Student Response, Bryn Mawr College


I am working from my experience as a student, which tends to emphasize student-professor interaction and practical experience over theory. Additionally, as a student, I am not used to collaborating per se. Instead, I am usually encouraged to give feedback about what's working and what doesn't and to develop ideas about what would work better, not to participate directly in making changes. That advisory position is the way much of the following is phrased, but I am eager to make a transition to collaboration.

I am a sophomore double major in history and economics. The vast majority
of my course assignments are papers (from 15-pager research papers to single-page responses, rough outlines to re-re-revisions). To write a paper, I need a thoughtful assignment, resources to gather information and ideas, communication with the professor if I have problems and, of course, time. I am also assigned
problem sets, memorization, and occasional oral presentations. I have an
average of fifty pages of reading per class, a little more for history,
a little less for economics, attend lectures and take tests. I think I
would split my needs into four areas: basic information, help accessing
and using texts, help thinking and learning, and help understanding how
to use tools efficiently.

In thinking about the above questions I have talked with about a dozen
other students, focusing on sophomores interested in the social sciences.
Almost every student I have spoken too has mentioned a desire to have a
permanent source of basic class information. Class web pages with the syllabus,
assignments, and office hours are useful. Even the most organized student
can loose notes or not have them immediately available. Most classes change
their plans around at least once during the semester and a dynamic syllabus
is preferable to an additional piece of paper, which at least one student
will never receive. Online syllabi also grant the professor a more flexible
class structure. I have had several professors who dealt with their uncertainty
about scheduling by outlining the syllabus without any dates, saying they
would keep us updated as the semester progressed. They did not, and I was
always unsure what the assigned readings for any given class were. An online
syllabus, provided it is updated, solves this easily, granting the professor
flexibility and the student confidence about expectations. Online assignments
are a further protection against disastrous misplacements. They can be
developed as they were not in class and they can encourage a professor
who tends to give assignments vaguely and orally to standardize the request.
The second area we are interested in is help manipulating texts. Bryn
Mawr has been experimenting with scanning reserve readings and posting
them online. I have been told that they help with copyright issues, and,
taking a class at Haverford, I've been grateful that I didn't have to go
there to complete my readings. They protect against loss, and, if one prints
them out at the computer center, one can avoid spending twenty to thirty
dollars on a bound course pack or making the copies oneself. They can be
fuzzy, the scanner sometimes misidentifies words, and printing them out
can take 15 minutes for 10 pages. In general, the higher quality of the
images and convenience of having all the readings bound in one place with
a table of contents means that a course pack is still more appealing to
me than online reserve readings, but I prefer the online readings to a
single edition to be read or copied in the library. I would like to see
more emphasis on electronic text. I used Project Gutenberg a great deal
in high school and still use it when a class works from "Classic" texts.
Electronic texts are searchable, editable and, because they are text rather
than pictures, they are easy to read and fast to print. Having The Prince
in text form allows one to find every mention of Cesar Borgia in two minutes
and spend the rest of the afternoon developing an intellectual point. I
do not know how much harder it would be (or if it would be legal) to scan
reserve readings as text, but I think it is worth looking into.
When problems sets are not graded, but are assigned and uncollected,
posting their answers on the web site is a wonderful thing. It encourages
students to check their answers immediately rather then waiting until they
can see the TA, and since there is no reason to print them out, saves paper.
Even if the assignment is due and graded, posting the answers after the
problems are handed in allows immediate feedback, and if they stay up,
they're a good review resource.

Some professors publish class notes or class outlines, so that students
can focus on listening in class. These can be quite useful, but I understand
choosing not to use them.
I've never seen a class comment board or list serve work as effectively
as a class discussion, perhaps because students are even more self-conscious
about how they appear when they can see what they're typing then they are
when they're speaking.
Archaeology does much with slides. They post photographs of important
objects on the web site and students memorize what, who, when, where etc.
It saves the professors from being limited by the textbook illustrations
and is far better than hunching over library slides or attempting to memorize
written notes. However, the web page design is not oriented towards self-quizzing,
for one has to click on the name and details to bring up the picture.

Technology can help students to communicate with a professor
and be incorporated directly into in-class teaching. E-mail can be a fantastic
tool, but it is also subject to abuse. I had a professor who had her students
e-mail response papers to her the day before class. She was then able to read them and be prepared to address issues we were interested in during class. Multiple mass e-mails
a day, failure to check e-mail regularly, ignoring e-mail when there is
a paper due, and changing assignments at the last minute are all abuses
that people I spoke with have mentioned. In making assignments and announcements
professors seem to forget that many students don't have computers, which
means that last minute information won't necessarily get to them and e-mails
are either printed out or deleted, meaning that information not immediately
valuable may be lost.

Power point is also subject to abuse. Professors have a tendency to
get involved in having things scrolled out and simply read what appears,
destroying lecture flexibility and creating an extremely boring session
of professor-reading-what-students -can-see-to-class. However, showing
maps, diagrams, charts, change over time, accessing on-line information,
using a spreadsheet to do calculations, or video equipment are all interesting
and effective uses of classrooms with screens and computers. However, many
professors have a difficult time using the projectors to play videos. Whatever
sort of training is in place does not seem to be effective.

I find that I tend to learn to use technology when I need it.
Thus I did not remember my "how to use the library tour" when I needed
it. The tour was part of the first week of orientation, when many other
things were of far greater concern and I had no idea which of these resources
I would need to use. I have learned to use the resources I do by tinkering
and asking specific questions when I needed specific things. However, I
tend to start research during non-traditional working hours, which means
I am working with students who do not have a professional librarian's knowledge
base. The times when I have asked a professional librarian for help, I
have been gratified by how much they know and how easily and eagerly they
help me. The librarians here are great, I just need to get into the habit
of asking so that I can be pointed in the direction of specialized resources
like Diabola or Pools Index that I would never find on my own. The library's
web page is very helpful in introducing some of the resources that are
available. Its emphasis on textual instruction, so that students can teach
themselves when they need it is helpful.

Many professors use their classes to teach computer skills in
passing. Learning to use a spreadsheet, for example makes sense in context
when one is manipulating large sets of data. Some professors have students
work with web pages: part of the assignment will be to post one's work
on the web. Students I've spoken with are divided about the web pages:
some like learning the skill and seeing their work "published" others would
rather spend their time on the topic at hand since web design doesn't interest
them and does not directly address the topic (Chinese Film, for example).
I have concerns about the computing center. The professionals
I have dealt with have been helpful and knowledgeable. The student employees
know very little and seem to be in no position to learn more. Troubleshooting
is an extremely valuable skill that can only be learned through experience.
Through student ops, the college has an opportunity to teach that is not
being taken advantage of. Although many student employees are "doing their
time", most students sign up to be computer ops because they are interested
in learning more about computers. Instead, computer ops spend most of their
time asking to see IDs and handing out passwords. Even "specially trained"
ops can only work within a small sphere and do not have the theory behind
what they are doing, so they are very limited in what they can take away
from the experience.

Nancy Strippel
Bryn Mawr College