Skills for the 21st Century

Cognitive and Literacy Skills for Success in a Fast-Paced Technological Age

Archive for May, 2012

Rise of the Machine

Posted by wrmcnutt on May 23, 2012

The ultimate nightmare for Tenured Faculty may eventually arrive.  Perhaps, one day, robo-teachers will out-perform flesh and blood instructors.  But that day is not today.  Quite.

In the most recent issue of Inside Higher Ed (May 22, 2012), Steve Kolowich reported out on an experiment at six public universities that randomly assigned students to statistics courses that “relied heavily on ‘machine-guided learning’ software.”  Although the instructor was not eliminated entirely, the participants did get “reduced face time with instructors.”  While the article and the study behind it make for an interesting read, the bottom line is this: the students in the machine-guided learning environments did as well as the students in the control group, and they did it in less time.  “’Our results indicate that hybrid-format students took about one-quarter less time to achieve essentially the same learning outcomes as traditional-format students,’ report[ed] the Ithaka researchers.”

For a long time now, computer-assisted learning has been dismissed by traditional educators as a drill-and-practice tool, or at best a stopgap to be applied to learners unable to participate in traditional education models.  Until now conventional wisdom has been that traditional face-to-face training provides a superior learning experience.  This study, and others like it are showing that computer assisted learning is beginning to catch up with traditional teaching.

Do I think that the bell is tolling for tenured faculty?  Not yet.  But it is past time to take a good hard look at  systematically integrating technology into our instructional approaches.  It may be that the days of teaching off of those curling, yellowed notes are not only numbered, but the number is getting increasingly smaller.

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