CTLT Dialogues

The Blog of the Center for Teaching & Learning with Technology

Student expectations of technology use

Posted by Cathy Kelley on September 4, 2007

I had an interesting phone conversation with a graduate student in one of our business programs this morning. This student had called the President’s Office to express his dissatisfaction (though in a very polite way) with the lack of technology resources in most of his classes here at FDU, and they had passed the call on to me. Coincidentally, I was reading this article when I got the call:

Moore, P. & Diaz, V. Wikis and podcasts and blogs, Oh My! What is a faculty member supposed to do? Educause Review, 42(5), 28-40.

Moore & Diaz’s article discusses the use of technology as a pedagogical aid, a way to help our students learn more and better. This article discusses how faculty experience with technology tends to be radically different from that of our students, and how this mismatch is beginning to affect our students’ experiences of our universities.

The student with whom I spoke, however, is an adult working in a professional environment and his concern was more basic. He wanted course materials to be made available electronically as a basic expectation of service, in order to help him manage his work more effectively. He felt that it should be a requirement for our faculty to put important information such as the course syllabus onto our Blackboard system so that the students will always have this information at their fingertips. He argued that this level of service is expected of businesses in the early 2000s. A business that fails to provide important, timely information to customers will soon be OUT of business.

What do you think? Should there be an expectation that course instructors will post syllabi and other important information online prior to the start of a semester?

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5 Responses to “Student expectations of technology use”

  1. Sorin Tuluca said

    I doubt very much that we will be out of business because we do not use blackboard when a student requires it (even from the president’s office) We are not really a business. It is indeed sad to consider education a business–perhaps this is why we fail a lot. We try to do what a university should not do–agility is good in business; education needs a bit more time to sift fads from real needs or wants.

    This being said since the very introduction of Blackboard I always had all the course materials (syllabus included) on Blackboard. Frankly, I started it to avoid the boring task of copying my materials and carrying to class tons of handouts (I forgot to mention that I wanted to save the trees-o.k. this was just humor as I did not care much about the trees as I saw that they are in abundance and manace my house during every storm).

    Indeed, using blackboard could be very beneficial to the student and at the same saves faculty a lot of adminsitrative headache. However, I doubt that it can be imposed on faculty. I am sure that academic freedom goes at least as far as protecting the method of teaching of each faculty. The student complaining could have had a hard copy of the syllabus at his fingertips. It can be accessed as easy as the on line one (if you did not lose it that is.)

    I had about 20-30% of students in each graduate MBA class that did not bother to know that their classes are on blackboard nor did they ever know how to access it. So let’s not have knee jerk reactions and let all this techonology business settle a bit before we know what is valuable and what is not.

    Laptops, e-mails and Blackboard could be a dangereous triad. The student takes you for granted and requires instant gratification (via answers). I work now almost 18/7 (yes, I do sleep about 6 hours) to answer e-mails and update Blackboard…meanwhile students work when they want…

  2. I’m somewhat ambivalent about this. On one hand it seems basic to have at least the syllabus on line, along with whatever auxiliary materials one wishes to share. I always do this in the summer before a fall course, or as soon as I can before a spring course–always before classes start. I am usually in correspondence with my students before class meets the first time.

    On the other hand, however, I am against the idea, often celebrated, that the whole course, including the exam should be completely thought out before the course starts. I can conceive of courses where this might be valuable, but not the courses I teach. I teach literature and my teaching is always a discovery process. It is never a distribution of already canned information and techniques. Literary texts, even of works that I have taught many times before, always reveal new insights as I teach them. New material always pops up in the journals I read which I want to share with the class. That used to mean tons of paper from the xerox machines. Not any more. I start with a syllabus and whatever materials I have used before, but insights and information are always changing, and though the syllabus doesn’t change, the material does.

  3. Neelu Sinha said

    Regarding Dr. Tuluca’s comment “The student takes you for granted and requires instant gratification (via answers). I work now almost 18/7”, I think if you set firm limits (you define your own policy) that you will be checking emails 3 or 4 times a day at intervals of …. hours, or, I will get back to you by the next day, etc. the students will get a message and expect responses accordingly.

    I strongly agree that in this “globally digitally connected world” we have a responsibility to provide access to our courses to our students 24/7 all across the world! Many of my graduate students travel (work related) and find it very convenient to be able to digitally drop assignments (on time without any penalties) and of course it saves the trees! Additonally, I can access this from anywhere in the world (if i am away at a conference or something) and provide timely comments.

    I have not had a lot of success offering online testing with the type of courses I teach because of the “ease of availability of help digitally”, and, I still resort to in-class exams and tests. Of course, all our department courses have a policy regarding face-to-face meetings for the entire length of the class!

    Thanks.

  4. Cathy Kelley said

    Thanks for your comments. I thought this would be controversial and I’m glad I’m not wrong. 🙂

    I agree with Sorin that a university is not a business. On the other hand, our students have choices and if we’re not meeting their expectations, they will go elsewhere – which is not good for any of us. I would NEVER advocate forcing anybody to do anything however. It’s more a matter of what we will come to expect of each other. Putting a syllabus up in Blackboard seems like a fairly minor thing to do, and if it helps our students then why not do it?

    I also totally hear Jack about not wanting to map a course out completely before teaching. There is nothing at all wrong with that approach, and indeed a lot to say for it. For some disciplines (business, sciences, many others) you need to be responsive to the news to keep your material fresh. For others, like yours, the students bring insights into the process or you have some new ones yourself, and you absolutely don’t want to cut off that process. On the other hand you are teaching your course to meet certain curricular goals and having a loose structure that makes those goals clear to the students is very helpful. AND if the course is somewhat organic and you really can’t say how the structure is going to develop, then at least let the students know that this is what they should expect. Finding the right structure for a given class is part art, part science. This is nothing new though – you’ve been doing this for years.

    Neelu, it’s great that you are thinking of your students’ lives & needs in making material available to them. And as to testing online – I’m not a huge fan of that, either.

  5. Sorin Tuluca said

    Cathy:

    I am quite reluctant to agree that students would go elsewhere. It all depends on how you want to position yourself. In our case it would be wrong to try to match or beat the Phoenixes of the world at their own game as we would lose. I see more and more the need to try to actually let the students who want only conveninece go to Phoenix and those who want an education come to us. Of course, for that to happen we need to be perceived as offering quality programs.

    It is my view that trying to be too many things for many people we end up not knowing what we are. Even Wal-Mart policy is to attract only part of the consumer base and let others go somewhere else. Perhaps we should not try harder than Wal Mart. This of course has not connection with putting a syllabus on line…but it is important to understand what a university is and how far it should go in trying to offer convenience. In my time education was not conveninent and those who wanted it had to earn it. Now it appears that we have to satisfy the customer at all times. But we forget that we do not have customers, we have products (students) that we offer to the society. The ultimate test of education is if society could have used the “product” and not if the “customer” liked it or not.

    Of course that one must do reasonable efforts to make education less painful and more convenient but care should be taken not to transform education in McDonald’s where frequently I return the hamburger to the counter (for various reasons) and get one exactly how I wanted it!

    Sorin

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