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30 November 2012

Article link: Keith Williams on the use -- and abuse -- of technology for technology's sake

Keith Williams is an engineering professor at the University of Virginia.  He visited me this week to see our new science building, talk physics and physics teaching, and to see what we do in our research physics course.  I was surprised and amused that, despite the fact that he grew up in and around Botswana, he ended up attending a Kentucky public high school, just like I did.

As we toured the new Manning Family Science Building he noted the enormous, beautiful lounge designed to facilitate collaboration.  Conversation turned to how I had told the architect in no uncertain terms that I didn't WANT network jacks, outlets, and cord guides on the tables to make it easy to plug in laptops.  Not only do I think such built-in technology will be outdated well within the building's lifetime, I object to the mere principal of making laptop use easy in this collaborative space.

Keith won the hearts and minds of the Woodberry science department when he complained about how every time he sees his students studying, they have their heads buried in a computer.  "They don't know how to talk to one another, to explain physics," he said.  

Keith was impressed that we had this section of the building devoted to human contact in the context of physics.  He liked even more our nearby open lounge with two large screens that can instantly connect to any laptop or tablet: this lounge says "Okay, if you're going to use a laptop to do physics, put the screen up where everyone can see it and talk about the physics."  We've found this arrangement to be wonderfully effective as our research team prepares their presentations.  

I'd encourage you to read his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "A Technological Cloud Hangs Over Higher Education."  He makes points about education technology much more eloquently than I could.  

1 comment:

  1. I had a great time, Greg! Thanks for the enjoyable visit!

    You are doing a terrific job encouraging students to think out loud, and interact with each other as they tackle complex problems. The best part was that your students were really having fun with new ideas.

    Should it interest you, here is a little blog post of mine on the subject of how lack of preparation inflates the cost of higher ed. A quick summary is that the well-prepared students get much more bang for their buck in college...

    Needless to say, many of the cost problems in higher ed could be solved by better investment at the secondary school level. Reaching students at earlier ages is the key. Woodberry is a compelling example of what is possible if we make that early investment.