Profs concerned about class technology

“The technology is only as good as its reliability,” said Cynthia Comacchio, a history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, with regards to the technology in classrooms at WLU. She expressed to The Cord the frustration she and her colleagues are feeling due to the poor technology provided around campus.

She spoke to what she believes is a lack of technology available as well as lack of technology that is reliable, referring mainly to the arts faculty. However, Comacchio acknowledged that technology is a problem “across the board.”

Among the things she listed were microphones not working, MyLearningSpace being unreliable, projectors not working and there not being enough printers on campus.

“I wouldn’t care to just go in and count on technology to work,” Comacchio said.

Due to persistent problems with equipment, she has begun creating back-up lectures in case there are technological issues.

Because faculty can’t count on the technology to function, as Comacchio puts it, they are unable to try new approaches such as blended learning.

“These things take money, and nobody is pretending otherwise,” she said. “But they are so important to the way that we educate and are educated in our time that you can’t pretend it’s just about the money. There has to be commitment; there has to be the will to fix it.”

But Comacchio stressed that these problems are not the fault of Information Technology Services (ITS).

“It’s not about the [ITS] personnel, it’s about the actual infrastructure which needs serious updating and expansion,” she said.

Tom Buckley, assistant vice-president of academic services, and Gary Wagner, manager of employee technical support in Waterloo, spoke to The Cord for the ITS side of things.

“I think it’s important for everyone to realize that in the hierarchy of how we prioritise our work when it’s an issue in the classroom at the time of a class everything else is secondary to that,” said Buckley.

“When teaching and learning stops, that’s an unacceptable scenario.”

In regards to the complaint that technology is outdated, Wagner explained that ITS follows a model called the ‘Evergreen Renewal Plan’ which sets out the standard for the average lifespan of different sets of equipment and how often they need to be replaced. The model is laid out so that the equipment gets replaced before it begins to break down.

“When we started evergreen we had a high percentage of systems which were past end of life so we had to replace those first,” Buckley explained. “So it’s taken us a couple years to catch up and get everything within that life cycle range.”

With this model in place, Buckley and Wagner agreed the renewal model is allowing them to be systematic. They also encouraged feedback from faculty and students.

For Comacchio, improvements should start at the students.

She expressed that students are paying attention to these issues.

“I wouldn’t dismiss this if I were the people with the ability to ‘sign a cheque’,” she said, meaning those in charge of allocating money to technology.

“[Students] have the power,” Comacchio continued. “Because [students] can go somewhere else and take [their] tuition with [them].”

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