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Technology in Education Should Showcase the Teacher…not the Technology


We all know that schools in the US are struggling to cope with budget cuts, poor student performance, behavioral problems, and technology distractions that exist in the classroom (referring here to personal electronic devices). That is why I am so pleased to read recently about schools applying technology in a way that is emphasizing the teacher…not the technology.

One of the recent teaching techniques that is being played with…and appears to be having a good deal of success…is something called “flip” teaching (click here for the original article on flip teaching). While I often get frustrated with cutesy names for new (or not-so-new) ideas…in this case I’ll forgive them because of the good that may come from what is being played with.

The idea behind this “flip” teaching is to reverse (or flip) the traditional manner in which lecture and homework  are handled in a class. Traditionally, the students attend a classroom where a teacher delivers information, often in the form of a lecture, and then are sent home to work on homework problems and/or projects to give them hands-on experience with the material to be learned. In “flip” teaching, the lectures are delivered AT HOME via internet video or perhaps DVD, and then the homework and projects are worked on IN CLASS while the teacher is present to guide and assist.

Now HERE is a great application of technology…

Students find it convenient to work in the video/lecture when it suits them, using their home computer, their smart phones, or even their tablet computers (ipad, etc.). The experience in the classroom becomes a much more interactive affair, and there are piles and piles of educational research that speak to the value of educational methods that more fully engage the student.

My background is in technology as a computer scientist, but a significant part of my career has been spent in education related work. In the late 1980’s I partnered with a gifted vocational education teacher to create a company that delivered complete instructional programs (course content, instructors, physical facilities, technology) for people wishing to train for a technology job. I was responsible for all of the classroom technology and learned some valuable lessons…not the least of which was that regardless of the technology you employ in the classroom, the single most important asset in the educational environment is the teacher.

At that time, computer based instruction was in its infancy, and most computer professionals involved in the field were working on ways to replace the teacher in the classroom. Even back then, in the late 1980’s, *we* were working on creating “computer-assisted” instruction.

Starting from the premise that the teacher was the most important element in the classroom, our systems were designed to accomplish the same goal as flip classroom instruction: to deliver lecture material en masse to the students at their own pace in order to free up the instructor for personal and group interaction in the classroom. Elements in the delivery system included assessments of the student’s comprehension of the information being presented, and there were methods for the software to summon the classroom teacher if a student appeared to be struggling.  The information delivered to the students was packaged into modules that students engaged in at their own pace, and they had the ability to review and repeat any of the modules as they desired.

Of course, back in the late 1980’s, the Internet was not a viable delivery method of video, and in-room networks were prohibitively expensive to operate in every one of our classrooms. In addition, video production was out of the question due to the cost and lack of maturity in the computer delivery technology. However, we found ways to work around the problems with what technology we had, and we trained thousands of students in the few years that the company operated. Of all the projects I have worked on in my career, few have given me the personal satisfaction that was gained by the number of lives we touched during those three years.

So with that little trip down  memory lane, you have a better idea of why I am excited about flip teaching. It is my personal belief that ALL classroom technology should be aimed at assisting the teacher…not supplanting them…and that is precisely what this flip teaching concept is using technology to do.

I personally do not believe that you will EVER be able to replace the teacher in the classroom with any level of effectiveness, and I hope in the coming days we will see more and more techniques and technology focused on freeing up the teacher in the classroom to do more of what they do best…teach!

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