LAS Master Teacher 2000-2001: Steffen Schmidt
Teaching Philosophy and Pedagogy
Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science, teaches classes such as American Government and Politics, Cyber Politics, Political Leadership, Politics of the Developing Nations, and International Studies. After taking his class, Schmidt expects his students to have a knowledge of the subject, understand how the material is connected to the world, and use that information to become active participants in society. These teaching objectives are manifested in the actions of many Schmidt's former students, who either run for public posts or become involved with communities, organizations, or interest groups.
To help students make connections, Schmidt always "starts his class by showing something happening in the news and then ties it back to the material that students were assigned." His general teaching approach is to divide teaching materials into segments of ten-minute session. Schmidt states, "you shouldn't think of your class being a fifty-minute class but as five ten-minute presentations. If you think of it as a fifty-minute class then you lecture for fifty minutes. If you think of it as five ten-minute presentations and you divide your materials up Just when they (students) start to get tired of hearing you. You do something different."
Schmidt states, I like teaching because teachers "are in fact helping to shape the next generation of the leaders in science, government, private industries, and charitable organizations. That's a huge responsibility and is very exciting." Besides, seeing some students who go beyond his expectation is wonderful and very rewarding to him. On the other hand, the big teaching challenge Schmidt perceives is the difficulty sometimes to keep his students attentive to his teaching. He observes, nowadays, students are greatly spoiled by mass media, such as movies, MTV, and video games, which are very fast paced. In contrast, the University classroom environment is much slower. Therefore, he believes, the University needs to invest more money in developing well-produced educational media and professors need to be "both professors but also media stars" to integrate educational media to make teaching more exciting than plain lecturing.
Teaching with Technology
In his thirty-one years at higher education, Schmidt has always tried to integrate newly available technologies into his teaching. Over this thirty-year span, Schmidt has used technologies ranging from slides and transparencies to video and various emerging digital technologies. He recalls, in the 70s, teaching a distance course was done by flying him to where the students were, teaching a couple hours, and then flying him back.
Schmidt's textbook reflects his integration of technology. Schmidt's teaching philosophy as well as his interest in technology for learning enhancement are demonstrated in his textbook--American Government and Politics Today--written by himself and two other colleagues, Shelley and Bardes. The text comes with a CD-ROM that includes a searchable digital version of the text and a video introduction for each chapter by Schmidt. Other features accompanied the text include: InfoTrac, which allows students to search full text articles; WebTutor, which provides instructors a tool for course management; and E-mocracy, which ties chapter issues to Internet development.
Web based technology provides information access, interaction, and class management. According to Schmidt, one major advantage of Web based technology is that it provides students with 24-7 access to course supplements. In addition, it also provides students instant interactive opportunities and assists instructors in running a course smoothly.
Schmidt captures video and audio materials from life classroom interactions, edits them, and then posts them on the Web. Examples can be seen on his Presidential Election 2000 Class Web Site. He believes this can be a model for reaching a huge audience or as a means for distance education. He points out, of course, that the intellectual property issue would have to be worked out from the top of the University administration.
Using ClassNet, an ISU in-house course management software programmed by Pete Boysen, Schmidt posted discussion materials so that students can read and interact with others before the class discussion. For example, Mary responded to the article posted by the instructor, and Joe and John in turn responded to Mary's posting. During class, Schmidt can say to the class: Mary posted this question--"why do people kill each other? Why don't people just get along?" Mary, would you share your thought with the rest of us because some people may not have had a chance to read it yet? Because Mary, Joe, and John have given some thought to the topic, very likely, you can get an interesting conversation going in class. Also Schmidt sets up digital quizzes so students can get instant drilling for themselves. Grade posting provides students convenient access to their progress and was favored by Schmidt's students.
It's not true that any technology is better than no technology. To Schmidt, his biggest obstacle in terms of technology integration is that "the classrooms are pretty primitive." The quality of LCD and overhead projectors are not adequate to project clear images. This problem is in part attributed to outdated equipment and in part, budget and strategic planning. In addition, according to Schmidt, the classrooms (or labs) are not set up properly for group or interactive learning where five students can sit at one station and the computer sits under a glass table. Instead, all campus labs are set up like workstations for individual activities. Further, if possible, "I would send the student to go online but I can't do that in the classroom. Classrooms are not set up for that. I can't do any technology that is interactive in the classroom. Anything you are doing with technology in classroom is passive," said Schmidt.
Technology takes time and is not a magic bullet for good teaching. Integrating technology presents many potentials for learning enrichment but it also demands a lot of time to learn and be familiar with technology. Most students like Schmidt's uses of technology in class but technology also poses obstacles to students who are less technically inclined. Further, Schmidt states, "technology is not a magic bullet to make a bad teacher into a good teacher but it can make a good professor into an even better professor. If you are a really good teacher the technology makes you even better. If you are a really bad teacher the technology doesn't improve you any."
When asked for his advice to faculty who are beginners at instructional technology, he responded by asking, "advice to junior or senior faculty?" Schmidt believes the current system discourages junior faculty from investing a lot of time in technology "because you are not going to get tenure based on producing classroom materials. You only get promoted based on research. If you invest a lot of time in teaching you are taking it away from research and you might be ending up not getting tenure. I feel junior faculty who are really creative and 'into' technology should be encouraged only if the DEO of their department and the relevant senior faculty are on board and make a commitment that this type of work will be recognized and rewarded. I think the system should be changed so that we don't discourage junior faculty from becoming technology leaders."
On the other hand, Schmidt suggests if they desire, senior professors should definitely think about integrating technology into their teaching and take the time to learn how to do it. He believes that a quicker way is to work with both the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Instructional Technology Center. Go to their workshops, learn the basics there, and then go on to do some studying and reading. Start experimenting with technology. Do a few things in your classes that include technology because it enlivens the class and gives students a connection to something that they are very familiar with.
Schmidt finds many references instrumental for college teaching. To name a few, for example, Essential Skills for College Teaching by Thomas E. Cyrs, Teaching at a Distance with the Merging Technologies: An Instructional Systems Approach by Thomas E. Cyrs, and Designing and Assessing Course and Curricula by Robert M. Diamond.
As to the instructional technology support at ISU, Schmidt believes the support provided by Instructional Technology Center is helpful and he is pleased that the support is increasing. He suggests that ITC should provide support to set up basic starters for faculty who supply ideas and materials, but are novices in technology. After the initial set-up, the faculty can go from there and learn how to develop the teaching materials themselves.