These days, some of Yale’s best teachers are powered by wires and cables. Though new educational implements may not design professors’ lectures, they help to deliver them to a new generation of technologically savvy students. While Gothic walls may connect Yale to the past, the wires within those walls connect Yale to a future in which technological teaching tools are not only understood, but expected.
Technological teaching tools range from in-class Internet hookups to the more old-school projection technology, and they provide Yale professors with a variety of new options for delivering their messages. For some professors, it has become routine to structure a class around video clips or pre-made computer presentations.
With Microsoft PowerPoint pervasive in lecture halls, many students have come to expect more than just talking during lectures. But students have mixed opinions both on the prevalence of technology in the classroom and the benefits of using it.
At Yale, technology in the classroom has come to include advanced computer presentations, digital cameras, video clips, as well as the slightly more old-fashioned overhead projectors and slides. Most students estimated that still only a minority of classes at Yale are taught using some form of technology.
Director of Academic Media and Technology Charles Powell said the exact number of professors who incorporate computers or computer presentations is not known, but it is growing.
“In our last direct sampling of the question ‘I frequently use a computer as part of my instructional interaction with students,’ over 70% of the 150 plus faculty responding said they did,” Powell said in an e-mail.Ê
But freshmen seemed to experience a greater use of technology in the classroom, most likely because they tend to enroll in larger, lecture-based classes.
“I would say that half of my classes use modern technology,” Daniel Ross ’07 said. ” I think that freshmen are more likely to have technology used in their classes because it’s an easy way to teach large groups, which intro classes seem to be.”
Students also said they have found that the use of technology is more common in science or psychology classes than in other disciplines.
“I expect it more in large science classes,” Ashley Martin ’04 said. “I don’t expect it in large history classes, although I have encountered it.”
Several students said they think the use of technology can have its drawbacks.
“I feel like it’s easier to take notes when there is something up to copy,” said Nina Resor ’07. “But sometimes, I focus too much on copying it all down rather than listening to what the professor said.”
A number of students cited this same problem. When professors use pre-made presentations, many students feel that it is often difficult for them to judge the paces of lectures.
“I prefer a mix. I think technology is good, but not when professors rely solely on it. It works well as a supplement,” Ross said.
Professors as well as students acknowledge this new trend towards the use of technology in lectures. History professor John Gaddis centers his popular Cold War history class around video clips. He explained that he worked on a documentary about the Cold War before he began teaching the class, so it seemed natural to him to use the video clips in his class.
“I like the business of lecturing with video,” Gaddis said. “It is a very effective teaching technique.”
Gaddis said when grading tests, he is “always surprised” at how much the students pick up from the video clips he shows.
Martin specifically cited Gaddis’ class when discussing the advantages of technology.
“I took Cold War and his use of technology was really helpful and added to the class,” she said.
In a world where computer literacy is no longer optional, there is pressure for professors to incorporate some form of technology into their teaching.
“I’m trying to keep up,” said History professor Rebecca Tannenbaum.
Tannenbaum said that she uses overheads and slides because her students seem to respond well to visual elements.
“I would like to [use more technology], but I haven’t found enough time to learn PowerPoint and use it as an effectual classroom tool,” Tannenbaum said. “Overhead projector is as far as I go.”