In an age of almost unlimited internet access, students at Southwestern Adventist University, like nearly every other school across the nation, have become increasingly savvy in the ways of technology and utilizing media. In fact, not only can students navigate through the proverbial jungle of content that is consistently only a click away, they can use the media as a tool to learn in class.
Dr. Ingo Sorke, Southwestern religion department chair and professor, says that there are several good reasons for teachers to use visuals such as videos, pictures, and PowerPoint in the classroom setting. “I use them [media] to utilize all of the learning faculties. The students can hear me, see me, read the information, and process it.”
Having taken a class from Dr. Sorke my freshman year of college, I can testify to the fact that his lectures are quite stimulating. Along that note, this semester I am taking a world masterpieces class from Dr. Karl Wilcox, English professor. His viewpoint differs somewhat from that of Dr. Sorke, in that he feels that the technology can be detrimental to the student/teacher relationship.
“When I use PowerPoint, I can never get good eye contact with my students. I want to be able to read their faces, and see if they understand, and are paying attention,” says Wilcox. “Part of the relationship between teacher and student should be that the teacher is there to mentor and get to know the students. I can do this better without the distraction of technology, in a read-and-discuss setting.”
Sorke agrees that with PowerPoint and other media there comes a risk. But there is also a risk that comes with traditional teaching. Students can disengage easily enough in a lecture. The trick is to be able to read the audience. “It is a learned skill, but you can prompt good discussion with PowerPoint.”
Some students seem to be on the fence concerning this topic. Ashley Warren, an education major at Southwestern, says that she enjoys read-and-discuss type teaching, but retains more when she there is a visual to look at. “If I had to choose, I would say I prefer having some sort of visual on PowerPoint because I am a visual learner and retain a lot more information that way.”
Wilcox feels that our generation has become somewhat lazy with the way media has been used.
“Our brains adapt to what they are exposed to. They prefer to be able to see something, because it eliminates the brain’s need to visualize. When a media is used, it rules the class. Students need the ability to be able to read, listen, and retain, without having to be babied with outside images.”
Denny James, a nursing major agrees. “We have been kind of spoiled when it comes to visuals. Students don’t have to use the imagination, because it’s right there in front of us.”
Sorke agrees on the point that PowerPoint is a tool, but not a primary tool. “I use PowerPoint not to spoil the brain, but to put everyone on the same page. When the information is on a screen, it gives students the chance to take notes and process the information.”
But what about the possibility that some teachers use media because it’s simply an easier method than just lecturing? It’s very easy for students to cruise through education, doing whatever it takes to get the grade. Wilcox says teachers are not pushing their limits, either. Some teachers just repeat the same thing the same way, year after year, with no new thoughts or discoveries. “If we, as teachers and role models, set a higher standard with our teaching, our students would follow suit with their learning,” says Wilcox.
Having taken classes from both of these professors, I have seen both teaching styles and learned many things from each. In Dr. Wilcox class, there is insightful, thought-provoking lecture and discussion. In Dr. Sorke’s class there is a mixture of the use of technology and discussion, utilizing PowerPoint and video. In which class did I learn better? I honestly cannot say. For me personally, both methods made me think about the material in different ways.
What did come through to me loud and clear was the desire of both of these educators in our system to be a connecting link for students to their Heavenly Father.
“Jesus was the ultimate example of the perfect teacher/student situation, “says Sorke.
Wilcox agrees. “I want students to be able to be truth seekers.”
What a difference it would make at our university if all of us—faculty and students alike—were here to be just that.