Monday Afternoon Ramblings

Here’s another illustration of what’s wrong with education today.  For several years now, the trend has been towards more and more reliance upon technology for virtually every aspect of instruction, from attendance recording to delivery to assessment to grade calculation.  The most current buzz-trend is “Mobilization,” which the best I can figure is allowing kids to watch YouTube videos and play games while they are supposed to be learning.  The powers that be tout the importance of connecting with “digital learners” on their level, which to me sounds like “dumb it down and let the machines do all the work for them.”  Then again, I’m a tad cynical.  Anyway, from these trends to digitize the classroom, now, nearly every aspect of our classes is online to some degree.

This morning, on the first day of classes, the first opportunity to make an impression on many incoming freshmen who have been coddled their entire academic careers by All Children Left  Behind and The Race to a Stop, our internet system was down.  Statewide.  As in ALL Tennessee Board of Regents schools had no internet access.

We couldn’t check email, access course content (including syllabi), administer pre-tests, and in some cases, even check attendance.  Fortunately, since I refuse to swallow my dose of Kool-Aid, I was able to collect my first day writing samples by relying on the outdated analog system.  You know, pen and paper.  I go back to a point I make again and again.  We can put all the bells and whistles and flashing lights in front of the kids we want, but at some point they have to learn how to think.  By forcing us to move so much of our materials online, the powers that be have in effect made us dependent upon those systems to function.  I’m certain that many younger teachers, those who only know the “Mobilization” methodology, were paralyzed this morning.  I’m certain the chaos of that paralysis gave the students a terrible first impression, and those children, raised on an endless diet of entertainment and instant gratification, probably now believe college will be more of the same dysfunction they endured in high school.

As for me, since I still lecture and write on the board (I could point to the body of evidence that proves when students write things down in their own handwriting they are more likely to remember it, but why bother?  The powers that be will keep pouring the digital Kool-Aid because there’s more money to be made from grants and such), I was barely bothered by the outage.  My morning class ran pretty smoothly because I don’t need bells and whistles and flashing lights to teach.  All I need is a board to write on and an instrument to write with.  Teachers, you see, old-fashioned, student-centered, professional, dedicated educators, teach from a deeply-rooted love of and passion for their subject.  Unfortunately, however, we seem to be a dying a breed.

7 thoughts on “Monday Afternoon Ramblings”

  1. The most sure fire way to put me to sleep is to dim the lights and turn on the PowerPoint. I have only had one teacher in all my years of higher ed use PowerPoint effectively. If I”m not writing notes, it doesn’t stick. I LOATHE the current trend. For one, it assumes everyone is an auditory or visual learner. I’m anything but auditory. The process of writing, combined with reading AND listening is what works. I rely heavily on learning most of the material in class. If I end up sleeping b/c we skimmed through forty slides of bordomville, I might as well teach it to myself. What then is the point of having the teacher or even the class?

    1. That’s just it! I honestly think they are attempting to develop a teacher-less classroom for the future. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but that’s how the trend feels to me.

  2. Technology has made us fat, stupid, lazy, and completely dependent upon its very existence. And that pisses me off…

  3. I always start my first couple of days getting the students to write down info about themselves, regardless of what academic subject it is. I use powerpoints only because I am forced to. My students take notes – for a while it was fill-in-the-blank format (again because I’m required to use computers), but lately it’s begun to be in a specific graphic organizer format. I have found that using this particular format helps the students to connect and learn the information. Yes, I write it on the board as I discuss the topic of the day and the students copy it. In 6th grade, very few (none, in my experience) of the students have any idea of how to take notes. This is my way of teaching that skill because out of all that I say, only the really important stuff gets written down. I’ve found one of the most useful piece of electronic technology that I use is a good old-fashioned overhead! It works great to help my students learn to recognize the countries of Europe and Central and South America.
    I still keep a written lesson plan book, a written attendance book, and a written grade book. (The only one I haven’t already been required to keep online is the attendance, only homeroom teachers do that.) I know that this is somewhat redundant, but if the system crashes or is compromised, I at least have my data to use.
    I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I entirely see your point, Alex, and I agree with you.

  4. Hey, man! First off, I’ll be back in town tomorrow. Second, I think the trick with tech in the classroom is integrating it in a sensible way. (I know, you just thought to yourself, “Oh, the educational establishment is going to have to do something sensible? Guess we’re fucked, then.”) There are things that computers can do very well, like providing instant feedback to simple questions. Intro classes that really just rely on rote memorization -and there are plenty of ’em- could probably be improved with judicious use of computers, but complex thinking skills are still going to require flesh-and-blood teachers. But then again, I could be wrong in assuming that our society truly wants complex thinking skills. The danger is in throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the search for the latest fad.

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