New technologies: What about the pedagogical revolution?

21 January 2019

The difficulty to evolve from classic university lectures started before the development of new technologies. But how can those contribute to the fight?

I see that there are a number of interesting technological resources to promote student learning. Personally, I am a fan of collaborative work tools such as Office Share Point, Trello and others. But it happens to me that I do not find really innovative pedagogies based on new technologies and that are not only to do more efficiently the same tasks I have been carrying out all my life. And in scientific publications, apart from the benefits of different tools to encourage engagement (which isn’t little) I still cannot find the answers I am looking for.

If one asks any university professor if he takes advantage of new technologies to carry out his lectures, he will most likely answer yes, proud to include websites among his references and to use videos to illustrate some of the contents of his course. A university professor either has a great institutional pressure to investigate i.e. for publishing; or is an associate professor who has another main dedication and does not have enough time, or must run from one university to another and does not have time to devote to the great work that means changing the structure of their lectures by using available technological resources. Those drawn to innovation are, therefore, rather few. It is not weird. Anyone who has prepared a lecture in higher education knows that it is easier and less risky to start with a lecture, a more or less cool PowerPoint and some exercises, than to structure the class so that students have a more active role and learn the same or more, in an enjoyable way. In large part, because in the latter case, the results are unpredictable. If students do not come to class, or if they come, but are not prepared, either the activity cannot be done; or everyone has a ball but does not discuss all the issues that they were intended to; or they do discuss them, but they assume that their own ideas are the truth, without contrasting with what the research or the theory says; and many other things that happen in case lectures, project-based learning, etc.

But this difficulty to break up with traditional university lectures began long before the massification of the Internet and the proliferation of mobile telecommunications. The difference is that before, flipped classrooms were not organized with self-learning microcapsules, but with chapters of manuals, books or articles; and in gamification, instead of computers, it would be papers, hidden treasures, gymkhanas and other antiquities that were used.

Many of the aforementioned professors, when asked about the impact of new technologies at the university level, are likely to complain about various negative impacts, such as the reduction of attention capacity, the constant temptation of the mobile use, or, in the best of the cases, that the students discuss everything without knowing. As a manager in higher education, I also find some troubling things. For example, until an effective software is invented to correct essays, the ease with which the machines or Moodle help to correct closed-answer questions will install the empire of the test-type exams. Or worse, because of privileging audio-visual resources over written ones, the depth of the reflections will suffer the same fate as the Aral Sea in these times of climate change, pollution, and overexploitation, ending with students who do not know how to read or write at a good level. If I take these tremulous fantasies to the extreme, the future appears to me more and more like the one described by Huxley in A Happy World, with a lot of people who find urgent answers quickly, but do not ask the questions that matter.

Then there is also the effectiveness of conventional methods, because as I once heard Daniel Serra, current dean of BSMUPF, wisely say, “sometimes the best thing is simply a good lecture”. In the last pedagogical discussion in which I had the opportunity to participate at TBS, professors commented that one of the most successful experiences of recent times had been “teaching nude”, that is, without PowerPoint and without computers and that students would take notes by hand. The students showed a high degree of satisfaction with the subject and the academic results were higher than the average. “So, therefore” an experienced teacher then assembled “the pedagogical revolution means returning to methods used 30 years ago?”. Good question.

Written by Gabriel Zúñiga, Director of Studies at TBS Barcelona.

This article was originally published in the economic newspaper “El Economista” in its edition of January 17, 2019.

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