An Idea Two Weeks Ahead of its Time

My oldest brother has worked construction for almost 30 years and is now within sight of retirement. You can drive all over the city and see the buildings he has built or remodeled (some several times). He once said to me that you know you’re getting close to the end when you are remodeling for the second time a building you originally built. I am only at the midpoint of my career, but I am beginning to see his point.

In education, debates, arguments, failed ideas from the past and everybody’s brilliant solutions never go away forever. They return over and over with newly remodeled names and theories to support them. The faculty hashes it out once more, and then we scrap a policy or implement a program that has been implemented and scrapped many times, but only after after a lot of acrimonious debate.

Just yesterday, for example, one of our librarians clued me into an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a bold new idea: “Teaching Naked.” By naked the movement’s proponents mean teaching without technology in the classroom. No PowerPoint, no electronic clickers, no video clips. Just a professor and some students in a room discussing big ideas or the argument of a book. I know, I know, this is such a radical, counter-intuitive approach, but it turns out that students find technology in the classroom a snooze. The article cites a recent British Educational Research Journal study that found 59 percent of students find half of their lectures boring and that PowerPoint is the dullest method of all. The article goes on to say,

Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but also to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities, even interactive exercises in computer labs. "The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions," said the report. In other words, tech-free classrooms were the most engaging.
Well, who'd a thunk it? What worked for us relics and digital immigrants actually works with today's wired generation. Who could ever have guessed that they were longing for a meaningful conversation about big ideas?

A few years ago the provost at my institution attended some conference on meta-cognition and then called all of the faculty into a meeting to discuss teaching strategies that promoted more of it. A colleague of mine leaned over and muttered, "Meta-cognition? Twenty-four hundred years ago they called it 'the examined life.' I guess it's back in style."


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