What Students Want Their Professors to Know About Edtech

Digital Learning

What Students Want Their Professors to Know About Edtech

By Jeffrey R. Young     Feb 23, 2017

What Students Want Their Professors to Know About Edtech
Joe Grimm, an editor-in-residence at MSU's Journalism School, led the student-written book project about teaching.

Meaghan Markey prefers to take notes with her laptop in class, so she was surprised—and a bit frustrated—to find several of her professors at Michigan State University had “no-tech in class” policies, meaning no laptops, no smartphones.

She’s hardly alone. This was one of the many disconnects between students and professors revealed in a book she helped write, called To My Professor: Student Voices For Great College Teaching. The book was entirely student written, created as part of a class project. It was drawn from crowdsourcing student comments on Twitter and other social media, as well as through original research.

The book contains a range of critiques by students about the teaching they’ve encountered at college, ranging from pointers for making better PowerPoints (dubbed “weapons of class destruction”) and advice including “go easy on the jokes” and “proofread your emails to students.” It’s also full of lively quotes from students about ineffective or awkward interactions with professors.

The book first appeared in September, but just last week, the professor who led the project, Joe Grimm, visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism, published an op-ed in MediaShift about the project. In it, he noted the resistance many professors have expressed towards the book. “Several professors declined free copies of the book,” he wrote. One instructor who did take a copy later wrote Grimm to say: “I’ll give you your book back. I would prefer not to keep it in my library.”

Why the resistance by professors to the student advice?

“There’s an attitude by some professors that students today want to be coddled, and that if we teach them the way they want to be taught, it’s bad for them,” said Grimm, in an interview this week. “But students are paying tens of thousands of dollars for these educations, and they have a better handle than we do on what they need,” he went on, adding more bluntly: “I believe that students are, yes, my boss.”

Markey, who graduated from Michigan State in December, co-wrote the chapter about technology. It includes research revealing students spend 20 percent of class time on their phones and includes interviews arguing that students are more engaged when laptop lids are shut and all phones put away. Markey, however, says that often students use phones to look up information related to class rather than interrupting the professor to ask a question.

“For me, it was a lot simpler having your phone or laptop out during class,” she said. While she admits that it can be distracting to see a student looking at Pinterest or Facebook, those same distractions could also occur in the workplace. In fact, as the book notes, “at faculty meetings, department chairs notice that professors can be just as digitally distracted as some of their students.” (The book itself doesn’t take a stand on whether professors should ban tech or not, though it outlines pros and cons of several strategies.)

Another recurring theme of the book is the love/hate relationship students have with online courses. Though they often want the convenience, students have high expectations for how fast professors should respond to their questions so they don’t get lost. “While online classes are meant to be remote in distance, instructors have to go to extra lengths to ensure that they are not inaccessible in terms of learning,” the book concludes.

Keeping up with course work when there’s no face-to-face interaction was one of the biggest concerns expressed. “To help students stay on course,” the student authors suggest, instructors should “provide a schedule assignment with due dates or suggestions about when to complete them.” Students noted that one professor created a mid-term bonus for those who stayed on track, as an added incentive.

For Mackey, the biggest takeaway from the chapter is how frustrating online classes really can be. During her own college career she took in-person, hybrid and fully online courses. And in online courses, she often faced technical glitches that threw her off track. “It’s simple things, like, sometimes Skype doesn’t work correctly when you’re doing a Skype interview,” she said. “Or your professor says use this specific program, and it doesn’t work on your computer.”

This isn’t the first student-written book project led by Grimm. For years his course “Bias Busters," produced a series of titles such as "100 Questions and Answers About East Asian Cultures." Administrators at Michigan State requested the professor try having students write a teaching guide for professors, explained Grimm. One spark, he says, was an incident in which campus security had to be called over the way a professor handled an argument between a white and African-American student. Chapters in the book address racial inclusion, religious inclusion, and international community.

“My teaching has improved a lot since going through the experience of putting this together,” Grimm said. “I try to get to know my students much, much better. Learn their names faster, scheduling some early in the semester meetings with students so I can try to figure out why they’re here and what they’re trying to learn.”

As for his own stance on tech in the classroom: “I’m teaching journalism in an era of multimedia. I cannot tell them to put their devices away.”

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