Growing Role of Technology in the Classroom?

I assigned a presentation in the class that I am teaching. The syllabus indicated that the students must prepare a 20-25 minute presentation with a handout summarizing the material. The first group presented early in the semester and prepared a great presentation including PowerPoint. I don’t use PowerPoint in my lectures/discussions and I was surprised that the group created one in addition to the assignment requirements. There are only four students out of 19 who have yet to present at this point in the semester. All of the groups that followed the first have also used PowerPoint in addition to their presentations.

My hunch is that the later groups are following the example set by the first (as I indicated publicly that they had done a good job). But I also suspect that the students are more used to PowerPoint (and technology in general) in college classrooms than I am. When I was an undergraduate technology was largely absent from the classroom. Professors didn’t use PowerPoint, students didn’t bring laptops and cellphones only made phone calls (maybe a text here and there). The majority of my undergraduate and Master’s level courses were either lecture style with professors using printed notes and occasionally writing on the blackboard or seminar discussions with reference to books, articles, etc. These materials were also “analog”.

I often wonder if the students expect me to be using PowerPoint and/or more multimedia than I do. I occasionally show short clips from Youtube and I use a lot of maps and some images but that’s typically the extend of it. I may ask them at some point if they have a preference but I’m not fully convinced how much PowerPoint adds to the classroom. I’ve always seen it as superfluous. Either it is a vehicle for a picture and/or a few quotes or it is dense with text and simply a carbon copy of teaching notes. I’m not against new technology in the classroom. It seems that it can add to the classroom experience but it doesn’t seem necessary or sufficient for effective teaching and/or learning.

Does Format Matter: Ebooks vs Paper Books

A study conducted in the U.S., Slovakia, Japan, and Germany between 2010 and 2013 found that the majority of university students surveyed preferred paper books to ebooks. The initial survey in 2010 found that 92 percent of students preferred paper books. In a follow up survey in 2013, 80 percent of respondents preferred paper books.

Given that this was a study on a relatively new technology, as well as the rapid pace of technological change in the early years of the 21st century, it is very possible that the percentage of students preferring paper books has declined even further in the past 3 years. The Washington Post reported this study in February, 2016 and I am unaware if there is more recent data. Three years is longer than the life cycle of a consumer electronics and I would wager that more students have adopted ebooks in the recent years.

From my own experience as a student both in 2010 and again in 2016, I can anecdotally report that I had only just begun to use digital books in 2010. I got my first Kindle that year and I read a lot for pleasure on it but I only used it once or twice to read a book for school. Fast forward to 2016 and I am reading nearly all of my books for school on an e-reader. I buy and loan ebooks from the library and for school reading I actually prefer ebooks.

The researchers noted that for some who preferred paper books to ebooks it was the “physical, tactile, [and] kinesthetic component” of reading that kept them attached to paper books. While I agree that there is not the same sense of weight and touch with an e-reader, it hasn’t stopped me from devouring now even more books in digital rather than analog format. I still love finding great books at used bookstores but the final feature of ebooks that has prompted my switch is the ability to listen to any book I own. The text-to-speech feature means that when I am too tired to hold the book and read, I can turn on the speaker and do the dishes while a robotic voice reads to me about Michel Foucault. This has been priceless for me when I have 500 pages to get through each week.

I highly recommend this feature. Not only does it make texts more accessible to those with limited vision (which is a great thing about ebooks) but it is also worth checking out for different learning styles. There is a debate about whether listening is the same as reading for comprehension, retention and so forth but individuals learn differently and it works for me.

Ethics: The Case of Eric J. Smart

Breaches of ethics are unfortunately common in all fields, academia is no exception. In considering cases brought to the Office of Research Integrity, I found Eric J. Smart’s case interesting for the scale of misconduct. After investigating Smart, ORI found that:

Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in ten (10) published papers, one (1) submitted manuscript, seven (7) grant applications, and three (3) progress reports over a period of ten (10) years. Respondent reported experimental data for knockout mice that did not exist in five (5) grant applications and three (3) progress reports and also falsified and/or fabricated images in 45 figures[.]

As a consequence of this misconduct, Smart entered a “Voluntary Exclusion Agreement” that lasts seven years (starting October 23, 2012). As per this agreement Smart excludes himself from “contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government;” excludes himself  “voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant;” and requests the falsified publications be retracted or corrected.

The shear number of data, figures, and documents falsified and/or fabricated really struck me. Since I am at the very beginning of my academic career it is hard for me to imagine having 10 published papers at all, let alone 10 that are falsified. Every paper, article, book review etc. that I work on, I work very hard on and I can’t fathom intentionally fabricating or falsifying information in order to get published. With my dissertation looming, and along with it collection of data, I am hyper aware of the need to collect accurate information. Accusations of plagiarism or misconduct are an added stress that seems unnecessary given the already stressful process of honest scholarship.

The case doesn’t give details about why Smart chose to act unethically in so many cases but there are several reasons that occur to me. The first, and more charitable reading, is that Smart succumb to the pressures of publishing and productivity as a scholar and therefore cut corners in order to keep up and advance in his career. The less charitable read, and because  he committed misconduct in so many cases, is that he realized the shortcut to advancement (falsifying data) was getting him the results he wanted and he therefore continued at it until he got caught.

I believe the latter scenario would be less understandable than the former though neither would get Smart off the hook. I don’t know if there were other ramifications for Smart, such as loss of position at University of Kentucky, but those listed seem appropriate. It seems loss of position would also be appropriate given, again, the on-going pattern of misconduct he showed. It’s ironic that the person involved in this particular case is named “Smart”. Fabricating data on more than a dozen projects is anything but.