My colleagues at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Jeff Nugent and Zach Goodell, have been co-teaching a graduate course this semester here at VCU. Teaching, Learning and Technology in Higher Education (GRAD-602) is designed to provide students in the Preparing Future Faculty Program with an introduction to contemporary instructional practices and exploration of relevant issues that can serve as both a foundation, and a process for continued growth and development. I joined Jeff last night as he took their 25 graduate students on an exploration of the changing landscape of learning.
Using clickers, Jeff polled his students on their perceptions of whether:
- instructional technology has fundamentally changed the way higher education instruction is delivered
- instructional technology has fundamentally changed the way students learn
- instructional technology has fundamentally changed the way they as faculty teach
The room was a bit bipolar…which made for some very rich discussion. What struck me was the difference I was seeing between this next generation of faculty and similar discussions Jeff and I have had with current faculty.
In the first place, about half of the students had their laptops open on their tables and used them to check facts or search out new items to bolster their discussions. The group struggled with whether things had “fundamentally” changed, pointing out on the one hand that the give and take between faculty and students really had not changed, yet on the other hand, that access to information made the give and take different. International students highlighted that the digital divide was more a case of access to the web rather than access to technology itself, contrasting Africa, India and China to the United States.
What really punctuated the difference between current faculty and new faculty was when Jeff showed the slide below:
He asked the class to stand, and then remain standing if they recognized and were familiar with ten of the items shown. Almost the entire class remained standing. When we have used this slide with groups of current faculty, we usually get no greater than six items where the majority in the room is still standing.
He then asked them to remain standing if they personally used at least five of the items shown. About half the class sat down, but I was impressed at the number still standing. He upped the question to personally using at least ten, and then only myself and two others remained standing. I have to admit that given that my job involves exploration of this landscape, I had better still be standing, but it was also rather interesting that the oldest person in the room was one of the three standing!
Jeff then asked them to stand if any of their professors used more than three of the items in their instruction, and again, only a handful stood.
To me, this was a recognition of the disconnect between where our students currently are (as reflected by this room of bright graduate students) and our faculty in their instructional practice. I am heartened that the next generation of faculty may break this mold. Faculty tend to teach the way they were taught, but this next generation of faculty is bringing new practices to the classroom. They are also asking the right questions about impacts on teaching and learning, as opposed to gadget of the month.
I am looking forward to joining this group as they continue to explore through the semester the intersections of teaching, learning, and technology in higher education. They are blogging about their journey, which makes for some interesting reading. Check them out at Jeff’s Netvibes site.