Time to Embrace Online Teaching Tools
A tech blogger wrote recently about the enormous return on investment he earned by signing his son up for the Kranse Prep Expert course, an SAT prep course that resulted in an increase in his son’s SAT score from 1,600 to a perfect 2,400.
Note: I recognize that test taking is a skill and that over-emphasizing teaching to the test is one of the most damaging practices in education today.
For me, that does not change the fact that this blog about an SAT prep course offers insights worth thinking about.
This is not an argument for more standardized testing.
The blogger asked his son what he liked about the course created by Shaan Patel at the Kranse Institute and why he thought that the course helped. Here is what his son said:
Ø I like the way that it was taught, it was really easy, everything was in small bite size chunks
Ø I like the way Shaan explained everything, it felt like he understood the problems that I was having
Ø I like that it was there when I wanted to study, it wasn’t a class that I had to go to with other people
Good advice for educators here. Reminds me of the slightly educational sting I felt when I heard a student in a meeting confidently proclaim that ‘we should set this up like a TED Talk, because they know how to teach.’
This is another reason we should all take the time to learn to use online teaching tools. Not because 100% online courses are superior learning experiences (they are not, in my view), but because using these tools enhances our teaching and student learning.
A failure to integrate these new tools is a lot like rejecting newfangled ‘books’ because these undermine the established, entirely verbal, dynamic between students and teachers in the pre-printing press classroom.
Everything was in small bite size chunks
This important insight clashes with established practices that emphasize assigning large amounts of text and ‘explaining’ these with long unbroken lectures. Yes, this is how we have long done it and many have learned just fine on this path (and there is still a place for lecturing and the importance of being well-read remains paramount), but consider why it is that, even in the pre-online era, so many of us came to experience the critical value of the discussion that takes place in a seminar.
That experience tells us that when we take the time to parse out complex arguments in digestible portions, at a pace set in collaboration with our students, then our students learn more, engage more deeply with the material, and are more likely to come to love learning itself. Since we already do this and recognize the value of doing it, this should mean that we see in online tools a tremendous opportunity to do more of this—that is, to provide smaller, bite size chunks of the complex material we expect students to master as one way to help them do just that—master it by connecting it to their own stories one bite at a time.
It felt like he understood the problems I was having
This insight has at least two components, as I hear it. And the two intersect in ways that suggest responding to both will create synergies that strengthen our students' learning experiences.
First, we need to meet our students where they are. If students do not encounter problems in their learning, we are not challenging them. When we challenge them, they will struggle. They will become confused and frustrated. If we can dole this out in much smaller portions that confusion and frustration becomes more surmountable and more likely to become a string of actual teaching moments. Before online tools, this could only mean assigning less material; with online tools we can now square that circle.
Second, when we break learning down into bite size chunks this makes it easier to anticipate ‘where they are’ and the intellectual challenges they will face and to structure our course delivery to get them through in a way that enhances their self-efficacy rather than deepens their dependence on us.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
It was there when I wanted to study
This insight has at least two dimensions as well, though it is not immediately clear to me that these two dimensions can be aligned to suggest pedagogical innovations that move our course design in the same direction.
First, this suggests an impact of the internet age that challenges brick and mortar. With information available at our finger tips any time of day or night, there is pressure to reduce (some would say eliminate, but I continue to resist that conclusion) the organization of learning as an endeavor requiring us to be at certain place (physical or virtual) as a prescribed time to engage with others.
Second, this suggests the importance of using multiple modes of delivery, such that a growing portion of course content can be delivered on a ‘point of need’ basis—that is, when a student is ready and willing and able to digest it. Online tools allow us to do this in ways that should profoundly enhance the learning experienced in the remaining face2face portions of any course we offer.
Finally, the more we use online tools in the ways noted here the more time we are free during the course to do the most important thing we can do for our students: provide text-specific and individualized formative feedback on their work. When we do this we send the very real message that we do ‘understand the problems’ they are facing and care enough about their learning to have structured our course as the scaffolding they need to engage with and master challenging material.