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Committee aids faculty in reflecting on the efficacy of digital excellence initiative despite low engagement

February 10, 2023

Interested in discussing how the iPads and MacBooks provided by the College’s Digital Excellence Commitment (DExC) have influenced teaching and learning in Bowdoin’s classrooms? Apparently, most Bowdoin faculty aren’t.

On Monday, the Committee on Teaching and Classroom Practice (CoTCP) hosted a space for faculty to express their thoughts on certain DExC technologies that have become integrated into the classroom. A panel of students was in attendance, prepared to field questions. Although some faculty with scheduling conflicts submitted questions ahead of time, no faculty attended the event.

Despite no turnout at Monday’s faculty forum, the CoTCP has succeeded in its attempt to gauge faculty stances on increasingly technological classrooms. In the fall, the CoTCP sent out a survey to all faculty and instructors teaching during the fall semester asking about how the DExC has affected classroom dynamics. Forty seven percent of eligible survey respondents completed the survey.

According to the survey, 51 percent of faculty felt that the DExC had an entirely positive impact on their teaching, 27 percent found it had both positive and negative impacts, less than three percent of faculty found it had an entirely negative impact, and 11 percent said that there was no effect, such as when iPad use in the classroom had already been common or technology was not allowed at all. Another eight percent chose to explain their experience in more detail.

“I specifically ask students not to use either of these devices in class, but since the college has distributed iPads to students, I have many more students using them anyway,” one faculty member responded.

Faculty observed that students mostly use the technology provided through the DExC for note-taking, reading course materials, completing assignments and working collaboratively.

Despite observing these potential productive uses, many faculty expressed concerns about how the widespread technology provided through the DExC affects student concentration and engagement in the classroom.

“Students who preferred using MacBooks in my class were often ‘behind a wall’ with their screens up,” another faculty member responded.

According to Professor of History and chair of the CoTCP Patrick Rael, the CoTCP was restructured this year to connect faculty with the Information Technology (IT) department in response to technology’s increased role in academia.

“This came out of our pandemic experience because for everyone, teaching very quickly became very techy, and so now that that’s over, what are the lessons we learned from that? What are the opportunities for moving forward?” Rael said.

The CoTCP draws from the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA), which holistically addresses issues that the College’s faculty face. However, this event did not produce an effective dialogue between faculty and IT, which Senior Director of Academic Technology  and Consulting Stephen Houser said is representative of a lack of conversation on the use of technology in the classroom.

Though academic interactions might have shifted due to the DExC’s new technologies, many faculty value how the committee’s work has helped to level the playing field in terms of the technologies students can access and the common software it provides. Some faculty also hope for students to become more fluent in using their iPads and MacBooks to take advantages of their devices’ capabilities.

The CoTCP and IT will continue to gather input on the DExC from the Bowdoin community. Any faculty, staff or student who wishes to share their experience with DExC can submit the feedback form on the DExC landing page.


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