Rethinking the amount of technology in the classroom

I recently returned from a book publisher’s summit along with a group of accounting instructors from around the U.S. In addition to being wined and dined by the publisher; we were there to learn all the new technology “bells and whistles” and how this latest technology could improve the learning experience of our students. It was two grueling days of presentations, and hands-on examples meant to illustrate how adaptive learning techniques can help our students better grasp accounting concepts. I must admit; I was hooked…at first. It is clear that textbook publishers have spent a considerable amount of money embedding technology in order to serve students; however, this approach has pros and cons. Yes, I can observe students’ studying patterns with the integration of technology. And yes, it makes it much easier to add an assignment in minutes. But, have you ever asked your students if they like all of this technology? If you do, you may be surprised by their response.

As I was just about to assign my students yet another online homework assignment, one student raised his hand and said, “Professor Pope, please no more online homework. We don’t learn best this way.” Once one student said it, the entire class agreed. I wanted to explore more, so I asked a few additional questions about what the students did not like. The floodgates opened! The biggest issue that my students cited was how scrolling and flipping from page to page interrupts their learning process. I always want to listen to my students, so I started doing some research on the topic of typing versus writing. According to a study published in Psychological Science, students learn better when taking notes by hand because you are working slower when writing in comparison to typing. But what about when it comes to reading? Is reading on screen more effective? According to the research…not really. Modern screens fail to recreate the tactile experience of reading on paper adequately. Additionally, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A study published in the Review of Educational Research, states if you are reading something lengthy – more than 500 words or more than a page of the book on screen – your comprehension will likely take a hit if you are using a digital device. These findings were supported by numerous studies and held for students in college, high school, and grade school. Therefore, asking my students to read a full chapter online could result in minimal retention in the chapter concepts. So, what are we doing? Following the advice of what a book publisher says to do in the classroom is akin to taking healthy eating advice from McDonald’s. Are we doing a disservice to our students by pushing unwanted technology on them? Perhaps the numerous book publishers are not incorporating the learning science research into their research and development, or maybe they are framing this as a tool to make the lives of the professor better rather than the lives of the students. Based on my reading of the research and my discussion with students, I definitely will be making some changes in my courses moving forward. Note to self; always listen to your customer, and in my case, it is my beloved students.