May 1, 2007

TEL@York Day 1: Keynote by John Mitterer

Today and tomorrow I'm at the annual TEL@York Conference, a conference on Technology Enhanced Learning. This year's theme is Partnerships to Enhance Student Engagement and is basically a conference about strategies to use technology to improve teaching. It's mostly faculty and given this year's theme it's too bad none of us librarians were able to take advantage and present with partners among faculty. I guess most of the stuff we do with faculty isn't really about student engagement but about student learning and information literacy. Oh well.

Today's keynote was by psychologist John Mitterer of Brock University and it was on Teaching, Communication, and the Effective Use of Technology to Enhance Student Engagement. Mitterer started by noting that students can make decisions about the quality of teaching almost instantly based on the style and attitude of the prof. The timeslicing experiment he mentioned showed that reactions to viewings of 10 second film clips of a prof matched very closely to student evaluations.

The goals of the session were to present teaching as a form of communication, to talk about technology and teaching and to talk about the rhetoric of technology and teaching. First of all, when teaching we have to think about communication which always starts with the sender. As teachers, as senders, we can control how we communicate, the style, the content. Next is the message: this is where we as profs tend to fall down. We spend far too much time working on the content of the message, refining and developing, ignoring the impact we have as senders. We need to pay attention to teaching style -- we all have a teaching style it's only a matter of how well we have examined our own teaching style. Once we have the sender and the message, we next have the medium. Most importantly, we have to check the message and make sure the medium matches it. The receiver, the student: we have to think about the impact of the message on the receiver, this is what makes our communication teaching. Profs are vulnerable to not caring about audience, presenting as if talking to themselves. We must have respect for the student, and respect from the student flows from our respect for them, it invites identification and empathy.

Active learning is the most direct way to communicate. Note the theories of Lev Vygotsky, zone of proximal development. Guide on the side vs. Sage on the stage. Teaching is scaffolding, supporting student deveopment at the edge of their current knowledge. Shift to the individual the burden of learning. The social context of our teaching must emphasize more collaborative, more social learning, cognitive apprenticeships. In fact, an apprenticeship environment is the best way to learn. Seeing the intermediate products of work is helpful, as is learning from others that are just a little ahead in the learning curve, being surrounded by people with multiple levels of expertise. Congnitive apprenticeships.

When we are making academics, it's not treated as a process: students hand stuff in and it's graded, they do socially meaningless work, word that's isolated from real academic work which is iterative. Final product is valued too highly.

Technology: everyone teaches with technology, even chalk is technology, a university course is a kind of tech, technology is just a way of organizing workflow. Digital tech -- computers are metamachines, a metamedium, they amplify cognition, a metamachine is a machine running a machine, ie software. Swiss army knife of the mind. We owe it to our craft to reinvent it at every level, the possibilities are infinitte. We want to know about new tools not for their own sakes but as a means for the end of teaching.

Rhetoric: art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience, we use rhetoric to distinguish between tech and its uses. Does ppt such? It's just a tool, only its uses can suck. We can think of rhetoric as being about the effective uses of tech for communication, best practices, "how can this tool help me to teach." Only use the tools that make sense for your situation, but first have to have a good understanding of the tools to be able to make the decision.

The rhetoric of:

  • Once we understand a tool we don't tend to call "tech" anymore, like chalk. Julian Beevor
  • Overhead projector: still best choice for some kinds of uses
  • ppt: used to frame a talk, look at Tufte "Cognitive style of Powerpoint," ppt of Gettysburg address. Also what's good about ppt: I am still focus, use multiple media, attend to readability, minimal hierarchy, minimal redundancy with lecture, make available before class, students can use as scaffolding
  • Turnitin: use as a way to teach academic integrity & peer review & interative process rather than punishment
  • webct: organizing social construction of knowledge, learning outside classroom, encourage student to student communication
  • Clickers: interactivity
  • podcasting
  • digital video
  • blogging: vs. web forum, publication of personal thoughts, by making writings more public, students take more seriously
  • wikis
  • games: interacting with immersive worlds,, use power of games to attract students
  • learning objects: don't have to reinvent the wheel
  • also eportfolios & e-assignments

Putting it all together, we have to remember our students, they want social networking and collaboration. We must theorize teaching as a form of communication, articulate a rhetorical stance, reflect on the technologies we need, develope a rhetoric of our teaching and relax -- you don't have to do it all at once.

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