OPINION: Technology in the classroom

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One of the many transitions between high school and college is the environment of the classroom. It can be something that takes a while to feel out, especially with many professors having their own ideas of the classroom they want to lead.

One of those transition points is the use of technology in class – for both the student and teacher.

The Huffington Post posted an article back in 2012, titled, “Bringing Technology to the Classroom,” which discussed this subject. The author, Deborah Gist (who at the time was the Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education) said that, “To transform education for the 21st century, we need to rethink learning, rethink schools, and take advantage of all of the resources available to us.”

To explore this area of K-State education, I talked to two faculty members here who were generous enough to talk back. One, Trevor Durbin, has been an instructor here for the past year teaching anthropology classes – one of which I took last fall. The other, Dan Hoyt, an English professor with whom I’m about to have a writing class (and before we even start the semester, I’m already annoying him to answer interview questions).

I thought I would talk to these two because Durbin’s reputation to me, after a semester-long blog project and playing through an online interactive story as a class, was one of heavy technology integration in the classroom. And Hoyt’s (at least in his writing classes) was one starkly opposed. After talking with both of them, however, that is not exactly what I found.

To start, we covered the most prominent issue to students: their laptop.

“I don’t have any problem with students coming in with their laptops to class,” Durbin said. “It actually doesn’t offend me, though I know it does bother a lot of professors when their students are on Facebook or something like that. I’m just going to do my best to make the information engaging, but each student, in some sense, is going to end up getting what they need out of each class.”

Hoyt appears to be one of those professors Durbin mentioned are bothered by laptops.

“For the most part, I think the virtues of laptops in the classroom are outweighed by the distractions they carry: the lure of Facebook and Twitter and e-mail. Our laptops want us to multitask,” Hoyt said. “But in a discussion-based classroom, I want everyone in the room to engage, together, in a clear, focused and committed way.”

But as their answers continued, the black and white, no technology-yes technology idea broke down.

Both remarked that each class will have to be taught differently, and that there is no “best” way to teach as long as you feel like you’re serving your students and the material.

“As far as teaching goes, I don’t think anyone should be trying to re-invent the wheel,” Durbin said. “I think you beg, borrow and steal everything that seems to work. So whatever techniques or technology I bring to the classroom, I want it to be something that helps clear things out of your way as a student, and doesn’t put anything in your way in this project of self-crafting.”

Hoyt, however, stays away from technology when he can.

“In my creative writing workshops, in which we spend most of the semester talking face-to-face about work written by students, I don’t use anything high-tech, and I ban the use of laptops,” Hoyt said. “I want students to be engaged, fully, in a human discussion. In some classes, however, I use more technology. For instance, when I teach The Literature of Rock and Roll, we use audio and video, and students even record their own music. Technology can be a great tool, but it’s not the best tool for every educational situation.”

It ultimately isn’t about technology, or none, it’s about personal responsibility. Durbin put it as it’s “about you as an individual – connecting with yourself, connecting with others, connecting with ideas and working to make yourself a better person. I’m a relatively new teacher, and I remember going through undergrad – there were times when I just really needed to study for that test in the next class. But having that trust in students to take care of what they need to in their own lives means that it is their responsibility.”

And this idea of making yourself a better person, this goal of the teacher, kept coming up as the theme of this discussion. At one point in our conversation, Durbin even tried to turn the discussion on me (teachers often have this annoying habit, so be prepared – even when you think you’re asking them something, watch them carefully or they might try to make you fully think through something).

“The word ‘technology’ comes from the Greek ‘techne,’ which means ‘to make’ or ‘to craft,’” Durbin said. “So when we think about technology that way, not just as a noun or a thing, it helps us not think of technology in the classroom as a teaching apparatus or software or a smartphone, but the classroom itself, and really the university is just a big assemblage of technologies. So, I’m going to turn this on you – what are we making? If technology is making something new, what are we making in the classroom?”

“Oh,” I mumbled, “an environment which fosters exploration and learning. Curiosity and ideas.”

“Yeah, those are some good things, absolutely,” Durbin said. “The thing that I want to make in a classroom is new kinds of people. I want students to come into a class one way, and leave in another that’s somehow enriched. One with, hopefully, new perspectives or new skills. And so when I think about technology in learning, hopefully it serves that: crafting ourselves. More ethical, more productive kinds of people.”

So, whether or not your professor engages you with a blog project and a YouTube video, or with pen-on-paper and a no-distractions discussion, they’re creating the environment they think will be best for the class. And it is ultimately up to you, as the student, to make it work for yourself.

Take what you can from these environments while you can – and always keep an eye on how you want to craft yourself as a student, and more importantly as a person.

Jonathan Grieg is a senior in anthropology.

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Jonathan Greig
Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.