University’s love-hate relationship with technology inspires discussion

Christine Barbieri

In a candid and, at times, negative forum, students and faculty came together to exchange ideas and opinions about technology in a roundtable discussion on March 14.

Over dessert in the Villanova Room of Connelly Center, a controversial YouTube video, in which a professor smashes a student’s cell phone and a simulated, albeit not too far-fetched, student Facebook profile were shown. They were followed by panel discussions, electronic audience reaction surveys and small group discussions.

“I have asked students to close their laptops [in class],” said Dr. Karyn Hollis, an English professor who teaches courses involving PageMaker, Photoshop and FrontPage.

“I do like for there to be eye contact and for them to be engaged.”

Hollis also praised the Internet as much as she criticized it.

Members of the faculty acknowledged that professors have a responsibility to keep students engaged, but they have found it increasingly challenging because students are “multitasking” in class by IMing, texting and surfing the Internet.

“I wish more students had been there,” said Jaya Mohan, a senior who is writing her senior thesis about sociology and technology, specifically instant messenger.

“How much do you want to bet that most students were at home wasting their lives on Facebook?”

The crowd, as determined by audience response system “clickers,” was 70 percent faculty, 26 percent students and 4 percent people who defined themselves as “other.”

Most tables of eight only had one student.

The atmosphere of the room oftentimes felt like a college-wide faculty meeting, full of camaraderie and joking around.

“We as faculty don’t have a lot of insight into how student’s lives are intertwined into technology, and many students don’t understand our concerns,” said Dr. Carol Weiss, director of the Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning.

Villanova was the first Catholic university to have a center such as VITAL, which works with faculty members to constantly keep them updated on the most effective ways to teach students.

Last October, VITAL noticed a disconnect between faculty and student attitudes about technology.

VITAL’s challenge was to organize a campus-wide study that would both look at the effect of technology and provide a level playing field for discussion for the mutual benefit of faculty and students.

In open communication, faculty strove to understand the popularity behind sites like Facebook, and students tried to explain it.

Attendees discussed why students would participate in sites that could be potentially damaging to their future careers.

“Every generation has radical things happening,” said Dr. Patricia Haynor, a professor in the College of Nursing who said that she found the roundtable to be informative.

“[The Internet] seems to be a mode of expression for some people.”

“It’s good to know what students do outside of my environment,” Haynor said.

“It explains behaviors people try out on campus.” However, she still prefers face-to-face communication and worries about a generational loss of a sense of societal rules.

“I do worry that the attachment to earbuds and Facebook is going to undermine the face-to-face communication, whether it’s personal or in the workplace,” Weiss said.

Though many were worried about overreliance on technology, others expressed hopes that students would start to exercise more discretion about what they put on the Internet.

“The more it goes overboard, the more people will pull back,” Mohan said.