“The most shocking part of going back to school at this point in my life (in her 30s) is looking around and realizing that nobody is in the room. The professor is just another open browser window, 1 of 10.”
Part of my role as Coordinator for Learning Technologies at Plymouth State University is to work with our faculty in adapting to the new technologies that permeate our campus. While this quote from a recent CNet News article is nothing new, it is a reminder that just as technology is changing the way we communicate, it is also affecting the way that we teach. As evidenced by the quote above from Sharyl Grant, a non-trad student at UNC, technology is changing the way we interact even in the physical realm. When the “professor is just another open browser window,” is that a function of technology or rather a dysfunction of our teaching practice? K-12 teachers have grown up In an age of multiple intelligences and learning styles, differentiated instruction and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Yet in higher ed where we often still practice the lecture to learn, drill and kill, one-sided conversation/passive consumption methodology of information dissemination, can we really blame technology for a lack of student engagement or is it just another outlet (like doodling and note passing) for those stifled minds who reject passive learning and are seeking an opportunity for engagement?
Image courtesy of DavidDMuir
There are typically three schools of thought that seem to be prevalent. The first is the desire for an outright ban on laptop and mobile use in the classroom. Those faculty in this camp feel that their students should be focused entirely on what is being lectured and that technology serves only as a distraction to their learning. The second perspective is to simply ignore the technology use and pretend that it isn’t there, to teach around it. The last perspective is to embrace technology use and leverage it to make the class more engaging – integrating technology into their learning experience.
Now, integrating technology into the classroom experience at the higher ed level can be challenging and often means more preparatory work, and yet it has the potential to be far more engaging than the relatively static experience of lectures, overheads and PowerPoint presentations. Consider the opportunities for learning we could create if we tap our students’ affinity for technology by challenging them in class to find and share appropriate and timely references, news briefs, videos or lectures on our subject matter. Imagine if we showed our students how technology can serve them, rather than the other way around.
The 21-st century treats knowledge and information as currency and those who can effectively acquire, process and synthesize that knowledge into actionable projects and tangible results will be far better prepared for the world they will enter.
The image above is a screenshot of the resources I was utilizing to create this blog post. I tossed out a call for image resources to my Twitter network. I was searching for Creative Commons licensed images on Flickr. I was composing my post in my Flock (web browser) editor with my Google Reader RSS feeds in the background. My feeds are what turned me on to this article and got me thinking about writing this post. Imagine the power of harnessing these resources to improve our classroom experience. What would a higher ed classroom look like if our students were actually engaged in the learning process, rather than sitting in their lecture seats as passive vessels? As web browsing becomes resource hunting, as personal Instant Messaging gave way to consulting one’s personal learning network, as students become partners instead of problems.
If the professor is simply browser window 1 of 10, the question then becomes this:
“Is the professor allowing this to occur because they have not created and drawn their students into an actively engaged learning community?”
Neither ignoring nor banning technology use will engage your students as effectively as embracing it and harnessing it for productive means. And embracing technology does not require that professors be tech experts, the students have that down. Professors just need to do what they’ve always done: share, guide, challenge and refine. They’re just doing it with more support and far greater resources than they’ve had in the past.
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