Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Good Teaching in Smart Classrooms

Yesterday I must have spent over two hours doing Google searches to find good content about effective use of presentation technology in instruction. There is a ton of information about the hardware and set up of smart classrooms --- lots of photos of the equipment itself. And one can find advice about being prepared for equipment failure and testing things before the actual time of instruction. This is good advice, to be sure, but it doesn't really say anything about how to engage the students. It is much harder to find interesting content on that subject.

For example, one thing I was looking for but didn't find was a discussion of "having a driver" both the pros and cons. In this case a driver means somebody other than the presenter runs the computer so the presenter is free to focus on the presentation and to interact with the audience, rather than be concerned with the equipment. I didn't find such a discussion. Nor did I find a discussion of good uses of PowerPoint. (We know there are plenty of bad uses. It would be good to see something where the author advocated for PowerPoint and gave examples of how it can be effective.) We've hosted presentations, for example by Peggy Lant at our faculty summer institute, that have focused on the lecture and the good and bad of it. Peggy's material is thoughtful. My expectation beforehand was that I would be able to find much more thoughtful material. I found very little. The Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning appears to be a useful resource. There are a lot of tips there for for Teaching Assistants. And there is a lecture series of award winning faculty speaking about their teaching that might be of interest (in some cases there is streaming video of those lectures). But there really is very little of tying in with the presentation technology - how that might be helpful and what pitfalls to avoid.

The other type of information apart from teaching approach that I would have liked to see is about viewing - what can be seen and from where. My sense is that many instructors cram too much information on the screen and since they can see it on the computer they are looking at they seem oblivious that students who are distributed around the classroom may not be able to see what is on the screen. What I was looking for was not the technical information about viewing, but rather some active learning exercise that would sensitize instructors to the viewing issues. I didn't find it.

My biggest question is this: since we know that many students feel their instructors don't use technology well in the live classroom, would these instructors modify their behavior if we offered them different approaches that had a better chance of succeeding? My derivative question is this: would instructors change their approach if it meant "presenting less" and lingering more on what they do present? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, why aren't we in educational technology producing more to get that answer?

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