INSIDE Chico State
0 November 2, 2000
Volume 31 Number 6
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




Provost's Corner


Thriving Under Pressure


Calendar of Events






Provost's Corner

Scott G. McNall, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs
(Photo by Ian Gilmore)

The Dean Made Me Do It:
The DOs and DON'Ts of Using Technology in the Classroom

On Saturday mornings, my mother would begin vacuuming outside of my bedroom door around 6:30. Okay, maybe it was 7:00, but I know I was still trying to sleep. Should I have stayed out so late with my friends on Friday night? Was it time to get up and do something? What exactly I was supposed to do when I got up was not precisely clear, because I did not have a set of Saturday chores. I was, however, expected to be busy. It was my job to figure out what should be done and do it. Figuring out what you are supposed to do, in the absence of clear directions, can make you anxious.

I have heard many faculty and staff say they are learning to use new technologies and going to technology workshops because somebody else thinks they should. Nobody should rush to use technology, create their own Web site, or devote countless hours to putting a class online unless there is a very good reason to do so. Certainly, it is a good thing to use new technologies to create high-quality learning environments and to work more effectively and efficiently. But caution is in order for two reasons. First, the use of a new technology won't invariably help students learn or help people do their jobs better. Second, new technologies cost the university substantial amounts of money and substantial amounts of staff and faculty time. We don't want to waste money or time, and, therefore, we should consider the following DOs and DON'Ts before deciding whether or not to use technology.

Do not use technology if you

  1. Think it will make you a more popular teacher
  2. Believe it is the answer to students' reading problems
  3. Are trying to save the department and university money
  4. Want to spend less time reading students' work
  5. Think the administration wants you to
  6. Want all students to learn the same way and at the same pace
  7. Think it is simply an efficient way to push information to students

Do use technology if you

  1. Accept that the basic principles of learning are the same, with or without technology
  2. Are willing to invest significant resources (time and energy) in the creation of a technology-enhanced learning environment
  3. Are willing to mentor students in the use of technology
  4. Are willing to read more written work from students
  5. Are willing to take risks and make mistakes
  6. Are willing to modify what you do as the technology changes
  7. Have a very good reason to do so

The point of the lists is to encourage us to look closely at the technologies available on campus. At the moment, the course-management system for the campus, WebCT, permits faculty to do many things. It can, for example, be used to create entire online courses; it can be used to manage existing courses by allowing teachers to give examinations online, provide a course calendar, track student progress, survey the students, and structure and monitor online discussions. Lots of faculty are now including online activities in their classes; 500 courses this year are offering Web-based course material; 250 faculty are teaching Web-enhanced courses. But, and I want to underscore this, we did not purchase this software with the intention that we would be creating or encouraging the development of a number of online courses in order to make a lot of money for the university. We acquired the software because we needed to find a way, once our satellite program was gone, to link students in remote communities to our campus. WebCT is proving to be a valuable means to do that. Now that we have the software, we are also finding that it can provide a number of other benefits, such as offering faculty and staff a way to create electronically enriched courses.

The point of the lists is also to encourage us to look closely at the curriculum. As part of our exploration of technology, we need to consider that a complete university experience requires exposure to the current technology of the various disciplines. There is no discipline that has remained untouched by the information technology revolution, and a solid undergraduate experience, therefore, includes learning about the technology that is relevant to the major.

Technology offers wonderful ways to help us create high-quality learning environments, both in and outside of the classroom. When used wisely, computer, video, and telecommunications technologies can help us advance Chickering and Gamson's Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, which I have shared with you before:

  1. Student-faculty contact
  2. Cooperation among students
  3. Active learning
  4. Prompt instructor feedback
  5. Time on task
  6. High expectations
  7. Respect for diverse talents and ways of learning

Over the course of the last few years, with the support of many dedicated staff people (e.g., Technology and Learning Program, IMC) and many curious and committed faculty members, this campus has been in the forefront in the California State University system in using technology to help students. What have we learned? We have learned that

  • Faculty must continue to learn more about how students learn in general, and how they learn with technology in particular.
  • Faculty need the opportunity to interact frequently with one another to discuss the nature of teaching and learning, and the use of new technologies.

Not everybody needs to jump on the technology bandwagon. If you do jump, be sure about why you want to. The bottom line? Be clear about your objectives, and remember that the principles of good teaching are the same whether you are or are not using technology.

Scott G. McNall, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs


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