Today, technology is ubiquitous. It is in places we never imagined it would be, and is completely disrupting traditional notions of how things should be done. We need look no further than classrooms and lecture halls at K-12 schools and universities across the globe to see this shift taking place.
When I think back to my own experience as a student, I am reminded of the famous Norman Rockwell painting “Teacher’s Birthday,” with the teacher instructing from the front of the classroom to students sitting with their hands clasped at wooden desks in neatly-kept rows. There was no Internet connection to be found, never mind iPads or Chromebooks. A blackboard was a dusty chalkboard, not a web-based learning management system. Times have certainly changed!
Today, the practice of front-of-the-room, teacher-centered instruction has shifted to student-centered, student-driven learning – learning that is empowered by technology. A growing number of educators realize that students learn fundamental concepts more successfully and are better able to apply them through interactive, collaborative and student-centered learning. As a result, they are abandoning traditional conceptions of teaching in favor of new technology-enabled methods.
One such method, Technology-Enabled Active Learning (TEAL), was brought up by a participant in our in-depth survey of higher education CIOs. TEAL is a unique teaching format that merges lectures, simulations and hands-on desktop experiments to create a rich collaborative learning experience. The method was pioneered at my own alma mater, MIT, by John Belcher, when he came to the realization that current methods of teaching physics were not working – students were not engaged and failure rates were skyrocketing. Although the method is not brand-new, it has been well-tested and constantly-improved based on continuing feedback by students and instructors.
TEAL Has Delivered Results
By replacing traditional introductory lectures with small classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive and collaborative learning, TEAL has had tremendous results. Class attendance went up and failure rates dropped by more than 50 percent. The benefits of TEAL are not exclusive to MIT; in fact, educators as a whole have found increased productivity in TEAL environments. Students develop an ownership of the material, which also builds collaboration skills and self-confidence.
With TEAL, instructors deliver lectures interspersed with discussion questions, visualizations and group exercises. Instructors gauge students’ understanding during class by asking concept questions, which students answer through an electronic polling system. Instructors are not bound to a fixed location at the front of the lecture hall or classroom, but have the freedom to walk around, engage with students and assess their understanding face-to-face.
At many schools and universities, traditional conceptions of teaching and learning are being challenged, and for good reason. Of course with the onset of new technologies in the classroom aimed at engaging students, schools and higher education institutions need to ensure they have the right IT infrastructure in place to handle all the applications coming onto the network. With an uninterrupted wireless connection, the classroom experience is seamless; but bottlenecks in the network render this style of learning ineffective. This is where Extreme Networks can help.
As Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard whose work on interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning influenced the TEAL program at MIT stated, “Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV, likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it.”
Be Prepared For Challenges
Lest the idea of collaborative, interactive styles of teaching like TEAL seem too good to be true, the obstacles should be recognized so that they can be carefully monitored and corrected when they occur. For example, group dynamics can sometimes go bad, resulting in participants who become, “quite intimidated to ask a domineering student in my group for help, which renders the so-called ‘teamwork’ fairly inefficient.” Outdated, gimmicky or poorly-suited technology can also interfere with success.
Rolling out a major new program like TEAL may not always be easy, but done right it can have remarkable and demonstrable success. In the words of Professor Belcher, who also served as Principal Investigator on the Plasma Science Experiment on the Voyager Neptune/Interstellar Mission, “On a scale of one to ten, ten being the hardest, working on Voyager was a five. Implementing TEAL and reforming education was a 10.” But if Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, University of Colorado, Harvard University, and the University of Maryland are any indication, implementing TEAL is well worth the effort.
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