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From Scantron to SpeedGrader: How the OTL, and teaching and learning, have evolved over 25 years

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Jeff Schwartz

OTL Instructional Designer

Announcement  •

Twenty-five years ago, the Office of Teaching and Learning – then called the Center for Teaching and Learning – was created to address “the challenge of digital technology and its impact on the way information is gained, coordinated, disseminated, and assessed.”

Today, the scope of the OTL’s mission is more expansive, encompassing not just digital technology, but also course design, inclusive teaching practices, academic assessment, and more, with programming and resources designed to support all levels of faculty.

Just as the OTL has evolved over the last twenty-five years, so has the university classroom and the digital technology that our office was created to address. This coevolution is the subject of an upcoming exhibit in the AAC. Starting in April, the exhibit, titled “OTL’s 25th Anniversary: Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future of Teaching and Learning at DU,” will feature artifacts from the OTL’s past, as well as archival material, including some old technology that may look familiar to faculty but not necessarily students. Among the exhibit items that will be on display are Scantron graders, dot matrix printers, slide rules, film projectors, and laptops that have less processing power than the smartphones most of us carry around in our pockets.

It's difficult to overstate the extent to which technology has changed over the last twenty-five years – and the extent to which these changes have influenced teaching and learning. Twenty-five years ago learning management systems were in their infancy; today, LMSs like Canvas are critical spaces for courses in all modalities. Instructors used to grade exams by hand or feed them manually through a Scantron grading machine; now programs like Canvas’s SpeedGrader allow instructors to grade and provide feedback with just a few clicks. Computer storage used to be measured in the megabytes on floppy disks; now external hard drives the size of a wallet and cloud computing allow us to store terabytes of content.

These are not just technological changes; developments like streaming, cloud technology, and learning management systems have fundamentally reconfigured how we share and disseminate information. Teaching and learning now happens not just in a physical classroom, but in online spaces facilitated through programs like Canvas and Menti and Perusall. Teachers and students can collaborate across the country, or even the world, using Zoom or Teams. And AI programs, such as ChatGPT, Bard, and even Grammarly, is already revolutionizing – in ways that are both beneficial and problematic – the way content is created and understood.

As the physical classroom and virtual educational spaces continue to evolve, so too will the way faculty teach and students learn. From paper flash cards to virtual ones, from chalkboards to online whiteboards. Of course, what is revolutionary today will one day look hopelessly primitive. Perhaps, decades from now, there will be an exhibit in the AAC featuring smartphones, MacBook Pros, and archival videos from YouTube. 

The future may be impossible to predict, but the OTL will remain committed to navigating not just “the challenge of digital technology” but also the ways in which that technology shapes teaching and learning – and the ways in which teaching and learning shape technology. Join us as we mark this important milestone; a quarter century of investing in the advancement of  transformative, inclusive, and impactful teaching at DU.