There’s an interesting article at Insider Higher Ed entitled “Toward a Transparent Classroom”, written by Jefferson Flanders of New York University. I think it has interesting insights on the future of education in a technological and interconnected world.
Professor Flanders begins by relating a recent teaching experience and his subsequent epiphany. A student emailed him immediately after a recent lecture with a relevant question based on the student’s discoveries while surfing the web during Flanders’ lecture. Before the next lecture, he finds out that many students are doing the same thing — looking for relevant material on the web during class. The professor notes:
In a wireless classroom, students can make real-time comparisons with a professor’s presentation; they can cross-check facts, shop for second opinions, research the literature in cyber-space on a given topic. They are armed with a powerful new tool and that power is bottom-up, not top-down, in nature.
I am blown away by this. Because of some work I did recently for our university’s CIO, I have developed a more intense interest in educational technology. I actually have been interested in the use of technology for educational purposes since I arrived at Western over four years ago. But my concern has been that the use of technology was superficial — doing the same old things using new technology. As a computer scientist and educator, I want to know how technology can transform education.
And Professor Flanders’ example points to a transformation currently taking place (this one is emergent rather than intentional). It also dovetails nicely with one of the education books on my summer reading list: Teaching with your Mouth Shut by Donald L. Finkel. I’ve only just started reading it, and I’m already hooked. Finkel’s thesis, as the title indicates, is that the great majority of learning takes place apart from the lecture, and he wants us to see how to make that work in the classroom.
I can already envision a class where students would spend a great majority of their time exploring some concept that I introduce (not necesssarily through lecture). This exploring would include discussion, group problem-solving, and “surfing the web” to drill down on some detail or find alternative ideas.
How to make this work without degenerating into anarchy may be the hard part.
Maybe somebody else has figured this out. Maybe Finkel will have more insights on this. Maybe I need to surf the web myself to find the answers (ah.. the teacher has become the student).
I want my classes in the fall to be different than they have been. I want more participation from students. I want them to really grasp the concepts. I want them to take ownership of their education. I want the experience to be positive and enlightening for all of us.
It’s going to take a lot of work this summer. We’ll see whether I’m up to it.