New Technology in the Classroom: based on teaching experience in US Universities

Connect-universum 2012
Author: Matyash O.I.

Topic of report: New media users and social interaction in the everyday life

The initial question I was asked to discuss is, how to characterize the difference between the US and Russian universities in the incorporation of the new educational technologies? Are Russian and US universities comparable in terms of using the modern technologies?
In responding to this question, I'll first bring into discussion my own observations and examples based on my personal teaching experience in a number of US and Russian universities, then I'll show some statistics on the topic (using the Internet in the US colleges today) to support some conclusions.


I'll talk from the point of view of a faculty who is an ordinary and regular IT user, not a technological expert.

Although most things I'm going to talk about will be probably quite familiar to my Russian colleagues (in fact, I can almost hear them saying, «well, we do the same, we use the same approaches in our university, there is nothing strikingly new about this type of technology...»), I would state that this is not the major point of my presentation, impressing the audience with some original educational technologies that are not known in Russia. In fact, many Russian faculty would be quite familiar with the media that I use in my US classes. But I would claim that it is the ways, the purpose, and scope of using them on a daily basis that creates a substantially different professional experience. So the major difference between the two educational systems in terms of using modern technologies, as I see it today, is the degree and scope to which modern information technologies are incorporated in everyday educational practice, the degree to which those technologies are available to, and used by, every student and teacher on campus. And from this point of view, the difference is quite significant.

As an American professor you have to work, whether you prefer it or not, in the teaching-learning environment of which the modern information technologies, and primarily the Internet, are an integral part.

Teaching at an American university:
The ways in which modern technologies are incorporated in the classrooms


If to summarize the ways in which modern technologies are intergrated in and have an effect on everyday teaching and learning in the US universities, I would define that as an operational structure, which has the following most distinct components:

1. Information support for the course work — multiple sources available for students and teachers:
— Publishers' web sites with interactive materials, in addition to the text book.
— Textbooks with complementary CDs with video materials (for example, video segments illustrating examples from the text, with study questions)
— Standardized test software, allowing an instructor to create a test for particular course content.

Thus the question is not, where to find more information, rather how to select from the abundance of information what is most useful for your instructional purposes.

2. Multimedia stations available for every class session, installed in the room or delivered on portable carts).
They typically include:
a computer, with internet/intranet connection
multi-media playback devices (digital and analog)
flat panel projector with video camera
tripod mounted video camera
television
drop-down wall screen

No matter when and in what classroom I am going to teach, I can always «place an order» for the IT equippment to support my lecturing, if I need to icorporate a PP show, an Internet link/ site, to show video clips, etc.

Most courses taught today are «blended» courses where a faculty uses a variety of visual instructional materials and interactive activities for students. Even the so-called mass lectures (with an audience of over 120 students) are normally delivered with the use of PP, video clips or online content from particular sites. And, what I personaly find most helpful for students is that they can download the whole professor's presentation from the course site in advance, before they come to a lecture. While at the lecture, they can follow the professor's talk and take notes right on their printed versions of the PP slides.

3. Multiple support centers for teachers and students at the university environment:

IT Departments and Management / IT Services offering regular IT training for faculty
For example: how to use PP or offering individual help for specific projects. I may come with an idea «is it possible to use… ?», and the IT staff will work with me on my tasks

University libraries and librarians: provide not only individual help for students on their research, but can also do group instructional sessions
For example, I can schedule a session for my students on how to use different databases in research or refer them to the library to learn about APA/ MLA standards (how to do references and cite sources in a paper).

University writing centers — helping students to develop their current papers and presentations

Multiple technology stations on campus
Clusters of computers, printers, and scanners readily available for students to have quick access to technology.
The technology level of the IT equippment is constantly updated, so by the time the students graduate, they are familiar with the latest generations of IT.

4. The University Intranet (local network) as a necessary everyday component of the University learning environment.

Each faculty and student is assigned a login/ password and becomes a members of the university virtual community.

How does it work?:
The goal today is like in the business environment: «go paperless»:
  • Receiving university, department or course mailing lists as daily updates on the University events, «keeping in the loop»
  • The individual course site: during the semester, you can administer how the course is going, from the beginning to the end.

As an instructor you may:
  • Check the enrollment — see how many students are enrolled in each section, see the demographics before you even meet with new students
  • Post all kinds of course materials (additional readings, exam study questions, samples of earlier students' work).
  • Post grades and deal with grade «grievances».

As a student you may:
  • Do forums or chats, which is particularly important if you missed a class and/or need to clarify how to do an assignment
  • Communicate with an instructor one-to-one, sending a query by email
  • Find out your grade and discuss it with an instructor, if it does not meet your expectations.

Implication of using the new technologies in instruction:

For students: it makes the learning process richer, more comprehensive, more involving and intense.

For teachers — it is definitely more work, more time consuming, and also increases their accessibility and vulnerability (some students can send you a «nasty» email, expressing themselves in a blunt way, which they normaly wouldn't do face-to-face or on the phone).

Creates a network easily extended long beyond the course's time. For example, I have had students who reached me years after the semester was over and asked either to write a recommendation letters or to forward to them their old papers or course projects (like video presentations) in order to include those into their portfolio. Some students like to keep communication going via social networks like Facebook.

The Internet does revolutionarize the educational process and college life — it does change the reality — but different aspects of that change may have different values. Some uses of IT may really be extending our capacities and therefore enriching our experiences, others may be limiting and perhaps even inhibitive. Some are satisfying, others are frustrating.

Some Statistics on Academic Uses of the Internet:

There is extensive research on the topic. Here are just a few summaries.

General Activities and Attitudes:

Today's generation of college students are heavy users of the Internet compared to the general population. Use of the Internet is a part of their daily routine, and they take use of the Internet for granted.

Most students (over 80%) have a positive opinion about the Internet’s impact on their educational experience.

All college students use the Internet to search for information (the preferred means are the major search engines — 95%, followed by library websites — 68%, news websites — 64%, online encyclopedias 48%)

Communications with Professors

The vast majority of college students surveyed (over 80%) are using the Internet to communicate with professors.
Email method is preferred over the phone to reach the instructors.
Other popular means of communication: course websites and email lists. About one-quarter (23%) using email lists and close to half (45%) using course websites.
Most surveyed students admit, email serves as functional, rather than personal purpose in their communication with professors.
When evaluating the impact of Internet communication on the overall quality of their relationships with professors, almost half (47%) agreed or strongly agreed that the Internet has had a positive impact.

Online Education

The Internet is revolutionizing higher education: accredited online colleges are growing in size, traditional colleges are adopting online programs, and all trends indicate that distance learning is not only here to stay, but that it will make an unprecedented impact on the educational systems currently in place today.

«Blended» courses, «hybrid» courses are increasingly common in the classroom
(SurveyResearch Group, Allen,Seaman, & Garrett, 2007).

More than three-quarters of college presidents (77%) report that their institutions now offer online courses, and college presidents predict substantial growth in online learning: 15% say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, 50% predict that ten years from now most of their students will take classes online.

The general public, however, is more cautious. Just three-in-ten American adults (29%) say a course taken online provides an equal educational value to one taken in a classroom. By contrast, about half of college presidents (51%) say online courses provide the same value.

There appears to be a substantial increase in the number of students who have taken an online-only course, from around 6% in 2002 to over one-quarter (27%) in 2007.

Today's college students are also more satisfied with the quality of online-only courses than those surveyed in 2002.

However, «while today’s college students are increasingly partaking of online courses as compared to those surveyed in 2002, they are not moving to online education in droves.Their choice to take an online course seems, more often than not, to be predicated on convenience — both in regard to time and to place» (Jones, 2007).

Plagiarism and the Internet

A general note:
Plagiarism is generally considered as academic fraud, absolutely incommensurate with an academic code, and is strictly penalized in American universities. Whether you are a scholar or a student, you do not want to be caught plagarizing, the consequences might be severe.

The faculty as well as the students themselves recognize that the Internet has made it easier than ever to plagiarize, that is: to present other's work as their own.

Close to half (46%) of students reported knowing someone who had copied materials from the Internet to submit as their own work for an assignment. However, only 2% of college students admitted submitting an assignment to a professor in which they had copied and pasted material from the Internet and claimed it as their own, and only 25 of the over 7,000 college students surveyed reported having purchased a paper on line and turning it in as their own work.

Based on:

The Internet Landscape in College, by Steve Jones, Camille Johnson-Yale, Francisco Seoane Perez and Jessica Schuler, in Information and Communication Technologies: Considerations of Current Practice for Teachers and Teacher Educators, National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook, 106:2 (Boston: Blackwell Publishing, Inc., 2007), pp. 39-51. In this article the authors compare survey results of 2002 and 2005, which shows the trends in Internet use at colleges.

The Digital Revolution and Higher Education by Kim Parker, Amanda Lenhart, Kathleen Moore Aug 28, 2011
The report is based on findings from two Pew Research Center surveys: a national poll of the general public, and a survey of college presidents done in association with The Chronicle of Higher Education. It analyzes the perceptions of the public and college presidents about the value of online learning, the prevalence and future of online courses, use of digital textbooks, the internet and plagiarism, and technology use in the classroom, as well as college presidents’ own use of technology.

Some thoughts in conclusion:

The Internet and other digital technologies do create global change to educational environments and make considerable impact on the quality of modern education.

Although many aspects of that change are positive and we welcome them, it might be worth mentioning a few things. First, not all the changes in the classroom are necessarily positive, as the survey results above illustrate. Modern technologies do create a new reality at the universities, and we have to adapt to them, however, different dimensions of that reality may have different values, and we have to be aware of that.

Second, new technologies on campus normally are considered in a US academic culture as a useful learning «tool», and an advanced level of technology at a given school is considered as measure of its educational competence rather than status or power.

Third, integrating technology in the classroom does not create change for the better all by itself. It works in conjunction with other factors. The US universities are in the forefront of using modern technologies and do a regular «update» on them because the whole system of higher education, the way it is set up and working, now requires it:

Granting degrees (BA, MA, PhD) based on the amount of credits/credit hours,
Student responsibility for planning their own academic schedule for each semester,
Student mobility — distance learning, and quick transfer of credits between institutions,
The principle of collaborative learning and collective responsibility for the educational outcomes,
An overall place and role for the universities in the free market economy, etc.

All these factors, among others, propel the integration of modern technologies and their changing effect on learning in Western universities. Why so and in what way, is a whole different topic. How the new age of modern technologies is going to affect the academic life in Russian universities, considering all political and economic challenges of today's Russian society is also an issue for discussion.

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As a alumni of Russian Unversity and a current student of American University I agree that modern technologies are necessary in terms of effective communication between students and professors.
I would like to ask you a question about social networks in terms of relationship between students and teachers.
It is quite common both in Russia and the U.S. that students follow their professors in social networks like Tweeter, Facebook and Linkedin. What is your opinion about it? Do you think it increases teachers' vulnerability even more and give students an access to their personal life?
And what is your opinion regarding Linkedin — a professional social network?
Do you think this is a proper social network where students and teachers can interract professionaly?
Thank you
Svetlana Kozlova, LaSalle University
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