Sometimes Things Are a Little Overrated

The technology we use in class is very cool. I’m especially a big fan of the scanner/overhead projector…thing that lets us copy quotes and pictures from books directly onto our smartboard. the 2 tv’s and the projector screen, the smart board, the little touch pad screen that professor Clayton flawlessly navigates to change it all around, and even the laptops most of us bring in most of the time: they all let us do a lot of cool things. In terms of the smartboard, taking the class notes on the same piece of technology, and in the same document no less, that we put pictures and quotes on allows an efficient condensation of information that would be difficult, and extremely time consuming, to do on paper or a simple overhead projector. Each of us having our own laptops allows us to follow along on our own screens when visiting websites as a class, explore the world of LOTRO together, and even check on terms or information we’re studying in class(I mean, I knew that Snow Crash was cyberpunk, but what’s the harm in checking wikipedia before blurting that out to the itunes population?).

But then I wonder, at what cost does this come?

First, I will gripe about Google documents. I probably just didn’t like the experience of using Google documents because the lights were off and the computer screen light was hurting my eyes, making it difficult to concentrate on the paper, there were a thousand things (or so it seemed anyways) that we needed to edit/make comments on, I didn’t really know how to use Google documents, and I had about thirty minutes to get the whole thing accomplished. Looking over this list, I think all of these things can be destroyed, or at least ameliorated, with further experience with the interface, BUT at the time it seemed like a hassle that old fashioned paper copies could have greatly simplified. I still see the paper printout method as having many advantages over Google, at least in our small classroom setting. Even with multiple edits needed, our close proximity to one another makes paper simple and easy. When people are far away, I think email is the better way to go. I can see a big use in good when people are far away and many people need to edit a work. Also, as more people use Google documents, I’m sure the interface will improve and become a little less clunky than it currently is.

Aside for my little dispute with Google documents, the main problem I find with all of the technology we use in the class is the confusion and destruction of attention it can cause. Within the class, any sort of movie or LOTRO session, even if the movie is paused and even if the characters are just standing and smoking their pipes, is a distraction that I find sometimes draws me away from the discussion that the class if having. While the laptops are useful, sometimes I’ll miss a meaningful comment or idea while I’m looking up what I am thinking about. The least of these problems is that fact that whenever we use a movie, it somehow unpauses and draws the entire classes attention to the television; no matter how quickly the movie is repaused, it breaks the continuity of whatever other activity the class is doing. I say this is the least of the problems, because this is a simple technical difficulty that no doubt will be solved sometime in the near future.

Now, outside of the class we use a number of technologies. We have many ways of transferring information, including inside the game of LOTRO, email, Facebook, and on the class’ blog. The problem is that we have too many ways of transferring information. Facebook itself has events, messages, and group wall posts: three separate things that can be checked. I check my email as a matter of course every day, and I check the blog when I need to know what’s going on in the syllabus, but I rarely check the Facebook group. And maybe this is an error on my part. Perhaps I just need to put in the effort and manage Facebook completely every day (as opposed to just checking new wall posts and pictures) in addition to both of my email accounts. Whether or not this is my fault, however, it is a facet of the technology that the class uses that detracts from my ability to discover what is going on.

Most of these problems I have talked about can be solved with a little more practice and a little more attention to the most effective way of doing things. My jury is still out on whether the money and effort that goes into these things is really all worth it, as I see very definite pros and cons in every interface we use. With every new way of doing things comes a new skill set that we need to learn. I love the technology we use and see it’s potential for innovative ways of teaching, but at the same time I can’t help but think: is it really worth the time, money, and effort to fix things that aren’t broken?

-PChis (Melocotones)

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