Monday, October 12, 2009

Improving Teaching and Learning with Technology-Conflicting(?) Schools of Thought

Interesting post by Phil Long (University of Queensland, TLT Group Senior Consultant, and formerly Senior Strategist at MIT) about how to think about improving teaching and learning (with technology).

I think Phil, Steve Gilbert, and I each have slightly different views about how to proactively improve teaching and learning with technology (TLT) in an academic program. Dramatizing our disagreement will, I hope, be an aid to deepening and widening the conversation. Here's my summary of what each of the three of us currently think:
  1. Wait until external conditions are really demanding (a near crisis, perhaps). Then marshall your forces and push for a big change that responds to that crisis. A big change might be, for example, a combination of a curricular redesign, a fresh approach to teaching and learning, and the facilities to support both of them.
    If there is no external pressure, try rallying staff effort and resources around an inspiring vision of the future. Use that enthusiasm to create change that will last. Change will come faster when change agents can take advantage of a crisis, however. An evolutionary metaphor is suggested by Phil and by a comment by Trent Batson about Phil's post. I think that's misleading, however. Evolution is a 'mindless' metaphor to apply to programs, but Phil (and I) each tend to think in terms of faculty and staff who are trying to change the larger institution or program of which they are a part. (Phil Long, as translated by SteveE)
  2. In contrast, Steve Gilbert has been working to promoteevolution in small steps, an inductive approach to improvement that emerges from relatively independent actions taken by each faculty member. SteveG suggests that staff help each faculty member find or invent small steps that make sense to that individual faculty member. Then help them use feedback to guide what they're doing. Finally, help them each to share their ideas and materials with a few more colleagues who can quickly adapt them with little or no risk or expense.
    SteveG rarely talks about helping faculty to change in any particular direction. I think he's wary of the lure of Big Changes. Remember what Newton said: Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. Big pushes create big pushback. The small approach is sneakier, producing change that is too invisible, and too grounded in faculty freedom, for anyone to oppose. (Steve Gilbert, as translated by SteveE)
  3. Here's my perspective: identify small steps being made by faculty (here SteveG and I agree). Then try to spot a subset of those changes that could be the beginning of something big and important for the programs' students, faculty and other stakeholders. Then start consciously supporting progress in that direction through small steps and, where warranted, big steps. When identifying directions for improvement, pay special attention to outside pressures and rewards:e.g., falling enrollments and the potential to increase enrollment; trends in thinking in the discipline. (SteveE)
Do you buy any of these strategies? Have a fourth to suggest? or perhaps you think the whole idea of a proactive strategy to improve teaching and learning is futile?

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