Pedagogy,  Software

Tools for Teaching

I’ve been attending the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo. On Thursday I attended a panel on “hybrid teaching,” that is, replacing a fair amount of classroom instruction with Internet based instruction. It’s not, frankly, a concept that I’m overly fond of; I think face-to-face live instruction is to be preferred, whenever possible. I also don’t think that “distant education” is always a good alternative.

This panel discussion, however, was great. All three of the teachers were extremely talented and experienced classroom teachers, with really super ideas about teaching literature, ideas which they’d found very clever ways to express using digital technology. But each of them apologized for what they saw as a lack of technical skills.

I don’t think there was any sort of failure on their part, at all. I think that the technology they were given to use failed them. Most of them used WebCT, or its slightly less wretched cousin, Blackboard. These are both complicated and poorly designed Learning Management Systems, and they require a fair amount of training, and a heck of a lot of clicking, to produce non-standared Web pages that are exceedingly rigid and don’t meet basic 508 standards for disabled users.

We need to do a much better job in terms of the technology we expect teachers and students to use. These teachers had super ideas, and coped superbly with the technology they had to use— but it should have been much easier and less labor intensive. It occurred to me, listening to them, that most of them could have done exactly what they wanted, with either ordinary HTML pages, or a Blogging system, like Blogger or Live Journal.

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