by Sean Hull
With smartboards hanging from walls in classrooms, various flat-screen TVs adorning the hallways and laptops in almost every student’s bag, it’s sometimes difficult to remember a time when technology wasn’t as pervasive in our society and our learning environment.
These new technologies have now overshadowed the days of the overhead projector, bulletin board and pad of paper. Along with the technologies of old, some people think we may be losing the interpersonal qualities that have historically been an important part of the university experience in our shift to doing much of our classwork online and taking online classes.
Alex Beckwith, a non-traditional student who is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma, is returning to the college to update his skills in information technology. He worries that online classes and forums used for discussion in class deprive students of the nuances of human interaction.
“I think coming from being online in the ‘early days,’ when it was just internet relay chat, to today, there is just, not just between student and teacher but I think just in general, there is a loss of interpersonal skills when you’re spending too much time communicating via computer… If [class discussion is] on an online forum, you get the information but I don’t think you necessarily get the emotional context that it’s in or kind of getting more information just from the way that the person, the speaker was kind of intending it to be conveyed as,” said Beckwith.
Enrollment in online classes has been steadily increasing at the college over the recent years, according to Vincent Miller, the director of the Educational Technology Center, which supports faculty with the various forms of technology used on campus. However, he doesn’t necessarily agree that online classes have to lose the interpersonal quality of in-class study.
“It’s just another way of teaching, so you can call it a different delivery method and it has pros and cons. Certainly a lot of people really do like that face-to-face with the faculty member and with the other students, and if that’s done well, then that’s really a valuable way to teach. But an online class can be designed in such a way that there is a lot of engagement with the faculty member and with the other students, so you still do get a lot out of that,” said Miller.
Beyond just online classes, the presence of connected technology in the classroom has greatly increased. It’s not uncommon anymore to see a student with a laptop on the desk in front of them in class, or to see someone rapidly typing a message on their phone hoping they can get it through before the professor notices. Some see the increased connection as a distraction, and others see benefits.
“I know that when I was in school back in the ‘90s, it was kind of frowned upon for people even to bring a calculator to math class,” Beckwith said. “Now it’s kind of like it’s almost just a norm that has been accepted … I believe that it’s another tool, but it can also be another distraction too. If people want to surf the web while the teacher’s in class, that’s their choice.”
First-year student Jasmine Vasey uses her phone and laptop to augment her learning in class.
“I would use my phone to look up information if I needed to … or text somebody real quick [for information],” said Veyes. She went on to say “[Technology] is becoming more of a thing. It’s becoming more available, so people use it.”
With many students swapping their notebooks for laptops, it seems technology will continue to become ever more pervasive in our society and our learning both in the classroom and at home. In a society driven by emails, multitasking and e-commerce, relying on technology isn’t only convenient, but a necessity in today’s age.