• August 3, 2015

Reaching the Last Technology Holdouts at the Front of the Classroom

Reaching the Last Technology Holdouts at the Front of the Classroom 1

Rick Friedman for The Chronicle

Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard U., helped write the Department of Education's new National Educational Technology Plan, which challenges educators to leverage modern technology to create engaging learning experiences for students.

Every semester a lot of professors' lectures are essentially reruns because many instructors are too busy to upgrade their classroom methods.

That frustrates Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard University, who argues that clinging to outdated teaching practices amounts to educational malpractice.

"If you were going to see a doctor and the doctor said, 'I've been really busy since I got out of medical school, and so I'm going to treat you with the techniques I learned back then,' you'd be rightly incensed," he told me recently. "Yet there are a lot of faculty who say with a straight face, 'I don't need to change my teaching,' as if nothing has been learned about teaching since they had been prepared to do it—if they've ever been prepared to."

And poor teaching can have serious consequences, he says, when students fall behind or drop out because of sleep-inducing lectures. Colleges have tried several approaches over the years to spur teaching innovation. But among instructors across the nation, holdouts clearly remain.

Mr. Dede's arguments (in more bureaucratic language) form the basis of a new National Educational Technology Plan, issued in draft form in March by the U.S. Department of Education. "The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students' daily lives and the reality of their futures," says the plan, which he helped write. The title of the report, "Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology," suggests that the country's teaching methods need a reboot.

It is tough to measure how many professors teach with technology or try other techniques the report recommends, such as group activities and hands-on exercises. (Technology isn't the only way to improve teaching, of course, and some argue that it can hinder it.) Though most colleges can point to several cutting-edge teaching experiments on their campuses, a recent national assessment called the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement suggests that old-school instruction remains the norm.

Only 13 percent of the professors surveyed said they used blogs in teaching; 12 percent had tried videoconferencing; and 13 percent gave interactive quizzes using "clickers," or TV-remotelike devices that let students respond and get feedback instantaneously. The one technology that most teachers use regularly—course-management systems—focuses mostly on housekeeping tasks like handing out assignments or keeping track of student grades. The survey, answered by 4,600 professors nationwide, did not ask about PowerPoint, which anecdotal evidence suggests is ubiquitous as a replacement for overhead and slide projectors.

Should colleges do more to push new technology? Should professors throw out those yellowed lecture notes and start fresh (or at least update their jokes)?

Here are three suggestions for next steps based on interviews with experts.

Focus on the Non-Techies

The least-wired faculty members make the best advocates for high-tech teaching. That's according to a session at last week's Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium, held in San Jose, by the Sloan Consortium.

The session's title promises a world where every professor works to teach better: "Faculty Motivation and Technology Integration: How to Bring 100% of Non-Techie Faculty On Board."

The key is to enlist longtime professors with no particular interest in technology and get them to try the latest online forums, videoconferencing, or clickers, said the two presenters, from Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences. Then encourage the professors to give a lunch talk for their colleagues.

And their peers' eyes will light up as they imagine their own experiments, said one of the presenters, Dan Lim, assistant vice president for educational technology and distance learning. "Their minds will start working, thinking, 'I know I can do this,'" he said.

One of Mr. Lim's non-techie converts is Lenore S. Brantley, a professor of psychology, who taught an online course with audioconferencing tools last year. "It's always a little frightening because people from my generation did not grow up with technology," says the professor, who has been teaching for more than 40 years. "I was willing to try it because I like to try new things."

Things didn't always work perfectly—she had to trek to campus to teach the online classes because she couldn't get the software to run on her home computer. But the technology came in handy when she wanted to leave town for a church conference: She could still teach from the road.

At her lunch talk to colleagues in February, she gave a PowerPoint presentation titled, "My Journey in Teaching: From Then 'Til Now." She kicked it off with pictures of the tools that were standard back in the day: typewriters, adding machines, film projectors, and a paper grade book. She doesn't miss them.

"I'm very surprised how well I like it and how well you get to know your students," she says of her experience in an online classroom.

Administrators said at least one other "non-techie" professor showed up for a college-sponsored tech-training workshop soon after Ms. Brantley's talk.

Watch Your Language

Summer is prime time for professors to go back to school themselves, to attend short workshops on how to teach with the latest technology tools.

Typically, colleges give seminars with titles like "5 Ways to Use a Wiki in Your Class" or "Getting Started With Blackboard."

Too often those stress the technology more than its goals, though, says Mr. Dede, of Harvard.

"Those technology sessions are useful, but often they're marketed the wrong way," he told me. "What you want to do is deal with issues that keep faculty up at night. The titles should be, How do you keep students coming to your class rather than just copying the notes off the Web? or, How to get students to respond really deeply rather than from CliffsNotes."

Donald Williams, senior vice president for academic administration at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, says his institution goes out of its way to hire tech-support staff who speak teaching rather than technology. "None of them are salesmen for technology—they're all educators," he says. "They're not the geeky type of tech person who can't really get down to the level of the everyday user."

Look to Disciplines

Some professors attend one workshop, try one new trick, and consider their teaching reinvigorated.

But a number of teaching experts hope to encourage professors to think of their teaching as something that needs constant care and feeding.

"I like to think about it as an ongoing process," says Pat Hutchings, senior associate with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Scholarly disciplines, rather than colleges, may become the best drivers of teaching reform, then, because scholars already turn to disciplinary organizations and journals to keep up with research.

History is one field leading the approach to reform, says Ms. Hutchings, pointing to the work of David Pace, a history professor at Indiana University at Bloomington.

In a 2004 essay in The American Historical Review, Mr. Pace, as Mr. Dede has done, compared college professors to doctors operating on patients without proper training.

"Why is the classroom a place for the uncritical perpetuation of folk traditions, when the operating room is not?" he wrote. "Most of us care passionately about teaching and believe that it is vitally important that students be exposed to the kinds of reasoning and the knowledge of the past that members of our profession have developed. But until very recently, it was believed that no formal training was necessary before historians began thinking about teaching and learning, no examination of the efforts of other scholars, no collective effort to ground knowledge as firmly as possible."

Notice there's no mention of technology there.

Indeed, the National Educational Technology Plan has long sections with little mention of technology at all, Mr. Dede says.

And there doesn't have to be, he says, because the role of technology in classroom innovation is a given. "Most of those changes are almost impossible to make without technology," he says. "Technology becomes the handmaiden of the change."

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to jeff.young@chronicle.com or @jryoung on Twitter.


1. lost_angeleno - July 24, 2010 at 08:44 pm

I certainly think this article will teach Socrates a thing or two.

2. eslombard - July 26, 2010 at 02:16 am

While some of us can vizualize the tide of commercial interests competing with traditional colleges, there may still be time to preserve our autonomies if, nationally or internationally, departments will (a) develop strategies for preparing and sharing the best instructional materials we can produce,(b) constantly sharing the upgrades,(c) engaging in further study of allied or non-allied fields of our interest so that the cross fertilization of disciplines may uncover unanticipated new knowledge and incidentally better engage students not now fascinated with our specialties.
Otherwise, I am almost certain that our profession is doomed. Back in the 60's, as a doctoral candidate leading in six USOE higher education innovations institutes, I despaired then of changing academia's short sightedness. It's not too late. But almost!

3. cmcclain - July 27, 2010 at 08:49 pm

The section of the article titled "Watch your language" needs much more emphasis. If you give technology to a bad or boring teacher, you will get a bad or boring teacher who now uses technology.

Moreover, good students will succeed with or without technological advancements. Let's be honest: we're hoping beyond hope that technology will be some sort of magic lifevest for bad or mediocre students. I'm willing to work hard to improve my teaching, even learning how to use new technologies that increase both the relevance and entertainment value of my courses. But we will forever have a problem as long as students view themselves as passive recipients of "teaching" rather than cocreators of their own learning experience.

I find that as I explore innovations in teaching (both tech and non-tech), rather than bringing up more students, I actually polarize the class more. IMO, that's not such a bad result, really, to further clarify the divide between top and bottom students. But that polarization does not help me achieve that elusive goal of making everyone above average.

4. moravian - July 28, 2010 at 08:22 am

Does assessment data demonstrating that technology in the classroom enhances learning? I don't know this literature, but would like to learn more about it.

I do incorporate technology into my courses, but I also see value in a mix of teaching styles. There are some faculty who are amazing orators that captivate students in ways I never good (with or without technology). Likewise, have well structured discussions (based on readings or current events, after a lab or field expereince, etc.) can be extremely effective ways to engage students and promote learning.

There are indeed a range of learning styles that we need to be aware of and try to accomodate. But I also believe that it is good for students to be exposed to a range of teaching styles.

5. moravian - July 28, 2010 at 08:23 am

Oops - I meant does ask if the data EXISTS (forgot a word).

6. landrumkelly - July 28, 2010 at 08:25 am

"That frustrates Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard University, who argues that clinging to outdated teaching practices amounts to educational malpractice."

Yep, this guy could help me with my political theory/philosophy classes. It is this kind of imperial attitude that is divisive and counter-productive.

Too many persons assume that the reason that older methods are used in some classes is because of laziness on the part of faculty member.

I constantly stand in awe of those who would presume to recommend or to evaluate the methods used by differing specialists in so many different fields. They almost insure that departments and schools of education will be viewed as "the enemy" of higher education.

Landrum Kelly

7. cbobbitt - July 28, 2010 at 09:11 am

Dede's emphasis on the class goals reminds readers of the report to focus on the skills, dispositions, and knowledge we hope student will gain. The long-standing message urges us to view wikis, clickers, and mobile devices as tools rather than ends in themselves. We must also remember that those tools are also part of what our students need to adapt to their working and life environments. Can texting help managers monitor widespread sales or delivery personnel? To what degree can wikis reduce physical resources needed for committee meetings? What do pre-service teachers of elementary-school students need to know of types of reading skills required for print and digital text in its various forms (audio, e-books, database archives, weblogs) and their students' readiness?

8. 11890636 - July 28, 2010 at 11:18 am

Let's deconstruct the headline, "Reaching the Last Technology Holdouts at the Front of the Classroom." A "classroom" could be a 1,500-seat lecture hall, a set of video-linked lecture halls around the world, a 10-seat seminar table, a video-linked set of seminar tables. Is the instructor necessarily "at the front" of the classroom? Most likely in a lecture or Socratic model; let's hope not in a seminar. With which class sizes, which pedagogies, which subjects, and which instructor talents does (which kind of) "technology" demonstrably enhance learning? Is technology "in the classroom" necessary or appropriate for all the above approaches, or might the larger benefit from technology accrue from restructuring the out-of-class individual or group study, test prep, or paper writing processes? (Of course some technologies facilitate elimination of a face-to-face classroom altogether.) Should scarce resources be devoted to "reaching the last holdouts" -- many of whom may be brilliant instructors using traditional pedagogies -- rather than supporting instructors committed to advancing use -- and assessment -- of educational technologies? And since not all students learn the same way, is there not a continuing benefit to having a diverse array of pedagogies available?

9. 11122741 - July 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

Dede sounds like Harvard's B.F. Skinner in the 60's about programmed instruction and technology ...how'd that work out huh. Far wise to listen to the fellow Harvard and Skinner drove out, Jerry Brunner. If these techie types would give up their silly behaviorism and behaviorists views some progress might happen. Dede is accussing me and other of Malpractice when a better argument can be made for technology being educational malpractice. Dede has obviously never been in a good graduate recentation or seminar class where pople actualy get down to actual and serious intellectual work. As they say, you can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much. But elling Dede to read The Shallows might be a beginning.

10. dleopard59 - July 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm

What I find disturbing about this article is that these are the same, perhaps outdated, approaches to technology implementation that have been used by tech teachers for the past 40 years (I've personally been involved with at least 30 of those years). While the anecdote about this or that teacher suddenly awakening to the uses of technology is great, it does make me wonder what it says about the hidden motivations behind the imperative to technologize education (maybe the malcontents are on to something). Take a look at the reasons behind those who produce and market clickers and other tech toys and see if it aligns with best practices in education. iPads for all, anyone? (Oh, and I actually use technology in my classroom every session, but I do think that a measure of critical thought is also called for).

11. dleopard59 - July 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I also find it interesting that this page doesn't seem to give you the option to print the comments section along with the article. I was hoping to pass it along to my colleagues and include the comments - which I think are good - but apparently no such luck. So much for the democratic potential of the web (in one small corner of it, at least).

12. ambouche - July 29, 2010 at 05:42 am

Is the "resistance to technology" noted in this article due to practitioners heing old-fashioned, ignorant dullards unaquainted with the shiny new tools? Or do professors who apply critical thinking in every aspect of their professional lives naturally distrust snake-oil hard-sells couched in inflammatory, pejorative language that lacks the kind of thoughtful, fine-grained analysis and solid, evidence-based information that we generally rely on in other decision-making and research contexts? Practitioners are right to be cautious: in kitchens and classrooms, many elaborate gadgets end up idle on the shelf while the old, cheap, trusty tools are still giving great results. Every new tool has a cost associated with it, that cannot be discounted. I too use several categories of technology in every class; I am not hostile to or ignorant of technology, but in many situations the simplest, cheapest, least technology-driven method is the best method, both for me and for my students. You can teach the statics of bridge construction or Gothic architecture at a basic level much more effectively with paper and scissors face-to-face, than with fancy computer-based modelling tools, because everyone already understands the physical properties of the material, and therefore can appreciate the role that structure plays.

13. landrumkelly - July 29, 2010 at 05:42 pm

"Mr. Dede's arguments (in more bureaucratic language) form the basis of a new National Educational Technology Plan, issued in draft form in March by the U.S. Department of Education."

Why do I find all that less than impressive, and far from reassuring? Well, a "National Educational Technology Plan" to be implemented by the "U.S. Department of Education" sounds like something to be very, very wary of.

I would like to have Dede in one of my classes for a while and see if he can deal with the honest exchange of ideas on something (anything!) substantive. He is selling snake oil stuff.

Landrum Kelly

14. sivavaid - July 29, 2010 at 07:22 pm

Dede is expressing a tremendous amount of ignorance and disrespect for the art of teaching. He says "as if nothing has been learned about teaching," but never mentions what has been learned that would indicate that gizmos improve teaching.

So what is he talking about?

Does anyone really believe that there is some core and universal set of electronic tools (for some reason called "technology," as if chalk and voice are not technologies) that would make an 8 a.m. Spanish class better than it already is? Political philosophy? Genetics? Economics? Of course not. Each of these subjects demands a particular set of tools and practices that have been mastered by practicioners for many decades.

I happen to use a wide array of technological tools in my teaching. And I am very successful. Yet I was even more successful before I used these new tools. And sometimes I fail with them now. I would happily share what I have learned -- what works for me, what does not -- with others. And I do. But I would never assume that I know best how to teach another person's subject.

This rejection of wisdom and worship of "technology" is mindless.

Dede should consider going back to college.

15. tee_bee - July 29, 2010 at 07:23 pm

I am pleased that several comments used the term "snake oil" to describe all this "technology" that's going to make us all better teachers and learners. Cliff Stoll's _Silicon Snake Oil_, which came out in the mid 1990s, still stands as a useful corrective. The parallel between medical practice and teaching is silly, and is purposefully intended to create needless anxiety and concern. A better analogy may relate to the recent revelations that all sorts of expensive drugs just don't work, despite government-industry efforts to ram them down our throats. Sometimes, the old ways really are the better ways.

I love all the tools we have at our disposal for research and teaching. But the fundamental assumption of this article--that professors who don't use the poorly thought-out "technologies" offered by credulous colleges are by definition less effective or even ineffective--is unsupported by evidence.

Rather, this article reads like a press release written by Educause and its vendor-enablers. Meanwhile, our colleges p*ss money down ratholes because no one bothered to consult with instructors.

This sort of "journalism" is fine for tech websites run by teenagers. But I would expect the Chronicle to provide something like balanced discussions of this issue. This article is hardly balanced.

16. docfox - July 29, 2010 at 07:43 pm

Just a quick note on comment #10, where it is stated that "Dede sounds like Harvard's B.F. Skinner in the 60's about programmed instruction and technology ...how'd that work out huh."

It actually worked out pretty well, for those who know the history of instructional technology. The efforts of Skinner and others in the programmed instruction movement provided much of the conceptual and procedural foundation for modern computer-based instruction, e-learning, and instructional systems design. Furthermore, the emergence of "instructional design" as a distinct (and growing field) is due in large part to early efforts in programmed instruction. And Skinner is widely regarded as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century, so...um...your comment is fairly silly. And I didn't even say anything about your interesting (ab)use of spelling and grammar!

17. wartburg - July 29, 2010 at 08:40 pm

My the Luddites out there are VERY defensive. Methinks they protest too much. I agree that the analogy between medical knowledge and teaching technique is a stretch, but anyone who is proud of not using classroom technology (in 2010) is probably pretty imperious themselves. Don't look now but your students think you're a dud if you don't at least make an effort to try new techniques.

18. tee_bee - July 29, 2010 at 10:21 pm

@Wartburg: So you're saying our job is to entertain our students? Accusing careful adopters (instead of fanboys and first adopters) of Luddism is the tech equivalent of Godwin's Law. Go back and read the fawning story about how great tech is, and how some instructors are just doddering old bores. What you call defensive is a useful corrective to the B.S. that these tech vendors and their ilk promote.

Why should I care if my students "think" I'm a dud? What matters is that students learn--and a skilled teacher with a blackboard is still going to do a far better job than a bozo with some clickers and powerpoint slides.

19. alleyoxenfree - July 29, 2010 at 11:50 pm

The last conference I attended featured PowerPoint after PowerPoint - and then the two most outstanding presentations where the teachers used nothing but their intellects, their sense of humor, and their voice.

His technology is probably as hollow as his critical thinking skills when making analogies. Profs keep up on scholarship just as doctors keep up on medicine and dentists keep up their science. A guy who's convinced that doctors can't cure and dentists can't fix your teeth without the salesman's sexy new drill or office wallpaper is just a salesman legitimizing his existence without evidence. Profs are just funny in wanting to see evidence before they shell out the time to revamp courses that already work.

As for all that technology, my last two semesters were an IT nightmare. Then I went back to basics, and everybody learned. Good thing we sank all that money in technology that doesn't work rather than in salaries for profs who work their behinds off.

20. fruupp - July 30, 2010 at 01:38 am

The breathless promotion of technologized courses reeks of desperation, i.e., that "smartrooms" are the magic bullet that will tranform indifferent, apathetic, undisciplined "stoonts" into sterling exemplars of the "life of the mind".

Pimped-out classrooms and on-line "pedagogies" with all the bells & whistles are next-to-useless when students find EVERYTHING outside the parochial concerns of their own little lives utterly boring and hopelessly irrelevant.

21. ikant - July 30, 2010 at 02:25 am

I'm young, tech-savvy, and pretty unconvinced by this article. I can't speak for all fields, of course, but I'm pretty skeptical that good class discussions and quality writing in the humanities are particularly improved by clickers etc.

I'm certainly a fan of my online gradebook, and the ability to post assignments and questions online for my students is efficient. But the heart of what I do is in trying to educe questions, critical thought and excitement about books which students might previously have thought were utterly irrelevant to them, and (my evaluations indicate that) I do this very well with no particular technological bells and whistles in the classroom. Am I missing something?

22. post_functional - July 30, 2010 at 03:21 am

"Is the "resistance to technology" noted in this article due to practitioners heing old-fashioned, ignorant dullards unaquainted with the shiny new tools? Or do professors who apply critical thinking in every aspect of their professional lives naturally distrust snake-oil hard-sells couched in inflammatory, pejorative language that lacks the kind of thoughtful, fine-grained analysis and solid, evidence-based information that we generally rely on in other decision-making and research contexts?"

Ambouche, you're my brand-new hero this week.

23. klblk - July 30, 2010 at 07:54 am

I guess I'm one of those Luddites.

Oddly enough, my students seem to develop thinking and writing skills just fine without any classroom technology (although I use a considerable amount of electronic resources to support my teaching and students' learning activities, none of them actually do any teaching or learning for us.)

In fact, my main method of undergraduate instruction consists of two comfy chairs and a sofa in a pleasant room. I added a coffee table a couple of years ago, but it doesn't get used for much, except to put hot drinks on.

Every few tutorials, I use a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper to draw something for the students. Mostly we just ask questions and think about the answers.

Sometimes we abandon the "technology" of the chair and office and go sit outside if the weather is nice. That might represent no technology at all.

24. ardvaark - July 30, 2010 at 08:35 am

How about we show as much interest in the technologies of teaching and learning as we do with power points, blogging, and clickers? "Technology" may or may not be helpful; what is most important is that instructors understand what it might take from them to facilitate learning in their students. This I think often has virtually nothing to do with contraptions at all.

25. droslovinia - July 30, 2010 at 08:38 am

I keep thinking that I'm a Luddite, since I greatly prefer to do my usual person-to-person thing in the classroom, but I also use blogs, push content to students' laptops during lectures, do all grading by e-mail (all papers are supposed to be in electroonic form), bring in "guests" via video conferencing, show video clips, and do lectures on how and why NOT to use PPoint. I guess that means I'm a little less of a Luddite than I often feel. Nonetheless, technology is just a tool to get the job done, and that's all it will ever be. In this push to get all "techie" in the classroom, we too often invite people to make technology an end, rather than a means, and I'm deeply concerned about any "national initiatives" to push more technology use. At the end of the day, it still comes down to a teacher-learner interaction, and if you cannot do that, technology is not really going to help you. As a result, I continue to hold to the mantra that was passed down to me: "never trust anything you have to plug in."

26. csgirl - July 30, 2010 at 08:43 am

I teach in computer science, which may be one of the most technologically driven disciplines, yet I do not use blogs and clickers so I guess I must be one of those old Luddite professors. I do use many computer based tools in my courses, such as compilers, integrated development environments, bug tracking systems,databases, and version control systems. But I guess those don't count as advanced technology, hmmm? The reason I don't use blogs and clickers is that they simply are not appropriate to the material I teach. Clickers in particular are useless to me - I care about the strategies my students are using to solve problems, not whether they can click the right answer in a quiz.

27. prufrock - July 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

"'The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students' daily lives and the reality of their futures,' says the plan, which [Dede] helped write."

Is it just me, or is the presence of 'leverage' as a verb a fairly reliable indicator that a river (or at least a stream) of bs is a-flowing?

28. jackieking - July 30, 2010 at 10:04 am

I too must wade in here... In 40+ years of teaching in higher education I have changed greatly; I use a course management system for every course I teach and continue to teach fully online classes (since 2000). But, I often teach in off-campus programs where one is grateful to have a room with seats and lights. I spent many days dragging 40+ pounds of equipment to classrooms to plug my students into the Internet (2000)to be modern, up to date and to let students experience learning with new technologies only to find out the basement classroom had not yet been remodeled or it still had 2 prong plugs or the Internet phone line connection was not connected outside the building or only employees of the facility had the password to connect and this was after doing some due diligence to make sure technology was going to be available.
So, even though I have evolved to using many differnt forms of technology to support education, using technology just to use it is not on my agenda these days. I will choose what is appropriate for the learning goals of the course and for the student population of that course but not mindlessly bore my students with more electronic tools just for the sake of it.

29. tee_bee - July 30, 2010 at 10:05 am

Reading these comments suggests that this repackaged Educause press release went over like a lead balloon. Perhaps our intrepid reporter can go talk to some real professors and find out what really happens in real classrooms. The more I read and reread the article, the more it annoys me.

30. walrus - July 30, 2010 at 10:20 am

Ditto to all the comments about professors being skeptical about learning these new technologies until there is undeniable proof that they are the magical bullet their proponents make them out to be.

And I agree with tee_bee that defensiveness is a proper response to the tone of this article. I felt a wave of panic as I started reading it when it suggested that my teaching style amounted to malpractice. I tried to use technology blackboard, elearning, and even programs designed by textbook publishers, but they have all been failures. Sometimes the programs didn't work well and many students couldn't figure out how to work them, and some took advantage of the confusion to say they had done the work but it had "vanished" somehow. I found myself spending at least as much time dealing with issues around the technology that did not even begin to pay off in terms of quality student work.

And that's the point I find most distressing here. Teaching is not brain surgery. It's a relationship. It's about the mind. It's about inspiration. How many of you out there are involved in higher education because of real-life, flesh-and-blood person who inspired you either through their love of the subject, which showed you how to love it too, or through their ability to recognize you as an individual, and expressed a belief in you and your talents, abilities, or whatever? How many of you are involved in higher education because you wanted to learn how to use the overhead projector or be able to write on the blackboard, or to be the administrator of an online course?

What is at work here is a profound contempt for teachers that is systemic, institutionalized, and rooted in the larger culture that these people pander to. When reading this article, I try to imagine what Dede and Younge want teachers to do and I imagine teachers anxiously seeking out and learning the newest innovation so as not to be sued for malpractice. The love of learning that got them into this business in the first place transmogrifies into an obsession with the new techniques designed to force more of those young people who really are recovering from a hangover, or fantasizing about making out with a new lover, or planning a weekend getaway, or fuming about what happened at work, or worried about a child or other loved one, to learn... what? Well, the "what" doesn't matter as long as the technology is up-to-date.

And this is to say nothing of the relatively low pay and increasing insecurity of the profession itself. Yet there are those who wonder why the people who would make the best teachers go elsewhere.

If one must insist on comparing teaching and medicine, which I think is comparing apples (medicine is about making a sick person physically well) to oranges (teaching is about helping a physically well person flourish socially, emotionally, and intellectually), then it makes more sense to say that those who are pushing an expensive battery of tests and treatments that are no better at curing the common cold than a bowl of chicken noodle soup and bedrest are the ones guilty of malpractice.

31. fadecomic - July 30, 2010 at 10:22 am

I too am finding the level of protest in this article strange. Maybe the author shouldn't have come out swinging at non-adopters, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. I think a lot of the protestors are looking at the article (and its subject) from the wrong end. It almost doesn't matter what you want or like. It matters what your students understand. It matters what helps them, not you. Yes, previous commenter, it does matter if your students think you're a "dud"--it affects their ability to learn. Telling them to get over it will only make them resentful. The other thing I see in at least half the protest comments is something like, "My lectures are conversational, and that works fine, thanks." That's great. What does it have to do with the article? It doesn't mean you can't or won't benefit from the incorporation of new technology in addition to your conversational lecture (which--if it occurs on a sofa--pushes you firmly into the realm of non-traditional classroom anyway, and out of the purview of the article). The tech side of these things is hardly untested. Maybe the educational benefit is. So test it. No one's talking about a workflow interrupting complete rewrite of your life. Answer a question by email? Why not post the answer on a blog or wiki. You had to type it anyway. Incorporate instant messaging into your office hours. You were going to be available anyway, you're just typing the answer instead of speaking it. Viola. Technology in the classroom, and it didn't touch your vaunted Socratic pedagogy or add tons of work.

32. galston - July 30, 2010 at 10:28 am

Teaching is both an Art and a Science. As a rare college faculty member that actually was credentialed in the arts of curriculum and instruction as a certified K-12 teacher, before getting my doctorate in science, I have worked with a variety of faculty members at the University level in my roles as professor and assistant dean.

Like any enterprise there are good players and bad ones.I have been fortunate to work with hard working , dedicated, talented people. But there has been a stubborn resistance to taking advantage of the application of learning theory as continually redefined by neuroscience discoveries.

The lecture method predominates, with mountains of data that shout it's inneffectiveness. Many studies demonstrate the retention decay rate of information delivered by lecture. Our task is to develop students ability to use information not to recite it.

But technology is not the automatic answer. Much damage has been done in the name of techology. Videotapng a lecture is not the proper use of technology it is simply making an ineffecive strategy reproducible.

The hard truth is that the oldest methods ie Socratic still work beautifully in the hands of a skilled practitioner and a limited class size. But the students of this era require something much more engaging than a lecture in a large classroom of 20 students or more.

Giving a student a laptop doesn't make them learn. They will learn when they understand why the information is important and are motivated to develop the skills they need to be successful.

Good teachers get students to understand why, then show them how, then let them practice what, then let them discover what if.

Technology will not make you a good teacher but the tools of technology can help you teach and manage a large classroom more effectively, and produce better results.

Some faculty act like intellectual aborigines who believe that technology will steal their soul. And the Department of Education occassionally acts like the Head lemming master marching us off the cliff of overregulation.

The teacher is the at the center of this firestorm and must manage their instructional efforts by one simple standard, Does it work?

Professional educators will always measure their success by the success of their students. And we can always find better ways to improve te process.

33. 11147066 - July 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

The arrogance of Professor Dede is astounding. It undercuts the validity of his argument in favor of some teachers integrating some judicious use of technology in their courses. Videoconferencing and using "clickers" for tests are gimmicks. The claim that those who choose not to use them are the equivalent of doctors practicing antiquated medical techniques is ludicrous. Dede does nothing in this article but set up a false dichotomy between professors committed to outdated, boring and irrelevant teaching methods and those eagerly embracing the modern technologies that contemporary students crave.
Emily, NY

34. klblk - July 30, 2010 at 11:30 am


>>It doesn't mean you can't or won't benefit from the incorporation of new technology in addition to your conversational lecture (which--if it occurs on a sofa--pushes you firmly into the realm of non-traditional classroom anyway, and out of the purview of the article).

35. klblk - July 30, 2010 at 11:33 am


(apologies, somehow the rest of my reply got deleted by the system)

... Given that my office's foundations have been around since before Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, I think I have a pretty solid claim to being traditional.

(The students and their sofa are a bit newer, though.)

36. walrus - July 30, 2010 at 11:59 am

@fadecomic: If the story were really about the relationship between teachers and students there would be no protest here. The suggestions you recommend are sound, but they are more like the "housekeeping tasks" Dede finds insufficient. I don't think anyone here says there is no place for this technology, particularly for those who find that it enhances their ability to communicate with their students.

What is at issue here is how Dede and the Young seem to suggest that there is only one way to teach, and that way is with as much technology as possible. The implication is that teachers do not and cannot teach students, only technology can. And the article explicitly suggests that those who choose not to make technology the center of their pedagogy are guilty of malpractice.

You state that what is important is how students learn, but you ignore the fact that they learn differently with different people and in different environments, which is why the human element is so crucial. The irony is that so many of these techies stress how important it is to adapt teaching to fit the student, yet imply that if we merely master the technology it will serve all.

The imaginary student is presumably one who craves a learning environment that resembles Worlds of Warcraft, but I think most students crave an environment with a caring teacher and an interesting subject. This summer I went no-tech and I was shocked at how my students responded. When I said there would be no computers, cell phones, or any other technology allowed in class, there was a remarkable lack of protest. Many smiled. And for the time we are together, it's just us. It works for my class as I'll tell you that many of my students are starting to express fatigue with all the technology in their own lives. Going to class is more like going to camp, and they actually talk face-to-face to people they wouldn't have to talk to otherwise.

Had the article been about how technology can help teachers find new ways to connect with their students and improve the teaching relationship, we'd all say that sounds right. But this article explicitly denigrates teachers who choose another way and only pays lip-service to the idea of actually helping individual students.

37. fizmath - July 30, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The teacher/physician analogy is lousy. We have real data to show that new medical tech benefits patients. You can't say the same about blogs, videoconferencing and those stupid clickers. I see no mention of the reliability of chalkboards over bug riddled software. I also see no discussion of the extra time burden to master the new software version that is released each year.

38. betterschools - July 30, 2010 at 12:13 pm

It is nice to hear Mr. Dede saying what we have been saying since 1991, including in multiple posts in CHE.

On balance, the U.S. professoriate teaches the same way its great grand-professors taught in 1906 (listen to me lecture, read this, listen to me lecture some more, ask me some questions, take this [invalid] test), many of them committing intellectual treason in that they make a living teaching the very scientific principles related to learning and measurement that they refuse to apply to their own behavior.

In fact, virtually every example and allusion attributed to Mr. Dede in this article has been published by us in various forums since 1991. (I see this a lot at Harvard but that is another issue.)

I also agree with Mr. Dede with respect to the malpractice issue. It can be shown that the application of modern learning and measurement sciences will reduce time to proficiency by 20-5-% and increase one or more of the core attributes of learning (generalizability, retention, etc.).

These facts create conditions for an interesting lawsuit in the hands of a clever student who paid an extra $50,000 for his education and experienced an opportunity cost of $150,000 solely because he was forced to learn at the hands of professors who refuse employ professional practices developed after 1906.

As we have said many times, imagine stepping back a full century when visiting a physician or boarding an aircraft.

Robert W Tucker

39. betterschools - July 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm

correction: 20-50%

40. joechill - July 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

The assumptions of this article are simply unsubstantiated by any research. Anecdotes are not evidence.

I strongly suggest educators read Mark Bauerlein's "The Dumbest Generation." Drawing on study after study, he demonstrates that educational outcomes have NOT IMPROVED with the use of technology in the classroom.

41. walrus - July 30, 2010 at 01:06 pm

Well, Robert W. Tucker, it would be nice if you said something new. Apparently, you've been saying the same thing since 1991 and have yet deigned to address any of the myriad arguments against your obsession with "proficiency," including any of those posted on this thread today.

Apparently, what you've learned is that education is about learning one thing and then saying it over and over again, in spite of any and all arguments made against it. For you, retention, generalizability, and the like are the ends, while for many of us they are merely intellectual skills one learns that will help one to be able to communicate with others, which is always a messy business, and participate in a democracy, which is always and necessarily inefficient.

Thank you for demonstrating how an obsession with proficiency, efficency, and learning outcomes can blind one to the purposes of education. This is like the doctor who says, "The operation went perfectly! The patient? Oh, she died in the recovery room."

42. jeffreyyoung - July 30, 2010 at 01:13 pm

I'm considering writing a follow-up article based on the interest here -- if you feel that technology in the classroom is overhyped "snake oil," or that your teaching is tech-free and better for it, e-mail me at jeff.young@chronicle.com and I'm happy to talk to you for the article.

As I said in this piece, "Technology isn't the only way to improve teaching, of course, and some argue that it can hinder it." But it seems like Mr. Dede's statements have touched a nerve about how technology is viewed on campuses, and I'm interested in giving opposing perspectives a voice to keep the debate going. So please e-mail me if you're interested in participating.

Thanks, -Jeff

43. jaysanderson - July 30, 2010 at 01:40 pm

joechill is correct about the research. To date, no studies indicate that technology improves the effectiveness of teaching and learning, only that some instructors and students "like" the experience.

Instructional technology is my field, and I am dismayed at the lack of evidence supporting the enormous expenditures in K-12 and higher education.

44. teacherspaddle - July 30, 2010 at 01:41 pm

My beef has to do with the article lede:

What does the anecdote of professors who haven't updated their notes have to do with resistance to technology?

These are completely unrelated things. You can merge old notes with engaging technology, but it still does a disservice to your field. Likewise, you can resist technology and still teach lively classes that engage fully with recent developments in the field...

I integrate a lot of these digital aids in my classrooms, but I don't believe instructors need technology to teach well.

In fact, if I devoted all the time that I could to making clicker quizzes and designing slides and powerpoints, I would be far less likely to update my lectures next time around....

45. deliajones - July 30, 2010 at 02:10 pm


When I want to forward comments I simply copy them into a word documet and attach to an email. Yes, it takes about two minutes longer.

46. trendisnotdestiny - July 30, 2010 at 02:54 pm

What is even more interesting is that Inter-ed handle you used to use is now betterschools. Nice touch there Robert!

You wouldn't want many more people to quote from your website that you offer a privatized product that has an ROI (return on investment) of 20:1, 50:1 and 100:1 for your various products... This reminds me of the typical corporate response for your agenda

1) Blackwater - XE
2) Phillip Morris - Altria
3) Arthur Anderson Consultiing - Accenture

Cut to the chase Bobbie! You think you can make some money at it while selling people that your product is better... blah blah bl
Deception does not serve well when trying to gain the trust of readers or fence sitters. Your re-branding attempts just make you look silly. You might as well tattoo NCLB on your scalp and yell, Mandarins!

Judge Brandeis once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, looks like wendylynnelee illuminated enough of your shadow to create a change in your behavior. Keep rocking out new handles!

47. mrmars - July 30, 2010 at 03:40 pm

Luddites rule! There are so many absurdities in this article, I almost don't know where to start. Fortunately, the comments of many of my fellow luddites posted above debunk most of them in a very clear and convincing manner ( and without one PowerPoint presentation in the lot - go figure?). Teaching technology has it's uses, but it is no more the end-all than any of the other crap (sorry, but it is what it is) that the-method-is -everything crowd has tried to foist on the teaching profession over the years.

The general level of achievement in science and technology that we enjoy today - including computers, the internet, and "clickers" - was produced for the most part by people whose own training preceded it! Geez, how can that be?! So the contention that you need today's electronic technology to teach or learn is vacuous on the face of it.

There is certainly something to be said for keeping current (on many levels), and we owe it to ourselves and our students to sample and evaluate the teaching aids available, but most of us , I suspect, invest in new methodologies to the extent that we become convinced they are better than what went before (if its not broken, don't fix it?), so maybe the failure to jump on the bandwagon involves more than a reluctance to try new things. Based on my experience, technological teaching aids do offer benefits in some situations, but I haven't found an electronic device yet that will produce a general improvement in student motivation, attitudes or work ethic. When THAT becomes available please let me know, I'll take a pallet load even if I have to pay for it out of my own pocket!

48. wdaven47 - July 30, 2010 at 03:52 pm

It is the efficacious use of technology that may enhance teaching not the technology. There is no substantive data because there is no spread of performance in educaton these days. Everyone gets an A and if they don't and can't successfully renogiate the outcome, then the hire an attorney and sue. We no longer have any descrimination in performance in a class thanks to Mr. Rogers and all the bleeding hearts who feel society has to bend to the mellineal student who is supposed to be so bright and capable of multitasking. Technology has created a society of individuals who cannot focus, pay attention, retain information, or reason. They are mediocre in intellectual capacity, incapable of accepting responsibility, incapable of being accountable, cannot time manage or priortize, and are self-centered and narcissistic. They will never have the earning capacity of their parents and most cannot hold a job long enough to get experience to advance. If they can't be hired as the CEO, then they don't want the job.

Technology has its place but the technology is not the answer, it is the effective, appropriate, and judicious use of it that is the key.

Why create podcasts or videos that no one looks at or set up online conference that no one bothers to check in to. We are only trying to figure out more ways to dump more information faster into the brains of students; however, they have turned it off and if you cannot tweet the answer to the question or give them the exam questions in advance (with the correct answers indicated) you almost have riot an insurrection in today's classrooms from K-12 through professional school.

49. simonj55 - July 30, 2010 at 04:52 pm

"Sleep-inducing lectures"?

Problem is, higher education in this country has rapidly taken on many of the qualities of business corporations, with instructors being expected to serve a student clientele in whatever way that is convenient for that clientele. As an undergraduate student, I sometimes had trouble concentrating during lectures, but I never placed the blame on the quality of the lecture delivery. As many have pointed out, it is no part of the instructor's job to entertain (you do that with much younger students whose attention span is expectedly low) students or go out their way to simplify the subject matter; that is why the students are at university--to learn the hard stuff and to do so in various ways that do not always involve the instructor. Coming along as a student, I learnt a great deal from some "boring" professors.

50. duchess_of_malfi - July 30, 2010 at 05:08 pm

I wouldn't call myself a Luddite. I am, apparently, one of the few people who like Blackboard (although I would like to redesign it). I use a lot of video clips and online articles in classes.

What I am resistant to is being told I should do something new simply because it is new. Where's the respect: where's the evidence that the blog or whatever you want me to use is better--including educational effects such as comprehension, focus, and memory; physiological effects (e.g, of screen-reading); money; time (mine!); and other resource use (e.g., energy, paper)? Isn't one of the points of education to be able to evaluate claims on the basis of evidence? Give me something to evaluate.

So I am similar to a doctor who refuses to use new procedures? What if I am similar to someone who replace paper towels with hot-air hand-dryers in restrooms, or someone who didn't buy a generator and a stockpile of supplies for Y2K--or someone who thinks there's no need for a Rolex of classrooms when a Timex will do?

This push for technology, hell or high water, is one of the reasons for tuition cost increases. Does it increase teaching effectiveness enough to make the cost worthwhile? Show me.

Someone is making a lot of money on this ideology. Is anyone else reminded of the Barry Levinson movie "Tin Men"?

51. jniehaus - July 30, 2010 at 05:24 pm

I have experimented with almost all the teaching techniques you favor, and I have refined, corrected, and retried most of them, only to retain the 10% that actually work for me. It would be disheartening for you to attend one of my classes and pronounce me deficient as a teacher based on the number of devices I use.

If I were to put my biochemistry students in little circles and ask them to teach each other about, say, the Citric Acid Cycle, there is a 50-50 chance that they would UNLEARN SOMETHING THAT WAS RIGHT. I, on the other hand, can start leacturing on the simplest, easiest-to-memorize structure in the Cycle, and with appropriate pauses for student practice, questions, and input, derive the rest of the cycle from nothing more than logic and knowledge of organic chemistry, which is a prerequisite for my course.

52. dboyles - July 30, 2010 at 05:30 pm

Technology, "full of sound and fury and signifying nothing." I can drive home in my old jalopy just as well as in a Cadillac. Teaching/learning isn't rocket science and adding a bunch of bells and whistles serves only obfuscate and/or diminish the discpline it takes to read, listen, think, and write. University subject content builds on previous content, not on bells and whistles. Of course, where such previous content hasn't been taught and minds are vacuous, entertainment by technology comes to substitute for true engagement.

53. chewy18 - July 30, 2010 at 07:04 pm

Much of the new technologies, in particular clickers seem to be taking off on campus. They might work well for understanding basic concepts or in preparation for recognition/recall examinations where the test question is a line long and the answer a word or two in length. What about those of us who teach upper division courses where we struggle with students who have not, until they reach senior status, even been exposed to the analytical reasoning process. Suddenly they discover that life is, after all, not a multiple choice test and developing an argument that could go either way, is a requirement. How does that appeal to the clicker technology? Before you call me a dinosaur because I have not taken up the cause of some of the new technologies, think about the quality of education today and the students who are quickly bored and demand to be entertained without taking any responsibility for what they learn.

54. susannapriest - July 30, 2010 at 11:16 pm

The idea that using technology is equivalent to being up to date, yet alone on the cutting edge, of teaching is both insulting to those of us who try to achieve something more and counter-productive with respect to introducing meaningful reform. Group discussions, interactive classrooms, using visual as well as verbal communication, and respect for variations in learning styles are all vitally important dimensions of contemporary teaching, objectives which can be achieved with or without special technology. "Using technology" is not equivalent to any of these; sadly, it equates most readily to the reduction of teaching to the transfer of - marketable - facts (referred to in critical studies as the commodification of information). But it makes more money, the more courses can be delivered by distance "education." (And yes, it is possible to do distance with excellence, but the time commitment is greater, not less, than required by more traditional forms of "delivery.") Oh, and by the way, "data" is still a plural noun, in case anyone is actually paying attention!! I hope the chronicle will cease to patronize us by articles about "reform" that are oblivious to these issues.

55. bezrodniykosmopolit - July 30, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I remember the "audio visual revolution" of the 1960s. Campuses sprouted new buildings to house this new technology, which was seldom used. The current fad for "instructional technology" seems more of the same: inspired by corporate advertising, but without any real merit where it counts--helping students learn. Technology belongs in the classroom, but only where the technology is put into the hands of the students, not in the hands of the professor, who simply lectures with more bells and whistles. The technology that belongs is the classroom is not PowerPoint, but something like R, and I have yet to see anyone from any department of education, even Harvard's, clued in enough to understand that.

56. dannyboy547 - July 31, 2010 at 08:13 am

No student who actually wants to learn something from me is going to fall asleep during my lecture. He will have slept for eight hours and eaten a good breakfast; he will have consulted the syllabus, read and digested the relevant section of the textbook before class; he will have brought paper and pencil to record insights gained from my lecture; he will listen actively and struggle to make sense of the information I am presenting; he will ask questions during the lecture as necessary. Afterward the lecture, he will re-write his lecture notes, shaping them into a coherent unit in consultation with the textbook and, if necessary, with me in office hours; he will put a good faith effort into completing the homework assignment; he will learn from my feedback on his work. The only tools needed are his mind, my mind, and a common language to communicate with. It is irrelevant which technology you use, whether it is a clicker, a PowerPoint presentation, a blackboard, or a drawing in the sand.

57. jwr12 - July 31, 2010 at 08:56 am

A key issue I think rarely gets enough attention in this debate over 'technology' in the classroom is that of the fight for time. Universities are about learning. To learn, people must study hard. This takes time, and specialized effort. As a result, we need to be vigilant against distractions. I know that some will argue that 'technology' is time saving; or that it makes learning more efficient. But the instructional time it takes to use 'technology' is time not spent reading books, talking to other people, and engaging in creative activities. People who are in favor of 'technology' and / or want to sell it for commercial reasons need to confront this issue head on. Nagging a history professor to use video conferencing because that's a 'best practice' is asking that instructor to spend several precious days liaisoning with all the folks involved to make that happen. And while the gee-whiz factor may be high when it happens, will the students have learned more history? Or will they merely have had a chance to confirm their existing prejudices by talking to similarly unread people via TV? The best uses of technology -- those which offer students new opportunities to create, rather than those that are, in essence, alternate, often implicitly authoritarian content delivery devices (e.g. PowerPoint) -- seem to be given the short shrift in this article -- all under the heading College 2.0, ironically (given the fact that Web 2.0 is supposedly less about the technology and more about the sociability it allows).

58. derekbruff - July 31, 2010 at 10:43 am

@tee_bee (#18 above) says, "What matters is that students learn--and a skilled teacher with a blackboard is still going to do a far better job than a bozo with some clickers and powerpoint slides."

True, a skilled teacher is going to do a better job than a bozo any day, regardless of technology. But comparing a skilled teacher to a bozo isn't really important here. Might technology help a skilled teacher be even more effective? Yes, that happens often. And might technology help a less skilled teacher (who's still trying to be effective) become more effective? Yes, that happens, too.

59. derekbruff - July 31, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I had too many thoughts about this article and its comments to leave them all here. Instead, I've blogged them. Those of you skeptical of clickers' potential to enhance teaching are encouraged to read my post.

60. betterschools - July 31, 2010 at 03:41 pm

A larger issue here, a bit beyond the 'clicking' construct, is the question as to whether it is reasonable to expect that teaching, learning, and evaluation sciences have progressed and will continue to progress such that it is incumbent upon responsible college level teaching professionals to keep abreast of new findings, incorporating them as appropriate into their teaching methods. There can be no doubt that these sciences have produced valuable new findings over the decades. Yet it also seems true that most of us tend to teach the same way we were taught, and our teachers did the same. We make minor changes, of course, but there have been no dramatic discontinuities commensurate with breakthrough implications of findings in brain, cognitive, and measurement sciences. Anyone can troll the halls today and see a majority of classrooms wherein the century old sit/read/lecture/test model is at work.

Yet, I think it is a mistake to believe that the posts here are representative of the professoriate. While many, perhaps most, of those who teach employ old-fashioned teaching and evaluation methods, my experiences suggest that most professors are open to learning new ways. They are not dogmatically against change as are a few who post here. ("Pedagogy? . . . We don' got to have no stinkin' pedagogy!") If this is true, the solution may lie in our approach to graduate education where teaching is a likely career. Could we not incorporate coursework in teaching and learning? Such education need not be prescriptive. I think it would be sufficient to ensure that those who plan to teach at a college level have graduate level understanding of learning and evaluation sciences. Those who do can see that the most stridently negative posts here come from those who lack such understanding.

61. duchess_of_malfi - July 31, 2010 at 04:48 pm

#60: Most of the studies on clickers are case studies and suggestions for use. A smaller number measure effectiveness. Of those, one found that exam scores increased 4 points and another found that exam scores increased 3 points with clickers.

How much does it cost to outfit a classroom with clickers to raise test scores 4 points?

Both you and #61 are missing a key point: many of us have said that we DO use new teaching technologies (I use several of them). But
1) we don't want to be forced to use things we have tried and that don't work or are not worth the time,
2) we want evidence that things work, not mere sales pitches, and
3) we want a sensible evaluation of costs vs. benefits--and alternatives at lower cost. (For example, writing things down just after reading or hearing about them is a very effective way to increase ability to remember them, cognitive research indicates. It's cheap, it's easy. Do students do it? Sometimes. What if they all did it, how many test points would their scores increase on average?)

62. betterschools - July 31, 2010 at 05:35 pm

So far as I can tell, nothing I believe or suggested is in conflict with #62. Her approach, as is mine, is evidence based, incremental, experimental, and focused on ROI. I don't have much to say about the empirics of clicking per se, I think it is a transitional issue. As I implied above, the role of the evaluation sciences in improving learning is inadequately addressed, here and at large. Many of the evaluation methods commonly employed are invalid to varying degrees and create substantial opportunity costs in that better evaluation methods would contribute to learning, retention, and generalization. I'm not addressing a metaphysical sense of invalidity (e.g., "One cannot adequately capture phenomenon x; it is too ephemeral"). Many of testing methods commonly used are invalid in the sense that the test/retest and inter-rater reliabilities are in the basement, discrimination indices are negative, IRT difficulty indices (when they can be calculated) are all over the place in inappropriate ways, etc. Those who understand what these measurements mean, understand that there is no rational counterargument for using them anyway that subsumes the ostensive purpose of the test. Given that many of us who create these invalid and pedagogically weak instruments also tend to engage in infrequent, high-stakes testing (if measurement science taught us one thing it was to move away from the mid-term/final model), it follows that we are using a faulty yardstick by which to measure the impact of the methods we are discussing here. Again, it seems to me that a little graduate education in pedagogy and measurement, overlaying the content discipline, would contribute to incrementally better teaching for all of us. I suppose one might argue that we don't have time and/or money to add these courses but that argument breaks down, I think, when you examine the long term contributions to students, the profession, etc.

63. walrus - July 31, 2010 at 05:42 pm

As duchess_of_malfi points out, derekbruff is only confirming what those of us who object to the article are saying. At various points Dede and Young claim that they're not just talking about technology, but other forms of innovation as well. But this is belied by Dede's admission at the end that for him innovation and technology are virtually indistinguishable, and the approving mention of the class that wants to bring 100% of the non-techies on board.

Then one need look no further than betterschools's (aka Robert W. Tucker) comment which reads like a Christian fundamentalist's claim that everyone who reads the Bible properly comes to the same conclusions he does. The proof? He's witnessed people be converted. Those that haven't been converted either didn't actually read the Bible or read it improperly. Hence, he can dismiss their criticisms as only so much inexperience and incomprehension rather than a true critique of the position he clearly holds as true with a capital "T." Now he suggests that all graduate programs include a course that will ensure that all graduates have a graduate level understanding of learning and evaluation sciences. Such programs need not be prescriptive, you understand, so long as they make all graduates see the light.

64. betterschools - July 31, 2010 at 06:06 pm

So . . . 'walrus' at the risk of incurring more of your nastiness in an otherwise civil discussion, what are you suggesting with respect to knowledge of learning and measurement sciences one who teaches college might hold? Required? Optional? Irrelevant?

I'm not sure what you teach but "seeing the light" in, say, measurement science, is no more prescriptive than "seeing the light" when one is required to learn the historical perspectives, current canons of reasoning, evidential base, generalizations, and forward looking thinking in any discipline, including yours. Are you suggesting that students should not have to learn anything about the discipline you teach because it would be prescriptive in the sense that they would be required to see the light? You give too much away about yourself when you suggest that those who understand learning or measurement science are of a unitary view of anything. Its not true in those sciences and neither is it true in any science. Since you thought it meaningful to mention my name in this intellectual discussion, please tell us your name.

So, how do you feel about the benefits or lack thereof of those who teach and evaluate being required to know something about learning and measurement sciences such that they might pass a test in those subjects were they the subjects you teach and you were the teacher?

65. walrus - July 31, 2010 at 06:43 pm

I've included your name because you included it in your earlier post at #38. You chose to include your own name. I just retained that information and applied it in a later context.

You haven't been engaging in a civil discussion. That's my point. You've been talking above all the objections that have been lodged here and suggested that those who disagree with you do so out of ignorance. Such as the final sentence in #62 where you wrote, "Those who do can see that the most stridently negative posts here come from those who lack such understanding," meaning a graduate level understanding of your field of expertise that you now propose to make a requirement for all. As duchess has pointed out, almost all of the commentators, even the more hostile ones, have been posted by those who have tried these innovations and technology and found much of it wanting, but also much of it useful.

To answer your first question, as should be clear by now I'm skeptical of the fundamental assumptions of the question you want me to answer. It presumes that I accept the idea that one should be able to quantify learning, and we've had this discussion before on other threads. I understand why there is that pressure to prove up my teaching effectiveness to others, but I feel it privileges a conception of education that I find as demoralizing and depressing as it is limited and even counter-productive. It has been a pleasure to see that there are others out there who express a similar frustration with the attitude of Dede and yourself (you say you've been saying what he's been saying since 1991), and you're right that I should focus on that.

66. walrus - July 31, 2010 at 06:47 pm

betterschools: I meant your response at #61.

67. derekbruff - July 31, 2010 at 07:29 pm

@walrus: You write, "As duchess_of_malfi points out, derekbruff is only confirming what those of us who object to the article are saying." I'm not sure I follow you here. You seem to object to the assertion (not explicit, but perhaps implicit, in Dede's comments in the article) that professors who don't embrace new educational technologies are somehow shirking their duties as teachers. Which of my comments (here or on my blog) lead you to say that?

My motivation in responding was that there were several comments above that dismissed classroom response systems based on what were (to me, at least) incomplete understandings of the pedagogies frequently employed with clickers. For instance, comment #53 indicated that clickers are likely only useful for basic conceptual understanding and factual recall questions. So I pointed out several examples on my blog of instructors who were using clickers for more than that, for fostering critical thinking.

I don't believe I asserted that instructors who don't embrace technology (clickers or otherwise) aren't innovating. I did assert that one should investigate technologies (like clickers) before determining they don't offer value.

That's why duchess_of_malfi's comments (#62 above) about cost vs. benefit are right on target. Those are indeed questions that should be asked about new technologies. I didn't address the cost issue in my comments because I was addressing misconceptions about the benefits of clickers (including misconceptions about lack of research on those benefits), but that doesn't mean I don't take the cost question seriously.

Regarding the cost of clickers, if a campus standardizes on a single brand of clickers, you're looking at between $25 and $60 per student for hardware cost above and beyond what's already in place (classroom projectors, instructor computers), assuming the vendor supplies free receivers (which is often, but not always the case). That's $25 to $60 over four years (or more) of college across multiple classes, assuming that students take more than one class that uses clickers. That's a quarter to half the price of a single textbook.

I mention these numbers not to say that the cost / benefit analysis must come down on the side of using clickers. Instead, I mention them to give some ballpark best-case figures so that readers can make their own cost / benefit comparisons.

68. walrus - July 31, 2010 at 08:09 pm

@derekbruff: My apologies. The system kept rejecting different versions of my post and finally took that one for some reason after I experimented with cutting various sentences.

I meant to say that your blog offers a much more reasonable attitude towards teachers and their prerogative to use technology in their classrooms than the article does. I was saying that your blog supports what we were saying because it made a more modest claim for technology and was more respectful of teachers who choose to stick with more traditional pedagogical approaches. You concede it's not for everyone, but the article is about hunting down those "holdouts" and getting 100% of them on board.

69. tulips_in_canada - July 31, 2010 at 11:31 pm

The argument is fairly nuanced, but there are enough inflammatory statements which lead me to suspect this article was written by a gadfly. This is fairly honourable - Shaw advocated this - but gadflies attract swatting.

Hence my swipe: by conflating classroom education with surgery or medical practice, the author sets up an (unjustified) analogy, with allows fairly breathless paean to change. Is it obvious laproscopy is where to seek motivation for teaching innovation? Or is a better comparison that to theater? One conveys both old and new ideas, one seeks to engage the audience- and then the notion of "hold-outs" morphs into the notion of different interpretation.

For what it's worth, I think it's important to be reflective about one's teaching, and to continually seek to improve. After starting out with technology-guns blazing, I've slowly, over the year, found I engage better with my students with very sparing use of teaching gadgetry. Instead, what it takes in my specific instance to help students better is that old-fashioned, terribly Luddite concept: lots of paper, a working pen, my undivided attention, and my time.

70. rear_view_mirror - August 01, 2010 at 02:59 am

There's a saying: "if you don't know how to do something, then you don't know how to do it with a computer." (Write a coherent essay, compose a melody) This article exemplifies the fixation on technology.
Sure technology opens new doors, but let's not get carried away with it. Why is it that there is still only one Leonardo daVinci?

71. betterschools - August 01, 2010 at 12:34 pm


Thanks for your response and clarifications. Looking back, I don;t believe I have followed a perfect rule in deciding when to include my name. the rule i try to follow is that I include my name if I am saying something specifically negative that might be taken as pointing to an individual. To me, it seems responsible to do so but I leave that judgment to each individual.

On issues of substance: I would tell you that one can advocate for improved, more valid measurement and not have a positivist or reductionist bone in his body. I don't think I ever used the word 'quantification' as I think it is being used here. Good measurement is faithful to the phenomena of interest. In the contexts of interest to us here, it is typically rich and complex. Understanding the contributions of good measurement to the teaching/learning equation can be transformative to those who, because their academic profession focuses elsewhere, hold a simplistic and inaccurate view of measurement based on their predominate exposure to multiple-choice choice, essay, and lab identification tests.

I can't think of a year in the last 20 that I haven't been treated to a protest from a sincere professor to the effect, "The measurement you talk about is fine for those guys in Accounting but no one can assess what I teach (fill in the blank as to topic)." When I ask in response how it is that they managed to assess whether and how well each individual student learned what they taught so that they might assign a grade, the real dialog begins as these individuals realize that something might be missing in their world view of measurement. This doesn't make them bad teachers; it does open new avenues to become better teachers.

Again, for me, this isn't about technology. It is about exploiting all that is appropriate from what we have learned in the applicable sciences to teach better. 'Better' means quite a few different things. As for the technology issue, part of teaching well is reaching your students. If they live in a world of clicks, it seems to me that we have some obligation to understand that world in relation to how we teach. I did not say we need to live in their world but we cannot teach well if we fail to accommodate it.

Finally, while you may not do this, the truth is that there are far too many among us who continue to teach from the 1906 pedagogical play-book and only that play-book. You probably know some of these people. Rationally, there is no justification for this behavior. In this sense, I agree with the authors that doing so is professionally irresponsible and negligent. Whatever the subject, there are better ways to teach that result in better learning. Do you disagree?

72. walrus - August 01, 2010 at 02:17 pm


It seems to me you're positing a straw-man argument here. Yes, there may be people who use only a 1906 play-book, but it may also be true that some of them are still more effective at reaching their students than their colleague teaching the same material using the most up-to-date technology. Your argument relies on two faulty assumptions: that a style of teaching has been around for a long time is necessarily inferior to a new style, and that those who employ those "outdated" styles must not be interested in reaching their students. I'm not saying that there aren't teachers who have no interest in their students, but I doubt they're the ones reading and responding to an article like this one.

My assumption is that most people who subscribe to the CHE, especially those intrigued by this particular article, are deeply interested in reaching their students. I know I am, and I'm convinced that everyone else who has commented also takes pride, both personal and professional, in being open to new ideas and trying new things to make their teaching more accessible. Many of us have tried innovative teaching strategies and technologies and found that many were overhyped. We're all old enough to remember expensive gadgets that gathered dust in a corner a short time after purchase.

Again, no one is saying that there is no use for technology or for measurement sciences; just that these things are not the end-all be-all you and Dede suggest, qualifying comments notwithstanding. The implication here is that a teacher must embrace technology and find a way to make it work in her classroom and steep herself in the learning sciences in order to prove that she cares about her students and her teaching. This is self-evidently and demonstrably false, and even a bit offensive.

Again, it's the contempt for teachers that is so infuriating, along with the sense that teaching is all about learning new techniquest to coax young men and women who will want to be doing something else no matter what we do. I can respect that about them. And this is where these arguments are demeaning to the very students they aim to serve because it says, in effect, that they are not responsible for learning how to discipline their intellectual energies. If they are not paying attention to a class discussion it's because the teacher has not made it interesting enough and not because a new lover, an upcoming party, pondering a work schedule and child care, or a sick loved one are inherently more engrossing.

And I won't even get started on the question of what happens when it's time for those students who have been the center of the teaching universe to become teachers themselves. What a demotion that would be.

73. oldcommprof - August 01, 2010 at 02:51 pm

I've seen far too many people fall so in love with their new shovel that they forget to dig the hole.

74. cellar - August 01, 2010 at 03:17 pm

Teaching is pretty much orthogonal to using technology, even if you teach high technology. Teaching is always about imparting knowledge, about helping form ideas, pictures, theories*, in another mind. Technology might help, or it might get in the way. Forcing technology on unwilling teachers is likely to do the latter. Finding, learning to use, or inventing new teaching gadgetry is nice, but not the core business of teaching. Thus it would be more productive to find, teach, nurture, and keep good teachers. But, you protest, that's a human endeavour, not a technological one. Exactly.

I always thought the soft sciences could stand some advancement.

* This is the scientific definition of "theory", not the other one.

75. betterschools - August 01, 2010 at 06:13 pm


Boy, we're having trouble on a few points but I think the issue so important, as do you, that it may be worth it.

"It seems to me you're positing a straw-man argument here. Yes, there may be people who use only a 1906 play-book, but it may also be true that some of them are still more effective at reaching their students than their colleague teaching the same material using the most up-to-date technology. "
AGREED - there seems little doubt that a skilled n-tools teacher may be more effective than an unskilled n+x-tools teacher.

"Your argument relies on two faulty assumptions: (1) that a style of teaching has been around for a long time is necessarily inferior to a new style . . ."
NON RESPONSE - (a) I'm not speaking of "styles." I am speaking of exploiting what we have learned about how the mind and brain work, incorporating this knowledge into our individual "styles" to be more effective as teachers, (b) I did not specify a "necessarily inferior" condition, all of my arguments rest on contingent assertions that are fundamentally empirical in nature.

"Your argument relies on two faulty assumptions: (2) that those who employ those "outdated" styles must not be interested in reaching their students."
CORRECT - If "outdated styles (considering my comment above) can be taken to mean "substantially less effective in terms of student learning per teacher inputs" then I am indeed stating that such teachers cannot fully underwrite an assertion that they are "interested" in reaching their students. Such cases represent empty rhetoric; being interested in reaching one's students is in the end, a behavioral process. I recall an attorney who always professed being rigorous in his dedication to his clients yet always came to meeting unprepared with respect to the latest decisions of relevance. Was he dedicated?

"I'm convinced that everyone else who has commented also takes pride, both personal and professional, in being open to new ideas and trying new things to make their teaching more accessible. "
UNSUPPORTED - Higher Education is the slowest among institutions to adopt new ideas. Take a look at a few of these reactive, backward looking comments.

"We're all old enough to remember expensive gadgets that gathered dust in a corner a short time after purchase."
YEP - But, again, how many ways do I need to say "adapt and adopt new scientific findings." Gadgets (a pejorative term as you use it) are irrelevant. Do you deny that the majority of teachers still use MC and Essay tests? Are you aware of the low validity of these tests (where validity translates into the very justification for using them)? Do you deny that the majority of professors still lecture rather than engaging students in authentic partially self-directed learning activities, a general approach (not a gadget, not a style, not a prescription) that has proven repeatedly to increase the rate, retention, and diffusion of learning?

A time honored trick for stalling is to imply that an idea is new and untested and that more study is needed. You see it all the time in Congress. As one example, the broad notion of authentic learning activities and integrated assessments is itself a relatively old approach whose roots trace at least to the mid-careers of individuals such as Piaget (please don't go off on a particular researcher; I know them all and their strengths and weaknesses). Yet, from my conversations with faculties across the nation, I would estimate that fewer than 1 in 20 has a passable understanding of authenticity such that they could (a) reject it on rational grounds or (b) design their courses to incorporate it. This is only an example of my point, not my point.

"The implication here is that a teacher must embrace technology and find a way to make it work in her classroom [and steep herself in the learning sciences] in order to prove that she cares about her students and her teaching. This is self-evidently and demonstrably false, and even a bit offensive. "
HUH? - I don't know where you get this with respect to technology. I haven't offered one such proposition other than to suggest that it is responsible to understand our students and that if they live in a tech world, we must incorporate that understanding in our approach to them.

With respect to understanding the learning sciences: Yes, absolutely! Notwithstanding the genius/savant teacher or some such super designation, it is hypocritical for the rest of us who teach to assert (a) that we care about our students, learning, etc. and (b) that we are ignorant of the learning sciences that would permit us to convey more useful knowledge and that we have no intention of learning these sciences.

Imagine how you would feel upon hearing another professional, in any other discipline, asserting that they cared deeply about their clients (patients, etc.) but had no intention of learning the latest ways of becoming more skilled in helping them.

"If they are not paying attention to a class discussion it's because the teacher has not made it interesting enough and not because a new lover, an upcoming party, pondering a work schedule and child care, or a sick loved one are inherently more engrossing. "
AGREE - At the end of the day, the responsibility is with the student. Our job ends with providing for the most robust learning environment commensurate with our profession in general and our skills as an individual (much as a physician's role ends with providing the best treatment options; if we don't comply, it is on our shoulders).

76. udippel - August 01, 2010 at 08:07 pm

The argument is wrong in the first place. Someone tells you that you're like a surgeon without upgrading his knowledge since medical school. The only logical and consequential first answer must be, to question that person's thinking ability: Because you, like any good surgeon, have upgraded your factual knowledge, and moreover contributed to exactly that upgrading process for the rest of the world. And that's our major task.
The surgeon is an advanced craftsman, and so his upgrade is actually using the most modern technology appropriately in his operating theater. His craft is a - my excuses - mechanical - activity that can be seriously helped by modern technology. A social scientist or historian is not a mechanical worker, and therefore should not be put into comparison with one.

Please, wake me up when an article is published that isn't faulty from the very first presumption.

77. walrus - August 01, 2010 at 08:40 pm


Yes, definitely worth it. Some quick (or not-so-quick) rebuttals:

You boil my claim down to: "skilled" n-tools teacher is better than "unskilled" x+n-tools teacher, which is a misrepresentation of my claim. Assuming "n" to be that quality of a teacher that permits him or her to relate to a student-- call it charisma, empathy, insight, love of topic, or what have you-- then applying it to both sides of the equation and adding "skilled or unskilled" unfairly stacks the logic in your favor. Who would argue that an unskilled teacher is better than a skilled one, even if the unskilled one is a total techie? I wouldn't insult your intelligence that way.

The equation I have in mind looks more like this: skilled n-tools teacher > skilled x-tools teacher, in which "x" represents a teacher obsessed with technology, learning outcomes, and the like, and treats the teacher/student relationship as a site for experimentation, manipulation, or what have you. In that case, the student merely produces data. That teacher may master various techniques to get even better "results" in terms of whatever it is she is trying to extract from her students, but that doesn't make her a better teacher than one who touches and inspires them. I'll bet that if you do a survey of graduates five, ten years from now and ask them which professors they learned the most from, there will less correlation between their answers and what the learning outcome measurements would suggest. That is, I bet many will say they learned the most from the very classes they scored lowest in in terms of learning outcomes (or would have if such a class made them a central feature). Worthwhile learning often takes years and shows up in places none of us could have predicted.

I know your response to that explanation is probably again to liken it to a type of faith, and I don't have a problem with that. The history of higher education leads directly to its roots in the medieval church. As I understand it, one of the traditional functions of the universities was to stand apart from and offer critical commentary on the larger society in which it operated, not adapt to every cultural whim. It was to provide guidance and constancy in a changing world.

You have implied that working out of the 1906 playbook is necessarily inferior to working out of the 2010 playbook, and on more than one occasion. With the exception of lecturing, you never make it clear exactly what these practices are (recitation? compulsory latin?), but lecturing is as good a place to start as any. Are you suggesting that lecturing is not a legitimate way to teach because you find that group work works better on average?

Many times people use the lecture format out of necessity, due to the size of the class, the amount of material that has to be covered in a set period of time, and, quite frankly, a teacher's personal style that makes them feel more comfortable and confident than they would using another format, which helps students feel more engaged. Using another technique may yield better results for those looking on paper for what was taught and what was learned, but that doesn't capture the whole experience. As an undergraduate I had classes with dynamic lecturers who kept me on the edge of my seat and I can still remember what their lectures were about (even when I did poorly on tests), and I've had classes that used a lot of group work and all I remember is feeling bored as I scored well on the tests those up-to-date teachers administered. Thus even though you can show that lecturing is "necessarily inferior" according to your empirical studies, that doesn't mean it is necessarily inferior in all cases. And if you admit that your assertions are merely contingent, then you're admitting that you don't have anything against this "outdated" practice in itself, but just the exclusive use of it by teachers who are what we both reject: uninterested in engaging their students. On that point, you're just preaching to the choir.

I do think teachers should be interested in finding ways to engage their students, but I want to give them much more room to decide what works and what doesn't than you do. That higher education has been slower to accept innovations than other institutions is to me a positive thing. I think there's still too much pressure on it to respond uncritically to every new demand generated by a culture I'd like it to offer some good, stiff resistance. This is what I think many of us are doing here, but then the critiques are dismissed as only so much stalling.

I think you may be right that sometimes some of us use the argument that something is "new and untested and more study is needed" to ward off a change that we feel threatens the very nature of the academic enterprise as we know it, but what is wrong with that? I bet there are a lot of people in other careers who eagerly embraced innovations in their jobs and who now wish they had urged more caution as they go into their second and third year drawing unemployment.

Which brings me to another objection: The assumption that what is learned about the brain and the mind in settings A, B, and C will apply to that same mind when that same set of students is sitting in my class with me and there's whatever group dynamic happening in that particular class. For example, Johnny Doe may ace my class as long as Jennifer Mankiller isn't in there, but she is in there and I can't get a coherent day's work out of tongue-tied Johnny no matter what I do.

As I've said, I don't think anyone that has read and responded to this article has said or even slightly implied that they have no intention to learn about the newest innovations in teaching or becoming more skilled in helping their students. In fact, I've only seen an eagerness to do just that. What you're saying is that you have or at least your field has all the answers and that unless and until we embrace learning science we're only fooling ourselves, engaging in rank hypocrisy, or worse. You can offer a service that can help, but I think it's unwise to suggest that those who don't take it are engaging in malpractice. Teaching is not at all like being a doctor; it is more an art. If someone has found what works for her and students line up to take her classes, I don't see the point of calling her a "holdout" because she lectures using a blackboard and knows nothing about the latest findings in how the brain and mind work.

You ask how I would feel if I learned that someone in another profession said he had no intention of learning the latest techniques in doing his job. That's a fair question. My answer is that it would depend on the profession and the professional. You're right, if it was a doctor I would probably seek someone else. Like the doctor who I bonded with but hadn't learned how to do laproscopic surgery. I asked to be referred to someone else. But what if I'm looking for a nice table. I'm definitely sticking with the artist who still carves by hand, if I can afford her. Or the matchmaker who still gets to know all of her clients versus Match.com or EHarmony. Or the cook who refuses to learn how to use the microwave. And the teacher who gets to know me instead of the one that disappears behind a wall of technique and technology, even if I kick ass in that class.

78. boiler - August 01, 2010 at 09:01 pm

Go to a home center sometime, and you'll see shelf after shelf full of innovative and useful-looking new technologies for building and woodworking. Five years from now, a lot of them will be gone. And the reason will usually be the same: clever and innovative as they seemed, they didn't turn out to be useful enough that people wanted to adopt them. That's true with teaching technologies, too. Just because something sounds useful or effective, or because it tests well in educational studies, doesn't mean that it will turn out to be a keeper in the real world.

The difference is that when a new power tool fails in the marketplace, the government doesn't sponsor commissions that complain about how backward and hidebound the carpentry establishment is. The manufacturers respect the intelligence of their customers, and they figure that the fault lies in the technology, not its users. I wish that the people quoted in this article had the same respect for professors. We're professional teachers, and we do our jobs every day over the course of decades. Like most professionals, if we find that a technology helps us do our jobs better, we'll use it. Look at the nearly universal embrace of Powerpoint -- how many people use slide projectors and chalkboards anymore? Or look at the use of things like Blackboard, or course websites, or email, or laptop computers. Those technologies have succeeded because we've found, as competent professionals, that they work for us.

I'm familiar with all the latest darlings of the tech set -- clickers, chat rooms, twitter feeds, and the rest. I don't use them because I don't find that they help me do my job better. That's a judgment that I'm competent to make, and I would like that competence to be respected.

79. interested_reader - August 02, 2010 at 07:33 am

The Chronicle should have included links to the reports it mentions, or - failing that- made a note of where the reports are available. That would help us determine whether the recommendations therein are as unnuanced as Chronicle articles on these topics tend to be.

80. csgirl - August 02, 2010 at 08:38 am

@derekbruff - I took a look at the CS papers, and I don't see what the clickers are adding to these courses, other than providing an opportunity for the authors to get a pub in SIGCSE. What they describe - asking the class to analyze a problem and propose and discuss possible solutions - is exactly what we do now. Maybe clickers help in a huge lecture settting. I am fortunate to teach CS in classes of 20 to 25 students. I can do what the authors of those papers are doing just as well by asking my students for responses and having them TALK rather than click. The novelty of seeing how your classmates voted, for the average CS student, is going to wear off in a week or two.

81. derekbruff - August 02, 2010 at 10:38 am

@csgirl: First, I'm glad to hear that you're having success in generating the kinds of student learning you're aiming for. Like I said in my blog, it may be that clickers wouldn't add much or any value over what you're already doing.

However, it's worth pointing out that the "peer instruction" method of using clickers doesn't involve having students click INSTEAD OF talk. No, it involves having students click AND talk. The clickers lay the groundwork for a more productive class discussion by giving every student the opportunity to respond independently to a question before hearing from their peers.

For example, with clickers, you can expect every student to respond to every question you ask, not just the minority of students who have a chance to contribute verbally to the class discussion. Sure, this effect is greater in larger classes, but even in small classes (20-25 students) there's only so much air time for students. Clickers provide a platform for more students to participate in class and (when used to track student responses) a level of accountability for that participation.

Complementing this, you allow students to respond anonymously to your questions during class. A lot of students are hesitant to speak out in front of their peers (in large classes and in small classes) for fear of being wrong. Clickers provide them with a way to participate without the risk of looking dumb in front of their peers. Again, the technology helps facilitate greater participation levels in class.

As for the display of results from a clicker question, surveys of students on clickers consistently cite this as one of the things students like about the technology. They like getting instant feedback on their own learning and they like finding out where they stand relative to their peers. This may not be the case for your students, but nationwide, the survey results on this point are consistent.

I'll add that the CS students I've known (as a CS undergrad myself and as a math instructor more recently) tend to appreciate a little peer-to-peer competition. Well-crafted clicker questions can tap into this in productive ways!

82. derekbruff - August 02, 2010 at 10:45 am

Hmm, a post about a controversial topic, lots and lots of comments on various sides of the issue in a public forum, links to other posts and resources about the topic, meaningful dialogue (for the most part)...

Perhaps we have some evidence here that having students blog could be a good thing?

83. saraid - August 02, 2010 at 01:39 pm

As something of a technologist myself, I find Mr. Dede's quoted remarks to be as off-ball as the so-called Luddite commentators. The rut of hailing novelty as proven solution has been done to death in the last few days already.

There are three possible consequences to technology. The first is the trivial case: nothing happens; no one cares; it's a flash in the pan. Someone ticks off the new stat, pats themselves on the back, and life goes on. The second is the mediocre case: amplification. Boring teachers get more boring; interesting teachers get more interesting; tedium gets more tedious; etc. The Internet demonstrates this vividly by taking the otherwise merely annoying and handing them a megaphone.

But the third is the invisible case: revolution. When I was a student, I imagined an infusion of technology into the classroom... hah. No. I had a wonderful professor who encouraged a constant engagement with the material starting with excellent conversations during classtime, blogs maintained by all the students cross-pollinating and responding to each other, and an effort actually publish our final essays with professional software. And I looked at that and I said, "You could take this to the next level."

I said, "What if students from previous classes could continue interacting with students in current classes?" That's a barely surmountable proposition without technology. But that's something that the technology of blogging could make easy. Is it a good idea? Maybe, maybe not: it's unproven and uncriticized.

But the point is that technology that merely amplifies isn't worth the investment unless that's all you need. If all you need to do is scale a teacher from 10 students to 100, then throwing in some slideshows and clickers and social media platforms might do well enough. But if you want to have a 10-student teacher become a better 10-student teacher, then you can't look at tools. You have to start looking at reasons.

84. davi2665 - August 02, 2010 at 02:29 pm

I am tired of hearing about how the use of high tech gimmicks is supposed to "engage" "learners." There is probably no more deadly technological approach than "death by powerpoint" in which someone drones on and on with incomprehensible and cluttered slides which are too small to read and too complex to understand. And clickers- come on, give me a break, how rinky dink can you get. This whole conversation reflects the expectation that faculty members are there to entertain the "learners" and make them feel as if they are back at home watching their latest video extravaganzas. From many years of lecturing, small group presentations, discussions, and a bucket full of teaching awards, it still is difficult to top a really energetic and organized lecturer developing diagrams and drawings (medical basic sciences) with fluorescent chalk under UV lights, while engaging students in a discussion about the big picture of how the system works in the real world. If the professor actually has something worthwhile to say, even the simplest technological approach will work. If the professor is an uninspired bore, then even the fanciest video/web/edutainment ploy will not work.

85. betterschools - August 02, 2010 at 05:09 pm

This article and the 84 Blogs to date might make good source material for a sociologist or OB psychologist studying resistance to change.

One wonders if some of those posting read the entire article or skimmed the first paragraph and decided they didn't like the direction of the article. Some of the distortions are either intentional or reflect the mind of an incompetent reader.

The same can be said about those who demand evidence as if there were not hundreds (if not thousands) of research studies on these topics. Assuming the rule of thumb that 5-10% of any research published today is meaningful and provisionally compelling, there might be 50 or so decent studies the conclusions and implications of which remain in effect.

Taking the slightly larger issue of online education as an example, I am aware of a few hundred "studies" on the topic. I'm certain there are more; these are the ones I have read. A few of these studies aren't worth the time it takes to read them. A few are exceptionally rich. Last year, the Department of Education reviewed extant research and determined that 46 (I believe) of the research studies comparing Online instruction to other methods were sound enough and met the data availability requirements to include in a meta-analysis (some excluded studies were sound but did not meet the stringent meta-analysis requirements). Of the many findings and insights offered in this study, the three key conclusions were:

1. Blended instruction (technologically mediated online and face-to-face) produces the greatest learning.
2. Online (100% technologically-mediated) instruction produces the second greatest learning.
3. Face-to-face instruction produces the least learning.

There is more to this research and meta-analyses such as the one that produced these generalizations enjoy specific strengths and limitations that should be understood. Then there are the 46 individual studies, each of which should be read as a minimum condition of claiming to hold expertise on this topic. Neither is this particular research the last word on the topic. Science generates generalizations as conjectures which, on balance, stand until refuted by better generalizations. Some refutations occur quickly and some span hundreds of years. Based on the multiplicity of scientifically generated conjectures on the table today with respect to this topic, it seems unlikely that future studies will show technologically-mediated instruction to be inferior or worthless. However, I'm equally certain that our ideas about best practices will continue to evolve. Also, recall that learners' change and therefore change the instructional environment. In the early days of fully online degrees (1980's), virtually all students were smart, early-technology adopters. At that time, we (those who had a scientific interest in the topic) quickly amassed evidence that online instruction was quite superior to face-to-face instruction . . . until inputs were controlled for at which time online still came out ahead but by a smaller margin. You learn and we are still learning.

My point is not to reach a specific conclusion with respect to clicking. My point is to say that anyone who claims or implies that there is no evidence pertaining to the impact of technology on learning is either devious or professionally incompetent.

Here are a few illustrative snippets from above. These folks are your professional ambassadors:

- He says "as if nothing has been learned about teaching," but never mentions what has been learned that would indicate that gizmos improve teaching.

- . . . professors who apply critical thinking in every aspect of their professional lives naturally distrust snake-oil hard-sells couched in inflammatory, pejorative language that lacks the kind of thoughtful, fine-grained analysis and solid, evidence-based information that we generally rely on in other decision-making and research contexts?

- The assumptions of this article are simply unsubstantiated by any research. Anecdotes are not evidence.

- Technology, "full of sound and fury and signifying nothing." I can drive home in my old jalopy just as well as in a Cadillac. Teaching/learning isn't rocket science and adding a bunch of bells and whistles serves only obfuscate and/or diminish the discpline it takes to read, listen, think, and write.

- . . . we want evidence that things work, not mere sales pitches, and

- Please, wake me up when an article is published that isn't faulty from the very first presumption.

- I am tired of hearing about how the use of high tech gimmicks is supposed to "engage" "learners."

- I'm familiar with all the latest darlings of the tech set -- clickers, chat rooms, twitter feeds, and the rest. I don't use them because I don't find that they help me do my job better.

86. betterschools - August 02, 2010 at 05:38 pm


As always, I benefit from your perspective and would like to see you represented on a panel evaluating the contributions of technology to instruction and learning. Much of your resistance is less negativism than concern for a good outcome. Much, but not all. You strike low when you suggest that my evidential foundation must be faith, especially after all I have said and the approach I laid out. My incoming perspective on this issue is that of a measurement scientist and methodologist, having worked many years as both. I have no dog in the education research or pedagogy race. I do have a bias in that I find higher education a mess, across the board, and nowhere more than public higher education. The sins of the for-profits are relatively narrowly constructed and easily remedied through better regulations and enforcement. The sins of the publics are ubiquitous and their culture precludes incremental change for the better. The posts you see here are testimony to that generalization.

87. biggerboxofcrayons - August 03, 2010 at 05:07 pm

Great article. A focus on "what do we want the student to do," instead of "how do we want them to get there," will often lead to a more innovative approach. "We use X, Y, & Z" leaves students out in the cold if they need Y at times, Z at other times, and once a while, some Q.
I am not delighted when people go for "tool first" approaches, as mentioned in the "5 ways to use a Wiki" example, but if you advocate for new teaching tools and approaches, you can meet a teacher halfway by pointing out that you have a common goal, and this is one strategy to achieve that goal together.
I also think that some new approaches fail because follow up, support, and time to fine tune are not built into some plans. "It doesn't work," should not be the last sentence of a discussion, but it could be the first sentence in a new one.

88. servnhim - August 14, 2010 at 03:33 pm

I agree and disagree with this article. Having working in IT for now 30+ years, I have seen how technology has enhanced and distracted education. In regards to faculty adopting new technology, there are many components that need to be considered. First, technology should serve as an "aid" to the education experience. I have experienced too many times where the technology failed to meet the demand, thus was less of an aid. A good example is Smartboards. Yes, they can do some wonderful things, but they are a royal pain in many ways. When was the last time a piece of chalk failed you?

Second;y, faculty are not just teaching their subject matter. They are on committees, boards, researching and writing, advising students and more. Technologists say that they need to keep up and use the latest and greatest in the class. Flat out, they do not have the time to learn all of the ground breaking technologies. This is where Higher Ed needs to re-evaluate the process with faculty. Honestly, my faculty say they would use the technology if they had the time.

Lastly, there is something to be said with "keeping it simple". The scores from private classical education blow the socks off of the hyper-technology schools. Some will argue this, but the countries that are producing the cyber warriors that threaten the US, teach with paper and pencil.

I sat at a Campus Technology session where a professor from the University of Hawaii demonstrated e-portfolio's. She was saying how students could show future employers their school work or that they could take it with them upon graduation. Point: I asked if there were any metrics on e-portfolio's in regards to landing a job? The answer was no. The e-portfolio is nothing more than a glorified web/blog page and does not have the metrics to support their use. Yes, it is investigation. Point: What could the students be doing that would be more worthwhile and profitable. Facebook is another story that can be viewed in the same regard.

In closing, I feel that technology can be useful when used in the correct context. We have an issue here in the USA....we are climbing lower and lower into the rankings and our graduates are not able to meet the challenge. MSDN Magazine had an article called "Over educated and under qualified". The article was written by a gentleman who said that his 30 year old computer science degree was more in demand than that of todays college graduate. In short, the college graduates could not perform. What does that say about our education?

I am a strong activist of technology in education, but before we can get adoption, I think that we need to look at the bigger problem. It is time we get American students back on track.

89. zefelius - August 15, 2010 at 05:03 am

Dear Betterschools,

I'm not sure if your post was a joke, but if it was serious there appears to be some inconsistency in the following:

"Based on the multiplicity of scientifically generated conjectures on the table today with respect to this topic, it seems unlikely that future studies will show technologically-mediated instruction to be inferior or worthless. However, I'm equally certain that our ideas about best practices will continue to evolve."

In the first sentence you propound that future studies won't likely change your opinion on how beneficial online instruction is, but in the second you also state that you are certain our ideas will evolve. It thus seems that in the attempt to be concomitantly "progressive" and "open-ended" while nevertheless "certain" and "confident" you have shown just how difficult it is to be both at the same time.

90. trendisnotdestiny - August 15, 2010 at 09:05 am

Lets not forget that all this belief in how teaching should be approached fits nicely into a profit model for Robert Tucker(see inter-ed website).

It is incumbent on him to divulge how he aims to profit before spewing all this hierarchical rhetoric about good, effective teaching since he hasn't been in a classroom in decades....

91. arrive2__net - August 16, 2010 at 04:22 pm

In a subsequent post at http://chronicle.com/article/College-20-Teachers-Without/123891/, the author of the article, Jeffrey R. Young says "In fact, reams of research have been produced, much of the results showing gains over those old-school methods. Some of the work is cited in a recent government report on the future of teaching, the "National Education Technology Plan 2010."

That post describes a professor who tried out technology in a class, then banned tech from the class and started using the blue books again. Clearly higher education is under pressure to change in response to new technology, so conflict is to be expected, however I think the issue for a given class and professor is what works better, for the prof, with these students, in this place and subject. I just saying that one universal idea of how much technology should be implemented in a classroom is not the answer, but rather there are a lot of specific detailed decisions as to what and whether to implement in in a particular setting. Its easy to do what is most comportable and easy for the professor, so I think a it is wise to be somewhat guarded against the comfortable way, and to stay astute and innovative.

Bernard Schuster

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