Thursday, January 26, 2006

Commentary: Sotir: KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid

Stuck in the office on a cold and snowy day, I started pondering why the U. S., which has all but single-handedly created the technological revolution, has faltered so badly in getting academia to take the lead in developing it for the classroom. Certainly, there are a lot of creative, innovative people doing amazing things in many classrooms across the country. But the MAJORITY of educators just don't get it. They moved from the blackboard to the overhead projector, but many have been hit with a wall of complacency when new technologies burst on the scene. These are good people, with good intentions of providing quality education for their students. But the thought of using any new technology is resisted.
I'll give an example. The tablet PC has been around for a while. So has email. Teaching writing is difficult, and many teachers hate having to drag all the papers home to grade. Students hate to wait for a week to get the corrections to their papers, and see where they can improve. Let's put a tablet pc in the hands of that instructor. Let's assume that she has an open mind. Now let's have the students write their draft writing assignments on their computers, and put them in a Word document. At any time, day or night, weekend or holiday, when finished, they can email that Word doc to their instructor. At any time, day or night, weekend or holiday, whenever the instructor sits down to grade papers, those papers are right there on her tablet PC. She switches to the tablet, and opens up one of her students' assignments. She picks up the pen and makes the corrections, and then emails the document back to the student. The student, with any kind of computer, can see the comments and make the corrections, finish the final draft of the assignment and email it off to the instructor. That can be the end of it, or the instructor can open up the assignments in the classroom, and use them (with a projector) to help instruct the students to improve their writing through example.
There are also programs that, in a wireless classroom where all the students and instructor have tablets, can let each student correct sentences or rewrite paragraphs. The instructor sees all the reponses on her tablet, and can choose a few of the examples, show them to the class and further improve their understanding of what constitutes a good writing assignment. Since this is on a website, students can download and print any of the examples for themselves. So much easier than using a blackboard, and so much more advanced than using an overhead projector. Now, someone just needs to find that open minded instructor and get her the tools, and instruction on how to use them. And she has to be an evangelist for change, and a mentor to others who still fear new technologies. As the saying goes, try it, you just may like it.