Technology in the classroom: perspectives of three professors

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Louis Hannegan
Contributing Writer

Of the many differences in teaching styles at the University of Dallas, one of the more conspicuous is the role of technology in the classroom.  Some professors, like Dr. Stephen Maddux, see it as a valuable tool, others, like Dr. Jonathan Culp, as a serious impediment.  Still others, such as Dr. Thomas Jodziewicz, simply don’t care.  But how can the opinions of members of such a tightly-knit institution like UD vary so much on this seemingly simple issue?  In response to this question, each of these professors agreed to share his arguments and explanations for his particular approach to technology in the classroom.

Known for his abundant use and permissive allowance of the Internet and computers in class, modern languages professor Dr. Maddux is a devoted fan of classroom technology for teachers and students alike.  For Maddux, this policy is obvious.  As he explains, “The benefits of computers and the Internet for learning are enormous.  It is like having an entire library to consult at any moment.”   With a connected laptop or iPad, students can not only take notes but also access this “great asset” of a virtual library, Maddux argues.

While supporting students’ responsible use of technology in the classroom, Maddux recognizes the attraction of surfing Facebook or checking email during class time.  As he put it when asked about these distractions, “Misuse is a possible issue.”  But for Maddux, the benefits of laptops and Internet to students “far outweigh” the negative effects of this possible misuse.

In contrast with this optimistic and progressive approach stands the realistic and traditional attitude of politics professor Dr. Culp. Though acknowledging technology’s many valuable uses in some classes, Culp holds that projectors and laptops are an impediment to effectively teaching and learning more philosophical subjects.  As Culp explains, “I don’t want the projection to become the focus rather than the lecture, since even the lecture is necessarily a simplification, and PowerPoint slides are, thus, simplifications of simplifications.”

Moreover, Culp points out that “writing takes time, and even that small amount of time [spent] writing affords a moment for students to catch their breath, finish what they were writing, [and] refocus attention.”

Culp’s approach to student use of laptops in class is no less stringent.  Though sympathizing with students about the ease of taking notes on a laptop, Culp argues that his experience has taught him that the negative effects of having access to the internet far outweigh this benefit.  Having experimented with laptops in class at Boston College and UD, Culp said that “even good students find it nearly irresistible to surf the web or check email when they have a computer in front of them.”  And as he pointed out, this inevitable abuse of laptops ends up distracting not only the user but also the other students in the classroom from paying attention to what is being taught in the lecture.

Between the poles of Maddux and Culp rests history professor Dr. Jodziewicz.  As a teacher, Jodziewicz simply has little interest in projectors or slides.  Like Culp, basic technology, such as the pull-down maps in Gorman C, suit the needs of his humanities classes just fine.

As a monitor of student conduct, Jodziewicz expresses similar disinterest in the use of technology in class.  As he explained, “I have no problem with computers … as long as they are being used in a course-related way … which is largely, I would imagine, to take notes.”  Kindles and iPads are allowed in Jodziewicz’s classes with similar disinterest.

When asked whether he thought students have the self-control to avoid surfing Facebook and checking email in class, Jodziewicz simply answered, “I hope so!”  In his eyes, students should learn responsibility on their own.  And if they don’t, the result of their first Am Civ I test will give them all the discipline they need.

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