Student Voice: How Should Professors Be Using Classroom Technology?

Suchita Chadha is a junior at Emerson College and the author of our weekly “Student Voice” column.

As we enter the last quarter of 2015, it’s clear that automated processes have become increasingly normalized in all aspects of our lives. Whether it’s Siri looking up something for you, or having reminders and calendar events for everything from taking the trash out to the next doctor’s appointment, we’ve gotten used to having certain things done by the devices in our back pockets. But it’s not a question of what else will be digitized in the coming decade; instead, it’s about the unique value humans can bring to the table while embracing technology.

As the need for educators to learn and integrate technology in the classroom continues to grow, what is it that college students expect from teachers? Of course, few students will claim the desire for a robot—that desire for human connection is still a very critical factor in education—so more specifically, how do students want technology incorporated into their lessons?

The need for more technology in the classroom is fairly evident: “with countless apps, online tutors, and valuable programs, it doesn’t make sense to not utilize technology,” says Antonius Bui, a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

But aside from digitally submitting assignments, and letting students take notes on laptops or other personal devices, there’s another aspect of technology that many teachers in higher-ed institutions don’t use, or use effectively. Unsurprisingly, these are ideas reflected in different parts of North America.

“In lectures, I would want my professors to use technology as a way to reinforce the content they are teaching us, but not rely on it, whether it’s through visualizations or summarized text,” says Joyce Zhou, a third-year architecture student from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

Of course, there are professors who are already using some kind of visual presentation to aid their lessons, and it’s also important to acknowledge that not all courses necessarily require it; however, the benefits stressed by teachers when assigning presentations to their students applies right back to them. Having high-level ideas projected on a screen allow students to focus their learning and retain a greater amount of information. In an article on visual teaching aids in Psychology Today, Dr. Haig Kouyoumdjian writes that “our brain is mainly an image processor,” which is what makes memory recall via visualization more powerful than just writing down the words your self.

It might take you back to high school days of lessons structured around PowerPoints, but it’s not as common as you might imagine in the college classroom. When asked what kind of technologies they’d like to see teachers use, supplemental visual media is the most common answer. It doesn’t even have to be that “good-old” PowerPoint, which might feel too constraining for discussion based courses. Major notes from the lesson’s lecture component, a list of complicated, uncommon, or hard-to-spell terminology, or even a set of discussion questions are some of the many options professors have to use technology to their advantage. The rules of visual recall still apply in college, but as a learning aid for older students, it’s not critical to have the balance of images and words k-12 educators aspire to have.

If the course content or structure allows, more complex technologies may have an even better impact. One junior, writing, literature, and publishing student at Emerson College cites technologies like “Smart Boards, interactive games, or integrated teacher-student communications technology (like ask and response websites)” as ways to further student engagement and participation. He says it’s a way students could have “just enough fun that it becomes clear they’re not only playing a game but also learning a concept/skill.” While some fear technology taking over the classroom, this Emerson student doesn’t believe it’s something to worry about. “All of the ways professors could utilize technology, I believe, are effective and necessary enough that the technology doesn’t become any bit of a hindrance or distraction from the lesson.”

But Bui, who has worked in various levels of Baltimore classrooms in the past few years, finds its the responsibility of both the student and the teacher to effectively use technology. “It’s difficult to monitor the right usage of technology in and outside the classroom,” says Bui, “[so] teachers and students should both be correctly trained on how to go about with such powerful responsibility.”

It’s still largely an uncharted area, and most schools haven’t ventured beyond the tip of the iceberg to explore the extent to which technology could be used in the classroom. As professors grow more comfortable with the various technologies they have at their disposable, they can introduce them into their class structure. In the time, the “traditional” methods of visual aids are just as effective and desired by students at the post-secondary level.

Suchita Chadha

Suchita Chadha

Suchita is a student at Emerson College, where she is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing for poetry with a Global & Post-Colonial Studies minor. She has been published in Verge Magazine (Canada) and Affairs Today (UK).