Technology in the classroom: Distraction or Discussion?
By Julienne Rousseau
Among the challenges, the University of Windsor students face under COVID-19 restrictions is dealing with the variations among professors’ technological competencies. Some professors are pros on Blackboard, others obvious rookies who only used it for the bare minimum pre-COVID. Flashy, PowerPoint slides, or Prezis, stand out for some professors while others use no technology beyond that which puts the professor in front of students virtually.
Dr. Rob Nelson is one of the latter types and is unapologetic.
“I would say that every other professor I know would be horrified to admit to anyone that they don’t know how to make a PowerPoint, and I’m super braggy about it,” says Nelson, who claims to have used no technology other than the overhead projector when teaching.
Whether he is lecturing in his fourth-year class or presenting his research at a conference, Nelson relies completely on his theatrical style of lecture to entertain and educate his audience. And I might add, he is really pulling it off. Where most profs and students have become dependent on technology, Nelson makes a good case for the technology-less learning environment His preference, he says, is to treat his classroom like a theatre and ask that all student turn off their devices and just watch the show.
But is it possible for students or faculty to put down the devices and focus solely on the educator when we are in the learning space together.
Nick Baker is the Director of the Office of Open Learning and a professor in the Earth Science Department. He says faculty at the University of Windsor was better prepared for the transition to online learning than other faculties in the province. “All faculty had done, at least, something in Blackboard,” he notes. “We also have a pretty robust structure in place to support faculty, again, more than many other places had, and if you look what happened over the summer, we managed to get a really significant portion of our faculty to go through some kind of training.”
But the transition to online learning is more difficult for some faculty than others, Baker acknowledges. Teaching stimulating lessons that would usually take place in a lab or field-based setting has been a more difficult task, he admits. “But if you’re really critical and intentional about it, you can create an environment that is really engaging, you can get immediate feedback from your students and have an understanding of how they’re perceiving the lesson, the learning.”
Because Nelson uses no technology in the classroom, his transition to an all technology learning environment was “seamless,” he claims. For him, teaching in the online classroom is no different than teaching in the lecture hall. Now, he is simply engaging with students on the screen instead of face to face.
Nelson and his wife Kim Nelson, a Documentary Film professor and Director of the Humanities Research Group at UWindsor, are part of a “super elaborate technological project” called Live Participatory Documentary. It’s been described as “a Ted Talk on steroids,” says Nelson, combining live performance, live music, film, and lecture to create a type of movie-going experience that is unique. After the live performance, there is a Q & A portion of the program, a lot like there would be at the end of Nelson’s lectures, where the audience becomes part of the performance.
In a world increasingly pulled towards a screen, Nelson seems to have found another way to be fully engaged with technology, without using any himself. To learn more about Live Participatory Documentary see Dr. Kim Nelson’s site,