Thursday, July 12, 2007

The old guard

New Kid and PZ have already taken this Chronicle article to task, but I can't resist a few of my own comments.

Why is it that we never see articles in the Chronicle about successful uses of technology in the classroom? Actually, there are a few, but they don't get much attention. Do a search at the Chronicle site using "technology" and "teaching" and you get a few positive articles, but then you also get articles titled "I upload therefore I teach" and "Too much catering to students."

The worst use of technology in teaching is the "Pimp my Course" type use where a faculty member simply turns their yellowed notes into Powerpoint presentations when they then upload to a course management system.

Despite my sometimes complaining about having to deal with people that are similar to the author of this article, I'm actually mostly proud of my faculty for not approaching technology in a "pimp my course" fashion. I was surprised this year when several faculty questioned me about saving YouTube videos because they found it such a valuable resource to illustrate points in the classroom. And they're not all using old MASH videos either. Some are using home videos that show child development. Some are using foreign language video. Some are finding political ads and tv commercials.

The faculty using podcasts are interested in doing so not just so their students will have access to lectures for review, but also to free up their class time for hands on work that more directly demonstrates the material contained in the lecture.

I based an entire dissertation on a class blog, and my conclusions were that class blogs are an extremely successful approach to teaching writing skills. In fact, some faculty here in non-writing intensive courses have created class blogs specifically to give students the opportunity to write about what they're learning in class. The amount of material they've written is amazing.

I'd like to see a shift towards more student-created content in the classroom. Let them create the videos and the podcasts as well as the blogs. Some classes are doing this. More should. Like New Kid, I'm a big advocate of face-to-face classes, but what my own experience has shown is that if you give students something to do before class--write a blog post, create a short podcast or video--in addition to the reading, that class is far more prepared and the discussion more lively.

I recognize that people in my position are sometimes a little overly enthusiastic about technology. We can't really help it. We got into this business because we love it. Plus, we're trying to get through some very thick skulls.