Yusuf Mansoor: Make classes more interesting by incorporating technology

Throughout the admissions process, GW guarantees many things – from a campus integrated into D.C. with proximity to many government centers and national landmarks, to an education from some of the best professors in their fields.

But GW doesn’t always live up to our expectations. Many of us were told that universities like our own are at the forefront of technology, and that professors use revolutionary tools to teach students in new and exciting ways. For the most part, however, my classes so far seem entirely conventional.

There a number of ways professors could add some life to the traditional class style through more innovative technology, and students would welcome a change from the usual PowerPoint lectures. In my own classes, professors – especially in the very large lectures – rarely vary their style of teaching, choosing to use a combination of Powerpoint presentations and their own wit. While this can be engaging, there are better, more interesting ways to incorporate technology.

The University should make it easier for professors to adapt to the changes needed for professors to accept them. GW already offers workshops for faculty about Blackboard, but officials could add a similar program to help professors understand new ways to add technology to their classrooms.

Of course, professors have lectured without technology for centuries, and with plenty of success. But a number of schools have begun adding new technological features to their classrooms, giving students the chance to learn through technology. And more GW professors should give it a try.

A professor at Michigan State University, for example, found that incorporating Facebook into classes can help students refine skills in a conversational and argumentative debate. In the study, students posted articles relevant to the topic they were studying – in this case, climate change – and then discussed the topic in a comment thread.

Professors have always viewed Facebook as something that is not conducive to learning, and scrolling through Facebook in class is the easiest way to tell that students aren’t paying attention. But Facebook’s social style actually makes it easier to monitor informal learning.

Other schools have taken technology far beyond social media. This past summer, one professor at Pennsylvania State University began issuing Apple Watches to students. The goal of the project is to use the Apple Watch in a similar way to a Fitbit, which monitors the user’s daily activity. The Apple Watch will ask questions at random periods about the wearer’s study routine to keep class and homework at the forefront of a student’s mind.

Of course, using social media or issuing new technology isn’t always feasible. But GW could also easily incorporate technology by better integrating online textbooks – an initiative that would save students thousands of dollars without fundamentally changing how classrooms operate.

The University of Minnesota, for example, made books available for free online in 2012, and their collection has been growing ever since. A similar program with free or low-cost online textbooks would not only save students money, but would also save them a lot of time, since they wouldn’t have to spend time looking online for cheaper copies and then waiting for them to ship.

So far, most of the shifts toward the use of more technology in classrooms seem half-hearted. For example, some University Writing courses now have an online component. These courses, while still primarily conventional classes, have one scheduled meeting online per week. But it seems like many professors have only slightly adapted their courses to fit this new online component, with some teachers completely ignoring it.

The University also utilizes Blackboard as a medium for professors to communicate with their students, set up assignments and input grades. Course Capture, a program that records lectures as they are performed and makes them available online within the day, enables students to rewatch their lectures whenever they like. However, most professors have yet to integrate unique technology into their classes, and that’s where it’s needed most.

GW does a lot for its students by making fantastic internships possible and centering us in the heart of the District. Now, the University must go further and start using the newest, most innovative technologies.

Yusuf Mansoor, a freshman, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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