Press play, sit back & take notes

During the first week of school, still shopping around for courses, I tested out a mid-week, three-hour afternoon lecture. The course material seemed interesting enough, but I knew walking into the room that it would have to be nothing short of riveting and presented in an engaging way if I were going to survive that lengthy slot.

Half-an-hour in, all seemed to be going well. And then the professor announced that we would spend the next 40 minutes listening to a Podcast.

Thanks to technology, she noted, she would no longer be bringing in as many guest lecturers. Podcasts and other sorts of material available via the World Wide Web would instead be her supplement.

I think it was after approximately five minutes of that day’s Podcast that I fell into a deep slumber, lulled to sleep by the repetitive swirling colours of the computer screen saver.

And it was at approximately 5:35 that evening that I logged on to QCARD for some hardcore add-dropping. Call me old-fashioned, but when I step into a classroom, I expect a professor standing at the front, ready to teach.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan of technology. My laptop and I share a very close relationship and my iPod is my constant companion. I spend a ridiculous amount of time online in both a productive and, I must admit, time-wasting capacity.

I understand and appreciate the educational value of the vast amount of information and wide array of resources made available by the Internet, but it seems that rather than being used to supplement course material, it’s being used as a replacement for actual teaching.

Some of the best lectures I’ve had at Queen’s have been by professors who shun technology and rely on old-fashioned methods such as actually lecturing and occasionally scribbling on the blackboard. Instead of relying on flashy fonts and graphics to capture their students’ attention, the professors are animated speakers who engage their classroom.

And on the other side of the podium, too, I have to complain about technology.

I’m speaking as a notepad-and-pen convert—in the long-ago days of my first and second years, I hauled my laptop dutifully to and from every class, tapping away on the keys to try and capture every word of the lecture. A sore back and dying battery may have been my reason for investing in some ballpoint pens and lined paper, but I can’t say I long for my laptop days.

My notes may not be quite as thorough as the verbatim monologue I was able to transcribe on the laptop, but they capture the most important facets of the lecture. Furthermore, pen and paper encourages me to stay focused in the lecture—there’s no wireless on my notepad, no solitaire game hiding on the back pages to distract both myself and those around me.

In my experience, it’s only in tutorials and seminars that you’re guaranteed a reprieve from computer-oriented teaching. And it’s in those environments, I believe, that learning can truly happen.

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