Technology in academics has advanced to a fault

I’m a full-time computer science student and I work part-time. Recently I have been making a concerted effort to minimize screen usage. Unfortunately, most of this screen time is unavoidable due to the requirements of my education.

Rensselaer mandates that we have a computer for school and professors capitalize on that fact very often. My assignments are always online and require dozens of hours of computer time. Working on paper adds extra steps to what is already an annoying series of button presses and mouse clicks. During a recent period of introspection, I came to the conclusion that this constant attachment to screens has a large impact on my engagement, learning, and mental state. Staring at a screen for nearly every required activity causes me to feel detached—like I’m living life on the surface level.

This issue is compounded by the way professors have adjusted their teaching. They have logically decided that they should utilize the technology available to them, causing every class to become one big PowerPoint. Look around a lecture hall in most computer science classes, and you’ll find nearly everyone is on their laptop. Sometimes working on homework, but other times watching YouTube or even playing video games. You could say that this is the fault of the student for being easily distracted, but I'm more inclined to blame the professor who is usually droning through yet another slide deck that hasn’t been updated in years.

PowerPoint lectures move at a rapid pace, discourage note-taking, and encourage the professor to hit only the points they have on the screen. Classes become just as surface level as the constant flow of digital screens we live our lives on. Why would you ever ask a question or even pay attention to the professor when you can just download the slide deck and review it later? How can students learn the problem-solving process when the solved problem is only briefly flashed in front of us on a screen? Professors making mistakes on a chalkboard and correcting themselves lets students see how you can diagnose issues.

PowerPoints feel low effort and encourage people to zone out, if only to get a small break from the exhaustion of using a computer for most of the time they are awake.

I have found myself craving the physical nature of my differential equations class where my professor would scrawl out equations on a chalkboard. I was always engaged in this class, and really enjoyed seeing how my professor would solve the problems I would see later. I would encourage more professors to teach class this way, even if it feels like a step back in the progression of educational technology.