The Days of Ditto Machines and Chalkboards

By Marah J. Morrison

With advances in technology over the years, the way that professors teach their classes have changed as well. Even though technology can be an advantage, depending on the professor, those who have been teaching for a long time think differently.

Dan O’Neill, a professor in the communications department at Youngstown State University, started teaching in the summer of 1968. O’Neill said computer technology has been a real advantage, has allowed us to access information more quickly and has allowed us to move away from archival materials gathered from libraries for researching purposes.

However, O’Neill said this becomes an issue due to the abundance of information people are able to get nowadays. O’Neill said maybe this generation has lost the ability to reflect and to think about what they’re studying due to the advances in technology.

“The receiving back of information or papers took a little bit longer,” O’Neill said. “But again, that was kind of balanced by the student’s ability to inquire and to reflect.”

O’Neill said one of the things he has trouble with, regarding the technology available to students today, is they are very inundated with it and don’t have a chance to sit back and just think about what’s going on.

He said back in the day, students were a little bit deeper and had more of an opportunity to think more into topic areas, due to the lack of technology.

“Many students just don’t have the capability of reflecting and thinking as they once did,” O’Neill said. “I think that’s something that’s dearly missed.”

O’Neill said a professor from Ohio University at a convention he attended said you cannot beat a student sitting and listening to the information given by the instructor with either a pen or pencil and writing it down. O’Neill said all the research suggests this is the best way to retain information.

When it comes to teaching in general, technology is great in a lot of ways, but it’s also problematic in a lot of ways, O’Neill said.

“Let common sense be our guide,” O’Neill said. “Let’s not be silly about technology.”

Fred Owens, also a professor in communications at YSU, started teaching in 1971. Owens said he confronts the disadvantages of technology daily, with the advantages somewhat hidden.

“We used a lot of bluebooks and mechanical typewriters” Owens said. “Papers were turned in having been typed mechanically and that represented, for most people, a first set of skills coming to the university.”

Back then, Owens said students also needed to be able to deal with a typewriter but the nice thing about it was it involved more time and thought. Owens said he finds today to be easier to copy, paste and hit send.

“It’s kind of superficial,” Owens said. “The challenge is to create a deeper reflection when the technology says, ‘Hurry up, do it now.’”

Owens said it will be up to professors to make sure classes use technology for good purposes as it continues to advance.

Eric Wingler, a professor in mathematics and statistics at YSU, has been teaching for about 36 years. Wingler said his version of teaching still consists of chalkboard and chalk. Wingler said the assignments given to his students are still turned in on paper, just like they always have.

One bit of technology Wingler does like to use is a ditto machine. Wingler said back in the day, ditto machines were used to create exams for students. Wingler said nowadays, exams are typed up and shot to the printer.

When it comes to online math assignments, Wingler said students can have the right answer and sometimes if it’s not exactly like the computer wants it to be, it’ll be marked wrong.

“We do have WebAssign, which has problems you can do online,” Wingler said. “I’ve tried them myself and it’s a pain.”

Wingler said professors may have to consider the goal they want, regarding the education the students are getting, and then decide what type of technology will accomplish it. Wingler said sometimes, maybe just a pencil will work pretty well.