I’ve been trying to think how to use technology to enhance both my teaching and my students’ learning and it’s proving more difficult than I’d initially thought. I like to think that laptops and internet access in every classroom give students real-time access to related content while they engage in meaningful discussion, but this will never happen. Their Facebook profile and IM conversations are far more interesting than the “Pathology of stroke” or “Justice in access to healthcare”. And that makes sense in a bizarre kind of way. Even while they (or their parents) pay vast sums in tuition fees to have the privilege of attending university, most students (in my very limited experience) see studying as inherently boring.
Some studies in American classrooms have all but proven that the distraction of the Internet in class is too strong for students to ignore and that most of the lesson is spent checking email, catching up with friends and even shopping. Now, after that initial foray into “embracing” technology”, it seems as if there’s a move towards banning laptops altogether.
This is the kind of about-turn I’d like to avoid. E-learning, while I have no doubt will be a revolution in education, is not the idea that technology for it’s own sake is the way forward. Just because it’s possible to have Internet access in class, does it mean that we should? Rather, teachers must take an approach whereby technology is used in a way that enhances it’s advantages, while minimising the disadvantages. Just because I put the course reader online doesn’t make it “e-learning”, and neither does having a student blog. The technology in itself doesn’t enhance learning in any way, but how you use it can have powerful implications.
I’ve been toying with the idea of using a wiki to manage a course, whereby any change to either the course content, test schedule or mark availability can by syndicated through RSS to all the students in the class. Students will have to, as a course requirement, both add to and edit course content (obviously moderated), which can also then be tracked. I think that this may be one way to encourage them to actively engage with the content, as well as introduce concepts like peer review, referencing and drafting, which may also improve their reading and writing skills (another huge problem). The point though, will be to make the learning outcomes apparent from the beginning, so that students know what’s expected of them. Merely creating a wiki and telling students to “Go forth and create content” isn’t enough.
I think that technology will fundamentally change the way we teach and how students learn, but not just by throwing technology at the problem. The trick is to figure out how to use technology to facilitate deep learning by getting students to actively engage with the content. A bad teacher will continue to teach badly, no matter how much “technology” they use.
Link to the article that inspired this post: