These reflections are inspired by new friends and colleagues, Nick Baker and Pierre Boulos, both Teaching & Learning Specialists at University of Windsor.
In working with college students with learning disabilities I was mentored very wisely:
“If students don’t learn when you teach the way that you do, then assess how they learn and teach them that way.”
I also believe that if students aren’t learning, then we’re not teaching; teaching is interactive and reciprocal.
And so it is with the cultural shift from chalkboards, books, paper and pencil to the use of personal technologies. Contemporary learners (I think of all ages) seem to have shifted from aural traditions (learning through listening) to a more comprehensively kinesthetic modality of learning—that is—learning through experience. At our recent Showcase of Student Learning one student described his group’s experience with service learning:
“We didn’t want to read about it [composting] in a book. We wanted to go out and do something.”
And they did—and their efforts and learning were remarkable.
Using technologies to promote learning meets many students where they are—literally and philosophically. All we have to do is look around or consider our own moment-by-moment experiences to notice how tactile we’ve become. To sit quietly with a book and highlighter is not nearly as common place as sitting in a music-and-conversation filled coffee shop with a laptop open to multiple windows. Our social and learning lives (whether we’re grading papers online while checking email and glossing Facebook) have become intertwined.
Of course there are exceptions—and there should be. It is wise to minimize the number of activities we’re engaged in. Multi-tasking is effective up to three tasks. But more than three tasks at one time reduces ability to recall and the depth of learning. We become mindless.
As educators it is imperative that we understand the range of teaching with technology tools and strategies available to us and then choose the right configuration of them for any particular lesson.
Nothing seems more important than promoting independent learning and meta-cognition. The more we know about how any particular group of learners learns the more likely we will be effective in our teaching efforts. Further, the more we can promote awareness of meta-cognition among our students, the more likely they are to become academically successful—which makes our job easier and more enjoyable.
As Nick and Pierre point out, the more independence we can promote among learners, the more likely our students are to become motivated, set goals, and develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy and reflection—all keys to lifelong learning.