Let’s face it: We’re addicted to technology.
A stroll through campus will show you that technology is more than an intermediary to us. It has become an all-consuming, necessary baby blanket. Most people at the library will have their Macs pulled open instead of books — understandably, since homework and readings are often online, but I guarantee nine out of ten screens will be on Facebook. Sure, you can take notes in class more efficiently with a laptop, but, while you’re at it, you might as well shop for those boots you’ve been eyeing on Amazon. Standing in line at Durfee’s is the perfect time to swipe absentmindedly at your little piece of plastic in order to avoid, God forbid, making eye contact with someone.
You could call me a Luddite, but that would require glancing up from your phone.
The truth is, smart technology is usually praised for connecting us to each other in more efficient ways, but, more often than not, screens only make us more distant from real human connections. Yet, I admit, it’s almost impossible, as a millennial, to entirely resist our generation’s attachment to technology — doing so can feel socially isolating.
It is critical for Yale to be a leader in education by resisting our generation’s addiction to technology. Technology is obviously crucial in some academic fields, but in many cases it is overused. Why, for example, do we need to rely on a PowerPoint presentation for a history class? Unfortunately, Yale administrators — rather than resisting the strong pull of attention-debilitating measures like superfluous technology in the classroom — have thrown themselves behind this movement in full force. The efforts of the Center for Teaching and Learning to “encourage innovation and enhancement in teaching and learning through the considered use of technology” perpetuates the wrong educational ethos for the university.
Technology steers the focus of education away from learning and reflection towards distraction and boredom. Rather than calling attention to academic subjects themselves, educators at the center try to turn lectures into a horse and pony show. Teaching must be as clear and simple as possible. Smart technology, as it stands, only impedes this task: There is no firm evidence that giving in to students’ current obsession with technology is the best way to promote their academic success. Teaching should be a three-way fully engaged conversation between student, teacher and material. Professors such as Timothy Snyder and Marci Shore set a good example for maintaining an attentive learning environment by banning technology in both lectures and seminars.
When I first got to Yale, I immediately realized that there was a noticeable lack of technology in my classes. Learning involved just a chalkboard, books, a table, a knowledgeable professor and eager students. A well-delivered lecture, without screens, made me feel as if I was a direct part of the story that the professor was telling. The autonomy granted to Yale professors allows them to strip away the gimmicks and waste of the bureaucratic technology efforts of high school curricula; let’s not forget the fiasco of calibrating our whiteboards-turned-Smartboards.
Instead of preserving the crucial autonomy of professors, the center only incentivizes technological bureaucracy in education. According to its website, the center offers five grants a year of $10,000 to faculty who suggest new ways to experiment with teaching models that incorporate technology into their classes. They also offer ten $500 grants to doctoral students who develop ways to expand digital and online platforms in the Yale community. The Center for Teaching and Learning, as well as the Center for Language Study, also leads pedagogy workshops that focus on teaching professors how to incorporate technology into their courses.
Moving forward in the tech age requires us to think carefully about how technological advances relate back to our humanity. Institutions of higher learning, especially those as influential as Yale, must think carefully about preserving models of education that have been most effective, usually traditional ones, and thoughtfully pass them down to succeeding generations.
I would suggest abandoning the technology wing of the Center for Teaching and Learning, located in Sterling Memorial Library, in its entirety. The extra space downstairs could be used to create more study rooms that students would actually be allowed to use. Alternatively, more shelving space could be installed. The off-site shelving facility for library books in Hamden grows ever larger, and many books for classes have to be shuffled back and forth with frequent delays. Incentivizing technology grants could also be redirected into research money for lesser funded academic departments.
In its favor, at least the center allows me to get from Stiles to Sterling 30 seconds faster.
That gives me more time for Facebook. Please share, by the way!
Leland Stange is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .