Computer Technology Changing the Way College Professors Teach

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- For most college students, thinking about computers and how that technology has transformed communication and information is about as compelling as analyzing the revolutionary impact of the Gutenberg press.

Not so with Jim Herod and other professors, especially those in middle age, whose professional lives have been altered utterly by computer technology.

"It has even changed the way I prepare for class," says Herod, 60, a mathematics professor at Georgia Tech. "I used to write my lecture notes at stop lights while driving to work. Depending on the number of red lights, it took about 15 minutes. Now it takes me an hour and a half to prepare for an hour class." Herod now makes his lecture notes available on his Web page to his students -- and those across the state and the world -- one and a half hours before each class. While he is lecturing, Herod says, he notices that many of his students already have completed the complex calculations he has set out for them on his Web page. Computer technology has proven invaluable in large lecture classes, professors say, not only by adding to the quality of discussion, but by removing the paralyzing anxiety that keeps many shy students from participating in class. Emory University has a system called LearnLink, on which professors and students may communicate through a chatroom, posing and answering questions, carrying on discussions and working on group projects. "I think we're at a point where they are starting to have a dramatic impact on teaching," says Robert Agnew, 43, an Emory Sociology professor. "Every class I have now is on LearnLink and I have a Web page." "There was a really shy student who never spoke in class, " says Emory University English Professor Walter Reed, who used LearnLink as a required part of his freshman Introduction to Literature class. "She got on conference and wrote that she thought everyone would scorn and hate her. Then she wrote this long frank and quite intelligent entry and she went off like a small cherry bomb. She became a kind of stimulus and others started expressing their opinions and having discussions." But the professors also speak of potential pitfalls inherent with such an accelerated technology. Reed saw an alarming example of reduced quality of thought when he assigned his students several chapters in a recent and respected biography on Samuel Coleridge. "Rather than do the assignment, a student went to Web pages and came back with odd bits and pieces of information, some of it trite, some of it repetitious, much of it wrong. …