A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots

A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working
by Jeffrey Young, The Chronicle for Higher Education

Michael Wesch has been on the lecture circuit for years touting new models of active teaching with technology. The associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University has given TED talks. Wired magazine gave him a Rave Award. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching once named him a national professor of the year. But now Mr. Wesch finds himself rethinking the fundamentals of teaching—and questioning his own advice.

The professor’s popular talks have detailed his experiments teaching with Twitter, YouTube videos, collaborative Google Docs—and they present a general critique of the chalk-and-talk lecture as outmoded. To get a sense of his teaching style, check out a video he made about one of his anthropology courses. In it, some 200 students designed their own imaginary cultures and ran a world-history simulation by sending updates via Twitter and a voice-to-text application called Jott.

To be fair, Mr. Wesch always pointed to the downsides of technology (it can be a classroom distraction, for instance). But he saw tech-infused methods as a way to upgrade teaching.

Then a frustrated colleague approached him after one of his talks: “I implemented your idea, and it just didn’t work,” Mr. Wesch was told. “The students thought it was chaos.”

It was not an isolated incident. As other professors he met described their plans to follow his example, he suspected their classes would also flop. “They would just be inspired to use blogs and Twitter and technology, but the No. 1 thing that was missing from it was a sense of purpose.”

Mr. Wesch is not swearing off technology—he still believes you can teach well with YouTube and Twitter. But at a time when using more interactive tools to replace the lecture appears to be gaining widespread acceptance, he has a new message. It doesn’t matter what method you use if you do not first focus on one intangible factor: the bond between professor and student.
Learning From an ‘Old Fogy’

Christopher Sorensen also teaches at Kansas State University, and he too has been named a national teacher of the year. But Mr. Sorensen, a physics professor, is decidedly old-school in his methods.

“You could say I’m an old fogy,” he tells me sheepishly. “I worry about that a little bit.”

He has avoided “clickers,” those remote-control-like gadgets that let students ring in answers, out of concern that they would take up too much class time and limit the amount of material he could cover. And Mr. Sorensen has a hunch that PowerPoint—which he finds valuable at professional conferences—would get in the way of his teaching. “PowerPoint takes away, I think, from a true engagement,” is how he put it.

Exactly how he connects with a roomful of students is unclear to him, but he senses that it happens. “I walk into the classroom, and I get into a fifth gear, you might say. My voice goes up and down. It’s almost like being an actor. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been an actor or anything.”

Even though he has been teaching for some 34 years, he still spends the morning before each class preparing—rehearsing the material in his mind. When I spoke with him one morning last week, he was reading over his notes before teaching a lesson on Copernicus for an astronomy course. “It’s sort of like running laps before you compete in a true race. You have to get warmed up,” he says.

Mr. Sorensen has heard increasing questions about whether the lecture—his preferred method—is an effective way to teach. One study he saw found that students in after-class interviews remember only 20 percent of the material. Yet he still champions the approach.

“The way I look at it is, I’ve plowed the ground,” he says. “Now they’re susceptible the next time they see the material. And you’ll give them an assignment, and that forces them to look at the material in a new way.”

As he sees it, his job is less about being an expert imparting facts and figures, and more about being a salesman convincing students that his material is worth their attention. “The messenger, ironically enough, is more important than the message,” he says. “If the messenger is excited and passionate about what they have to say, it leaves a good impression. It stimulates students to see what all this excitement is about.”

The things that make a good teacher are difficult—if not impossible—to teach, he thinks. Which is why technology may be so attractive to some teaching reformers. Blogging, Twitter, and other digital tools involve step-by-step processes that can be taught.

Meanwhile, when Mr. Sorensen recently met a job candidate who appeared warm and friendly, he felt immediately that he would be a good teacher. “I said, you seem like a good guy—you’ll make a great teacher,” he remembers saying. “Be a good guy with your students, and you’ll be a great professor.”
Searching for ‘Wonder’

As Mr. Wesch began to rethink his teaching, he visited Mr. Sorensen’s class and was impressed by how the low-tech professor connected with students: “He’s a lecturer. He’s not breaking them up into small groups or having them make videos. That’s my thing, right? But he’s totally in tune with where they are and the struggle it takes to understand physics concepts. He is right there by their side, walking them through the forest of physics.”

At its best, Mr. Wesch believes that interactive technology—and other methods to create more active experiences in the classroom—can be used to forge that kind of relationship between teachers and students where professors nurture rather than talk down to students.

In one of his courses, he teamed up with students to produce an ethnography of YouTube users. The project helped the students feel more like collaborators because the technology allowed them to immediately publish their work online.

But Mr. Wesch has also found that a high-tech method like asking students to write blogs can actually reinforce what he sees as an “authoritarian” tendency of lectures.

One example he has seen: a professor whose first comment on a student’s blog is, “Hey, great ideas here, but just so you know, there are a few typos there in your first line.” To Mr. Wesch, that sends the message that the blog is just another spot watched by the grammar police, rather than a new arena to explore. “Students can all sniff out an inauthentic place of learning,” the professor argues. “They think, If it’s a game, fine, I’ll play it for the grade, but I’m not going to learn anything.”

Technology rarely plays more than a passing role in the work of teacher-of-the-year winners, says Mary Huber, a consulting scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching who has overseen the judging process since 1991. “We see people making interesting use of technology without it being the star player,” she told me.

She said it is not too surprising that others have had trouble replicating what Mr. Wesch did. “None of this work is off-the-shelf,” she said, noting that the group promotes a “scholarly approach” to teaching. “That means you aren’t just picking something and plopping it in there, but you’re really thinking through what its value is and what you would have to do to change it.”

This semester Mr. Wesch is on sabbatical, working on a book about teaching that will sum up his latest thinking.

He is still giving talks, and the titles now all include the word “wonder.” Whatever tool professors can find to conjure that—curiosity and a sense of amazing possibilities—is what they should use, he says. Like any good lecture, his point may be more inspirational than instructive.

“Students and faculty have to have this sense that they can truly connect with each other,” he concludes. “Only through that sense of connection do you have this sense of community.”

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to jeff.young@chronicle.com or @jryoung on Twitter.

Wesch

Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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23 Responses

  1. I can see why an educator would be tempted to abandon Web 2.0 learning and return to the security of the known. There are a number of factors at play.

    Making the shift does initially involve chaos. The tools are so new, the methods are so different, and the teacher becomes a student, not an expert during the process. Trying to teach content while making an intellectual shift on what constitutes teaching and learning is not easy. Coming to terms with new genres, modes of communication and ways of constructing knowledge with the added pressure of students having to meet the requirements of a final exam is difficult. To make the shift an educator must first understand what the tools are and how they might be used. This understanding only comes with experimentation, trial and error. Hence the chaos. Abandoning at that stage is premature though. Once the purpose and function of the tools are understood, it does become easier to streamline and the chaos will settle. Given the short amount of time professors have with their students, the amount of material that must be covered and the amount of money students pay in tuition, however, a teacher must ask if it is worth the cost.

    Also, Web 2.0 teaching tools and learning methods are still in the early stages of development. What is missing from most of them are easy ways of gathering useful data and providing immediate, meaningful feedback. Cisco has mastered this, but the tools are proprietary. http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/netacad/course_catalog/PacketTracer.html Courses are constructed in a way that allow students to choose their own paths during the learning process. Feedback is constant and immediate. Assistance can be sought in a variety of ways. The entire learning cycle is thoroughly developed and integrated. The rest of us do not have this luxury. We cobble together programs and tools, but the systems are in no one way refined. It takes many more hours than it should for the learning cycle to occur. Not having fully functional technology based classrooms is a hindrance to progress in this area.

    What many teachers struggle with is how to use these tools effectively so that high quality demonstrations of learning are produced. Models for this are being developed and as they become better known all educators will find a place in Web 2.0 classrooms. Shelly Wright, an educator from Western Canada shares her process here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBgAmeTNMtY&feature=player_embedded What I have realized is that although the tools are different, traditional ways of supporting students remain. Instruction, scaffolding, redirection and a teacher saying a learner needs to do more or better or more thoroughly or with more clarity or more creatively or in a way that demonstrates critical thinking occurred are still needed.

    It is early days in this educational transformation. Encouragement, support and most of all allowance for chaos and error as we figure out how the new models will work are what is needed.

  2. I appreciate Heidi’s remarks. Her words are worth repeating:

    “It is early days in this educational transformation. Encouragement, support and most of all allowance for chaos and error as we figure out how the new models will work are what is needed.”

    Chaos is important! What learner does not experience confusion when embarking on real engagement with a new subject? Trial and error requires experimentation, and if some of the experimentation doesn’t fail, it really isn’t much of an exploration.

    However, that word “scaffolding” could use some unpacking. I tell my students WHY they are using blogs, forums, and wikis, and after they understand the basics, I show them how to use social media tools as part of their individual and collaborative assignments. I tell them that not everyone will find every tool useful, but that they will probably find that social bookmarking or wiki work or forum conversations or blog reflections — and the reactions to their work by the instructor and other students — will turn out to be useful for them in their work. I try to respond to every student’s first blog post (which is only possible, of course, when the number of students in a course is fewer than around thirty) in a positive way. The time for corrections comes after they find their way in the medium. I always start each course with encouraging the students to surface the questions that they would most like to pursue about the subject — and we use Post-it notes and whiteboards and small group face-to-face discussions before we move to social media. Perhaps there are subjects in which no or very few students can find an aspect of personal interest, but I’ve found that a little searching can reveal questions that students can find personally compelling — and I encourage them to approach the syllabus through those questions.

    Just throwing technology at teachers is counter-productive, just as throwing unscaffolded technology at students can be confusing and discouraging;. Whenever I talk about my methods — and Mike Wesch was my first role model — I start with a slide that says in big letters: BEFORE TECHNOLOGY: PEDAGOGY. To me., Web media are useful to the degree that they make it easier for students to take more responsibility for their learning, to support and critique each other instead of performing solely for the teacher, to not only memorize but to reflect.

  3. Glenn Palmer says:

    So glad to hear someone say pedagogy before technology. I’ve seen online instruction start to replace actual class time at our school, but it seems like a very thin educational experience to me. In many cases its just a way for the institution to cram more students through the pipe and increase revenues.

  4. monika hardy says:

    I’m thinking the beauty of today is that it’s not either/or. we have the luxury of a brilliant and. zooming out to life, and seeing it as such, is like honey.

    that’s the making of a quiet revolution. city as school/uni. community as curriculum – via Cormier. spaces where relationships are not only central, but with the serendipitous gatherings tech can afford us, we’re pumping adrenaline into souls.

  5. As Howard says above,
    “Web media are useful to the degree that they make it easier for students to take more responsibility for their learning, to support and critique each other instead of performing solely for the teacher…”
    And that’s why my 8, 9 and 10 year old students will begin using Google apps, blogs and wiki as an authentic way to collaborate, give peer feedback/forward, share widely and give real purpose to their learning.

    It is early days in the shift and many of us are stll learning to use these tools to facilitate and join with students’ learning as we move towards a more personalized, self-directed, more meaningful system and more engaging system of education. A system that may, ultimately, forego much of the location based bricks and mortar model that has served for the last few centuries.

  6. Great article. Great comments.

    Michael Wesch certainly became the darling of the tech-evangalists. It is great to hear about his evolving thinking – and the comments of Heidi and Howard are spot on. However, no matter how better the technolgoy gets. no matter how important chaos is to learning, no matter how valuable the uncomfortable space of not-actually knowing is for teachers to learn and use in pedagogy what appears to be true and will always be true is – the technology is a tool. Wesch is highly regarded because he is an intelligent and great teacher, just as his Physics Professor colleague is. They use different tools – but both work. They will be more effective for different students depending on the students learning style and personal inclinations and other skills and knowledge – and all of that is ok.

    There is no right way. Technology won’t save us. As a tweep recent said, “Twitter is a platform. Twitter doesn’t break news. People break news using the platform of Twitter.” In the same way, “Technology doesn’t teach. Technology is a tool that people use to support tehir teaching and students learning.”

    What I have noticed is that people interested in change are using the rapid technological revolution to help shift the world in the direction they want. So, educators interested in self-directed learning, project-based learning and new, holistic approaches are doing that through digital media tools. Those interested in more open and participatory government are doingthat through social media and web2.0. Those interested in changing the hierarchy of health are prusing it through a raft of digital tools and social media to prompte a more personalised and patient-drvien health.

    The technology is giving change agents a new platform that they can attach their ideas to, and launch them from.

    It is all fascinating, exciting and will continue. But, it is people, not the tech that will make the world a better place.

  7. Prof Wesch says:

    Thank you all for commenting. It is like a breath of fresh air to read your comments, which all ring true to me as well. Heidi, you might be happy to know that my response to the “chaos” comment (which is not an isolated incident) is always to help them find a way to embrace the chaos itself. Learning is wonderfully messy, and we’ll need students who can embrace messiness if they are to continue learning long after they leave our classrooms. I just posted the following on the Chronicle blog, and thought I would repost it here as well:

    It might be interesting to know a little background as to how this article came about. Jeff called me to discuss an upcoming presentation he is doing at SXSW facing the provocative question of whether or not lectures are dead. I think I surprised him a bit by actually championing the lecture, and pointing out that more participatory classroom methods can actually be bigger failures than lecture if they are not approached appropriately. I later clarified to him in an e-mail, “My main point is that participatory teaching methods simply will not work if they do not begin with a deep bond between teacher and student. Importantly, this bond must be built through mutual respect, care, and an ongoing effort to know and understand one another. Somebody using traditional teaching methods (lecture) can foster these bonds and be as effective as somebody using more participatory methods. The participation and “active learning” that is necessary for true understanding and application may not happen in the classroom, but the lecture is just one piece of a much larger ecosystem of the college campus. An effective lecture can inspire deep late night conversations with peers, mad runs to the library for more information, and significant intellectual throwdowns in the minds of our students.” (this echoes many of the thoughtful comments here) I’ll also note here that what makes Chris Sorensen so effective is the way that he seems to deeply understand who his students are, and where they are at in their understanding, so as he is lecturing he is able to trigger the right kinds of questions and thinking patterns that allow them to reach an understanding of physics … that’s what I meant when I said that he is “by their side, walking them through the forest of physics.”

    To be clear, this is not a recent change in my thinking. Starting in 2008 I started highlighting the importance of purpose, significance, and the creation of learning communities (bonds between teacher and student, as well as among students). However, I have recently realized how buried that message can be in a presentation that is otherwise dazzling with technology and the ways in which it empowers students to connect and collaborate with people all over the world and produce work that they can take pride in knowing has significantly altered the way people talk and think about certain topics. (Our Anthropological Introduction to YouTube is perhaps one of our greatest successes in this regard.) My reboot is not so much a reboot of my thinking, or even my message, it is simply a reboot in how I deliver my message.

    Within the broader ecosystem of a college campus, not everybody needs to jump on board with participatory methods and teaching with technology. But everybody does need to be on board with the goal of creating an environment in which a rich participatory culture of learning can grow. Part of that environment can and perhaps even should involve magnificent mind-bending lectures delivered by masters of their craft like Chris Sorensen.

    Not everybody has to teach with technology, but it does need to be deeply embedded throughout the ecosystem we create on campus – and not because “that’s what students want” or “that’s where the students are.” The surprising-to-most-people-fact is that students would prefer less technology in the classroom (especially *participatory* technologies that ask them to do something other than sit back and memorize material for a regurgitation exercise). I use wikis, blogs, twitter and other social media in the classroom not because our students use them, but because I am afraid that social media might be using them – that they are using social media blindly, without recognition of the new challenges and opportunities they might create. I use social media not only as an effective teaching tool that encourages participation, but also as a way to broaden the media literacy of our students. In this regard, we still have a great deal of work to do. We need to embed new media literacy more deeply into the curriculum so that it isn’t just this “one crazy Anthropology class” (as I have heard my class fondly referred to by students) that showed them how they can effectively use these tools in ways they had not yet imagined, while also allowing them to see a little more clearly how these tools are using them, altering their habits, sensibilities, and values as well as the larger structural contexts in which they live.

  8. I just read one of your articles. I loved it. I want to send you a copy something that I wrote that is right along the lines of your latest thinking. Human connection is the most important part of teaching.

    Send me an e-mail at RLewis.Cordell@gmail.com

    R Lewis Cordell

  9. Darcy Moore says:

    The more I think about it the more our learning institutions, all kinds of classrooms, need to embrace ‘messiness’ and ‘participation’ to maintain and extend out civil societies. Democracy is messy as all need a voice and the opportunity to participate. I suspect ‘factory models’ of education, that worked well for a century, need to be updated, in the caring way @mwesch suggests, to extend civil society and create more engaged, empowered citizens. Many people reading this post would have watched Mike’s TED talk about the importance of relationships in his experience of Papua New Guinea, I know that social media has the potential to extend and deepen these relationships in our culture(s). I believe that the benefits extend beyond learning to an effective (re)engagement with democratic principles. @Darcy1968

  10. Steve Collis says:

    I just want to express my high regard for all contributions on this page. Everyone seems to be talking pure sense!

    I particularly experienced goose bumps over Wesch’s phrase ‘a rich participatory culture of learning’ and ‘ecosystem’ language. There is something of a marketplace in this vision. It’s not controlled, it’s inspired, and it’s hit-and-miss in a way that will yield success enough of the time for enough participants to keep the community growing and organic, not stagnant. I created the page: http://www.anarchyinlearning.com to try to make this point in a provocative way. Forget policies, models, even multiple intelligences/Bloom’s taxonomy stand for diversity more than a prescriptive system.

    There’s no one method, it’s relational, like there is an entire ‘zoo’ of idiosyncratic approaches in the mix, with relationships and community at its heart. That ain’t ever gonna change.

    Also I almost fell off my chair at Wesch’s higher purpose for using social media / Web 2.0 tools. Michael – this has put wind under my wings. It’s the same reasoning I have in my head for running ‘gamification’ workshops for teachers – an initiative that I fear will be misunderstood as promoting gamification structures in classrooms. My higher purpose is to develop an explicit and confident literacy in both teachers and students regarding the use and abuse, power and pitfalls of such tracking systems. For them to be ‘savvy’ and ‘wised-up’ to this aspect of the social landscape. School has always been ‘gamified’, since day dot. Life is increasingly an intersection of a multitude of games.
    Age 6: stickers on a wall.
    Age 11: figures on a report card.
    Age 14: Facebook ‘likes’.
    Age 30: KPIs.

    A discourse on gamification at least brings explicit awareness to this sort of social currency. I don’t like the word gamification but I’m sincerely glad it exists, because it brings language to a process that may have otherwise gone under the radar.

    I hope our kids can experience it, play with it, subvert it, rewire it: know it for what it is and isn’t and learn to spot it and transcend it.

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I feel enriched! Top stuff!

  11. Interesting post thanks and agree that the comments are great as well. Agree with the sentiments that we’re still working out how to best use these tools, that it is easy to get lost in the razzle dazzle and use needs to be led by pedagogy.

    “It doesn’t matter what method you use if you do not first focus on one intangible factor: the bond between professor and student”

    My hope for technology in formal learning is that it will enable the professor/teacher and their students to form a passionate bond around the object of inquiry rather than the teacher’s passion (or not) for the object. Modern technology brings a depth, breadth and relevance to learning not possible without it, making it much more likely students will discover their passions.

  12. Heidi Siwak says:

    What a fabulous discussion. I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments. You are absolutely right Michael, successful practice begins with relationships and it is these bonds which nurture the learning.

    Embracing chaos is also key. In my own practice I consistently find that it is when we move as a class into unfamiliar territory that the richest, deepest and most exciting learning occurs.

    Acknowledging that there’s an important place within the learning spectrum for the lecture is a relief. I have written about this previously. There is an art to the lecture and, frankly, I like a good story teller. One of the most skilled story tellers I have ever listened to was Dr. Roebuck at McMaster University who taught a course on Shakespeare. His classes were usually jam-packed, often standing room only. Dr. Roebuck knew how to tell a story! He spoke in a fluent, engaging voice, with a breadth and depth of knowledge that is vivid in my memory. He always began with seemingly unconnected threads and would weave them together like a craftsman until they were tightly bound into a tapestry of story. I left each lecture enriched and altered.

    Technology allows us entry into learning in ways that were just not possibly even three years ago and for that I am grateful. As the debate and exploration rage on, hearing you create space for many approaches was refreshing. Thanks again.

  13. Tim Springer says:

    Intriguing discussion. Of all the thoughtful comments, I would build on Monika’s observation regarding “either/or”. Unfortunately, many discussion of learning support one or another world view, or approach. Learning and knowledge transfer is and always has been “both-and” It is both independent and interactive; both formal and informal; both tacit and explicit; both one-to-one and one-to-many. Smart technologies are wonderful, seductive, enticing and engaging. But they must be seen as a tools that are used when appropriate but put away when they are not.

    What seems apparent is a point made by Norm Freisen, the Canada Research Chair in E-Learning Practices and director of the New Media Studies Research Centre at Thompson Rivers University, BC. He looks at the lecture as a historical and enduring form of pedagogy. One that bridges to, rather than is superseded by, new forms of communication and media. (See Educational Researcher,Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 95–102).

    It’s been a few years since I taught at university, but my experience supports the notion expressed by Daniel – there is no one right way (as an ergonomist, I like to say “If one size fits all, we could exchange shoes with anyone – but that just won’t work.”) – certain topics and subjects seem to “fit” best with particular forms of pedagogy.

    In support of Professor Wesch’s comments regarding student reticence to participate, I recall a collective groan going up whenever I assigned a group project, or included a participatory activity. In discussing it with grad students, I found several things: 1. They had group projects in almost every class. 2. As with most groups, one or two people ended up doing most of the work. 3. Measurement (and grading) was ineffective – it was hard to understand how the professor graded the group and in most instances, everyone in the group got the same grade. Together, we developed an assessment that allowed the students to grade each other and for groups to grade other groups.

    Finally, I am encouraged by all the above comments. There is no “right” way; no magic bullet. Education, teaching and learning are hard work – in my humble opinion, they are the most rewarding of human endeavors.

  14. Tim Springer says:

    Intriguing discussion. Of all the thoughtful comments, I would build on Monika’s observation regarding “either/or”. Unfortunately, many discussion of learning support one or another world view, or approach. Learning and knowledge transfer is and always has been “both-and” It is both independent and interactive; both formal and informal; both tacit and explicit; both one-to-one and one-to-many. Smart technologies are wonderful, seductive, enticing and engaging. But they must be seen as tools that are used when appropriate and put away when they are not.

    One relevant example: Norm Freisen, the Canada Research Chair in E-Learning Practices and director of the New Media Studies Research Centre at Thompson Rivers University, BC. looks at the lecture as a historical and enduring form of pedagogy. One that bridges to, rather than is superseded by, new forms of communication and media. (See Educational Researcher,Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 95–102).

    It’s been a few years since I taught at university, but my experience supports the notion expressed by Daniel – there is no one right way (as an ergonomist, I like to say “If one size fits all, we could exchange shoes with anyone – but that just won’t work.”) – certain topics and subjects seem to “fit” best with particular forms of pedagogy.

    In support of Professor Wesch’s comments regarding student reticence to participate, I recall a collective groan going up whenever I assigned a group project, or included a participatory activity. In discussing it with grad students, I found several things: 1. They had group projects in almost every class. 2. As with most groups, one or two people ended up doing most of the work. 3. Measurement (and grading) was ineffective – it was hard to understand how the professor graded the group and in most instances, everyone in the group got the same grade. Together, we developed an assessment that allowed the students to grade each other and for groups to grade other groups.

    Finally, I am encouraged by all the above comments. There is no “right” way; no magic bullet. Education, teaching and learning are hard work – in my humble opinion, they are the most rewarding of human endeavors.

  15. Thanks Michael and everyone for taking this discussion to where it has become.

    I’m interested then, Michael, in your thoughts on how different educational approaches align to your thinking. Your description of the importance of the bond between teacher and student, or indeed the connection between the learning community seems to strongly align with Reggio Emilia thinking.

    In the early years (where I hover most of the time), we discuss a lot about community and the role it plays in the learning of young child’s life. It seems you are suggesting that this idea of community is important to all types of education and even life-long learning. Would that be a fair statement?

    Love to hear your thoughts.

    cheers

    Dan

  16. Interesting comments, provocative and ones that make me remember that both/and is a critical stance and one that will hold us in good stead, as will becoming otherwise. Few things, and certainly not ones involving humans, rest on either/or. Either use tech to teach– or do not use tech reduces the actual complexity of teaching by suggesting that such a choice is an all or nothing matter. We know in our bones that isn’t so.

    What’s worrisome is that we respond to this issue of teaching and learning as if method could be divorced from context. We need to get over method as general method always misses the more important point: the teaching and learning was composed among a particular group of people and at a particular time. The method is the people.

    I wonder what commonalities these two professors share? Maxine Greene has remained a touchstone in my life and she writes eloquently and powerfully about the role of the imagination and the necessity of living wide-awake lives. I wonder if each of these might be more stable indicators of excellence, than the use of PowerPoint or its equivalent.

    I imagine each professor, like the the responders before me, dwell in possibility. That’s a revolution worth investing in, being bold about.

    I love this idea that Maxine writes about. Have a listen: “What I am describing here is a mode of utopian thinking: thinking that refuses mere compliance, that looks down roads not yet taken to the shapes of more fulfilling social order, to more vibrant ways of being in the world. This kind of reshaping imagination may be realized through sorts of dialogue…When such dialogue is activated in classrooms, even the young are stirred to reach out on their own initiatives. Apathy and indifference are likely to give way as images of what might be arise (1995, p. 5).

    For me, like others who have written here–technologies allow me to experience things as if they might be otherwise. As a mom of a teenager, I can tell you that my son’s life is steeped in technology and I hope he has teachers who are equally steeped. I get that certain technologies may be experienced as disruptive (yeah!) or chaotic by the teacher and also perhaps by students. Perhaps though, that represents valuable learning. I hope we learn to embrace the difficult, and not turn from it as it makes us uncomfortable.

  17. I am afraid this switching from tech infusion to its abandonment happened because pedagogy and psychology were overlooked in the process. That is not to say trial-and-error does not have its place, nor that the leap to innovating teaching should not happen. I think it comes down to balance, reflection and shaping teaching according to each situation.
    Technology is already the future, no doubt about it. The art, though, is to know the pedagogical implications, as well as psychological effects of using it. Research in cognitive sciences show how differently the brain processes reading from an iPad, for instance, as opposed from a book, or how attention works. The iterative mode, characterized by partial attention, constant interruption, frequent changes, alternative possibilities (all offered by technology) is useful in certain circumstances as it can increase creativity and openness. The thinking mode, however, requires constant attention, focus, complete information (usually propelled by “traditional” tools and strategies) and it is needed, too, in other circumstances.
    This dichotomy is only apparent because our brain needs stimulation and pause, activities that “stir”and others that allow for a longer flow of thought. What is dangerous is to use one to the detriment of the other, and that is where I think most educators might go wrong sometimes, as it happens with teaching strategies. We tend to over-estimate the benefit of some over others when actually all of them are needed at different times, with different age groups (which share largely similar characteristics), in certain subjects and so forth. Teaching should be a mosaic of strategies that best improve on learning.
    I think in his comment Professor Wesh broadened the discussion and cleared some points that might have been misinterpreted.
    Technology is here to stay. We just need to be aware of its benefits and downsides, and create a learning environment where the latter are diminished.

  18. Heidi Siwak says:

    Norm Freisen’s history of the lecture research.
    http://learningspaces.org/n/papers/lecture_paper.pdf

  19. Thank you, Heidi. I like the concept of “interpretive, hermeneutic exercise”. A robust paper that invites to reflection. Proof that not teaching method can claim the status of “best” as learning is dynamic, fluid and contextual.

  20. Yes, thanks Heidi and well pointed out Christina.

    Not only is learning dynamic, fluid and contextual – but so are the students or people an educator or facilitator has sitting in front of them. The different learning styles of each student means the benefit and value of the lecture will be different for everyone in the room.

    It is interesting that the move towards new forms of practice and the use of technology in that practice has to do with the different learning styles.

    Some of my work is focussed on using technology to support children/students with disabilities and learning challenges. Anecdotally, the technology appears to improve the outcomes for these students. The Canby School District work is a first attempt to back that up with numbers – http://www.slideshare.net/mobileportland/canby-school-district-ipod-touch-program

    Of course, the Canby SD trail admits that the teachers who lead the trial were probably the better teachers, more engaged and enthusiastic in the District – which shifts the whole analysis to a degree.

    I know that primary age is different to tertiary age. But, I think in discussions like these it is important to continue to dig into the reasoning for why the moves have happened. I think it only further strengthens the “both/and” case and the need to impart that understanding across the profession and sector…

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