Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Value of the Classroom Experience (another radio cameo)

Radio Open Source had a show tonight on "What Should Colleges Teach?"

I did a brief cameo (around 40-45 minutes into the show), where I argued that the classroom experience is still an essential part of liberal arts education in the humanities. Technology (the internet) is an important tool, but it doesn't substitute, first, for the offline experience of actually sitting down to read books, and second, for the particular chemistry that comes with live debate and challenge that happens in the classroom. A surprising number of students these days don't actually read books (they read on the internet, and they read textbooks). And there are limits to how much you can do with distance learning, discussion boards, course blogs, and virtual classrooms -- though I've experimented with these things in my teaching. I'm one of those early adopters of technology who's actually become a little skeptical about whether it has "fundamentally" changed how students learn.

The great Martha Nussbaum, I was happy to see, agreed with my point.

A downloadable MP3 of the discussion will be up in the next day or two.

(Ok, back to diaper changing...)


Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

I worked for Prof. Mazur on Physics Education and Technology for a few years. He was part of the Harvard task force mentioned in the show. He has long been an advocate of judicious use of technology in teaching. One of my favorite work by his group on teaching is on classroom demonstrations. In this paper they showed that demonstration without directed discussions can be worse than no demonstrations at all. In other work he's done with Peer Instruction he has shown that directed conversations in the classrooms are very effective as teaching tools. And he's shown that technology can be judiciously used to implement these pedagogical techniques in the classroom.

Of course all of this is focussed on Physics Education, because that's all I know. Possibly some of it can be translated to other areas. I can believe that some of your classes are probably already run through "Peer Instruction", although in science courses that's almost unheard of. Distance learning in the form of OCW is still in its infancy. And OCW sees itself as a resource for educators rather than as a teacher itself. So I'd say your assessment is spot on.

11:17 PM  
Panini Pothoharvi said...

You are raising important concerns here. Imagine a scenario in, for instance, the University of Delhi. A friend of mine who finished her graduation a year ago put up an incredibly high-scoring performance - in fact it earned her a position amongst the toppers - without reading any of the texts prescribed. All her preparation was internet-based and she meticulously ignored all the mandatory readings prescribed by her teachers. And believe you me she wasn't an exception.

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