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«Technology as a Management Tool in the Community College Classroom: Challenges and Benefits Daniel P. Stewart Professor of History and Humanities ...»

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MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 4, No. 4, December 2008

Technology as a Management Tool in the Community College Classroom:

Challenges and Benefits

Daniel P. Stewart

Professor of History and Humanities

Fayetteville Technical Community College

Fayetteville, NC USA


Doctoral Learner

Northcentral University

Prescott Valley, AZ USA



In this paper the challenges and benefits of utilizing technology as a tool in classroom management are examined from the perspectives of both students and educators.

Special focus is given to community colleges and their unique student population.

Further, the author of this paper reflects on perceptions of these challenges commonly encountered during the introduction of computers in the classroom in the 1980s, and explores the progress, or lack thereof, in the succeeding twenty years in dealing with these issues. Finally, this paper discusses how technology can benefit both students and teachers in modern “traditional” classroom settings, often borrowing from ideas and techniques pioneered in online and hybrid courses.

Keywords: Technological fluency, workforce development, adult learners, non-traditional students, digital divide, technophobia, technological resistance, online source evaluation, learning styles Introduction A great deal of the current literature on classroom management focuses on its preventive nature. For example, Iverson explains classroom management as “the act of supervising relationships, behaviors, and instructional settings and lessons for communities of learners. Classroom management typically is preventive and results in decreased incidences of discipline problems” (2003, p. 4). This position is generally supported by Arends’ observations that “classroom management and instruction are highly interrelated” and “preventive management is the perspective that many classroom problems can be solved through good planning, interesting and relevant lessons, and effective teaching” (2007, p. 173). It should be pointed out that in addition to a general focus on the preventive nature of classroom management in much of the current literature, there is also a great deal of focus on the behavioral and disciplinary aspects of classroom management. This should be of no great surprise when one is considering the classroom environments found in primary and secondary education. However, this focus seems less appropriate when considering adult learners. Although disciplinary problems are certainly not unknown at the collegiate level, it seems reasonable to assume that when one is dealing with adult learners, the disciplinary aspect of classroom management may be an inappropriate focus. This may be especially true in the community college classroom, where it may be assumed that the vast majority of students are adult learners who are there by choice, and desire to succeed. In such an environment, the disciplinary nature of classroom management becomes secondary at best. It may be argued that, when dealing with adult learners, one should view the preventive nature of classroom management as focused on those actions of the instructor designed to provide effective lessons, reaching the widest audience possible. Such an approach may reduce student failure and drop-out by addressing particular student needs. This is in contrast to the disciplinary focus when dealing with younger students found at the elementary and secondary levels.

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Adult Learners In order to achieve this goal, the community college instructor should understand who his or her students are in order to better gauge their needs. In this context, it seems a reasonable argument to pose that, “educators ought to gain a working familiarity with the evolving characteristics of adult learners and be sensitive to their diverse needs in order to better facilitate their academic journey to success and personal growth” (Semmar, 2006, p. 2). While any community college classroom in the United States is likely to reflect the general racial and cultural diversity of the American people, it is also necessary to recognize that a good many of these learners also reflect another aspect of student diversity in that they are nontraditional students. Non-traditional students generally have one or more of the following seven

characteristic factors:

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According to Kazis, et al (2007):

Although not all non-traditional students are adults (many 18-21 year olds meet at least one of the seven criteria), all adult college students are by definition non-traditional. Financially independent, working full time, with dependents and family responsibilities to juggle, and back in school after an extended time out- adult learners are at great risk of not achieving their postsecondary education goals (p. 8).

Indeed, an increasing number of students in postsecondary institutions of all types fall into this category.

“The new demographics of colleges and universities identify part-time adult learners as the new majority, with non-traditional working adults over age 26 now comprising over 50% of the American post-secondary student population” (Ausburn, 2004, pp. 327 - 336). According to Kazis et al “community colleges serve (the) largest portion of adult learners” and “the more non-traditional the student, the more likely that he or she will attend a community college” (2007, p. 11). They go on to explain that community colleges have traditionally been far more responsive to the needs of older learners. This would seem logical when one considers the typical missions of community colleges. For example, one recent survey of 102 community college mission statements revealed accessibility, or “open door” policies to be the leading mission objective, with workforce and economic development a close second (Ayers, 2002, pp. 11 - 30). Simply put, many non-traditional students are attracted to community colleges first and foremost because they know they will be accepted, although there is a likelihood of at least some remedial work as a condition of enrollment. Secondly, non-traditional students, who face any one or more of the seven factors listed by Kazis et al, are seeking to better their position in life through improving job skills, thus responding to the workforce and economic development function of community colleges.

Changing Needs of Adult Learners

Interestingly, the skills needed to survive in the modern job market are changing at a faster rate than ever before in human history. In a now-famous quote from the foreword of the book Rethinking the Future, futurist Alvin Toffler said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but rather those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” (1997). By this he was not implying that the worker or student of the future would not have to possess literacy skills, but rather that one would have to become a lifelong learner in order to survive in the newly emerging job market. This is reflected in a recent report prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor, which states: “Today’s adults need higher levels of academic and technical knowledge to remain employable in an information and service economy characterized by frequent job and career change” (Kazis, et al., 2007, p. 2). The high levels of technological proficiency needed to survive in the modern workplace are hardly limited to jobs commonly MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 4, No. 4, December 2008 perceived as high-tech or highly skilled. Even jobs seen as low-skill such as retail sales today require the

use of computers and numerous other electronic devices. David Thornburg notes:

Technological fluency is required in over 80 percent of the jobs I looked at: the skill was a virtual given for most of the position descriptions I studied, and I didn’t focus on high-tech jobs. Simply stated, technological fluency is the capacity to use computers and the Internet as naturally as you would books, pens, or paper (2002, p. 58).

Given the degree to which rapidly-changing technologies are pervading the workplace, it is the position of the author of this paper that if one accepts the workforce development mission of community colleges as a given, classes that do not integrate technology as a management/instructional tool, regardless of the subject matter, are doing the students a disservice. This is especially true when one considers the high number of non-traditional students in the community college classroom who are seeking education and skills as a means of attaining a better job or reentering the job market. This becomes all the more relevant when it is considered that many such non-traditional students seeking retraining may have lost jobs because of obsolete skills. It shall be demonstrated that technology can assist the traditional, or face to face classroom instructor in implementing and utilizing covenant, conduct, and content management while using a humanistic approach suitable for adult learners. Instructors of “traditional” classrooms can take advantage of technologies and techniques developed for use in online and hybrid courses.

Moreover, this use of technology will better prepare the student for the challenges of the modern workplace.

Technology as a Classroom Tool

It would be misleading at best to pose that the introduction of technology into the traditional community college classroom is a panacea for the many problems faced by students and most especially by nontraditional students. It can, however, become a powerful tool, and some instructors have already found it to be such. Li (2007) notes that nearly all involved in education “are exploring the best ways to integrate technology in classrooms to enhance teaching and learning” (p. 277 - 297). Nevertheless, technology also presents a number of challenges that should be addressed before examining how it can best be utilized as a classroom management tool or educational aid. For example, the views or misconceptions held by anyone involved in the educational process may impact how effectively technology may be utilized. “Students’ and teachers’ beliefs about technology may affect their adoption of the tools which directly contributes to the establishment of a technology-enhanced environment” (Li, 2007, p. 377 - 397).

Beliefs, regardless of how ill-informed, can have such a tremendous impact on the performance of both students and teachers. Therefore an examination of such beliefs and perceptions about educational technology is necessary.

Student Perceptions

Naturally, the perceptions of technology that the student brings to the classroom will play a role in how effective that technology will be in enhancing the individual student’s learning. It may be of little surprise that younger students are often at a tremendous advantage over their older peers in this respect. “On the whole, young people who have grown up with computers, mobile phones, and other devices for virtual communication are not frightened by the technology and are open to experimentation and exploration” (Mason, 2006, p. 121-133).

This seems to be supported by Thornburg (2002) who notes:

73 percent of U.S. youth between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet. While 94 percent of these teens report using the Web for research on school projects, and 71 percent report that the Internet was a major source of information for their most recent school project, only 5 percent said that they learned how to use the Internet in school; 40 percent were self taught, and the remainder learned from parents, friends, and siblings (p. 64 - 65).

Evaluating Information as a Skill While the above observation seems to underscore the technology-savvy aspect of younger students, it also raises another likely challenge in implementing the use of technology in the classroom. Because so

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many young people are self or peer-taught in utilizing information technology, it seems logical to suppose that they may have difficulty in evaluating the information they find. Simply put, while younger students know how to use the Internet, they don’t necessarily know how to differentiate “good” sources from “bad” when doing online research. It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that older nontraditional learners, particularly those who did not feel compelled to learn computer and Internet skills before returning to college may be equally as challenged in evaluating material found online. In fact, Li (2007, p. 277 – 297) reports that “the difficulties of finding good Web site information” is a major disadvantage reported by some high school students. Other challenges reported by younger learners and listed by Li (2007, p.

277 – 297) include:

• Time consuming;

• Substantial assistance needed;

• Technical glitches.

Again, there is no reason to suppose that older learners will not share these complaints, particularly in light of the lower level of computer and Internet proficiency many of them suffer. This supposition seems to be borne out by the observations of the staff of Empire State College regarding their first online course


It was the college’s belief that adult students were less savvy computer users than traditional-aged students. This belief was confirmed by the number of initial help-desk reports that described instances where callers summoned their child to the phone to carry out the help-desk’s instructions (Lefor, Benke & Ting, 2003, p. 35 – 42).

Lack of Skills Leads to Negative Self-Perception

It seems logical to assume that older students will be self-conscious of such deficiencies, and this may have a negative effect on their own self perception and confidence. “Upon their return to higher education, they may lack confidence, feel nervous, or doubt their abilities and competence to successfully engage in and cope with various learning tasks” (Semmar, 2006, p. 3). Of course, some adult learners do come to the classroom prepared to use information technology. “It would be wrong to characterize all adults as fearful of technology and unwilling to consider using it for learning” (Mason, 2006, p. 121-133).

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