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Class Produces Parody of ‘The Office’ to Highlight Challenges of Teaching With Technology

Students at the University of Denver created a parody video essay — in the style of the popular TV show “The Office” — to show their frustrations with technology in the classroom and urge professors and students to work together to make classes more lively.

Many of the scenes in the six-minute video will probably seem familiar to anyone who has sat in on a college class in recent years: a professor funbles with his PowerPoint presentation, a student goofs around on Facebook during the lecture, and another student complains about being required to buy laptops when the devices are rarely used for assignments.

“Now the class is about technology, and you’re really not using any,” says a student assistant to the bumbling professor in the video. “The board doesn’t really count. Maybe you can add more technology to the classroom, like show them actual uses of technology. I know you can get it.”

The video was inspired by a recent survey of classroom technology use at the university. Over all, the survey found that while many students wish for more technology, others would be happy with less, considering it a distraction. And while some professors are Luddites, others have eagerly jumped on board and wish their students would catch up.

“I think what the students wanted to convey was a more hopeful message, to show that students and professors can work together to solve these problems,” said Lynn Schofield Clark, an associate professor of journalism studies who teaches the course whose students created the video as an assignment.

While Ms. Clark served as a kind of project manager for the production, students wrote the script, directed, acted, and shot and edited the video. The 18 students spent just three weeks putting it together. No technology training was provided because the professors assumed that at least some students would be familiar enough with the borrowed video cameras and editing software to make it work.

How did professors who saw the video’s debut take the critique?

“The professors who saw it recognized some truth in it and were able to laugh,” said Ms. Clark. “We all have those moments.” Some said students’ expectations that they use technology can feel overwhelming.

Ms. Clark said the production led to lively discussions about the pros and cons of technology in the classroom. For her, the lesson was that she could trust her students to take more of a leadership role in class than she had in the past.

The inspiration for the video was a series of video essays by Michael Wesch, a Kansas State University cultural anthropologist. He was speaking on the campus when the video was released, and he wrote on his blog that more professors should try similar projects in their courses.

“Now the students have a number of characteristics that we all want for our students: They’ve bonded. They are comfortable with one another,” Mr. Wesch wrote. “They respect one another. They are engaged and excited. They want to learn more, and they know that they can and will be responsible for most of that learning that is to come.”

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