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Tech tools terrific for some, trouble for others

By Braulio A. Tellez

Computers and the Internet have replaced the old blackboard and overhead projectors. Thirty-minute videos have replaced two-hour lectures.
Technology has changed the face of the classroom, for better or worse.
English professor Michael Morris believes tech-driven classrooms are the way to go. He predicts that computer-aided teaching methods will continue to expand and will eventually replace the more conventional methods professors have been using for years.
Morris uses the online classroom tool “Blackboard Learn” to communicate with students as well as submit grades and post tests online.
Morris said Blackboard and other Internet tools are great because they provide professors with more efficient ways of teaching.
“I’ve taken two exams that I used to give in class that would take an entire week,” he said. “Now I put them online and leave them open for about 10 days, and students can take them whenever it’s convenient. It gives me two more weeks of class time to cover essential material that I wasn’t able to cover before.”
Although computers are enhancing the way professors work with their students, not everyone is willing to accept the change.
“Some professors are reticent to try new technology because the learning curve is so high,” Morris said. “They’ve got to learn so much and they have to put so much work on the front end that they don’t see themselves being saved from a lot of work in the back end.”
He said some students are also reluctant to try programs such as Blackboard and are often pessimistic about them. Morris said the problem is that many professors do not take the time to go through the program with students. They expect them to know how to use it on their own. He believes a little guidance and instruction go a long way.
“A lot of the students who come in with no computer knowledge at all, if they’re just a little open and willing to learn and ask the right questions, they do great,” Morris said. “Two or three times using it and they’re zipping around the room helping out other students.”
However, in order for that to happen, computers must be available in the classroom. Unfortunately, that isn’t always easy for professors to schedule.
Computer science professor David Kirk said new programs and gadgets, such as iPads and smartphone apps, are promising, but it will take a few years for educators to become accustomed to them.
“The problem with technology in the classroom is that it takes too long to get the kinks out,” Kirk said. “It takes even longer to get used to working with these tools. I don’t want to spend half of my time trying to get something to work. It needs to be ready and easy to use.”
As far as phone apps are concerned, Kirk said they need to be universal. He does not see them going very far until they do.
“Those apps need to be supported by every device, including Android and Windows phones, on top of Apple products,” he said.
Although Kirk is not big on the idea of using tablets in the classroom, he does believe that, in time, physical textbooks will be replaced by digital ones.
“As soon as tablets become under 100 bucks, I definitely see everything becoming an e-book,” he said.
According to Ed DesPlas, the DCCCD’s executive vice chancellor of business affairs, the main thing that has prevented the colleges from bringing in more new technology for the school is money.
When the district lost $25 million in funding over a three-year period and began making deep cuts to compensate, one of the first things cut was technology funding.
“We held what we had and waited until we got more money, so now we’re in a rebuilding situation and playing quite a bit of catch-up” DesPlas said. “So we’re looking at future facilities and upgrades in labs and classrooms, but it all depends on how much funding each individual college has put into its technology.”

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