July 20, 2009
'Teaching Naked' at SMU
In this week's Chronicle of Higher Education: When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom, by Jeffrey Young:
College leaders usually brag about their tech-filled "smart" classrooms, but a dean at Southern Methodist University is proudly removing computers from lecture halls. José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts, has challenged his colleagues to "teach naked" — by which he means, sans machines.
More than anything else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web. When students reflect on their college years later in life, they're going to remember challenging debates and talks with their professors. Lively interactions are what teaching is all about, he says, but those give-and-takes are discouraged by preset collections of slides.
He's not the only one raising questions about PowerPoint, which on many campuses is the state of the art in classroom teaching. A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59% of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw.
For my views on the subject, see Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning, 54 J. Legal Educ. 311 (2004). Here is the abstract:
Law schools (and indeed all of higher education) have witnessed an explosive growth in the use of technology in the classroom. Many law professors now deploy a wide array of technological bells and whistles, including PowerPoint slides, web-based course platforms, in-class Internet access, and the like. Students, in turn, increasingly come to class armed with laptop computers to harvest the fruits of the classroom experience. Yet in recent years there has been somewhat of a backlash, with various law professors arguing that this technology is interfering with, rather than improving, pedagogy in the classroom. According to the critics, this technology increases student passivity and thus interferes with the active learning that should be the hallmark of a law school classroom. In addition, the critics complain that laptops provide too much competition for the students' attention, enticing them to play computer games or DVDs and, with in-class Internet access, to read and send email (or instant messages), shop on-line, or check out the latest political, financial, or sports news.
This Article opens a new chapter in this debate, explaining how law professors can use both old and new technologies to increase student engagement in the classroom. We first lay out the pedagogical case for creating an active learning environment in the law school classroom and then examine the critics' charge that technology impedes these goals. The Article offers a competing vision of how technology can be harnessed to increase active student learning and, in the process, empower students to resist their laptop's siren song. In particular, we describe how in our tax and labor law courses we combine both old (substituting word processing text for PowerPoint slides) and new (using handheld wireless transmitters) technologies to inject more active learning into the classroom.
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