The battle for control of the learning process
The bulk of learning for adults is a self-directed, intentional,
searching, sense-making, organizing activity. Teaching for so many
of us consists of gaining and holding the attention of a room full
of students. In an odd way then, the classroom setting creates a
battlefield for who is in control of the learning process – teacher
pushing or student pulling? The use of online electronic devices
in the classroom by students challenges the prof’s attentional
dominion. As Paul Axelrod points out (“The laptop is not your
enemy,” January 2016), barring them from class is not a real option.
The cat is out of the bag; the genie is out of the bottle. If Siri can
give you a good answer in a nanosecond, then learning how and
when to turn to Siri is a legitimate option and skill. Wikipedia,
Facebook and Dungeons & Dragons are all available through
the one device. Control is gone. Networked computing is forcing
transformation of countless industries and education is no
different. OK, we lose the battle for classroom control, but so
what! More important is enabling the overall learning and
skills/knowledge acquisition experience. It’s paradigm shift
time! Learning is now more than ever a partnership where
we each play a role.
Mr. Lowy is co-author of Digital Capital. He teaches critical thinking and business strategy at York University’s Schulich Executive Education
Centre and at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business.
The strengths of academic librarianship
academic librarianship is a highly rewarding
career (“How to become an academic librarian,”
January 2016). This profession opens opportunities for contributing to the academic community
in a diversity of ways, be it instruction, reference,
collection development, cataloguing , technological and online innovation, research, editing,
publishing or administration – or, as is typically
the case, a combination of these.
One of the strengths of academic librarianship,
both in training and experience, is that it profes-
sionally equips an individual to deal comfortably
with faculty and researchers in a broad range of
disciplines and, more generally, with information
challenges in a multitude of contexts. As a result,
an increasing number of academic librarians are
moving seamlessly into other professional fields
inside and outside the academy, and others are
becoming self-employed consultants.
www.affaresunverstares.ca / anver 2016 / 39
À mon avis
In my opinion
The laptop is not your enemy
Paul Axelrod is professor
emeritus in the faculty of
education at York University and
co-editor of Making Policy in
Turbulent Times: Challenges and
Prospects for Higher Education
fter more than four decades as a university student, professor and administrator, I retired recently and moved into the
sage age where I can now offer unsolicited (and undoubtedly unappreciated)
advice to ex-colleagues on how to be better at
what they do. Today’s lesson is the use of tech-nologyin the lecture hall.Should laptops be
banned, as some exasperated academics are now
proposing? Uh, no.
This misguided idea comes from a noble, if
self-centred place. We professors have important
things to tell students and we want their attention. Trolling Facebook and its multiple online
cousins is an obvious distraction from the class
at hand. Notwithstanding students’ well-known
ability to multi-task, they are bound to miss
something critical when they allow their minds
to wander – away from us.
Or are they? Our fear of being ignored is less
a comment on the disruptive effect of electronic
gadgetry than on our failure to rethink the use
of the large lecture. Forreasons of efficiency and
cost, academics are slaves to this mostly anachronistic teaching model. We have huge classrooms that must be filled by hundreds of students
with nowhere else to go if they hope to encounter a live professor. And a single instructor is obviously the budget-friendly way to deliver a course.
We rationalize this approach intellectually
by treating students as adults and giving them
the right not to attend. We may even post our
lectures online, making it unnecessary for them
to do so. We encourage those in the lecture hall
to ask questions, but only a handful generally do.
And many universities no longer provide smaller
tutorial or seminar discussion groups to accompany the large lecture, which reinforces this one-dimensional teaching model.
Please don’t misunderstand. I think excellent
lecturing is valuable and admirable.Deeply
learned and charismatic presenters who can creatively engage students week in and week out
are heroic. But let’s be candid. They are a distinct
minority. Some lecturers are masters of content
and dreadful communicators. Others are better
at entertaining than enlightening students. In all
likelihood, most are middling orators and decent,
if ordinary, assimilators of knowledge in their
teaching fields. Effective classroom instruction
requires some degree of acting and when do
aspiring professors ever get that training? They
learn how to teach through trial and (probably
too much) error.
This was all known and tolerated in the pre-Internet age. There was one main way to teach
and learn. Professors defined and delivered both
essential and required knowledge. Students
soaked it up, raised the occasional question and
reiterated what they had learned on final exams.
At its best, this system provided strong ground-ing in a particular discipline. At its worst, it was
a dull, pedestrian endurance test for both professor and student.
But this single-minded teaching strategy,
which is still employed, surely won’t do any lon-
ger – and students know it. They will go through
the motions of meeting the instructor’s require-
ments, but learning opportunities are being
missed if available teaching tools are not used
Students require laptops to take notes, which
they can organize in ways that best suit them, so
banning them in the lecture hall is foolish and
unfair. Computers can be used to view original
texts or images, to which professors are alluding,
during the lecture itself. Tweeted questions can
be taken up immediately, or be the source of in-
class discussions during periodic – and necessary
– breaks in the lecture. The class may evolve into
a less linear but more dynamic and interesting
forum. Sheer gimmickry and noisy free-for-alls
should be avoided, so the professor needs to man-
age as well as instruct, but there are proven ways
of having the technology serve the teacher’s intel-
lectual goals rather than detract from them. The
challenge is to channel the tools to that purpose.
Treat the laptop as your friend not your enemy.
But doing so requires deeper learning about
the potential of these high-tech instruments than
most faculty, particularly veterans, have been pre-
pared to undertake. Too few take advantage of
teaching-support services that most institutions
now offer. The lecture hall is not going anywhere
in the near future. Nor are laptops, smartphones
and theiryet-to-be conceived offspring. Those of
you not yet retired should immerse yourself in
this new world of teaching and learning. If you
do so successfully, your students will be genu-
inely engaged and you will find those great big
classes more rewarding than burdensome.
Lecture concluded. Class dismissed.
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“ There are proven ways
to have technology serve
the teacher’s goals. The
challenge is to channel
the tools to that purpose.”
Anyone entering academic librarianship
should keep in mind that the qualification is
highly transportable and adaptable. In the 21st
century, academic librarianship is yours to take
in whatever direction motivates you.
John D. Blackwell
Mr. Blackwell is director of the research grants office at
St. Francis Xavier University.
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