Technology aids the student, not the teacher

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’ve said it before: I am not a teacher.  At least not in the formal sense.*  I do not have a teaching degree.  However, I consider myself a dilettante (in the most positive sense of the term) as I’ve spent the last two years building a PLN that includes teachers and librarians, and reading about education.  I have certainly learned LOADS since coming to my current position.

As you may have already figured out from previous posts, as well as my Twitter profile, I am an enthusiastic user of technology.  I often become excited about the vaguely imagined “possibilities” of a technology long before giving its use considerable thought.  However, I usually find this useful, since it eventually dawns on me how a particular technology may fit seamlessly into a project, or aid a current effort.

All this is by way of introduction, to explain my interest in a couple of posts by Teaching as a Dynamic Activity and ITBabble.

I definitely fall into the camp of “it’s not necessary, but man, is it nice” when discussing technology.  I don’t argue that one can’t be a great teacher with only a chalkboard.  And I definitely agree that many people can lose sight of a goal when using a particularly glittery technology.

The point I usually argue with the professors I work with is that the use of technology does not necessarily change their teaching in the classroom, it changes the student’s experience inside and outside the classroom.  Since I am recently (relatively) out of graduate school, and my graduate experience was vastly different than my undergraduate experience, I often use these as examples, and I will here as well.

Here’s the scenario: a professor is teaching a new concept. The class is partially taken up by student brainstorming about what the concept is and what it means, and partly by the instructor lecturing.  The professor makes notes on the board, possibly draws a picture.  The student leaves the class feeling like the concept is tentatively understood.

That’s it.  Most of my experience as a learner that I can recall goes something like this.**

Now, the above scenario can take place in two different settings. One, with only a chalkboard, notepaper and pencils (my undergraduate life).  Two, with PowerPoint (or some variation of presentation software, my favorite being Prezi***), computers, an interactive whiteboard,**** a course software technology like Blackboard or Moodle, cloud computing and social networks (my graduate school life).

In the first setting, the student will have to furiously take notes, hoping to both capture the conversation and lecture, and be able to pay enough attention to understand what is going on and contribute to the discussion.  Later, when reviewing the topic, the student will have only his or her notes to refer to.  The chalkboard has long been erased, and there is no hope of seeing if the drawing in my notebook is accurate to what the professor drew.  Some students are friendly outside of class, and decide to form a study group.  They meet and share notes, and take more notes from others’ notes.  They ask additional questions in class.  Consequently, the professor will probably have to take more class time to review the subject.  This is how we never got to the end of a syllabus in any class I took in college.

In the second scenario, students  still take notes, but on their laptop.  In my experience, I’m a much faster typer than writer, and can get more down in less time.*****  But since the teacher is using an IWB, there is no need to copy down what the professor is writing on the board, only particularly helpful points to refer to later.  The professor will save the board and post it on the class Blackboard page later so students may refer to it and review.  For the lecture portion of the class, the professor has prepared a Prezi.  This, too, will be available for students to review.  The professor has also created a video she will use in class, using the overhead projection unit, of herself drawing the picture of the concept so the students can watch the drawing being created over and over again if necessary, so no subtlety will be missed.  Students are encouraged to use social media to discuss topics introduced in class, and through this they learn that several other people are having trouble comprehending aspects of the new concept, and agree to meet to review and help each other.  They create a Google Doc to share their combined understanding, and ask the teacher to participate.  The professor has time to correct some misunderstandings before the next class time, and so the class can move forward in their discussions.

OK.  I realize that what I just gave you was an idealized version of the classroom (I think in both scenarios).  In the second scenario, I’m assuming that the student is engaged enough to be taking notes, rather than cruising Facebook during class, that the teacher will actually post the IWB screenshot and Prezi in a timely fashion, that students will review the posted material and discuss their respective realizations and frustrations, and that they will take the initiative to create a document summarizing their mutual understanding.  Not every student will be thus engaged.

However, this is no reason to shy away from technology.  Technology doesn’t make a better teacher, and it certainly won’t make a better student.  What it will do is give the student opportunities that he or she wouldn’t have otherwise.  Ideally, it will free them to think more critically about a subject, since they won’t be struggling to write down everything, and can review at their own pace.

* Full disclosure:  I was an education major until the end of my sophomore year in college.  I didn’t make it past the psychology prerequisites, and decided to focus on history instead of history education.  I blame NCLB (I started college in the fall of 2000), as well as a distaste for being told what I can and can’t do (i.e. textbooks to use, subjects to cover).  Originally, I intended to get a PhD in history, but stalled out due to fear of failure and taking the GRE.  Librarianship seemed a the perfect answer to my career dilemma.

** If I could remember more of high school, I could confirm it being my experience there as well.  As it is, from what I can recall this is accurate.

*** I particularly like Prezi because of the zooming feature.  I prefer to think of the space as a content map, so that you can zoom out and the full picture makes sense for the topic, and the viewer can see an overview (quite literally), and zoom in to various places to see detail.  I am obviously a visual learner.

**** Again, full disclosure: we didn’t have one of these when I was in graduate school, but I wish we did.  I’m including it here for the sake of showing how it could possibly be useful.

***** I’ve been known to actually transcribe an entire class session on a particularly frustrating topic.  Seriously. If we had been using an IWB, I may not have needed to, but I probably still would.  It is for these instances that I think that digital recorders are useful for some subjects.

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