I love new technology tools. I’m waiting for the first truly functional house-cleaning, grocery-story-shopping, laundry-washing and folding, meal-preparing robot á la the Jetsons’ Rosie, the robot maid. I prefer playing around with my computer, my iPad, my tablet and my iPhone instead of….working. And lucky for me, my day job permits me to play around with technology and work at the same time.
I was also moved by the video produced by Michael Wesch’s anthropology class that focused on students’ lack of engagement with teaching, with learning, and with the material. The video highlighted issues that many of us (faculty) had ignored about students’ world. And I agreed with Wesch’s focus on creating technology-based and enhanced real-life projects to reach and engage students.
Now Wesch is re-thinking his focus. In Jeffrey Young’s recent interview of Wesch, summarized in the Chronicle Article article, “A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working,” Wesch noted that other professors had tried his suggestions on technology use and had informed him that the technology did not work. In the article, Young describes Wesch’s encounters with faculty who lecture and who make a connection with students in the lecture (and who therefore believe learning has occurred). Those faculty connect with students despite the decision to forgo technology. According to Young, Wesch’s key point was that with all technology-enhanced teaching techniques, the technique’s success ultimately depended on the intangible “bond between professor and student.” Wesch’s point was that although technology can engage students, the students’ connection with the faculty helped determine student success.
I agree, with reservations.
The article does not refer to the research that supports the position that if the students “connect” through lecture that the expected learning occurs. My own research (of one, as a student in college, 30 + years ago!) supports the idea, in part, that a dynamic lecturer can connect with students and encourage them to want to learn. My own research (same standard as before!) also supports that there were some “dynamic” lecturers who neither engaged me nor fostered my desire to learn. My desire to learn in those situations was internal: I wanted to maintain my high grades so I could know enough to get into the courses I really wanted! And frankly, if dynamic lectures are truly the only significant ways to impart knowledge, I have a heretical suggestion: hire actors/actresses, train them well to express enthusiasm and “connection” and let them teach the courses! If research supported that lectures are the best/only way to promote learning, then students would succeed at much higher rates than they do now. Learning is more complicated than listening to a lecture. And there are multiple ways for faculty to connect with students.
There are intangibles that promote a connection between faculty and students so that students learn. Some exist with lectures. Some exist in online classes when students, when prompted appropriately, engage in thought provoking discussions. Some exist in face-to-face small group discussions where faculty and students examine topics. Some exist when students meet with faculty outside of the classroom. Some exist when students participate in out of the classroom service-learning projects. Some exist when students are immersed in the topic through technology or through, for example, performance. The point is that as faculty we can choose, adapt test and research teaching methods to determine which works well for students and for the faculty. And if it promotes critical thinking, deeper inquiry or other noteworthy educational goals, then learning has occurred regardless of the technology.
That’s the real message!
So yes, Rosie would be a wonderful addition to my household! But if I had a house filled with young children (as opposed to my current household that includes one grandchild to whom I’ve introduced technology and who embraces it just as her grandmother does!) I would be sure to let those children know that Rosie’s there to make one aspect of life easier, but that Rosie is not there to substitute for every aspect of life. Rosie may clean, for example, but I would want my young children to know what it means to make things dirty, what dirt is, and why it could be harmful (or useful, depending on the discussion). In other words, the technology is a tool that can be used to broaden students learning and to appeal to, or reach students. It is not a substitute for the hard work of learning (and teaching).