Would a technology-rich anthropology course use PowerPoint or would it use GIS and  CartoDB? For me, I see PowerPoint as being in the camp of word processing and email. Yes, it’s technology, but it’s in the background, part of the landscape of learning and business.

The blog post does mention that technology is often dumped on faculty without guidance or thought toward pedagogy, and that’s a fair assessment. Technology for technology’s sake is never the answer. There needs to be a learning objective involved. The use of technology needs to make sense.

Going back to the title of this post, what does technology in the classroom mean to you? When you hear “technology-rich” course, what do you envision?



Aaron A.

It seems to me that what faculty are saying sometimes is “why can’t students just learn the same way I did?”. I cringe every time I hear the word “technology” or “digital” attached to terms like classroom, learning and library. Technology is the use of techniques and tools in the support of some other activity, it is not (and should not) be the main thing, so why draw attention to it? Do we differentiate between math done by hand, calculator and excel? Why are all technologies not in the background?

Learning individual technology has become the Kobayashi Maru of education. The reality is we have no idea what technologies will be in mainstream use 3-5 years out. What we do know is that it will be different and it will not be a single software application. It is (imo) far better to teach students a set of skills for problem solving so that they are ready to engage in things they don’t immediately know the answer to.

Maybe I have veered off course from your original question, but I believe that anyone worried about whether or not students are coming to class because of powerpoint likely has bigger challenges ahead than technology.

Timothy A. Lepczyk

Hi Aaron,

I don’t think you veered off course. That’s exactly the point I try to make when talking about using technology for a class. The question to ask is how does this technology support the learning objective?

If you can’t make a valid case, then there is not a need to use it. Pedagogy always needs to be at the forefront of these conversations.

You also raise an interesting point that goes unnoticed at times, and that’s the disconnect between how students learn / expect to learn vs. how their instructors learned and may view learning.

Finally, I too am looking forward to the day “digital” is dropped from words like library, scholarship, and humanities. And for eLearning to revert back to learning. It’s like referring to cars as horseless carriages.


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