Never Enough Time


For the best teachers, teaching with technology takes time. At first there’s the challenge of choosing equipment, learning software, redesigning courses, and building new protocols for lectures, projects, reading lists, exercises, quizzes, feedback routines, and course administration. This work for the new era must somehow be carried out on top of continuing to teach current courses via proven means. The consequences of each innovation must be carefully measured against the successes of the old. Most of us look forward to that date in the not-so-distant future when the workload will return to normal, when the new-era course is stable.

The good news is that in most disciplines, when teaching a course with technology for the second time, it is possible to return to or surpass pre-technology levels of success with reduced effort. Much as it is possible to achieve a “threshold level” of success with students when teaching with a textbook (versus relying exclusively upon lectures), teaching to a threshold level will often take less time when computer-enabled segments are available.

The bad news is that software programs mastered last year are often upstaged by new products, new time-consuming “re-learning” needs. Technology makes it easier for us to respond to students individually, even between classes and after the course is over. Technology gives access to more course materials, more visiting lecturers, more simulations, and more powerful indexing and search protocols. More options take more time.

We are a profession with a strong conscience and a social imperative to do the best we can with the talent of an emerging generation. If more time is to be committed to evaluating more materials, providing more individual attention, and keeping up to date, where can some time be gained through the wonders of technology? In this column I would like to initiate a list of timesaving ideas. If you will e-mail other ideas to me, I’ll devote a second column to your suggestions.


  1. Use software that is familiar to your students and the other people around you.


  1. Pass more responsibility to students—for searching the best sites on the Internet, for commenting on each others’ rough draft papers, for reacting to e-mail questions from classmates. When possible, hire a computer-savvy student to assist in building Web pages and other new course materials.


  1. Encourage students to study in teams, to answer each others’ questions, to submit answers to pre-lecture questions as a couplet. David: what do you mean by couplet?


  1. When possible create lecture segments, projects, and illustrations that can be used more than once. When perishable material is pertinent, prepare that portion in a separable way so that the entire lecture doesn’t have to be redone because of one slide or one sentence.


  1. If materials are supplied for student preview and review (such as PowerPoint with audio slides, or a digital tape with audio of a demonstration that is to be performed in class), be tolerant of your own imperfections. Most students will accommodate when you stop in mid-sentence and start again with the correct point.


  1. Collaborate with colleagues, in your department or in a similar specialty at other universities, in the creation and use of digitized materials. One group of 13 professors who teach essentially the same course at different universities each took responsibility for creating materials for one week’s worth of classes. During their week the creator of the materials served as “visiting expert” in all of the universities. At another university, senior majors collected materials used by their various professors into a common departmental database accessible to all professors in the department.


  1. Be conscientious in dropping segments of the “old course” that are less effective than the new-era materials and approaches.


  1. Move the “mechanics of the course” to the Internet. Use group e-mail. Have student post their papers electronically. Ask students to sign up for office appointments over the Internet.


To the extent that some of these ideas are working for each of us, we can capture a portion of the time necessary to take fuller advantage of Internet-enabled course components.