Occasionally (or perhaps frequently) the web produces a helpful serendipity. Witness these two articles. On February 12, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article about KSU Professor Michael Wesch, discussing his increasing appreciation for lecturing. At virtually the same time, Harvard Magazine came out with an article about physics professor Eric Mazur, who has become an opponent of lecturing in the classroom. What to make of these paired articles? And how can classroom technology help in this question of lecturing?
Mazur's main goal is what he calls interactive pedagogy: getting students actively involved in learning. In theory, this is distinct from technology. And yet it is interesting that the examples given in the article almost always mention some form of technology. Clickers, websites, blogs, and Skype are some of the tech tools mentioned. The key here is engagement, and engagement is understood by Mazur as activity, particularly active communication with other people, be they students or professors. It is clear how technology can facilitate that. Web 2.0 technology is by definition inter-active, so clearly it is going to encourage activity, and communication, by students.
But what if we understand engagement differently? After all, I can be engaged by a lecture or a conversation, even if I'm not actively participating. Wesch's new approach comes from a shift in the meaning of engagement--from activity to passion. As the article puts it, creating in students "curiosity and a sense of amazing possibilities" becomes the goal. Education is no longer about the teacher transferring information to the students. It's not even about students transferring information to each other. It is instead about creating passion and a drive to learn.
On the face of it, there's nothing particularly technological about that. As Wesch sees, a good lecturer will impart more passion than a hack teacher with all the tech tools in the world.
But technology can still be useful here. First of all, having students active is a good thing, and as noted earlier, modern social media and Web 2.0 are inherently active. But even more than that, technology can allow students to get a taste of the sorts of experiences that teachers love about their field. Teachers can use technology to show students what got them passionate about learning.
I, for example, am a historian, and one of the things I most love about the study of history is that sense of the past being made present. You get this sense at its strongest when you read, or even better, hold, original documents in your hands. Many years ago, when I was in high school, that was very hard to do. Now, primary sources are all over the web, and not just transcriptions, but images of the originals. We still haven't found a way to communicate the musty smell of an archive or the crumbling feel of old paper via the internet, but otherwise students can now experience for themselves what it's like to hold a piece of history in your hands, to read the actual writing of times past.
This will not always impart passion to students. Not every student will be a historian, or even love history. We all have our own individual preferences. But it is worthwhile thinking actively about what we want to accomplish in the classroom. Again, to quote the Chronicle article, is the point of education to be inspirational, or to be instructive?