When technology slows things down...

For the last three or four years of teaching, I've been trying to incorporate technology into my teaching practice, particularly around assessing student work, as a way to capitalize on all of the advances that technology seems to provide, particularly around speed and convenience.

For a couple of semesters, I tried marking all of my papers on my iPad. This started off as a great innovation, but after multiple rounds of papers, I realized that the iPad, while interesting as an interface, was actually slowing down my grading process. It's not easy to write comments on an iPad screen, at least not for me, and the process just seemed more cumbersome, even though it eliminated the need for me to carry around a stack of papers and a pen.

I also tried using my iPad and my laptop computer to take notes during scene presentations and directing projects in my acting and directing classes. I thought that my notetaking on these devices would easily translate to feedback sheets for my students, and then I would simply send those notes along via email. Great idea in theory, except that when I went back to my typed notes, I found myself re-typing and re-phrasing everything anyway, because the notes didn't quite make sense. I also took the notes rather randomly, and the re-organization process took more time than I anticipated.

After about four years of trying all of this technology, this semester I finally went back to handwritten notes, and I've experienced higher efficiency in my ability to gather data for feedback while I'm watching a presentation. It feels antiquated to me, particularly given the current push in higher education to use technology in the teaching and delivery of information. However, I can't deny that going back to pen and paper has left me much more room for my own research and creative output. And none of my students have seemed worse for my choice. I thought I'd be getting complaints from students about not being able to read my handwriting, but that hasn't happened. I still deliver the notes vial email, because I scan them in and then send them as PDFs.

I've also created clear marking sheets for each of the projects that I assign, and those marking sheets keep my comments organized. I move more quickly to the specific area on a sheet when I'm writing than I can on a computer or tablet. Maybe a technology specialist could come up with an interface that would work beautifully and efficiently on my iPad or my laptop, but honestly, I'm not so interested. There's something about holding a paper in one hand and a pen in the other that feels more authentic to me, more connected to the labors of the student. I also think handwritten comments read as me being more engaged with the students' work. I'm not sure why that is, but it's how I feel about it at this moment.

I worry that I'm getting old fashioned way earlier than I should be. I'm not against using technology at all; in fact, I'm all for it if it makes for more efficiency, stronger student engagement, and better teaching. So far, I haven't been more efficient, and I'm not sure that in my particular field, one that primarily focuses on human beings communicating with each other in real time, that technology creates stronger student engagement or better teaching. Again, I'm open to the possibilities, but I'd like for someone to demonstrate the benefits.