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Does the classroom hinder learning?

01 September 2015

A couple of weeks ago we posted a blog post about life-long learning and the growing availability of online learning resources. I stumbled on this Ted talk by Daphne Koller and while a lot of what she covered re-iterated some of the themes from that blog post, two items struck a cord:

This is a kind of simple question that I as an instructor might ask in class, but when I ask that kind of a question in class, 80 percent of the students are still scribbling the last thing I said, 15 percent are zoned out on Facebook, and then there's the smarty pants in the front row who blurts out the answer before anyone else has had a chance to think about it, and I as the instructor am terribly gratified that somebody actually knew the answer. And so the lecture moves on before, really, most of the students have even noticed that a question had been asked.

All of us here at Call for Participants have taken lectures from at least 2 different universities and what Daphne Koller said comes familiar. The classroom / lecture theatre learning experience lacks the personal touch and places each mind in a herd, making them vulnerable to any social hinderance. Whether a student is shy, didn't understand the material or would simply need more time to think before answering - the fact that a large number of different people are taught in the same room prevents the highest efficiency of learning. We feel that technology can not only bring the content to a wider population, but what is learnt about the use of technology at scale should be fed back into the classroom to enhance the experience there.

Secondly, what inspired me most about the talk was the possibility of collaboration. The problem with collaboration is that in order to be truly successful, it cannot be forced. Knowledge and ideas from several people does not equate to a successful collaboration. The secret ingredient is the personalities of those who you collaborate with. If you take a 100 students and give them a group assignment, the chances of finding the people who bring out the best in them are slim. Finding the person from around the globe is more difficult, but the likelihood of having somebody like that in the pool of people is much higher. Technology's role in this instance is to be a match-maker and find that person.

And lastly, building on the element of collaboration, people tend to be protective of their work. Sharing only comes easy for some. A very important element of collaboration is the ability to take criticism and discuss one's own work. It seems we are more likely to take criticism from like-minded people, highlighting further the role of technology in finding the right people for us to work with. Constructive criticism leads to improvements and soon turns peer review into collaboration.

Thus for me, the most important value of technology to learning is the facilitation of collaboration - what is it for you?

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