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March 2, 2007

Professor speaks about 'brave new world' of classroom technology

By Kendall Madden

Teaching in the technology age can be daunting, even for Tom Byers, a seasoned professor (teaching) of management science and engineering. "It's a brave new world of technology out there, and I am just a professor of entrepreneurship in the School of Engineering trying to make my way," Byers said Feb. 22 during his "Award-Winning Teachers on Teaching" lecture, hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Despite his humble protestations, Byers, the founder and faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, is an international leader in technology entrepreneurship education. The McCoy University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, he has received Stanford's Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching, the School of Engineering's Tau Beta Pi Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching and three recent national teaching awards.

"Today there will be no death by PowerPoint," Byers announced to the group of about 40 students and educators gathered in the Hartley Conference Center to hear his lecture, titled "Teaching in the Era of YouTube." "We are just going to use everything else. I am going to show you some of the tools I use when I teach."

Byers then took his audience on a tour through Educators Corner (, a website dense with multimedia teaching resources, such as video clips and audio podcasts of various professionals speaking about their experience and thoughts on entrepreneurship. He showed the audience two thought-provoking video clips featuring Kavita Ramdas, chief executive officer of the Global Fund for Women, and Guy Kawasaki, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures.

"Why might I use these in a class setting?" Byers queried the crowd. Some audience members said clips give students exposure to a diversity of voices in a lecture, whereas others pointed out they help with pacing. Byers said the clips also allow the professor to jumpstart conversations, as for example, in Kawasaki's video, where he says the point of entrepreneurship is making meaning above making money.

Audio podcasts have many of the same advantages as video clips. But Byers said he has found the visual component more engaging for students in a class setting. Podcasts could be used for class assignments, he recommended.

Teachers can use a host of other technologies to enhance their courses and students' learning experiences, Byers said. These include course-specific websites with available resources and links, wikis, animations, simulations and course discussion boards.

But simply having technology at hand is not enough, Byers said. Instructors must stimulate their students to want to use it. "Unless I show that I am excited about this technology and care about it, the students will not care about it." Byers gave an example of his experience running the Mayfield Fellowship course, a work/study program designed to teach students about entrepreneurship strategies while providing them with a hands-on internship experience with a local start-up. "When I stopped posting on our course discussion board, the students also stopped posting as often," he said.

Byers acknowledged that the use of technology has a few caveats. For example, technology tools are not substitutes for good teachers and good teaching. Some things may still need to be taught the old-fashioned way, with chalk and chalkboard, Byers said.

Incorporating technology into a class session also can greatly increase the amount of prep time involved. For a two-hour class, Byers said it takes him eight hours to prepare. And the creation of a website like the Educators Corner requires a great deal of technical expertise as well as funding. Byers gave significant credit to the technicians who, according to him, had done much of the heavy lifting in the creation of the website. Robyn Dunbar, senior associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, added that departments and disciplines are increasingly encouraging the use of these types of tools and investing in them.

"The possibilities are very exciting," Byers said. "Ten years from now I'll be saying, 'Remember when I gave that lecture on classroom technologies? Look what's happened since.'"

Clifford Nass, professor of communication and director of the Communication between Human and Interactive Media Lab (CHIMe Lab), will deliver the next "Award-Winning Teachers on Teaching" talk May 3 at noon in the Hartley Conference Center of the Mitchell Earth Sciences Building.

Kendall Madden is a science-writing intern with the Stanford News Service.

Editor Note:

A photo of Byers is available on the web at Kendall Madden is a science-writing intern.



Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,


Tom Byers, Management Science and Engineering: (650) 725-8271,

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