Justify that pedagogy

The focus on technology for teaching becomes increasingly dangerous, and the only response is to articulate ones own pedagogy and be prepared to defend it.

More and more articles imply that teachers who don’t use the current gadgets and technologies are illiterate and useless.

On the other side, in a recent article, it is gleefully pointed out that Michael Wesch’s methods (which rely heavily on Web 2.0 and student exploration) may not be suitable for everyone, as he observes another professor doing quite well with lecturing. And yet Wesch’s awe at the effectiveness of another professor’s non-technology-based pedagogy should not be surprising, because Wesch is a good teacher who sees that different pedagogies may be equally useful.

Ed tech pushers try to force people to get trained in technologies that may soon be worthless or, worse, may force the pedagogy of the instructor into modes unsuitable for that person’s teaching style. I have refused to use far more technologies than I have adopted.

Luddites would have one believe there are no improvements to be made in classroom teaching. While this certainly isn’t true overall, it may be true for those who experience success in the more traditional methods. There is simply no proof that the charismatic lecturer teaches more poorly than the Web 2.0 devotee. Hattie’s studies indicate that student achievement is only related to a few teacher-controlled areas, and that these are primarily feedback, student’s prior cognitive ability, and instructional quality (knowledge, guidance, more feedback), none of which require technologies beyond a space with a roof and some writing materials.

Meta-cognition about pedagogy is what’s valuable here. In a world where some want to push people to use educational technologies (including Blackboard and other expensive college-wide systems) and others want to drone on and on or read from the book and call it “lecture”, we must all be prepared to defend what we’re doing. This is true whether we’re in a formal faculty evaluation or a hallway conversation. The ability to do so is an important skill, or we’ll get overwhelmed by supposed “improvements” that can do a great deal of harm to our effectiveness as teachers.

Few of us were asked to consciously develop pedagogy when we began teaching. We were either left alone or given a specific model to follow (deliberately or accidentally). We assessed our own effectiveness through how well we thought students understood, and what grades they earned according to our standards. Most of us got upset when students did poorly, and changed our pedagogy and materials (often every semester) to try to “get through” and improve results. In this development, we came to believe that certain things were important and other things were not, and through experience created our own pedagogical framework. We operate within that framework every day, keeping what seems to work and changing what doesn’t.

But we must learn to articulate why, to understand our own strengths and the reasons we teach the way we do. Great lecturers should not need to justify why they don’t use the web, unless they are in a research field and are refusing to help their students access the world of information. They should not be forced to engage in small-group activities or other techniques that do not work for them. You cannot use a technique effectively if you can’t do it well, and none of us does everything well. We try to do better (I am currently working on guiding large-group discussion, an area of weakness), but we must be allowed to use the techniques that we find most effective.

So don’t come into my office shaking your head because so-and-so just won’t use the web for his classes. I don’t care. Does he teach well? Does he know his subject, communicate it effectively to students, and assess their understanding? Can he articulate his pedagogy and justify his method?

We also need to be prepared to do this for online teaching. Here the training and understanding of technology is necessary, but its purpose is to achieve our pedagogy in an online environment. The equivalent of the boring classroom lecture is there online too, in posting Word documents in Blackboard, asking a few questions in the discussion forum, and assuming the class will run itself. Good lecturers must learn the technologies to get that energy online if they want to replicate their pedagogy in an online environment. Teachers who excel at groupwork must learn the technologies to do that effectively in an online setting. Those who want to use a guided exploration technique may naturally be led into Wesch-style 2.0 teaching.

All these can be justified if we focus on our pedagogy instead of who “gets it” with technology and who doesn’t.

3 thoughts on “Justify that pedagogy

  1. Lisa, do you feel you have two different approaches to pedagogy when teaching a F2F class, and an online class?
    If so, what are these two approaches? The reason I am asking you this is because I have never experienced teaching a class online, and I would like to know what has been your experience having the opportunity to live in both worlds? What are the things you have done differently when teaching an class online than when you have to do it in a classroom?

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