In reading Michael Feldstein’s article on AntiSocial Deconstructivism, I found myself agreeing with some parts of some of the points he was intending to mock. I want to put forth a modified version — let’s call it ProSocial Deconstructivism.
Just creating a statement like the one below draws a subtle line in the sand that tars anyone who believes anything like this with the same brush as the edtech charlatans who claim to be a “robot tutor in the sky”. The problem is, I promote a modified version of the laughable statements below:
You might be suffering from antisocial deconstructivist toxicity if you find yourself believing any of the following:
- Short videos of lectures by Ivy League professors, coupled with little quizzes at the end, will almost always provide a better education than a class taught by a live, human, non-Ivy League professor.
- Short vendor-produced articles or animations, coupled with little quizzes at the end, will almost always provide a better education than a class taught by a live, human, non-Ivy League professor.
- We think of our product like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile.
Streamline the Way Students Consume Information
I don’t believe that short videos of Ivy League professors coupled with little quizzes at the end should even be considered a “course” — but I do recognize that many live, human teachers (Ivy League or not) compose their courses mainly of lectures and quizzes, and little else. I think that the way students consume information is less efficent than it could be — so much so that they waste valuable time they could be using for hands-on exploration.
Listening and regurgitating is not education, but it is the first step — access to the information. Before students can think critically about information and use it to perform meaningful tasks, they need to be introduced to the content, and that necessarily must happen via listening, reading, or viewing videos.
**The question becomes: are our current tools for accessing that content optimized for the task, or do they need to be augmented with technology? **
Not Teachers vs. Videos — Teachers AND Videos!
It’s a false binary to pit teachers against videos. The truth is that well-edited videos of teachers can communicate the same information in less time with greater impact.
I just sat through a teacher-led programming class in which the teacher had some technical problem that led him to silently futz with things on his computer for the better part of a half hour while the students looked on, learning nothing. This kind of “dead air” happens frequently in real-life classrooms. In this scenario, students are expected to be polite, wait for the teacher to get his act together, and sit patiently until something worth discussing actually happens in class.
The actual information the teacher shared during that hour-long session could have been condensed into a solid 15 minute demo, freeing students to begin their hands-on activity based on that lesson. They could re-watch the video if they get stuck, and/or ask any one of the human teachers in class to clarify, troubleshoot, etc. The focus of the lesson should be on students doing the activity and demonstrating mastery, not waiting around for the teacher to adequately communicate the instructions or examples.
Little Quizzes are Good Comprehension Checks and Study Guides
Even those little comprehension quizzes have their place. They shouldn’t determine a student’s grade, but they should be available as a self-check to make sure students retained key ideas, and can help them remediate if they need it.
Students vary in the way they are able to process information — some students retain information best by seeing visual organizers and images, others can hear something once and retain it, others need to see it demonstrated or do it themselves. Well produced videos and learning modules can be designed to stimulate more of these learning pathways, and to assess whether students have successfully understood and retained the information.
If a quiz reveals gaps in the student’s understanding, it can link them directly to specific reading passages or points in a video timeline so the student can review in a targeted, efficient manner. Again, we’re trying to minimize the time that the student is waiting for information or feedback from a human teacher, and freeing them to continue exploring the content as independently as possible.
Intelligent Quizzes Promote Review and Independent Study
The image below is from a self-study quiz I’m working on. It asks basic comprehension questions after students watch/read a video/reading (their choice how they want to consume the content), but if a student misses a question, it provides hyperlinks to the page where they can review.
Of course, the actual motivation comes in when students have the opportunity to retake the question to improve their score (a chance students seldom even get). However, good learning interactions like this one can make it easy for students to take the next step towards greater understanding.
Automating Learing Interactions Frees Teachers to Interact with Students
If he had recorded his lecture ahead of time, he would not have used all that class time making sure the demo worked. He could have been circulating through the class, sitting with each student, looking at their screens, talking with them about their thinking, answering questions, and even offering “stretch goals” or further challenges for advanced students.
If students had taken a brief comprehension quiz before class started, he could have seen that most of them didn’t get #3 right, and that maybe he should re-teach that concept.
None of that happened. Instead, we all sat, waiting to get access to the information he has stored in his head, for over an hour.
So yes, I am big on deconstructing the traditional classroom experience, but I still see a vital role for human instructors. I just think that the role of teachers needs to change radically from “teaching” (AKA delivering knowledge) to supporting students in teaching themselves. I think edtech products need to support this process rather than trying to replace or “disrupt” it.
And no, I do not think that “a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read my mind” is (a) a thing or (b) desirable in anyway.
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