By Ron Tinsley
Innovation in technology continues to grow exponentially in the U.S. and across the globe. Laptops are getting faster and cheaper (except Mac Notebooks) and phones are becoming more app-happy and complex. I bet one day you may be able to flush your toilet with a keyless entry. I visited Seoul, South Korea last summer and I was amazed at the proliferation of information and communications technologies (ICT). They have automated kiosks all over the city that can produce personal I.D. information if a Korean needs this info to apply for a job or get access to services. According to the 2005/2006 Digital Opportunity Index, Seoul is ranked first with the highest broadband Internet penetration. (Incidentally, the U.S. is ranked 20th).
But what are the pitfalls of being totally and constantly wired?
Well there is a lesson to be learned from “Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie. In the beginning of the movie, he is trekking though a temple in Peru to retrieve a golden idol. He seems to know where the booby traps are (most of them) because of his experience finding artifacts in scary places. He finally sees the idol and carefully replaces it with a bag of sand. But as he walks away, several booby traps are triggered and he’s running for his life. His guide wasn’t so lucky. As he nears the exit, a huge rock starts rolling behind him intent on crushing him. The theme music is queued and he successfully escapes being flattened by the skin of his teeth.
What does this have to do with technology and adjunct teaching?
Well, it is a given now that laptops are inside the classroom. It is a given that there will be wireless Internet on the laptops. It is also a given that possibly 20-30 percent of your class may be taking notes and surfing Facebook at the same time. Although there are students who use laptops for note taking, it is clear that multi-tasking is accepted as a fact of life. Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believe that multi-tasking hurts students. In the end, author Todd Oppenheimer (The Flickering Mind) believes that multi-tasking does not help you remember what you just learned.
I teach two adjunct college classes where the participants, according to research studies, fall into two media enculturated demographics: teens and minorities. Because of this, I have rigid rules on the use of technology in the class. Aside from the rules, I work hard to encourage students to engage one another. What I find telling is that usually those in my class who are always on their laptop are usually asking questions about things I just covered in class. I usually pull these students aside privately and tell them to moderate their use of technology. I also give in-class assignments that emphasize project based learning that do not use technology. Although I sometimes use PowerPoint to teach the class, I make sure that my presentations provokes questions and covers knowledge that they should write down. This helps the class see technology as a way to uncover, to heightened and even inspire. When it becomes a tool, it can become less of a hindrance to learning. Indiana Jones used his knowledge and experience of ancient temples as a tool to avoid the booby traps and…to run from them when necessary!!!
Students need to see the important of knowledge, critical thinking and creative problemsolving so that when they encounter the unpredictable, innovation takes over. I work hard at displaying this in my class by utilizing my past communications experience, research knowledge of specific topics and creative problem solving skills. Although the Internet can be akin to have an extensive encyclopedia at your fingertips, a dearth of critical thinking means that information may not be critiqued and interpreted properly. The end result could be erroneous and contradictory ideas showing up in a student’s work. Sometimes the attitude seems to be that if it is on the Internet, then it must be legitimate. This can breed laziness and complacency. You need an idea for a paper? Google it and plagiarize it. Indy’s adversaries were too scared and lazy to find these artifacts on their own. So they always showed up to take the spoils from him after he’d navigated all the dangerous booby traps.
Even if getting students to embrace technology as a tool does not work, I have learned as an adjunct instructor that everyone cares about their grade. Why? Even if they don’t need the class, it still affects their overall cumulative GPA. I believe that booby trap can feel worse than being flattened by a huge rock.