Digital media and the future of teaching

Learning trends
The focus of contemporary learning is often on new media available to facilitate teaching. These media have broken down spatial distance and time, making global collaboration possible.

Research drives learning and is the key to funding for knowledge institutes, but what is the status of the quality of teaching in the traditional lecture room?

Student perspective

The course lecture is where the human element, teacher and student interaction, should happen in a compelling way. Lecturers have an impressive arsenal of materials at their disposal to convey knowledge, but many classes fail to inspire students.

From this student’s perspective, teachers often seem unfocused, and rush through their slides in a superficial way, sometimes running short of time. Of course, the students can access the slides online later. But this leads to attention shortfall and implicit procrastination. Students have the added distraction of their own laptops and smart phones in class.

Unfortunately, digital media appear to perversely undermine the vibrant knowledge arena they should be supporting. The lecture room often becomes a student transit area instead of a destination.

Lecturer perspective

Dr. Marco Zúñiga, assistant professor of Computer Science at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, explains that research staff who also teach are under great pressure to contribute to research first.

Even so, professors at TU Delft complete a mandatory Basic Teaching Qualification (BTQ) and English language proficiency course. The BTQ consists of four twenty-hour courses within their already crowded timetable.

Admittedly, slides have the convenience of ease of reuse but can lead to routine delivery, and skipping over the subject matter better served by a slower pace. For complex material using the blackboard to write out proofs and equations does slow things down but it makes the material easier to follow.

To teach and prepare unfamiliar subject matter, he updates his knowledge using quality online material. He says “MOOCs (massive open online courses) enable global access to the best teachers and I use them in my own courses in a win-win situation for teacher and student”.

The future

Will lecturers disappear, replaced by remote student participation in MOOCs with even more media dependency?

Despite the current pitfalls of digital media, Zúñiga is optimistic about its potential application. Teachers will become facilitators with a coaching role, helping students to cross pollinate ideas and compose their own knowledge arsenal from online sources. A future teaching and learning arena with an optimal balance of human and technological elements appears to be the most desirable outcome. 

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