A recent article in The Chronicle picked up on Harvard’s recent financial splurge on new approaches to teaching. The motivation for the splurge was the growing that the traditional teaching method in Higher Education – the lecture – was failing to achieve its goals of “prodding students to make meaning from what they learn, to ask questions, extract knowledge, and apply it in a new context”.
One would hope that Harvard has not just woken up to the scholarship of Teaching and Learning and its potential to enhance student learning. But the article does highlight the problem that tutors, usually highly qualified and with many years’ experience, often lack the confidence to experiment with new approaches to classroom teaching. Add the use of new technologies into the mix and these tutors are even more likely to retreat to the safety of ‘doing what they have always done’.
As a Learning Technologist I have always strived to focus on the pedagogy of e-Learning when recommending activities to tutors. Another article in the Chronicle illustrated that technology for technology’s sake is unlikely to yield a better learning experience for students and while this approach may succeed, it is also just as likely to fail. The article spoke of a technophile tutor who after many years of extolling the virtues of new technologies to his colleagues is now focusing on what he believes to be even more important: the bond between tutor and student, and the need for the former to nurture the latter rather than talking down to them. Above all, the article highlighted the need for learning to be a participatory experience.
If tutors do decide to experiment with new participatory technologies there is a significant risk that their attempts will fail due to inexperience. And for those who have always simply ‘given lectures’ the idea of using new technologies to increase participation is often perceived as either irrelevant or terrifying. Providing tutors with practical templates that explain how this can be achieved through the use of technologies such as social media, video and interactive activities would therefore help give them the confidence to try new approaches to supporting their students. I’ve been searching for a while now and haven’t found any such templates – if anybody has come across something similar please feel free to share. Otherwise I think I’ve found what I’m going to be doing for the next few months…