On Campus at Hamline: An Interview with Nick Schlotter

Hamline was founded over 160 years ago with the mission of educating the leaders and future leaders of Minnesota. It continues that tradition today.

Nick Schlotter is a chemistry professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He began his teaching career over 20 years ago after doing his graduate work in chemistry at Stanford, postdoctoral work at IBM in California and working on the science of thin organic films as a member of technical staff at Bell Labs (later Bellcore) in New Jersey.

In addition to being a professor of chemistry, Nick serves on Hamline’s Information Technology Services Advisory Committee (ITSAC), helping to ensure that the university makes informed and strategic decisions regarding resources and technology systems and initiatives.

You’ve been  in education for a long time, and have always had a relationship with technology. How do you see the two interacting?

I’ve seen a lot of changes over the last 20 years and a lot of changes with the technology we use in the classroom. Ultimately I will say that despite this, my students haven’t changed much. They have better access to information and new ways of doing things, and we may assess their progress differently now, but for the most part they’re very much the same. No matter what new apps or gadgets we introduce into the classroom my job will always transcend just teaching information, it will always be to show these young adults how to learn, how to problem solve, and help them grow.

How do you feel technology is impacting your work as an educator?

There are a range of faculty positions in academia, from those who vary from loving all new technology to those who are skeptical about it. I am more on the skeptical side. With the rush to advance all the new and improved things technology allows us to do, the software, programs or tools that we develop are often so clunky that we may end up just creating layers of processes to accomplish simple tasks. Right now there are so many apps and programs that don’t interact or communicate well with each other, which is another problem that educational technology is facing. If my students are taking a quiz and there is a need for mathematical language or something else that’s not built into the program or the way my systems can access it, I’ve just had a lot of extra work added to my plate to try and fix the problem. Like you said, we are navigating a landscape and I think sometimes we create obstacles for ourselves that weren’t there originally.

What sort of things does the university consider when it implements a new technology, either on the administrative or academic side of things?

Of course one of the first things we look at is cost, what it will take in dollars, time and effort to implement and maintain. After that we have found communication to be really important in decisions about implementing new technologies. There have been programs that made sense to administrators and the IT department that didn’t make as much sense to faculty, and when implemented without enough discussion, actually caused a lot of problems. If one doesn’t get input about a technology from the administration, staff, and faculty there can be unpleasant surprises and impacts.

On the academic side, if a technology doesn’t have a clear positive impact on student learning then why do it? When one technology is replaced with similar technology solely to save money, but the new technology doesn’t maintain or improve functionality, there will be unhappy users.

“I want our students to be prepared to learn
new skills to be able to prosper in the
evolving workplaces in the future. Simple
learning facts isn’t good enough. We need to
help our students move beyond being knowledge
consumers and become knowledge producers.”
– Nick Schlotter