Archive for November, 2010

Face time, NOT Facebook!

November 8, 2010

This weekend there was a lengthy article in the New York Times about an academic study that was recently done.  It turns out that many college students, even while living on campus, choose to “attend” their courses via the internet.

I’ve been saying for about 20 years now, to anyone who would listen that what we used to call “distance education” has some inherent flaws.  The thing is, it’s been astounding all along to me, the extent to which almost everyone has drunk the KoolAid about the total, perfect wonderfulness of computerized learning.

Stop the Madness!

Stop it, I say!

So, the study in question actually got around to comparing students who live on campus, who either show up physically in class, versus those who also attend class, but do so by sitting in their dorm rooms, watching on a screen.

Everyone was so very, very sure that there would be no difference in the performance of either group.  After all, the computer is beyond questioning, right?  All that convenience, that connectivity?


Turns out that people who actually show up in the physical classroom get better grades in the course.

I’m not even going to apologize for saying I told you so.

Now, I’m not talking here about those of you who are using the computer to get an education because you live far from a college campus, or because you are a working adult who can only fit in an education at odd hours.  To those people, I say, more power to you.  Computer-based education is clearly a decent alternative for those who have such constraints in their lives, and those who have the maturity and self-discipline to stick with it.

The reality is most 18-22 year olds haven’t yet arrived at this point.   Bless your hearts.  Note to 18-22 year olds here:  perpetual youth has become so worshiped in our society, I like to remind you of some of the qualities of maturity that are worth wanting to shoot for.

But I remember, years ago, when this sort of computer teaching & learning was just coming into vogue, one of the math professors on my campus dove in and started a calculus class on-line.

The drop-out rate was… 85%.

My point here is this, my young friends.  There is nothing like face to face interaction.  If I am teaching a course, I stand before you, challenged in every moment by your questions, your attention, your eyes, your body language.  If I am experienced, I know immediately, without anything other than non-verbal feedback, whether I’ve made my point, or just confused you.

The real human contact was always the whole thrill of teaching to me (and I was a professor of instructional technology, so I do know both sides of this.)  Sure there are benefits to computer based learning, for both students and teachers, and I know professors who are excellent in using technology – not to mention the fact that a girlfriend of mine was able to accompany me on an extended vacation once because she could continue teaching her class no matter what country she was in!

But oh, my young friends, the glories of human contact are still the best thing going!  Even in a formal setting, between teacher and student, incredible things can happen.  There is an amazing energy that happens in a setting that is created for, and driven by, curiosity and the thirst for knowledge.

And you don’t have to tell me that the classroom isn’t always like that, that sometimes, maybe too often, the classroom is presided over by bored or reluctant or uninspiring profs, and filled with students who are likewise, all dozing or texting or otherwise zoning out.

But that just shows the reality of how the group creates energy.

So here’s my little manifesto for today: go forth into the world! Put your pants on and plant yourself in that seminar seat, and give your prof a shot at opening new doors.  If he or she isn’t quite lighting things up enough, YOU be the spark.  Bring your full force of curiosity, wonder, enthusiasm, into the room.  You could mutter and complain and slouch out silently, but you can also stir the pot with a positive love of learning.  It can’t help but be infectious, in ways that will never, ever happen while you “participate” from your bedroom, all alone in the e-void.

Really, can you picture the great Socrates telling his young students, “no biggie, guys, you can just phone it in”?

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