Published on 2013/03/27

Good Teaching is the Most Effective Instructional Tool: Today and Tomorrow

Good Teaching is the Most Effective Teaching Tool: Today and Tomorrow
Looking 10 years into the future, the most effective teaching tool in higher education will still be the skills that make a professor or an instructor a good teacher.

Go to any airport today and count the number of young people reading a book.  Now count the number of young people whose thumbs fly over, or who are intently staring into, some kind of handheld device. What do we need to know, to do, to even think about, when they show up in our classrooms — virtual or on-ground — as adults a mere 10 years from now?

Let’s take a moment to put 10 years into perspective. Ten years ago, there was no iPhone and thus no apps; no iPad; and it wasn’t until 2008 that laptops eclipsed the number of desktops sold. Five years from now, according to the venerable NMC Horizon Report, we will be wearing technology as some new kind of bling, relying on devices whose batteries compete with the Energizer Bunny, and we will be able to rapidly prototype not only an online course but also instantaneously replicate our afternoon daydream into a physical model.

So, will technology subsume us as faculty, administrators, trainers and mentors?  Only if we let it.

In 10 years, the best use of technology will be — as it is today and as it was 10 years ago, 100 years ago, and even almost 1,000 years ago (think: book) — in how we, as real, live individuals, use it to teach. If we use it too much, we will bore ourselves and our students. If we do not use it to teaching and learning advantage, we will seem to be outdated. Ten years from now, as we do today, we will need to find technological balance and we will need to stay current.

But what is current when technology changes almost daily? Current is a state of mind. Believing that those soon-to-be 30-somethings are going to throw away their smartphone for a book is futile. “Current” is knowing what technology is available and how we, each of us, can or should use it — or not use it. It wasn’t the app that killed the lecture. We did. We killed it with PowerPoint.

What is balance when technology changes daily? Balance means knowing what works for what we are teaching and for what we want the students to learn. Can biology be better taught through virtual reality? Are small-group discussions, either in person or through an online meeting, better than having everyone read a tedious journal article and spit back its contents? The most immediate example of imbalance, in my opinion, is the massive open online course (MOOC). This concept, according to most pundits, is going to take over all of education. Those budding adults in airports will now be transfixed by quantum physics made understandable in 12 weeks of, yes, lectures and, yes, readings and, yes, pouring over thousands of posts a day. This is not going to happen. But what if we actually used snippets of many MOOCs as a backdrop to ask probing questions and to build on the ideas, experiences and concepts our adult students bring to what we are teaching?

Conjuring up ways to develop curiosity and instill lifelong learning will be our mission 10 years from now, as it will be 100 years from now. The most effective way to teach with technology is simply to teach effectively.

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Readers Comments

Chelsea Bellows 2013/03/27 at 10:48 am

I agree wholeheartedly with Leslie Hitch. Teachers who are made redundant by technology were never effective to begin with. Teachers who simply chase the latest trends because they seem attractive are not attuned to their students’ needs and are likely not effective either. Start by thinking of how to be a good communicator and mentor, and the technology (which is simply the mechanism or the platform) needed to perform these tasks will become obvious.

Dan Jones 2013/03/27 at 3:12 pm

Perhaps institutions need to start focusing on providing technology training to instructors. There are some who already seem quite adept at integrating technologies into their curricula, but many, though well intentioned, are lacking in the technical skills to do so. With training/professional development, an institution can establish a basic standard for all instructors.

Suzanne 2013/03/27 at 4:40 pm

I agree. The over-focus on technology really does a disservice to its potential. It’s a shame. At the same time, all we need to do is reflect on our most memorable learning experiences, and look at the profession, the art and craft of teaching since we have a historical record of it. Socrates, Bell Hooks, Parker Palmer, Marie Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, Marva Collins come to mind. In both cases, it’s a person, people, the human endeavor of teaching that matters most, not the apparatus.

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