Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Is there a radical change coming in academia thanks to instructional technology?

This topic has long been a passion of mine and hence this blog is just one outlet for various ideas. In San Diego at the AEA meetings I presented "Six Uses of Technology to Improve Teaching and Learning," (pdf file) January 2004. The fundamental conclusion is that technology should only be used if it meets two conditions: (1) "professor time should be reduced of the repetitive and mundane chores that a computer can do so well or professor time should be used more efficiently" and (2) "student learning should not be harmed and if possible significantly advanced. The six uses are (I) electronic grading, (ii) interactive presentations, (iii) electronic CATS (classroom assessment techniques), (iv) mastery learning testing, (v) electronic portfolios, and (vi) active engagement activities.

Another paper in this mold is by Kim Sosin and Bill Goffe "Teaching with Technology: May You Live in Interesting Times," (pdf file) July 2004. {this paper is no longer there --- Please find it in the Journal of Economic Education. William Goffe and Kim Sosin, "Teaching with Technology: May you Live in Interesting Times" invited paper, Journal of Economic Education, 36(3), Summer, 2005, 278-291.} In my first read through of that paper I am reminded that in my paper, I take the communication enhancement function of computers and the internet for granted and thank them for that reminder. I am also reminded that I marveled when I first discovered that I could prepare overheads on a laser printer in the early 90s. These two papers are an expression of how far we have come. and both point to a future of even more possibilities. Still my two requirements should always be the yardstick by which these technologies should be measured.

I have dabbled in online office hours ("Virtual Office Hours: Tutoring Distance Students in Mathematics, Statistics and Economics" presentation to the Ohio Commons for Digital Education 2004 Conference. March 8-9, 2004), synchronous video distance learning ("The U of Akron Distance Lerning Systems", 1997), asynchronous distance learning, ("Do On-Line Students in a Mastery Based Principles Course Analyze, Synthesize and Evaluate Better Than Face-To-Face Students? pdf file, Presentation to NAEE/CSEE sessions, ASSA meetings, San Diego, January 5, 2004 ), tests of learning styles, (VARK web site), games (Aplia web site), digital ink technology ("Digital Pen Technology in Lecture Presentations," Good Practice Showcase, The Economics Centre of the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN), Universtiy of Bristol, UK, January 2004.), electronic white boards ("SMART Sympoduim: Interactive Lectern Integration Module - Various uses of the Sympodium in teaching," Educause, Atlanta, October 2002 ) and Tablet PCs (see elsewhere in this blog), all mentioned in the concluding section of Sosin and Goffe, but their last sentence is a challenge to all of us, is there a "radical change further down the road that may fundamentally change academia (Sosin and Goffe, p. 22)"?

Lets hear your comments on this question. How will it happen, what is the future? How can instructional technology help us in our mission of enhancing economic literacy? -- Steve


  1. It's clear that the use of computer-based technology is growing fairly rapidly, what with "wired" classrooms, on-line course mamagement systems, course/textbook web pages maintained by publishers, and an increasing number of textbooks that include "web-based" questions either at the end of chapters or in the study guide. There's even a web-based, textbook-independent tutorial program developed by Paul Roemer (Aplia), and Krugman and Wells is designed essentially as a web-based textbook.

    I've used a bunch of this, in bits and pieces, including moving almost all student performance assessment out of the classroom and into IU's course management system. (Frankly, this has been a tremendous time-saver, although I have hit the occasional speed bump with it.)

    What I remain unsure of is how effective my use--or anyone's use--of this stuff has been. The literature I've seen suggests that on-line learning environments do no better (and no worse) than classroom environments. If that result holds up, it'll be a disappointment, because the on-line environments are, in general, costlier than the classroom environments, at least for now.

  2. People hear "technology" and they think "on-line" but recent technology advances can have a huge impact without taking the students on-line. For example, high-speed printing is now as cheap as photocopying. I use this fact to create a unique exam for each student. I come into the class with 40 tests and 40 keys. I give students 10 or 20 other versions in advance for use in their preparations. Knowing that the test they take will be like the ones they study motivates students.