Professors still adapting to classroom renovations

Six weeks into the semester, professors appreciate the installment of technology in 31 classrooms over this summer, but don’t always take advantage of it.

Some faculty members are unaware of the new technology available in classrooms across campus.

Though the university provides workshops showcasing the new technology for faculty, some like William Thalmann, a professor of comparative literature, have not found time to attend.

“I don’t know what is different now than five years ago,” Thalmann said. “I only have so much time. I know what works for my classes so I must set priorities.”

Susan Metros, associate chief information officer for technology-enhanced learning and associate vice provost for ITS, said her staff provides assistance to professors who need help adjusting to the new technologies.

“We do a good job of helping professors to better understand the technology without forcing new devices down their throats,” Metros said.

On Jan. 25 the university began offering subscription access for professors and students to, an online video tutorial website, which features five- to 15-minute learning segments on everything from Google applications, web development and social media sites to video editing and software like Microsoft Office.

The Office of the Provost offers Learning Environment Grants for any professor who creates an assignment incorporating technology from a redesigned classroom. For example, instead of assigning a standard essay, professors can design multimedia presentations incorporating the new slide projectors.

Marley Weddington, a senior majoring in business, said people need to be made aware of technological advancements.

“I wish the school was more vocal about making their efforts known,” Weddington said. “I need another three years here to fully take advantage of resources I didn’t know existed until just recently.”

Metros said the technology initiatives are in response to the suggestions of USC students and professors from surveys, faculty focus groups and meetings with student government.

“As technology becomes an important part of students’ everyday life, more and more want to incorporate it into their education,” Metros said. “Professors are open to this as well.”

The Learning Environments group, in partnership with the Center for Scholarly Technology, administers surveys at the beginning and end of each semester to faculty and students teaching and taking classes in the renovated classrooms.

Surveys from fall 2010 and spring 2011 found 83 percent of professors and 84 percent of students believe current technology is appropriate for their needs, and 87 percent of professors believed the technology enhanced their ability to present information.

This feedback is continually reincorporated into the new designs, and the Learning Environments group has already made changes to the technology functions, lighting and furniture options and configurations in existing rooms.

Lawford Anderson, former director of the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching, said one downside to visual technology is the fear of “death by PowerPoint,”  the idea that if lecture material is written on slides and posted online students won’t bother showing up to class.

Nick Bradvica, a junior majoring in English, said the new classroom technology is making his life a little easier.

“The more advanced learning students are subjected to, the more advanced tools we need,” Bradvica said. “I don’t feel a disconnect from teachers because of technology; it actually makes me feel more connected to them and it’s easier for me to follow along with their lectures if I have it in front of me.”

Though  Thomas Habinek, classics department chair and professor, uses PowerPoint presentations to supplement his lectures with visual elements, he said he prefers the simplicity of going back to the basics.

“Read a lot, write a lot and engage with the professor,” Habinek said. “There’s really no replacement for good old-fashioned teaching.”

Though Metros insists there is no “one size fits all” technology for every discipline, the aim of these advancements is to provide students with a more engaging learning experience.

“Technology won’t make a bad teacher a good teacher, or a good teacher great,” Metros said. “It really comes down to a passion for sharing knowledge. Technology takes down the four walls of a classroom and gives an immediate context to learning.”