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Students Assess Computer-Aided Classroom Presentations

Dr. Martha C. Sammons, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio This paper describes the results of a pilot program conducted in the College of Liberal Arts at Wright State University during the 1993/4 school year in which students judged their instructors. The overall purpose of this project was to motivate faculty to improve teaching and learning through use of technology-based classroom presentation tools. Student assessment information is highly useful to schools considering purchasing presentation equipment. Their comments also provide useful suggestions for faculty designing computer-aided presentations. Project Overview The specific goals of this project were to: Assess faculty interest and needs; Improve the teaching and motivation of all faculty in the College of Liberal Arts; Enable faculty to try using new technologies in the classroom; Challenge faculty to find ways to integrate technology into the curriculum; Encourage faculty teaching common subject matter to develop common educational resource material; Investigate strategies to motivate and reward faculty for improving teaching presentations; Investigate strategies to integrate new with traditional teaching methods; Improve student note-taking and learning by improving the quality and availability of classroom resources (text, graphics, video, and audio); Assess the effectiveness of this program on improving student performance; Determine which new technologies are appropriate to individual teaching styles and academic disciplines; Investigate approaches to reduce human and technical barriers to implementing technology in the classroom; Investigate new computer-enhanced audio-visual technologies and continue to explore emerging products; Allow more classrooms to be equipped for presentations using new technologies; Find a way to equip classrooms with portable, cost-effective and easy-to-use equipment; and finally, to Seek ways to create a "democratic" environment for our combining of technology/educational resources. As a reward for participation and use of the computer in the classroom, faculty would be given portable notebook computers plus related equipment, software and training. Participants & Equipment Liberal Arts faculty were encouraged to submit proposals that described their familiarity with, and access to, computers. They also were asked to describe ways they would use a computer both on and off campus, as well as detail how it could be used in current courses.

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A task force, appointed by the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and representative of a broad range of departments and faculty, established requirements for participation in the project, then evaluated faculty proposals and selected participants. Most new faculty were required to participate. Various criteria were used to select 15 faculty members. Participants had to represent a variety of departments, be fairly computer literate and be good teachers. They also had to have little access to a computer in the office or at home and demonstrate a need for a computer for off-site presentations and for research. Most important, they had to display a desire to improve their classes while currently using few visual aids in class. Classes were, in general, fairly large general education courses. Faculty had to agree to attend workshops, use the equipment in class, and provide all necessary assessment information. Equipment provided to each faculty member included a 486 notebook computer, external monitor, inkjet printer and Asymetrix' Compel multimedia presentation software. Other equipment purchased for group use in this project included a color scanner and color inkjet printer, two LCD panels with overhead projectors, a scan converter, a portable CD-ROM drive and a portable external sound device. After faculty were selected, I began a training program for them to become familiar with the hardware and software. These workshops were offered during fall and winter quarters. Faculty were required to begin using the equipment by the spring quarter so we could select assessment data. After an initial orientation to the computer and project requirements, workshops were held on Compel, Windows, projection equipment, CD-ROM and sound, and scanning. We also held informal workshops during which faculty demonstrated how they were using the equipment in class. Student Assessment At the end of the project, in addition to faculty assessment, I collected information from the students in their classes. Over 500 students were provided with evaluation forms in classes in music, anthropology, sociology, history, political science, English and French. Faculty used Compel to create their classroom presentations. Almost all used bullets for their lecture points. A few incorporated scanned images and sound. First, students were asked to indicate how often computer-aided presentations were used in class. They were then asked to evaluate ten statements about computer-aided presentations (see Figure 1). Students also could make suggestions about improving computer presentations, comment about the instructor's use of computer technology in the class, and conclude whether the university should continue to promote computer-aided presentations in the classroom. Student Results The results of the student evaluation of ten statements about computer-aided presentations are shown in Figure 1. Students ranked three areas most highly. First, the computer-aided presentations made the class organized and supported the content. They also highly ranked legibility of the material. Next in importance, students believed the presentations did not distract from the lectures but rather made them more interesting and helped with understanding of material. Last, students believed the presentations helped them pay attention and clarified information. Rated least highly was its ability to help them remember the information. The "helped me take notes" response varied greatly from teacher to teacher. On one hand, it was easier for students to take notes because the information was more organized and legible. On the other hand, it was harder to take notes in rooms without adjustable lighting. It also appears that there may be a relationship between higher scores and the frequency with which computer presentations are used in class. This relationship needs to be assessed further. In response to the question, "should Wright State continue to promote the use of computer-aided presentations," 446 students replied yes; 35 replied no. There were 76 indecisive or incomplete responses. General Comments Students were given the opportunity to comment about various aspects of the presentations. Several themes appearing frequently are summarized below. Screen Design 1.Letters are often not large enough or legible. 2.There is not enough color contrast. 3.Too much information appears on each screen. Students suggest including only key points. 4.Students prefer an outline format with a hierarchy of points and sub-points rather than bullets at all one level. Multimedia 1.Students do not feel the computer is being used to its advantage. In addition to text, they would like to have sound, pictures, maps, diagrams, animation and humor. Many feel that using the computer as a glorified overhead is a waste. If only bullet points are displayed, it is not seen as better than transparencies. 2.Some students believe that special effects (flying text, transitions) should be used in moderation. Methodology 1.A major complaint is that faculty move too quickly from slide to slide, that information is not up there long enough to take notes. In fact, the students' main concern appears to be note-taking and they seem frustrated when they cannot copy the required information. 2.Students are afraid of classes becoming depersonalized, or the instructor losing his/her personal teaching style, gestures, expressiveness and control over the class. 3.Students dislike it when faculty simply read aloud each bullet point. They suggest including only the key points and orally elaborating on them, using traditional teaching styles. 4.Several instructors do not appear to be proficient at using equipment. Students feel this is distracting and wastes time. 5.Students do not like it when setting up the equipment wastes class time. 6.Students do not like it when the technology is used in every class. At the same time, they believe it needs to be used more than just a few times. 7.Students note that "jazzy" presentations slow down the amount of information provided and give less "meat." Room Design and Layout 1.One of the most common complaints is that the rooms are too dark for students to see notes or the instructor. 2.A larger image or screen is needed for larger classes. 3.Students dislike it when faculty stand in front of the screen or sit down to control the computer. Hardware 1.Students suggest that sound quality be improved. 2.They suggest system response time be improved. Benefits, as Judged by Students Students noted the following benefits of computer-aided presentations: 1.Make classes more interesting, exciting, fun, entertaining, less boring and were a welcome change of pace. 2.Make class more organized. 3.Help students understand the material better and enhances learning. 4.Make the information clearer, neater and more colorful. 5.Aid note-taking in general: highlights the important information and key points; is a vast improvement over classes in which instructors use hand-written notes that many students cannot read; helps students see words hard to pronounce or spell; helps students unfamiliar with English language. 6.Help students pay attention and stay focused on the subject. 7.Aid visual learners. 8.Provide a more flexible, versatile, and efficient way of teaching. 9.Reinforce and support the material. 10.Indicate that professors are keeping up with technology.

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Students believe computers are the wave of the future and that this is the "in" thing. A few students perceive technology as expensive. They are concerned it will raise their tuition and also believe that money could be better spent on other things. Conclusions Student responses were, in general, very positive. They overwhelming supported continued use of the computer in the classroom. Computer-aided presentations help with organization of the material. They also are a huge advance over hastily scribbled notes on a blackboard or overhead. Many of the problems students pointed out can easily be solved. It is obvious that ongoing training and practice are necessary ingredients for successful use of the equipment. For example, workshops and one-on-one sessions with instructional designer on screen design have proved vital. Effective selection of colors and fonts would improve the clarity and legibility of slides. Practice sessions with peers would help faculty gain experience using the equipment. Equipment should also be located in rooms that have adjustable lights and hardware lock-up facilities to minimize setup time. In addition, unless faculty move beyond bullet points and incorporate images, sound, and other multimedia elements, the computer provides no more value than an expensive overhead transparency. Apparently, the average faculty member needs more time to develop presentations that incorporate hypermedia. Also since note-taking is of prime importance to students, faculty should give handouts of slides or make the material available elsewhere. Finally, to avoid being locked to the computer, faculty should investigate using remote control devices, and also periodically stop to interact with the class. It is important to continue teaching in one's traditional style and use the computer as a tool to enhance, not dominate, the lecture. Martha Sammons is a professor of English at Wright State University. Her book, Multimedia on the Go: The Educator's and Presenter's Handbook will be published this year by Libraries Unlimited. E-mail: msammons@desire.wright.edu Product mentioned: Compel; Asymetrix Corp., Bellevue, Wash., (800) 448-6543

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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