Story Lovechild: Teachers Want To Teach Their Own Students

A new feature at Rewiring Virtue: what happens when two issues run into each other? Story lovechild, of course. For our first installment, we have the connection of posts about faculty wanting to help students and education tech bloggers missing some key points.

As it turns out, there is more to the slow adoption of online learning systems than professorial luddism. Nick DeSantis writes about a new study by ed tech group Ithika that indicates three interesting points that I didn’t mention in previous posts. The most intriguing is one that resonates strongly with me:

Chief among them are professors’ desires to customize what they teach and their reluctance to use prepackaged course material. The most sophisticated of today’s online-learning systems rely on machine-guided instruction to adapt lessons to the needs of individual students. But most of those systems do not yet allow instructors to deeply tailor the material to meet their course needs.

This is a huge issue. I can’t even stomach using the textbooks that are available. Most of them have at least 50% useless material. I do custom course readers instead.

Which takes us to a key misconception among students and technologists who haven’t taught for a substantial period of time: despite the fact that intro classes share course numbers, they are not the same. For the most part, teachers teach intro classes differently. In part, this is because there is never a single way to introduce students to a subject matter. (The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are both great introductions to rock and roll, so which do you listen to first?) It is also because faculty excel at different parts of the discipline and different teaching styles. Faculty err on the side of teaching effectively rather than teaching identically. Yes, some courses do share syllabi and assessments, but the percentage of such courses at a given university is quite small. And even those vary because of pedagogy. Each student is different, but so is each teacher. To be effective, courses must vary.

DeSantis notes two other key issues: time and intellectual property. Profs–even the most technically adept among us–often don’t have the time or even the knowledge to use and tailor these systems. The non-teaching demands on our time (research, committee work, meeting with students) make it difficult to customize ed tech for our particular needs. Profs also want to maintain ownership of their teaching ideas, methods, and content. Given the way that big content in the movie, record, and tv industries have behaved, it is not entirely clear that we will retain ownership of things we develop and put on learning systems. All your data are belong to us.

As it turns out, profs care about their students and try to teach well. Ed tech can help us do that, but it is not a solution on its own.

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