Technology complicates classes, frustrates students


I miss dead trees.

In the old days, a professor would hand you a syllabus printed on a piece of paper on the first day of class. A syllabus is a contract between the professor and the student. The syllabus outlines class expectations, regulations, required texts and supplies, contact information for the professor and due dates for tests and assignments.

You knew what to expect from the class and the professor from the beginning. You planned your time and resources for the semester.

It was laid out before you, like the Ten Commandments from God to Moses. And, much like the Commandments, it took an act of God to change the syllabus.

And then came technology.

Now professors post a syllabus and change it, sometimes daily, sometimes more than once a day. They expect you to check it every single day and adapt your understanding of the world around you and your work schedule, and your finances, and fit this new set of commandments into your life.

In the old days, a syllabus listed the name of the text required for the class. You would buy, borrow or steal the book for the class and be good to go.

Now, professors are requiring a thumb drive or hard drive or DVDs or CDs or camera or flash card or batteries or six reams of paper, not to mention access to a high-volume color printer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I would rather have bought a book this semester than deal with what has turned into a complex process of finding, downloading and printing PDF files every week that have been scanned differently, saved differently and look different on every single computer I go to and try to print from.

Have I mentioned the expectation of having constant, immediate access to a printer and an unlimited supply of paper?

Some professors now require you to get a Google account or YouTube account or WordPress account or new Facebook account or join some other random website used specifically for and only for that class. All these accounts, of course, require different usernames and passwords that you’ll most likely forget.

Now added to the regular class load and all of the above is watching the latest YouTube video or following the class on Twitter and networking with your classmates on LinkedIn.

Just to make things even more interesting, every professor has a different requirement for the number of times you’re supposed to check your email, the syllabus, K-State Online, the WordPress blog and any/all of the other online resources for that class.

In the old days, professors would come to class and lecture; it was like watching a live performance. Students would interact with each other through conversation guided by the professor. Thanks to the wonders of technology, students now sit in a darkened room and watch PowerPoint presentations. Posting to an online forum to respond to posted comments your classmates have made is in no way the same as having a actual conversation in the classroom.

Very few of these new technologies are adding to the educational or academic value of these classes, but instead result in students spending more time on busywork and less time on learning.

As a graduate teaching assistant, I receive nearly 100 emails a day. It’s hard to sort the students from the spam from the penis enlargement ads from professors from job contacts and from random forwards my mother sends me. Go ahead and ask me if I got your email.

Face-to-face is now my preferred method of communication with students and employees.

Of course, I did write most of this column using my Dragon Dictate software on my MacBook Pro and then emailed it to my editor, so there might be good uses for technology after all.