Future-teach

Why we still need teachers despite the internet

As I was sitting and listening to lectures at the SALT conference I heard a comment that most of the younger generations don’t have the patience to sit through lectures when they can look up answers and information so quickly on the internet. First, let’s note that not all lectures or lecturers are as painful to sit through as listening to someone conjugate Latin verbs in all tenses. You can still get valuable information from a lecture; however, it’s nice to be able to learn via different media or methods. Second, I’m a little wary of the idea of just expecting students of any age or discipline be able to search for information via the net without little or no guidance. If you read any of the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories or comics from the Tarzan series, you’ll remember that there was this assumption that Tarzan learned how to read on his own by reading through the books without the help or guidance from a teacher. Can we assume that students can learn everything they need to know by just having the almost all the information placed in front of them via the internet? Of course, after many trial and error attempts they might be able to function or apply the information they absorbed correctly. Even with all the information and resources in front of you, you still need a teacher or instructor as a guide to help you determine what’s good information and what is not.

Even within the university setting, this type of learning and validation from an expert must occur. Pre-Net we had libraries. Students would often use the libraries to compile information in the form of papers or studies thus augmenting what they learned in class. Now this will probably date me, but I used the index card method of gathering information from my sources. The professor, instructor or teacher would verify if we got things ‘right’ by giving us a grade on the paper. Though, that’s not always the case if you have a professor who is incompetent or even one who dislikes you and gives you a bad grade as a result.

I still believe that teachers are absolutely necessary to perform this function of validator and guide. However, the traditional model of teacher lecturing and students verifying that they got the information via a paper needs to be augmented. Note, I did not say get rid of writing papers. We all need to learn to form our thoughts and apply critical thinking in writing. It helps integrate what we’ve learned as well as learn to articulate our thoughts in a structured format. I do think that the written paper assignment tends to be overused in learning situations because it’s easy for the instructor to assign, and not so bad to grade as long as you have a teacher’s assistant.

socrates.jpgIf educators of the future are to follow a model I’d say let’s follow tradition way back and return to Socratic Methods of teaching your role must evolve from the guy or lady who likes to talk a lot at the front of the classroom to the mentor who watches the students progress, prompts them with though-provoking questions that would help them learn to apply the information that they’re learning successfully. But this is hard work isn’t it? And in a normal classroom environment of any age level it’s logistically impossible to get to all students and personally monitor their activity and ask them these questions.

I believe the answer to this lies in harnessing collaborative learning with student peers. At SALT I attended an excellent talk where the professor/instructor actually had students work together to post their learnings (and subsequently discussions) on topics via a wiki. The result was that students were able to quickly share what they learned and provide examples via links (if the information was available via the net) to each other. Using this method of collaborative/peer learning is powerful, especially if you couple it with assignments of well though-out questions that get students to think about applying what they’ve learn as well as looking at it with a critical eye.

computer_group.jpg

Social and collaborative learning is the key, but the instructor need to trust the students and let them drive their learning for a change.

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