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Monday, July 16, 2007

Pimp My Course

In a comment on Podcasting has No Inherent Pedagogical Value - which has some interesting comments in it around technology and value - I was pointed to an interesting article in the Chronicle - Pimp My Course and Stephen Downes summary of some of the responses. It seems that no one is sure if the author is serious - but I worry that some people might actually think so, especially since it reminded me of conversations I had with fellow professors 15 years ago when I was teaching computer science at Loyola Marymount.

When I first started teaching, I felt that much class time was wasted as I wrote stuff on the board and had them feverishly trying to take notes to keep up. Unfortunately, that's how I went through school and so I did the same thing. I quickly realized that I could have a much better classroom experience if I provide my students with class notes that meant they only had to write down the 20% that was in the discussion or dialog around the topic that would be there thoughts on the topic. I also changed to start every topic with a problem that would hopefully capture their interest and then answers would unfold through the material as we worked through and discussed it together. It changed the dynamic somewhat, but, of course, it's still lecture. What technology did I use? MS Word - posting links on an intranet - remember this was 15 years ago.

Now I would definitely be using a Wiki for my class notes and syllabi - it's just easier. I'd also have students use blogs for collaborative learning assignments.

Still, even using MS Word and problem-based learning seemed like a big leap from what other professors did in their classes. When I discussed this with them, they seemed to conceptually get the idea, but none of them seemed to change to actually do it. It's not like as a young professor I really challenged why they would stick to a note-taking approach, but it was interesting to me.

Back to the Chronicle article. I'm still not sure how serious the author was ... which is maybe why there's such concern. I could believe that 60-80% of teachers/professors feel that way. But it was also interesting to see the comment in my other post that points out that unless you start with what you want to be happening for your students and in your classroom, technology makes no difference.


Anonymous said...

Rather belatedly reading this article and Stephen's response, I do get the impression that the writer is saying: students don't want to learn and never will, no matter what you do. It's very humorously said, but I still think it's a bit of a cop out. Perhaps it is true that students are unmotivated to learn, but I think that blaming that on their culture, their age, their whatever is unhelpful. It is entirely true that throwing technology at a course is not necessarily going to make it better or more engaging. Perhaps we should start by finding out why the students are disengaged to begin with - then we stand a better chance of changing that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Karyn. Being of the human species, and a member of the group student / learner - I love to learn and I believe most other students do as well. If I'm not learning something everyday - I'm simply not satisfied.

Culture, age, and other factors probably come into play. But not as much as the propensity of the education system to bestow information by means of mechanical vomitus.

Teaching is hard, I've been there. Teaching without putting in the effort to find the 'sweet spot' and cultivating volition makes teaching even harder.

There seems to be a general culture in academia that teaches using four main methods:

> Lecture - in the least engaging sense.
> Shallow discussion
> Brief group activity
> Homework

Figuring out how to change and improve these are a tall order due to the constraints of the bureaucracy, the expectations of the system, the available resources, and a litany of other factors (parent involvement in the case of K-12).

Add to this that a good teacher also has high skill points in:

Performance Art
Sense of Humor
Body Language
Critical Thinking
Problem Solving

If a teacher isn't bringing these things coming in the door, or have some talent for them - they probably will have a hard time developing these traits on the job. And most of these certainly aren't taught as part of most core programs (seldom are many offered as electives).


Andrew Pass said...

This seems so obvious to me, nothing has any inherent pedagogical value, with the possible exception of reading, if it doesn't fulfill some sort of educational objective. I might be missing something here but it seems to me as if the chronicle discussion takes up too much space.