Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Slides Will Be On The Website: When Pegagogy Meets Technology

... and my head explodes in frustration.

It's been almost two years now since I parted ways with the academy and began, in earnest, to make my own way in the world.  So far, this has more or less amounted to me continuing to do the same part-time job I had before I started my degree.  Do I feel cheated by the academy?  Only moderately.  What I keep coming back to these days (probably because of the academics on my facebook feed who like to talk about academia and make me feel moderately still some kind of a part of that magical world that's so super great that everyone who lives within it likes to complain about it all the time) is the ongoing debate over how emerging technologies are integrated into the practice of teaching.

See, I like to engage with emerging technologies.  Boy, do I ever.  How much does technology pervade absolutely every waking and sleeping second of my life?  I have a thing that attaches to my trousers and tells me how many steps I take in a day, I have twitter in my pocket (ok, so it's a phone, but when was the last time I actually used it to make a call?) and about 90% of the time I spend at home, I spend doing some kind of work which involves my desktop, my netbook, or sometimes my desktop AND my netbook.  Most of the quality social interaction I get in a week is livestreaming classic Doctor Who with people I like who don't live anywhere near me, and I can barely remember the last time I set foot in the mall, because I do nearly all my shopping online.

But please, please don't tell me I don't need to take notes in class because the powerpoint slides will be posted on the class website.

I was one of those weird old kids who brought a shitty spiral notebook to lectures instead of a laptop, not because I didn't have a laptop, but because I process and retain large amounts of complicated information best if I'm actively engaging with it by writing it down.  Passively skimming a set of powerpoint slides is kind of a substandard educational experience by contrast.  And sitting behind as many laptops in as many classes as I did, I can attest to the fact that most students behind laptops are multitasking - Farmville, I seem to recall, was a popular choice in that last year - if they're typing up notes at all.

And really, you're not doing students any favours by telling them it isn't necessary to take notes.  Dumping everything onto a set of slides and reciting it verbatim in front of the class, then dumping the slides onto the class website, is fine, I guess, but it does sort of render attendance at lectures redundant.  I once had a professor who would speed through an hour and a half's worth of lecture material in 30 minutes or less, then dismiss class early, every week.  His argument was that all the slides were available online, so no need to take notes.  Except that I always did take notes, because SOME KIND OF ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT WITH THE MATERIAL ACTUALLY HELPED ME RETAIN AND UNDERSTAND IT ALL BETTER.  You might as well just hand us a textbook, ask us to read it, and then have us sit the final exam in three months' time.

What needs to happen in a lecture is for there to be some kind of active element: don't just read what's on your lecture slides, we can do that perfectly well ourselves.  Expand on your bullet points, provide further examples, relate some anecdotes.  Actually force students to have to write down some of the stuff you're telling them.  They may resent the effort in the short term, but they'll probably have a better time taking what they've learned and extrapolating on it later as a result.  This should be common pedagogical sense, but my experience tells me that in some cases, it's kind of not.  Passively reading stuff off a slide is a great first step, but actually writing it down, copying it out, paraphrasing it, that's how you really get to know the material.  I can only assume in my absence from academia that the focus on technologies and online resources in the classroom may well exacerbate this issue that continues to get my goat, even long after my degree has begun to gather dust in a pile on top of some unfinished knitting and a few paintings of Doctor Who, next to a stack of Boston Legal DVDs in my living room.

But I'm no expert on learning or education.  I'm just somebody who recently took a lot of classes, and made some field observations along the way.

I'll make it up to you by sharing a picture of my doofy face, hanging out at the art show I did last week.

Don't feel bad for not coming because literally like three people showed up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's the Sami Kelsh art show of magic and wonder!

Yep, this Friday, for one night only, the Guelph School of Art is hosting a whole bunch of exciting new works by me.   Featuring illustrations and photographs of people, places, and things!  Things from space!  Classic Doctor Who!  Mysterious places in large cities I've been to!  Experimental photographic weirdness!  It's going to be pretty spectacular, so you really ought to swing by.  DJ Sarah Jane Smooth (also me) will be spinning some serious tuneage, and there might even be baking.

RSVP here!