September 1998 // Case Studies
Technological Enhancement of Instruction:
A Humanistic Approach
by Stephen R. Buchanan
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Stephen R. Buchanan "Technological Enhancement of Instruction:
A Humanistic Approach" The Technology Source, September 1998. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Lewis Platt, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, describes the paradigm shift to an electronic world as a cultural phenomenon that impacts every segment of society (Joachim, 1998). The impact upon higher education is evident: the number of distance education courses is increasing, colleges and universities are wiring themselves to the Information Superhighway, and there is a general rush to enhance curricula through information technology.

Ironically, while colleges and universities are striving to be on the cutting edge of technological advancement in hardware, the lecture remains the dominant pedagogical method. A relic of the pre-printing press world in which information was disseminated orally, the lecture was embraced by the European university that emerged in the 13th century. This method of learning uses the professor as a "sage on the stage," a font of knowledge from which students drink passively. Learning is then judged in terms of the students' ability to regurgitate the knowledge that they have consumed. Once enough knowledge has dribbled into students' heads, they are given a diploma to certify that they are educated.

Unfortunately, many faculty today still cling to this traditional pedagogical model. Likewise, many students see higher education simply as a rite of passage. Rather than learning, they are content to cram enough decontextualized knowledge into their heads to pass the tests that will allow them to earn a college degree; they regard their degree as a type of union card that will serve as an entry pass into the real world.

On another front, recent economic and demographic exigencies have led to an increased number of adult learners returning to the halls of academia. These adults have brought their real-world experiences into the classroom and demanded a relevant and interactive curriculum. As faculty respond to these demands, the Socratic method of active dialogue has begun to challenge the pedagogical supremacy of the lecture. In fact, the term pedagogy itself (the art of teaching children) is being supplanted by the term androgogy (the art of teaching adults) in many higher education journals.

Ostensibly, it would seem that increasing the application of information technology, particularly as a medium for distance education, favors the use of the traditional lecture over the emerging androgogic models that encourage students to be active learners. For many, the prototypic distance education course consists of a professor in the role of a "talking head" lecturing to students at remote sites, who passively take notes and are then administered their tests by on-site proctors.

Contrary to this belief, Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, challenges the idea "that technology will dehumanize formal education" (1995, 184). He asserts that technology empowers students to become active learners by providing them with the means of gathering information from and sharing information with a global community. Gates further avows that the Information Superhighway "will alter the focus of education from the institution to the individual. The ultimate goal will be changed from getting a diploma to enjoying lifelong learning" (1995, 204).

Interactive Distance Education—A Case Study

During my tenure as a psychology professor at the Union campus of the University of South Carolina, I have developed methods to ensure that my students are active learners. However, when I was asked to teach an introductory psychology course to both high school and college students concurrently as a distance education course, I assumed that teaching a course on television would require me to revert to the traditional lecture method. Acting on my assumption, I essentially became a talking head. Except for an occasional call from students on the "talk-back" telephone, I delivered a solitary litany of psychological concepts to the two images of myself that flickered on the monitors in the studio. The on-site proctors forwarded the written assignments and tests to me. I evaluated the work of these faceless and bodiless students, then returned the work in impersonal mailers that were delivered by an inter-school shuttle. To say I had a miserable semester would be an understatement. My misery was compounded when these previously incorporeal students would meet me in a public place with the generous greeting of: "Hi, Dr. Buchanan, I enjoyed your course." Abashedly, I would thank such students and ask their names. Occasionally, I could connect the names with written work that I had evaluated, but I was extremely uncomfortable about my lack of knowledge about these students as individuals.

When I was asked to teach a subsequent distance education course, I was determined to incorporate some of the interactive methods that I use in my on-campus courses. I required the students in the distance education class to answer discussion questions on the air using the talk-back telephones that fed their responses directly into the television signal, so that their classmates and I could hear their responses via the television monitors. The students also used these telephones to share reports of current events they found in magazines, newspapers, and television news programs that related to psychological concepts. By requiring these activities, I was able drastically to increase the students' involvement in the class. These students rated the interactive class higher than the previous students had done, but still I felt I should attempt to increase the interactivity further.

With a small BellSouth Instructional Innovation Grant, I purchased a notebook computer with a modem, so that I could connect to the Internet in the broadcast studio. Also, I purchased a "PC to TV" device (an AverKey) so that computer- and Internet-generated information could be transmitted to the students. With this device, the televisions on which the students viewed the course essentially became monitors for my computer in the studio. I purchased digital cameras (Quickcams) with the hope that by using Cornell University’s CU-SeeMe program, I would be able to establish a videoconferencing environment. Unfortunately, the bandwidth limitations would not allow seamless transmission of full-motion video, but the students sent still images of themselves to the studio as JPEG files. Although this was not as effective as full-motion video, I was able to display students' images each time they interacted with me or the rest of the class via the audio-feedback system. Also, I purchased a scanner so that I could scan articles and post them to a class mailing list housed on the University's server.

All students had access to computers connected to the Internet at the schools where they viewed the course. Their research assignments required them to find sources of information about psychological topics on the Internet, and to post reports of their research and reactions to articles on the mailing list. The list also served as a bulletin board on which students could post comments and concerns. I encouraged students to communicate with me via e-mail as well, both at my university address and at home.

To encourage the students' active involvement in the class, I divided students at each school into small groups and required them to produce a psychodrama skit on videocassette. These were short plays based upon the concepts about which the students had gathered information in the process of writing their research papers. The students recorded their psychodrama skits at their schools, then submitted them to me for broadcast from the studio.


To validate my perception that the students appreciated the technological enhancements used in the course, I developed a supplement to the regular course evaluation form. On this supplementary form, students indicated their degree of agreement with statements about the use of the technological enhancements that were used in the course. The results, reported in terms of the mean response, are listed in the table that follows.

Evaluation of Technological Enhancements
(reported as the mean response)
Strongly Disagree
No Opinion
(Did not affect the mean)
Strongly Agree
1. The technological enhancements used in this course facilitated (i.e., improved) my ability to learn. 2.82
2. The technological enhancements used in this course made this class interesting. 2.96
3. The technological enhancements used in this course made this class enjoyable. 3.0
4. Searching for sources of information on the Internet in this course facilitated (i.e., improved) my ability to learn. 3.25
5. Searching for sources of information on the Internet in this course made this class interesting. 2.64
6. Searching for sources of information on the Internet in this course made this class enjoyable. 3.0
7. After exposure to technological enhancements in this course I am more confident than before that I will be able to use the technological enhancements in future courses. 3.14
8. My evaluation of the technological enhancements would have been higher if better and more reliable access to computers had been provided during this course. 3.2

The fact that the Likert-type scale produced ordinal data precluded the use of inferential statistical procedures to analyze the data. The numerical data were analyzed descriptively by finding the mean of the responses on the scale. Anecdotal data such as students' written comments on the regular course evaluation were subjectively analyzed. Generally, the data indicate that the students felt that the technological enhancements had facilitated their learning, made the class more interesting, and made their learning experience more enjoyable. The fact that the students' ratings of their experiences using the Internet were relatively high suggests that the Internet is an effective learning tool. Perhaps most importantly, the students indicated (see item #7) that exposure to the technological enhancements in this class had made them more confident about using technology in future classes.

The last item on the evaluation form addresses an issue that any educator who plans to enhance his or her courses through the use of technology must consider. Students must have access to the technology, and it must be reliable. Unfortunately, during my psychology course we had several technological failures, and the students' access to computers was sometimes limited. These shortcomings are reflected in the students' responses to item #8 on the evaluation form.

Implications for the Future

As technology is increasingly incorporated into the culture of higher education, methods must be developed to ensure that technology enhances learning rather than detracting from it. The shift from predominant use of the lecture to more interactive instructional methods suggests that technology will enhance learning best if it increases interactivity rather than limiting it. Interactivity promotes humanistic education in which students are active learners rather than being relegated, as is frequently the case, to the role of automatons who passively consume information to which they cannot relate.

Currently, the use of technology in distance education usually consists of one-way video and two-way audio. But even with two-way audio, the instructor can become a talking head on a television screen. As I have described above, even with a very small budget, I was able to enhance the interactivity of my distance education course by incorporating additional technology.

Large corporations and governmental agencies have led the way in the use of truly bi-directional videoconferencing. These systems, often referred to as response systems, allow real-time interaction between instructors and students. The obvious drawback to the use of these systems is their cost. Also, the bandwidth requirements of high-end systems such as PictureTel mean there is a need for high-speed, dedicated ISDN or T1 lines for seamless audio and video transmission.

Technology can humanize education if it is used to increase interactivity and to empower students as managers of information, but colleges and universities must provide adequate resources to ensure that their hardware infrastructure promotes interactivity and the empowerment of students. Faculty must incorporate technology into their instruction in ways that enhance the quality of the instruction. Based upon my experiences, if implemented in a humanistic manner, technological enhancement of instruction can and will result in a win-win situation for both students and faculty.

action gamesbrick bustermahjongdownloadable gamesshooter gamespc game downloadsmanagement gamessimulation gameshidden objects gamespuzzle games
View Related Articles >