University courses to receive technological redesign

Administrators and educators participated in a University forum focused on redesigning courses and the involvement of technology in the classroom and the future.Mediated by Ken Wiant and supported by Tech’s Technology Institute, the main goal of the forum was to look at the evidence obtained from other universities to see if any of this could make an impact at Tech.

“We have to look at what we want our students to achieve and is there another way to go about it,” Wiant said. “How can these tools add new things to the classroom, maintain excellence and at the same time improve what we do and how we do it.”

The forum analyzed what universities, large and small, across the country have done to meet growing classroom size concerns, to enhance the learning experience with technology and how successful those measures were. Also, feedback from student assessments and personal experiences of faculty and how they were able to use different technological tools to assist their lectures was added to the mix.

As state budget concerns and consistent increases in enrollment continue, Tech will need all the tools available to assist in instructing the next generation of leaders and innovators that walk the campus.

“We don’t want to change or replace what the instructors are doing,” Stacey Plant, an instructional media specialist at the technology institute said. “We merely want to assist them the same way chalk and a blackboard initially helped teachers long ago.”

After a brief introduction of the redesign idea, educators and administrators were sub-divided into discipline groups for focused discussions, with a member of the technology institute acting as a moderator and answering questions.

The sub-groups were humanities, social sciences and computational science. Moderators were quick to dismiss the notion that this was simply adding technology to a classroom because Tech can.

“This is not solely aimed at online classes,” said Hunter Kaller, an instructional media specialist at the technology institute said. “This is the systematic treatment of an art or craft, not just technology for technology’s sake.”

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville researched an intermediate Spanish transition class and found no significant difference in the retention rates between the traditional and redesign groups. The redesign groups had their class time reduced by one hour a week, lab time eliminated, and instead of online instruction students went to the book publisher’s online materials for grammar and vocabulary exercises. This allowed each Teaching Assistants to teach an additional section, increased the course by 19 sections per year and serviced 513 more students, while reducing institutional costs by one-third.

Voices of concern were immediately raised concerned about what a significant difference was and the impact of TA instruction compared to a professor who is an expert in the field.

“It’s almost like we are teaching so students can just pass a test rather than learning the material,” Chandra Elkins, a visiting instructor in English said.

Andy Smith , American Association of University Professors president was quick to support the idea of a professor in the classroom instructing being instrumental to a courses success.

“There is something dynamic that happens in the relationship between a professor and a student that cannot be replaced,” Smith said. “I think technology is great, as long as students don’t lose interaction with faculty.”

More forums will be held regarding how to implement more technological tools into the classroom. As budget crunches loom and classroom sizes increase, what Tech decides to do to address these issues over the next several semesters may determine what the University becomes in the future.

“These course redesigns are a step in the right direction, opening dialogue among faculty and colleagues,” Dr. Christine Miller, president of the faculty senate said. “We just need to be sure we implement these ideas responsibly and maintain the quality of education at Tech.