Technology in the classroom: Some professors resist immersion

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He prefers a legal pad to an iPad and a whiteboard to Blackboard. He writes class notes by hand and encourages his students to do the same.

“It’s not that I don’t like technology,” said economics professor Steve DeLoach. “Technology makes us more efficient if we use it properly. But my philosophy is don’t use technology for technology’s sake.”

As more professors use programs such as Blackboard and PowerPoint and more students take notes with digital ink, DeLoach is a bit of an anomaly on Elon’s wireless campus. Although he teaches higher-level statistics and economics classes in computer labs, DeLoach structures his lower-level economics classes to be largely tech-free.

I treat students like adults. They won’t learn if their heads are somewhere else.
– Steve DeLoach, economics professor.

After observing classes taught by professors that often relied on classroom technology, DeLoach began to question the effectiveness of PowerPoint and its true ability to augment a lecture or presentation.

“PowerPoint is not very interactive and (presentations) tend to be very canned,” DeLoach said. “Students are more engaged when a professor is passionate, and it’s hard to be passionate (with a canned presentation).”

He prefers to actively write class notes on the classroom whiteboard because it increases student attentiveness and overall understanding of the material, he said.

“During a PowerPoint, students are staring ahead while the professor is off to the side,” DeLoach said. “When I’m writing, I stand right by what I just wrote. I get more eye contact. I need to see the faces for communication.”

And a laptop screen rarely obscures a student’s face in DeLoach’s lower-level classes. During his class observations, he noticed just how many students fell victim to the distraction of the Internet on a regular basis, and he then began limiting laptop usage in his own classes.

“If I go to a meeting and I’ve got my laptop and I zone out, I check the same things that students do, like email,” DeLoach said. “I get it. But you do miss things (when you’re distracted).”

Other Elon professors also question the effectiveness of classroom technology and use it only to achieve specific purposes.

Although he uses PowerPoint for about half of each class period, associate professor of history Michael Carignan agrees that PowerPoint has “limited utility.”

“It depends on how you use it,” he said. “It is meant to legibly organize and present talking points. I use it as a way to couple major points that I want to make with images. It’s important to have visual.”

Freshman Bryan Younghans said that he likes Carignan’s limited use of PowerPoint.

“The presentations can be helpful,” Younghans said. “But I like that we spend the first half of class in open discussion.”

Before each class, Carignan posts his PowerPoint presentations on Blackboard so that students can print them out prior to class.

“If students don’t have to concentrate on writing down every detail of the slides, they are then able to think about the material more deeply,” he said.

This practice proves useful come test time, said freshman Elizabeth Chang.

“I don’t like when professors don’t utilize the computer,” Chang said. “If I miss something, I like being able to get it off BlackBoard.”

When it comes to laptop use in class, though, Carignan recognizes that students often abuse the privilege.

“It makes me feel ignored and disrespected (when students misuse their laptops),” he said. “But I treat students like adults. They won’t learn if their heads are somewhere else.”

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