Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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Try Teaching Naked

I've just read an excellent article about stripping lecture halls of technology - http://chronicle.com/article/Teach-Naked-Effort-Strips/47398/ (via @mitchsquires and @educatedlife)

Technology is sometimes equated with better teaching. The assumption is that technology is the road to improved learning.


It's much more complicated than that. Technology consists of a wide and varied set of tools that alter our relationships with each other and our relationships with the world. 

In particular technology tends to mitigate or overcome the limitations and tyranny of distance. It can also enhance, or hamper communication. It can hyper-stimulate. It can obfuscate. 

Teachers using technology blindly and without reflection are at best playing a hit and miss game. 

I talk with teachers who seem to feel guilty because they feel they should 'use technology more' - such a vague and general, and DAMNING statement. Introducing technology into a class for the sake of it, out of some general sense that technology = good, may only have the effect of undermining the best thing going for the class - the energy of a real life passionate teacher. 

A useful experiment for me would be to get rid of technology all together, at least for a certain period of time. This would help me notice afresh how technology changes things.

A few other ideas in the article made particular sense to me:


1. That PowerPoint is the worst thing in the whole wide world. Don't. Use. It. PowerPoint is the violence of written word against the poetry of speech. (My words, and you can quote me!)


2. That in some sense technology threatens to do away with the teaching role altogether - or to disrupt it. I teach online French. My students barely need me. And they perform better than face to face students doing the same course. My school offers lots of online courses, and we see the same pattern across the board.

So what's the new role of the teacher when the content of the course can be taught without a human being?

Again this is complex. We generally prefer interactions in our learning. We're not robots and it's no fun learning by staring at a computer screen. There's nothing like an informed, entertaining and persuasive orator. 

On the other hand, busing in 1,000 students into a High School, sitting them down in boxes and gettingBarn_hens
 them to copy off the board can be done away with. As can sitting down students in a computer room and telling them to type an essay response. The teacher is serving no role except as dictator, director, baby-er, babying the students, spoon feeding them, rendering them passive. 

High School teacher Andrew Douch uses podcasts to deliver much of the basic content of the biology course. Students work through them when and where they want, at a pace that suits. They can repeat sections, skip other sections. His role is re-invented - and his face to face classes are for discussion, exploration, student-driven experimentation.

I've moved down a very similar path and never want to look back.

Now, stripping technology from the classroom seems to me to be an excellent experiment to see what teachers are still good for! 

Give me technology pushed to its logical conclusion, where I can learn unhampered, free from being bossed around by the teacher-king whose subject I am. 

Or give me a room with some peers and one or more enthusiastic experts in the field, and let's just see what we can do when we bring our creative energies together. I'll thank the expert on the way out for spending time in a room with me helping me to delver deeper into the field.

What purpose then, for classic 9am to 3pm schooling, in little battery boxes? I predict (hope) that the traditional school structures will break down over the coming years. It may be a slow erosion as students begin to outsource certain subjects to alternative providers, or it may come suddenly. I hope it happens.


3. That students who are used to passive learning kick and scream when prompted to take an active role.

Our online students find online study difficult. My students find themselves backed into a corner. They have no teacher bossing them around. They have to take control, take initiative. They almost always end up rising to the occasion, gaining in the process entrepreneurial skills that will benefit them for life. 

But almost universally they don't like the switch! 

Don't expect your students to thank you any time soon if you start stepping back from a directing role and require them to start driving the learning process. 

Group work


In conclusion, I see a very complex relationship between people, technology and teaching. Technology can be a tool for subduing students, pacifying them. 

It can also be a tool for liberating students from the constraints inherent in the industrial model of teaching. 

Getting rid of all technology sounds to me like a great way of finding clarity about just what teachers are still good for. 

Go the whole way and get rid of pen and paper, which is also technology!

Let me know if you have tried this. Let me know how you've observed tech tools being used to dominate or liberate.