“Technology is like fire — it’s neither good nor bad.”
Instead, its importance depends on how it is used, says Chuck Powell, ITS senior director of Academic Media & Technology. And, as every Yalie knows, in most cases, this entirely depends on the professor.
Most members of the Yale community agree that technology has been beneficial to higher education, offering a wider and more accessible range of resources and increased ease of communication with professors. But some professors and students said they are wary of relying too heavily on technology resources, such as the Classes*v2 server, calling it a poor substitute for classroom interaction.
Chemistry professor R. James Cross said he rarely uses the Classes*v2 server, except to obtain class rosters. Long before the server came into existence, he said he had been running a department Web site from his own Linux machine. He continues to run that Web site, as well as individual pages for his own courses.
“Classes*v2 is very slick, but it takes me a while to use, [because of the] login procedure and all sorts of problems,” he said. “Linux is more secure than Windows for running a Web server.”
But despite his personal preference for his own set-up, he said he understands that the University-wide server is necessary for faculty who do not have programming skills and a secure computer.
The original Classes server was developed in the late 1990s and beta-tested in 1996 and 1997, said Powell.
“The impetus [for creating the Classes server] was the growing demand to be able to use the Web for teaching and learning,” he said. “At the time, it was all new and novel and cool.”
But eventually, the program became “messy” and technologically archaic, Powell said. In spring 2005, the first version of the Classes*v2 software was piloted on a small scale, with a larger test launched that fall.
Professors now use the Classes*v2 server to post syllabi, announcements, course readings and links to Web sites, as well as to foster discussion and debate in online forums.
While some professors said their classes would not function without online resources, most interviewed said current technologies are no substitute for teaching on the blackboard and face-to-face communication. Many said they prefer to use technology sparingly and judiciously in their course structures.
“It is important not to let that technology drive pedagogy, but allow it to supplement the pedagogy,” Cross said.
Economics professor Tony Smith said he uses the Internet primarily to post materials like problem sets, answer keys and links to articles. But he said technology has not greatly impacted the way he structures his courses.
“I’m still a little bit old-fashioned,” he said. “I like to use the blackboard in class still, and I think that learning is still about studying, reading and working problems. There’s no shortcut for that.”
Some students, like Claire Anderson ’08, said they enjoy the convenience of accessing posted materials instead of ordering course packets or purchasing books. But Anderson said reading, taking notes, and highlighting on a hard copy is a lot easier than staring at words on a screen.
Other students said they have specific complaints about its application through the Classes*v2 server.
Ben Lasman ’10 said, although he found the server useful as an easy means of communication, he was frustrated with the lack of uniformity and consistency in the way professors use it.
“There’s an expectation that you can use it as a resource and it’s frustrating when professors don’t adhere to it,” he said.
David Hirsch, ITS associate director of Academic Media & Technology, said his department keeps a running list of all the complaints and suggestions they receive from faculty and students, and that they review and prioritize the list every semester. They make minor upgrades on a regular basis, he said, and a major upgrade every year after the spring semester.
“There is an incredible potential for making learning more active and facilitating communication, but only when thoughtfully used by faculty and students who want to engage and who know what they’re doing,” Powell said.