So many techno-centrists believe in their heart-of-hearts that the road to student- (or learner-centered) instruction is paved with high-tech devices. New technologies can transform traditional teaching. That is what they want to happen.
Yet, as Judi Harris has pointed out, the decided tilt of techno-centrists toward student-centered instruction–a tilt that she called “pedagogical dogmatism”– is a bias that confuses integrating technology into daily lessons with the reform of traditional teaching methods. That confusion between changing the dominant pedagogy from teacher- to learner-centered lessons and finding the most effective ways of integrating technology into the curriculum regardless of the pedagogy stymies clear thinking about using high-tech devices in classrooms.
“Clickers” in higher education and secondary schools is a case in point. Clickers, hand-held devices that register students’ answers to teacher questions, are merely tools, ones that can fit any form of instruction. In most classroom situations, however, clickers are used to engage students in the content of teacher-centered lessons.
Consider Northwestern Professor Bill White who teaches undergraduates “Organizational Behavior.” Each student has a hand-held device with numbers on it that looks like a TV remote to record their presence in class and then answer multiple-choice questions that White asks frequently during his 90-minute class. There is also a numbered button for students to press when they are lost or confused. Reactions from students to these instant voting devices vary, of course, but those responding to a journalist’s questions were positive. As one said: “I actually kind of like it. [Having clickers to register your opinion] make[s] you read. It makes you pay attention. It reinforces what you’re supposed to be doing as a student.”
The company that sells “clickers” (cost: $30 to $70 each) has shipped over a million this year, half to colleges and universities and half to schools.
I have seen “clickers” used in math classes at Las Montanas with interactive whiteboards. Like the undergraduates at Northwestern, students participated often and energetically in the lesson. Moreover, they responded with comments when they saw that others shared their opinions. Clearly, these devices were being used to engage students in traditionally taught lessons. Just as clearly, these devices were being integrated into the daily curriculum.
So what’s the problem? It is a matter of expectations. Most techno-centrists believe that more integration of innovative machines into daily lessons–from interactive white boards to laptops to clickers–will move teachers away from teacher-centered to learner-centered pedagogy. Wanting both integration of devices into lessons and the reform of teaching confuses, if not irritates, those teachers and professors who believe their integrating software and hardware into teacher-directed lessons (see above examples) is both worthwhile and effective.
Yet such examples of high-tech integration are often scorned by advocates who point out that they are not advancing student-centered pedagogy. The preference for student-centered learning infects professors of education and most high-tech promoters located in academe (hannafin PDF), foundations (e.g., MacArthur), business (e.g., CEO Forum on Education and Technology) and educational media (e.g., Edutopia). The dream that high-tech tools, in Judi Harris’s apt phrase, will be a “Trojan horse” that will end teacher-centered instruction perseveres in the face of mounting evidence that most innovative technologies from iPads to laptops to interactive white boards and, yes, to clickers–engage and motivate students in responding to traditional teaching practices.
The curse of a one best way of teaching–learning-centered or direct instruction or open classrooms or what-have-you–persists in the smartest of techno-centric minds even when the daily evidence from classroom teachers and others whose eyes are not blinkered by bias that students have varied interests, motivations, and aptitudes that require multiple ways of teaching. When that “pedagogical dogmatism” gets mixed in with “integrating technology with lessons” then sorting out the worth of “clickers,” interactive white boards, and laptops becomes especially tough to do. Getting rid of that inherent bias toward student-centered teaching remains at the core of assessing the degree to which enthusiastic and skilled teachers can integrate high-tech devices into daily lessons.
In my experience and research, most teachers have adapted their pedagogy by drawing from both teacher- and student-centered repertoires and crafted hybrids in lesson after lesson. Techno-centrists need to shed their blinders.