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Gromotka: Tech in the soft sciences

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | OCTOBER 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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While English or history majors probably won’t fiddle with programming during their time at the university, they will, for all of their classes, use some sort of computer-related technology. Whether we’re taking notes in lecture or conducting research, we’ve all become dependent on the use of multimedia technologies to improve and complete our education. And this dependence is increasing.

The preconceived notion is that modern technologies matter very little for the social sciences and humanities. With online services to conduct research and turn in papers, what else could these students need? The truth of the matter is that a generation raised with computers requires a more computer-focused education. Unless the university takes a stronger, proactive stance on investigating better technology options for these students, their education will be lacking.

From a student’s perspective, ICON — the online service principally used by students to submit work or read teacher-posted articles — is boring and outdated. Sitting down with several instructors, it’s clear that they share the same sentiments about the system.

“We’re stuck with ICON, which is a very clunky platform,” said Kembrew McLeod, a professor of communication studies. “It’s not very robust. I think it discourages instructors from doing innovative things.”

The other instructors I interviewed agreed. McLeod likened the current ICON platform to Windows 95. He suggested that an improved online learning space would add another teaching and learning technique, leading to better, richer learning experiences for students when used in class.

The ineffective use of technology doesn’t stop.

Another problem involves the use of computers to conduct research. It’s not that the university is even remotely close to lacking research materials, it’s that students aren’t being properly trained on how to use them. The sheer volume of databases and articles can seem overwhelming to an inexperienced researcher.

“How do you pick what’s relevant?” said Noah Johnson, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the Anthropology Department. “How do you know what’s useful?”

He said it’s clear who knows how to research and who doesn’t. Students need more tutorials on how to research effectively before diving into a college education. Increasing the focus on the proper use of online research in the curriculum of required rhetoric courses could be one solution.

Despite the obvious need for an improvement in technology, it’s important to note that there is no easy solution. With how quickly computer and Internet technologies are improving, it’s tough for professors to learn a new system and implement it into their teaching.

“Some people embrace technology,” said cinema/comparative literature Associate Professor Corey Creekmur. “Others don’t.”

He noted how, throughout his teaching career, his department has experienced continually evolving technologies. Some instructors welcome new technologies with open arms; others stick to what they know.

Simply put, there is a lot that needs to be done. It’s an awkward, puberty-like era for computers, and we’re still learning how to effectively use them in education. With elementary schools beginning to implement 1-to-1 computing education, the university will have no choice but to cater to this new generation of tech-savvy learners. Why not start now?


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