Maximus: Ho there, Stephanus! Why run you so fast from your smart classroom?

Stephanus: Oh, my dear Maximus, I’ve just lectured to my students and now I’m late for my Tenure and Promotions committee meeting. But I always have a moment to talk with you, my wise colleague. How are you?

Maximus: I am in good health, but exhausted. So much to do this time of year!

Stephanus: I should say so, what with exams in a month, end of term concerts and the lengthening darkness of the Autumnal season. My students are stressed out. And I am frustrated because they leave all their studying to the last minute!

Maximus: ‘Twas ever thus. Do you think students are any different now than when we were young?

Stephanus: Absolutely, Maximus. Students are different now. It’s difficult to communicate with them in class. I can’t see their eyes because they are distracted by all the technology around them. They look into their laptops, play games on their phones, text their friends – I wonder why they bother to attend my class at all!

Maximus: Aren’t you judging them rather harshly Stephanus? Don’t you think technology can enhance learning? Your students have a whole world of knowledge at their fingertips. Why should they not learn through these wonderful tools?

Stephanus: Yes of course. I am not judging them; I’m just trying to understand them. They learn in different ways than we did in the last century, and I am trying to grasp this new mode. Here’s an example, Maximus. Yesterday I was drawing attention to a poster for an exciting upcoming concert. One student observed the poster, noted the date, mumbled the name of the place under his breath, and in his imagination, recreated his journey to the event and then stored those facts in his mind. The other student took a picture of the poster with her cell phone. Which student had the better method of learning?

Maximus: The first one committed the information to his memory, which is admirable. The human mind is powerful if trained and used well. But the second student used the tools at hand and recorded the facts on a device more efficient than a human brain. Had she written the information down on a piece of paper would you judge her as harshly? Pen and paper must have seemed a magical tool to our own ancestors. Besides, that young student probably had more important things on her mind than remembering the details of your silly concert poster!

Stephanis: I suppose you are right. Since students can use all those marvelous tools, perhaps they don’t need to remember trivial details. They can access facts anytime on a device they hold in the palm of their hand.

Maximus: Exactly. This is why I believe that modern students respond much better to learning by experience, rather than trying to regurgitate our silly lectures on an exam paper.

Stephanus:  I see what you mean. I can teach all sorts of facts about the pipe organ as an historical musical instrument, but that might not interest my students. When they have a chance to touch the keys and pull the stops, to see, hear and experience the sights and sounds of the instrument, they learn something on a deeper level than simply recording facts and dates. But how can we evaluate a student on experiential learning? Are there tests to measure the quality of an experience? How can we assess if a learning experience is truly meaningful, or the opportunity has simply washed over them?

Maximus: Our old friend Plato recommends that every student learn through participation. We can measure the level of participation fairly easily. If the student takes part in activities, asks questions and helps others, they are truly engaged.

Stephanus: I am so glad I ran into you Maximus. You always help me through these difficult issues.

Maximus: I am older and wiser than you. Now run off to that important meeting!

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2 Responses to Plaine and Easie Introduction to Modern Learning

  1. Andrew says:

    I hear your frustration.

    Here’s a thought though – at Master’s Degree level, there is a book list. Each week two people present two different books – their presentations can be done via Prezi, PowerPoint, handout, document projector etc. The rest of the class do Google Scholar (etc.) searches on the topic and write up their findings (abstracting two or three articles and delving into one with a little more detail). Their results are shared weekly via individual blogs on edublogs.org – and the class is expected to read the material on each of the blogs and respond.

    There is a central, class blog that all students can access and comment on and it’s a good way for the lecturer/course tutor to pose questions and provide information to the class.

    These kinds of approaches are fairly easy to monitor and assess – has a student blogged (and I mean, meaningfully rather than stream of consciousness ranting), has a student replied to a blog posting, how was the students presentation and so on.

    Lecture notes are taken on laptops or iPads – either as directly constructed “old-fashioned” (that is, to us) written notes or by using one of the many mind-mapping applications that are available.

    If there has been a hands-on presentation (of the organ, for example), the student response is to blog/write about their experience and thoughts they’ve had – surely they’ll have some kind of thought?! Whenever there’s a presentation, by a guest lecturer for example, the blog and reply system is a good way of getting the students’ reactions and to encourage them to reflect on what they experienced and what it might tell them about themselves, the subject matter or the world around them.

    Learning is approached differently these days and there are ways to adapt the methods we’ve been used to, in such a way that technology becomes a natural part of the process. If the students are busy researching, blogging, making mind maps, taking notes, there shouldn’t really be any time left for texting or messing around on the internet during class time.

    I guess we just have to invest the time and energy it takes to adapt our teaching methodology more towards the way students learn these days. Students also need to accept more responsibility for their own education.

    What would Maximus say?

    Just my 2c as an educator – and yes, I know I was referring to a postgraduate cohort, but the methodology is equally as appropriate for undergraduate courses.

  2. Stephanie Martin says:

    These are fabulous methods Andrew. (BTW I think I know which Andrew you are, but this is one of the shortcomings of online communication – I can’t identify you from your post!) Maximus would appreciate your innovative forums for student interaction, and that technology can actually level the playing field. Every student has a chance to give feedback to the Prof, not just the extroverted kids who speak up in class. Stephanus would adopt this technology more reluctantly, preferring students to talk to each other in person and participate in group activities. They both have sound intentions and want the best for their students. Maximus is able to adapt to change, while Stephanus is still struggling. Andrew, with the ease of online learning, do you think the University experience may eventually become irrelevant? Why do we invest millions of dollars in infrastructure, libraries, musical instruments, classrooms and studios? Could we potentially offer everything online?

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