Among the topics covered at this year's TLISI conference were:
"What's New and Different in Blackboard 9"
"Georgetown's Telepresence Classroom"
"From Reiss to South Africa: Collecting Data with Clickers"
and so on...
It would be refreshing to see a program or seminar in this annual multiday event with a title such as "The Art of Teaching." Or, one might even be more bold and proffer the subject, "The Lost Art of Teaching," the subject of an article appearing at "Inside Higher Education."
According to the article, an "unusual" panel was recently convened at the annual meeting of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. (With a title like that, it's not surprising that a panel challenging default institutional norms like technophilia would be considered "unusual"). Several faculty on the panel challenged the notion that increasing use of electronic classroom technology was improving student learning and "outcomes":
They argued in an unusual session at this gathering of community college educators that the push to use technology in the classroom has diminished the roles of teaching and education. They said they feel that many sessions for faculty members about the use of technology are the equivalent of “Tupperware parties,” focused on convenience and not education.
Among the nuggets disclosed in this article is the self-evident fact that our students are not being made smarter by ever-more pervasive electronic technology - they are generally dumber. "A series of statistics reviewed by both professors showing that increasing numbers of college students are not prepared for work at the college level. At that point, the presenters asked: If technology is helping us teach better, why are we seeing so much evidence that students aren’t learning as well as we would like? Current college students have had more exposure to technology in high school and college than previous generations did, but are they better off for it?"
Another nugget was the revelation by a professor who saw classroom discussion improve when computers were banned from his classroom. The idea that students might become more attentive to their actual surroundings - including their classmates and teacher - in the absence of a glowing electronic screen was revelatory.
But my favorite bit was a discussion in which it was revealed that a technological glitch on a campus - making "PowerPoint" unavailable - led to faculty cancelling classes, since without slides they no longer knew what to do or say.
Perhaps the best summation of the article was this statement by its presenters: "There is a science and an art to teaching." On occasion I have used some media in my classrooms (for instance, this year I played the famous song on the Wheel of Fortune from Orff's "Carmina Burana" when illustrating Machiavelli's radical break with the Stoic tradition.) Such uses are best used for purposes of illustration - the core and center of teaching remains the effort to convey ideas and challenge students, something that electronic technology at best is neutral in assisting, and at worst is detrimental. In our throes of a progressive ideology in which the more technological is always better, we leave aside serious reservations about the shortcomings and even damage of such technology in our self-certainty over its unquestioned benefits. Ours is the most dogmatic age of any yet known.