Due at midnight, the assignment drives her to ignore the pounding headache she has from staring at her computer screen all night. She hits her forehead against the keyboard, frustrated by her online statistics homework. Julie Speraw, a freshman Criminal Justice major at the University of Nevada, Reno, lays her tired head on the desk abandoning all hope she had for going to sleep at a decent hour that night.
With hours spent staring at a variety of screens all day, Speraw and thousands of others at UNR stay up late slaving away at hours of online homework. Many teachers and departments at UNR have incorporated many of these digital screens into their courses with the best intentions of helping students learn better. But too much dependency on technology may not always provide the best way for the Wolf Pack to learn.
Clickers, projectors, and up-to-date computer programs can detract from students’ learning experiences in some of their courses. Foreign language students especially benefit from more human face-to-face time.
UNR graduate and Spanish instructor Siobhan Mulreany said that she feels technology gets overused at times.
“It’s best to have more interaction than technology most of the time to get people talking and learning the language.”
However, in large lecture halls with hundreds of students, technology such as the clicker is essential. The clicker technology allows students to send in their answers to questions and provides the instructor with instant feedback on participation and students’ comprehension. Jeremy Smith, a geography instructor, utilizes the added efficiency of clicker technology in his Physical Geography course.
“Clickers can move us faster,” he says. “There’s no easy way to track participation without them. And I can import results directly to Webcampus.” Smith can calculate and input grades easily for nearly 100 students thanks to clicker technology.
According to Tim Gordon, the West Coast account executive for the Turning Technologies Co., clickers keep students “clicked” in to the lecture.
“When I was in school, the same five or six kids raised their hands, but the clicker allows the teacher to engage every student.”
While clickers do require every student to participate, 100 percent participation does not always mean 100 percent comprehension of the lecture material.
“I feel like clickers are only used to take attendance rather than to test out knowledge of the material. I didn’t pay $50 for attendance taking purposes,” said Speraw.
With the intensions of increasing a course’s quality, clicker tech has assisted instructors immensely. However, they seem to suck more money out of students who do not think that they help.
As students answer clicker questions, some may have more than one clicker with them. Students have found a way to cheat and get their participation and quiz points without showing up to class, they only need a classmate willing to push clicker buttons for them while they hit the snooze button.
Three or four students with their laptops huddle around a table in the common room looking to the person with the assignment already graded and corrected. Online homework also provides added opportunity for some students to cheat. The clickers and supplementary online homework may add efficiency, but they can also enable lazy habits.
Of course many technologies on campus truly help students by helping them build the skills they need for their field once they graduate. The IT coordinators for the College of Engineering, Ron Ray, and for the Reynolds School of Journalism, Luke Sorensen, both say that the software and computer programs available in their prospective buildings get used by the professionals in their industries.
Sorensen said that in the Reynolds buildings, “the possibility for hands-on learning is always there.”
The technology offered is of course intended to give students a higher quality learning experience, but it does not always fulfill those intentions. While the tech adds efficiency and helps instructors and students move through courses faster, it also adds a heavier workload on students.
“Teachers expect the work to be easier and more convenient for us than without using technology just because we can do it on the computer, but it’s still just as inconvenient and time consuming,” said Speraw.
Quantity over quality does not encourage students to want to learn. When overused or not implemented correctly, technology can be a learning obstacle rather than a learning tool.