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Hillary Reinsberg

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Technology in the Classroom Should Inspire Students, Not Put Them to Sleep

Posted: 03/15/10 12:13 PM ET

The lights go dim, eyes begin to shut and the room gets quiet. Sorry kids, if you're looking for a story about the bedroom, you'll have to go elsewhere. Welcome to a college lecture hall in 2010.

Too many classes begin the same way: with an often cheesy PowerPoint presentation. The professor hooks up a projector to a computer and spends ninety minutes clicking through a series of slides. In order to best see the projection, the lights are usually dimmed or shut off entirely. Blinds are closed to trap out the sunlight, making the room feel like a claustrophobic cave.

And on a Monday afternoon in a beautiful old lecture hall, I feel like I'm being pitched a product in a cheesy office sitcom. Oh, and the dark room makes me sleepy. Get me out of here!

While our parents' generation bemoans those pontificating figureheads of yesteryear, could today's PowerPoint-reliant professors be even worse? The garbling professor from Charlie Brown always seemed a little dramatic growing up, but after five and a half semesters of dark, droning lectures, it seems sadly realistic.

If I wanted to stare at slides in the dark, I could do it in my bedroom. It's not why I came to the lecture hall. Or college for that matter.

In an era of social media and technology that encourages improved human interaction, lecturing professors should find better ways to use technology effectively in the classroom. As students tap away at iPhones, refreshing their Twitter feeds during class, professors should take a hint at the way today's college students want to learn. If this is in fact the Information Age, educators should take note. Today's twenty-year-olds are addicted to information, as long as it's presented in the right way.

Why not think of a classroom like a cereal box? Regardless of what's inside, be it Fruit Loops or Fiber One, packaging rules. Organic Chemistry might become inspiring with an engaging use of technology, while a class on Pop Culture might run dry if it relies on bland presentations.

So what's a professor to do?

Make use of a computer and projector, but use them to incorporate relevant YouTube videos into a presentation, instead of strolling through a text-laden PowerPoint.

Take advantage of the fact that students are logged in to technology 24/7. Create a discussion board to review for exams. Create a Twitter account and tweet class updates. Share interesting web links on a class listserv.

Or even record the best lectures and post them to YouTube, so not only students, but also alumni, parents, other professors and whoever may care can learn a thing or two.

And if a professor isn't comfortable with this kind of technology, then skip it altogether. Remind us of the convincing power of good oration. Low lights and slides with bullet points are a weak form of propaganda. How convincing will the lecture on Julius Caesar's rhetoric in the Ancient History class be if it makes the students want to take a nap?

But most of all, professors should think of the future of the students they should hope to inspire. A generation of students accustomed to lackluster and lazy slides on a projector will enter the workforce with the idea that this is a good way to do things. Instead, professors should stir minds by embracing an unconventional or new way of doing things, utilizing the breakthrough technology that was supposed to make sharing information easier, not more tiresome.

 

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