Thoughts on Education – 2/4/12
I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and think about education. Not because I’ve been doing other important things but because I have exactly not been doing other important things. I tend to try and take some time off when I get the chance during the week, and the last 24 hours or so was that. The time off will vanish as I get closer to my first big set of assignments due in about a week and a half, but right now, there’s time to take a break in the week every once in a while. So, I’m blogging now with regard to the articles that I have saved up over the last couple of days.
I liked this blog post a lot regarding the tempering of optimism that initially comes from teaching as you realize how difficult it is to retain that feeling that you are going to change the world. William was warned by a professor of his in grad school that each year “the students seemed lazier, the job of teaching them harder. And much less rewarding.” He, like so many of us thought that we could make that difference and be different as well, but then, he was confronted with the reality of the situation, captured well in this paragraph:
“The pedagogue in me gently corrects students’ misconceptions. The educated person in me shakes his head and laughs at such fundamental misunderstandings. But sometimes, the part of me who has to grade the papers — the part of me who is conscious of the 14-hour workdays, the amount of effort I’m putting into this job of educating these students — wonders ‘Is this really what I ought to be doing with my life? Is it possible to really make a difference in these lives?'” I would imagine that any of us in teaching has come across that many, many times. We get astounded at the ways that students can mess something up, at the base ignorance that is out there. We share the funny stories with each other, and we shake our heads. I do it all the time, it seems. And, as we say, it seems to get worse year by year.
Again to return to the post here, he says, “‘I had so much respect for my own professors,’ I tell myself. ‘Yet these students seem to be mocking my efforts.'” But then he actually goes back and remembers what he did in classes, skipping, not paying attention, scraping by at the last minute on papers, not really studying for tests, etc. and thinks that maybe we just see it differently because we are in the position of authority and that it was just a situation of us forgetting or willfully ignoring what our fellow students (and us) were really like back then. I think I was good, but I can remember slacking off and doing things I shouldn’t do in class. It’s just that those things are obvious in a different way now, with technology, etc. Back then, if you doodled on your page or something like that, it wasn’t as obvious you were doing things you shouldn’t be doing. Now, we see a laptop or cell phone and we automatically assume that they are not paying attention.
So, what am I trying to say about the article? I’m not exactly sure. I liked reading it and could easily identify with it. Does it help explain anything? I don’t know. I always try to avoid saying the students get worse every year because I fundamentally don’t think that’s true. In the historical sense, I think that the real issue is that we always have that glow looking back through rose-colored glasses that things were better in the past (even if only last semester!) than they are now, and we willingly forget what things were like when we were in their seats.
I think, also, that we are too willing to blame technology for the problems today. The methods of slacking and not paying attention and not doing work have changed, but I’m not sure that the amount of those things have changed all that much. I think that’s the point of the post more than anything else, and I have to say that I agree. I invite technology in my classroom, with the full expectation that students will use it and abuse it. I do this because I also think that it can enhance the classroom, although I’m still working on ways to ensure that it does more of the latter than the former. I just think that outright bans on technology are wrong-headed and punishing in ways that may not be intentional or expected. My wire, for example, has been using her laptop in class to record her teachers’ lectures so that she can listen to them later. And she really does listen to them later. Yet, she has a teacher now that keeps her from doing that by banning technology. So, here’s a student who not only is going to listen and take notes but will even go back and listen several times more to the material, and she can’t at this point. Just a single example, but I think blanket bans end up hurting as much as they help. (And, cue stepping off of the soapbox . . .)
Interactive Textbooks. OK. I want to see one. Where can I find a true interactive textbook? One designed for college students, whether in my subject area or not? This is the big promise of iBooks and all of the stuff Apple is doing. Now I want to see it. Do I lack patience in this, yes! I want change and I want it now!
Here’s what The Economist says about it: “Done properly, interactive textbooks offer not only video tutorials, more personalised instruction, just-in-time hints and homework help, but also instant access to assessment tools, teaching resources and the ability to network socially with students elsewhere. Using tools for highlighting and annotating virtual flash-cards, students can select information within the text and store it for later revision. Searching public databases, direct from within the textbook, is also possible. At school, students can sync with their teachers’ computers, to hand in their quiz results and homework for marking.” Of course, the question is, will it be “done properly?” And, if you provide those options, will students use them? That’s the big question that always comes up with new technology.
So, again, I want an interactive textbook now. I want one set up for college history. I’ll run a class test on it tomorrow. Let’s get this moving, as I think it has a lot of potential, but if we just screw around, that potential will be lost.
By the way, since it is mentioned in this article (and just about everywhere else), has anyone tried using the Khan Academy? With college students?
I like the idea here, but the article is a bit shallow on ideas. I like the idea of “gamification,” one of those ideas floating around now of including games in the learning process to make students more engaged. This is probably because I like playing games so much myself. I like the idea of using something that a lot of people already enjoy doing, playing games, and harnessing that energy to a learning environment. How this could be done for a more ethereal subject realm like the humanities and social sciences is not all that obvious, and how you would assess learning in a gaming environment is even less obvious, but I am intrigued by the idea.
To me, this is the most interesting reason for it: “Compared to traditional, lecture approaches learning where students sit passively either in a classroom or training boardroom to learn the workplace procedures by memory without any real-life interaction; game-based learning lets individuals learn the facts by testing (via practice and failure) until we commit it, not only memory, but also understand the howís and whys of our success in a real-life situation.”
Two very interesting ideas out of this one, ironically enough, neither of them is at the center of the article.
First comes from the first paragraph, which grabbed me immediately. “The big secret amongst many of us who work in online learning is that we are not all that wild about online courses. Sure, we think online courses can be great, and can fill an important need, but what really gets us excited is learning.” Undoubtedly true. I did not get started teaching online because I thought it would solve all of the world’s problems or bring a real new and different way to my teaching. I did it because that’s what was required of my job. I think I’m pretty decent at teaching online, but I will be the first to admit that there’s a lot I don’t know at all about it. I always feel like my online courses are experimental, and I am never very satisfied with them. Of course, I feel that about my regular courses as well, so that’s not a very good comparison.
I then found the end of the article to raise an interesting point along this very line. The article goes through how you put some principles together as you try to create a new online course. It advocates 5 principles, as stated in the title of the article. They’re nothing spectacular and woefully under-explained in the article, but I found the final paragraph to raise an interesting point that I have talked with others about: “To my knowledge, this sort of detailed course proposal and course delivery review and support methodology is not standard in most of our on-ground classes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow diffuse these resources and methods throughout our curriculum?” Yes, exactly. We think all the time about online classes, and we have a whole evaluation setup for them at my community college. Yet nobody evaluates the content and presentation of our face-to-face classes in the same way. We see much more scrutiny in online courses, and the question raised about why is one that doesn’t get asked often enough.
Anyway, I think that’s good for today. I’ll see what crosses my computer in the next day or so to see if I have more articles to talk about or if I will move on to another subject tomorrow.