February 10, 2010

The Ill-Equipped Danish University

After the American Century

I have been teaching full time since 1974. In all those years I have seldom found that the classroom equipment was up-to-date or that it could be counted upon to work. The only exceptions to that statement would be the University of Oviedo, Spain in 1977-78, when there was no classroom equipment of any kind, and Notre Dame University in Indiana in 2003, where everything imaginable was available, everything worked and a staff was on call to help and would arrive within 5 minutes if anything wasn't satisfactory. Between these two extremes, in an unhappy compromise, is my own university, which has badly placed screens, old powerpoint projectors, electrical connections that do not always work, different systems in different rooms, and a staff that can never be found or even spoken to on the phone in an emergency.

No one should labor under the illusion that Danish universities are well equipped with computers and the peripheral equipment to make the most of them. No one should imagine that they are at the level achieved in the US in 2005, for example. The occasion for writing this is that today I have five hours of teaching in a room where the equipment does not work, and clearly has been damaged. Since we are in the midst of a round of cutbacks, the situation will not get better soon.

So today, instead of showing my students nineteenth century American paintings, I will just talk about them. I will try to post the images later on Blackboard, but that, too, has not been working of late. Even when the images do get on line, students will view them alone and without class discussion.

As a historian of technology, I am hardly shocked that these machines do not work. But I am bemused that the Danish politicians still think they can hoodwink the public into believing that they have a world class university system, after systematically cutting it back.

Security is also a serious problem, as universities have inadequate safeguards against theft. Whole corridors are robbed of their computers at night, by thieves who clearly have master keys and entry cards with working codes. Worse yet, weeks after the break-ins, the locks remain unchanged and the computers are not replaced. It took me five weeks to get a new one in the office, which meant that I could not print anything, for example.

Since writing this, the situation has improved, but Denmark still lags.