3: Debating Pedagogical Efficacy
In many cases, there remains much hesitation among professors to adopt new technologies in the classroom. In some cases, technology is actively opposed. While some professors are eager to embrace new forms of communications and classroom technologies, others have sought to limit their use and strip away what they see as unnecessary distractions.
On one side of the debate is Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard University, who argues that clinging to outdated teaching practices amounts to “educational malpractice.”
If your doctor said “I’m going to treat you with the techniques I learned back then [in medical school]” writes Dede, “you’d be rightly incensed. Yet there are a lot of faculty who say with a straight face, ‘I don’t need to change my teaching,’ as if nothing has been learned about teaching since they had been prepared to do it…”
But some argue that technology can at times undermine learning. Mark James experimented with prohibiting cell phones and laptops in class and found that students “seemed more involved in the discussion than when I allowed them to go online.” He believed the discussions without laptops and cell phones had greater depth.
One academic blogger reminds us that newer is not always better, arguing that paper is still a valuable technology for many uses.
It seems possible that some students might appreciate the elimination of certain distractions from the classroom. TA’s sitting at the back of a lecture hall can attest to the visual symphony of flashing laptops as students surf the web.
Allowing students to be online during class can also change the dynamic of a class for the better. One young professor at Stanford would often ask students to look up factual questions online when he was stumped. This created a relaxed and decentralized classroom dynamic that students seemed to appreciate. They had chances to participate in the process of teaching themselves and each other, giving the sense that the course was a collective learning endeavor.
The debate goes on, as professors experiment with new classroom technologies–pushing pedagogical conventions and evaluating results; introducing new tools and perhaps limiting the use of others. What becomes clear is that the term “technology” is too broad to be painted with broad strokes. Teachers must think critically about what tool is best for the job, and what will result from using or allowing certain certain technological tools over others.