The chalkboard is dead: reseachers
Professors say that anti-technology teachers are bad for tech-savvy students
Macleans.ca staff | Aug 31, 2007 |
This weekend students across the country are making the move to their new dorm rooms and basements suites in anticipation of the first day of class. And considering the wide array of high-tech information devices—from the internet to cell phones—some researchers are asking if it necessary for students to migrate to physical classrooms at all.
This generation of students, who are accustomed to leading digital lives, may be suffering in classrooms ruled by traditional professors. Researchers say defenders of lecture-based orthodoxy, wielding overhead projectors and reciting from dog-eared history textbooks that climax with Paul Martin's run for 24 Sussex Drive, could be a bad match for students weaned on collaborative learning and high-tech devices.
"It's not about using technology for technology's sake. It's allowing students to access the right information because of the information explosion," says Mohamed Ally, director of the Centre for Computing and Information Systems at Athabasca University, Alberta's distance-learning pioneer. Ally is among a group of researchers across Canada looking at how to overhaul a method of teaching that, in some ways, has not fundamentally advanced in hundreds of years.
"It's pre-Gutenberg," says Don Tapscott, author of bestsellers such as "Wikinomics," laughing as he recalls the assessment he heard from a university president. "It's a prof working from handwritten notes. The students are all writing it down and the prof is writing on a blackboard. The assumption of the printing press is not even a fundamental part of the learning paradigm."
"There's a huge generational clash that's happening in the universities and schools," said Tapscott. Students, he suggests, forced to line up at the photocopier to run off reams of paper, wonder why the professor just doesn't set up links to websites containing the material. "The entire model of pedagogy is wrong for young people," he said.
Students who interact on the web, talk to each other digitally to resolve questions, post to the web and blog on the web are going to have problems adapting to sitting, listening, then regurgitating on an exam the words of one person standing at the front of the room, he said.
Ally notes that the sheer speed of information change makes textbooks, such as those in computing, outdated not in years but months. "The read-and-remember and the listen-and-remember is kind of an old paradigm because information is changing at such a fast rate," said Ally.
He said the marriage of distance learning at institutions like Athabasca University with technology means the future is limited only by the imagination.
Consider, he says, a future where students could take courses from institutions in other countries, software would react to a student's strengths and weaknesses, and teachers don't have to be in the classroom.
Ally is helping to pioneer delivering course work tailored for mobile use on PDAs, iPhones, iPods and the like. The goal is to free a student from the classroom. A student will be able to complete their course work while travelling the world or just sitting in an airport. "They will do their reading on the mobile device, and in some cases they can actually take test questions and get immediate feedback."
Tapscott knows how he thinks the future should look: "Every kid has a laptop. They're clustered into groups. It's self-based interactive, student-focused, collaborative learning."
If so, then the future appears to be now at a pilot project beginning this year at Edmonton's St. Mary Elementary School. About 100 Grade 5 and 6 students in four classes will be equipped with tablet PCs. With those detachable screens, they will be free to move about the wireless facility, doing homework or researching on the web in, say, the gym or library. Should learning stop because there's a system crash, IT staff are on site to get the students back online. In the classroom, their desks are arranged in clusters to foster peer-to-peer and group problem-solving through a variety of tools like Smart Boards and LCD screens.
"We're not trying to get the technology to replace everything. We want it to be as an additional resource that helps student learning," said Joe Estephan, the teacher of the tablet PC Grade 6ers.