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L2.1

Enhancing Instructor Craft and Student Outcome with Improved Classroom Technology

How would this plan work?
Why does Millsaps need this plan?
What are the learning outcomes for this plan?
How could we assess these learning outcomes?
Which students would this plan affect?
Would this replace or augment other programs on campus?
What resources would this plan require?
Are there any particular obstacles to this plan?

Contact person: Kristen Golden
For a copy of the proposal, click here.


How would this plan work?

  • We raise the quality of our students' learning when faculty members take advantage of technology in the classroom. Students regularly report on Heritage evaluations that they appreciate the use of images some professors adopt and they encourage others to integrate more visuals into their lectures. For decades pedagogy experts have suggested that technology, with its emphasis on concrete sight imagery, helps reach the visual learners identified in the long touted theory that students have different learning styles. Some new research is putting in question the idea of different learning styles, but if it is dropping the idea that people are different in how they learn, it is not dropping the idea that people need different stimuli in order to learn. A New York Times article citing studies by Robert Bjork in the journal of Psychological Science in the Public Interest and Doug Rorhrer and Kelli Taylor in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology implies the link between employing classroom visuals -- a way of engaging more neural areas -- and enhanced learning. By stimulating a range of sensations and associations the impression on the brain of ideas being discussed deepens.
     
    "The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time," the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding. Not only do intermittent changes to our environs appear to improve learning outcomes, but "[v]arying the type of material studied in a single sitting" can, too. "[A]lternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language-- seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time" (Carey, Benedict. "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits." New York Times, Sept. 6, 2010. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html.).
     
    It seems almost patent that having access to classroom technology empowers instructors to produce learning enhanced situations, including those identified in the recent studies discussed above. They emphasize changes to environmental stimuli; variations in what's studied and alterations in how material is studied. When Dr. Anne MacMaster shows her students a succession of images depicting a literary plot: Gilgamesh hoarding other women, Gilgamesh fighting Enkidu, Gilgamesh fighting the bull, the above research suggests she stimulates additional neural areas in student brains. The themes about which her students have been reading and hearing will build fresh connections to new neurons activated by the images. Similarly, by flashing an image against the huge screen of AC 215, whether of a WWI firearm, an ancient Greek Trireme, or man on the moon, Dr. William Story increases the mnemonic payoff for his students by altering the environment in which they are learning. According to Bjork and Rorhrer changing one's surroundings while studying weaves what one's processing onto a new neural trellis. The more such latices an idea links to the more an idea's potential for complexity and remembrance by the student.
     
    Given the almost certain benefits of employing technology in the classroom, it is doubly troubling that Millsaps College regularly comes up short in divvying out hot rooms to instructors who need them. I know I am not alone in my frustration. The semester starts and once again I find myself bumped from a room with smarts to a space sporting a chalkboard. As my colleagues and I continue to develop our technological skills to keep pace with our increasingly tech-exposed students, as we continue to stimulate excitement about our ideas through the explosion of media available, it remains more important than ever that we have facilities that can support those of us integrating tech-inspired pedagogy. We need to outfit many more rooms (for instance, all rooms in the Christian Center) with secured LCD projector, sound system and computer with internet access.

Why does Millsaps need this plan?

  • When Dr. Eric Griffin wants to take his students on a photo odyssey through London's pubs and dungeons to help them understand the Spanish Inquisition; when I know I can drive home Beauvoir's claim that inequality between the sexes still exists if I could just cast on a screen some United Nations graphs about percentages of women who remain illiterate; when I am overcome by an urge to compare Priam's plea for peace in The Iliad with a clip of Country Joe and the Fish singing "I feel Like I'm Fixin to Die Rag" at Woodstock, it is important that Dr. Griffin and I have rooms that can hook us up to the requisite images, graphs, and concert videos.
  • In Fall of 2010 the two courses in which I wanted to use technology I was unable to because I had been relegated to cold rooms. I specify my case to illustrate what I know many of my Arts and Letters colleagues also experience: inconsistent access to technology in the classroom. By being unable to provide Arts and Letters faculty regular access to rooms with an LCD projector, sound system and computer with internet access, the College's facilities thwart our craft. Instructor enthusiasm wanes. Student learning suffers.

What are the learning outcomes for this plan?

  • See the section above

How could we assess these learning outcomes?

  • Since we live in an era of assessment, increasing the faculty's access to classrooms with technology would require increasing the College's assessment of learning outcomes from technology. There are mechanisms currently in place that could be tweaked to this end. Katherine Landrum circulates questionnaires to first year students and graduating seniors. These could be tailored to include questions specific to learning with technology. Possible questions might look like these:
  • "Did instructors in your major employ classroom technology" (Circle: never, rarely, sometimes, often, always).
  • "When instructors teach using technology (images, podcasts and other forms of information technology) does your learning improve?" (Circle: never, rarely, sometimes, often, always).
  • "Discuss examples when instructors effectively used technology in your classes."
  • "When instructors implement technology in your classes, do you generally find it enhances the learning opportunity?" (Circle: never, rarely, sometimes, often, always.)

Which students would this plan affect?

  • Most students semi-regularly enroll in a course taught by an instructor who employs the technology built into our hot rooms. Most students will have some classes in which the instructor uses an LCD projector, sound system and computer with internet access. Virtually all students would benefit from this QEP for reasons described above.

Would this replace or augment other programs on campus?

  • My plan to increase the number of technologically equipped classrooms is not new or unique. It fits into the vision for classroom technology that Millsaps College initiated several years ago when it wired additional rooms throughout campus with internet access, built in screens, locked boxes with computer, sound system, and VCR/DVD players. If the current assembly of equipment used in hot rooms suffices for most of our needs, and I believe that it does, the idea is simple: get more like them.

What resources would this plan require?

  • "Enhancing Instructor Craft and Student Outcome with Improved Classroom Technology" requires committing financial resources to furnish almost all regularly used classrooms with the technological set-up described above.

Are there any particular obstacles to this plan?

  • Other than the hurdle of financial resources, the obstacle we face most may be one of vision. Integral to our College's self-understanding is that we place academic excellence first. In order to keep pace with our highest priority we need to comprehend the importance of instructor access to classroom technology. In an age of exploding information online, faculty members' needs for smart classrooms will only expand. The current inadequacy of our facilities for meeting basic teaching needs of the twenty-first century will become a growing barrier to academic excellence at the College unless Millsaps furnishes almost all of its classrooms with savvy technology.


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