On Changing Education Because It's What the Students Want

In a previous post I mentioned an article by Sidneyeve Matrix who advocates changing the "traditional" form of undergraduate university education by incorporating more technology [Challenges, Opportunities, and New Expectations]. In that post, I concentrated on one of the arguments for online courses [On the Quality of Online Courses].

In this post I want to bring up one of the arguments for introducing new technology into a course. I'm going to pick a quote from Sidneyeve Matrix's article but she's not the only one who brings it up.
There’s a torrent of research demonstrating the costs and benefits of using social, mobile, and digital technology enhancements to teach; yet it’s inconclusive whether these result in higher student outcomes. Of course, there are multiple bottom lines to consider. What’s undeniable is that even though digital divides exist, today’s students expect to see some technology used in their classes. It follows that we can expect increased engagement and higher student satisfaction when profs power-up. In my experience, exceedingly positive end-of-term student surveys and reviews in my ed-tech enhanced courses document a beneficial halo effect.
The first statement is true, as far as I know. There are no sound pedagogical reasons for incorporating social media and other technologies into a course. That means there must be other, not-pedagogical, reasons for change.

The third statement says that it's "undeniable" that students expect to see some technology in their class. What does this mean? Will they be satisfied if they see a power point presentation and a website? Do they expect their professors to befriend them on facebook or follow their tweets? We don't know. The statement is devoid of meaning.

However, what seems to be "undeniable" is that there are some professors who think that it's important to give students whatever they want. These professors seem to think that it's the students, not them, who are the experts on undergraduate education. Is there any evidence for that?

Of course not. The reason for giving students what they want is clearly spelled out in the last sentence. If you give them what they want then you'll get good student evaluations.

In fairness, she also mentions "engagement." If student engagement is one of your goals—it's one of mine—then that's a reason for exploring technology options. That may, or may not, be associated with student satisfaction. My experience suggests that it's not. I first started an online discussion forum for students in 1987-88 using a usenet forum running on a VAX. Very few students used it but the ones who did liked it a lot.

Over the last 25 years, I've tried various ways of encouraging student engagement on the internet including, in the last iteration, trying to get students to read and comment on blogs. The result is always the same. A subset of the class has a great time "engaging" and a larger subset resists all attempts to draw them in. The most effective way to encourage, and reward, engagement is to do it in class with the students right there with you. The downside is that a good chunk of your class are miserable because they don't want to "engage" in their own learning. They would rather be passive learners.
In order for professors to engage in podcasting or online lectures or tweeting, or supporting their colleagues who opt to publish in open source journals or participate in online conferences, they must see real benefits and an immediate, significant return on investment. Perhaps for some profs evidence of increased student satisfaction and engagement will win them over.
I hope that "increased student satisfaction" will never be a primary motive for change. It may be a secondary benefit but that's not the same thing. Our job is to teach effectively. If the proper teaching methods don't "please" the students then our job is to convince them that they need to change their minds about what gives them pleasure. If they can't do that then they might have only two choices: (1) be miserable throughout their stay in university, or (2) drop out.

Option three: (3) make the professor change the course in order to cater to the student's view of how a course should be taught, is not a reasonable option.

Many of these debates and discussions about the use of new technology in the classroom assume that there's resistance from old professors who are uncomfortable with new technology and/or social media. That may be true of some professors but many of my mature colleagues have been computer literate since before many young professors were born. Many of my colleagues have been using email for thirty years. They have had webpages, including course webpages, since the web was created twenty years ago. In spite of the fact that they are not intimidated by technology—what science professor is intimidated by new technology?—they have not radically transformed their way of teaching in the past several decades. Why is that? Is it because they have the wisdom and experience to know that new technology is not the best way to improve undergraduate education?

nature science for kids,nature science definition,nature science articles,nature science jobs,nature science museum,nature science projects,nature science magazine,nature science journal nature science for kids,nature science definition,nature science articles,nature science jobs,nature science museum,nature science projects,nature science magazine,nature science journal