Minding the pitfalls of high-tech teaching

What?!? Interactive teaching technologies are not an automatic template for conjuring wonder and effective learning among students?

Shocking. You mean there isn’t an app for that?!

Seriously, I found a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed profile of a leading classroom innovator to be quite useful and interesting (see the link below). Its classroom anecdotes suggest we embrace our classroom innovation with a good measure of precautionary sense.

Jeffrey R. Young, “A tech-happy professor reboots after hearing his advice doesn’t work,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 February 2012.

Rarely do we hear of high-tech classroom innovators linked to failure. Naturally, no one wants to brag about their failed experiments. Beyond that, there is the big industry-led push to add technology whereever possible — which I am fully engaging in my own teaching. Technology is, after all, exciting and new. And it does offer us educators any number of new ways to help students learn.

The article posits as chief alternative to the high-tech interactive teaching template the “authoritarian,” old-school lecture approach. The successful cases it cites and describe have two or three decades of teaching experience – in which they honed their lectures. From the article’s comparisons, I take away three main points or observations:

  1. Keep working on the lectures. The effectiveness of the happy, comfortable authoritarians reminds us to keep working on our lectures. Good lectures– knowledge-rich, inspired, contextualized to time, campus, student audience needs — will always be a timeless coin of the realm.  Developing good lectures takes years of practice combined with pre-class updating and reviewing.
  2. Stay with the technology. The notion that non-use of technology breeds effectiveness would obviously be flawed. We have major selection bias here due to the IT/communications revolutions. Left out are cases of teachers with two or three decades of teaching experience who have been honing their interactive approach and material for a comparable period. The cases do not exist because today’s web 2.0 is only about a decade old.
  3. To conjure wonder about the world is a worthy aim. I like the way the author and his subject conclude with this. This art of teaching is not exclusive to either approach or toolkit.  Connect and turn on the students. No set recipe. Go with whatever tools will work.

Yesterday I saw a survey feedback data of MATC student comments. Two of the three most common comments expressed a desire for more effective use of technology by instructors:

  • more frequent email contact with instructors
  • more extensive use of Blackboard course learning system.

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