Teaching in one-minute “snippets”?

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...
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So, some days ago I posted a few tweets on a little negative gem, just published by Campus Technology. It’s an article titled “Teaching in one-minute snippets” to which I replied:  “Micro-lecture 2/2: Teaching in 1-minute snippets AIN’T NO TEACHING AT ALL”.

So, in the spirit of clarification, I am going to unmask here a few truths which were hidden in the aforementioned gem.

First, the illuminating breakthrough idea itself. It’s devastating:

Penrose said he came up with idea of truncated lectures delivered to students electronically two years ago. “I began looking closely at traditional, 45-minute lecture formats, and did some reverse engineering to see how much material could be cut out of them,” said Penrose. “In the end, it came down to a 60-second piece of information that identified specific topics, but without the explanations.” [my italics and boldface]

Wow! Are we assuming these guys are just cutting their way through professors’ lectures? Boiling them down to “60-second snippets”? Reducing them? Ain’t that a form (perhaps even self-inflicted) of censorship?

Now, if all this were designed with the intention of giving lectures less importance and perhaps opening up new strategies for enhanced dialogue between students and faculty, I might digest it a little bit easier. But the truth is the exact opposite. The message here is: students don’t have to listen to all that lecture crap. 60-second chunks will do. Remember those students who studied their literature on the summarized, abridged versions instead than on the originals? That idea has come back. The untold corollary to this is: Students do not have to study. They do not have to study books or whatever other formal media to “learn”. Listening (not even reading, for god’s sake!) to “knowledge bursts” will be enough for their courses. We’re not even talking about integrating new technology and pedagogy into the equation. We’re not talking about a learning strategy, a dialogue-based framework which may include (like I’m saying all the time) less lecture time and more doing time.

However, the real gem is that all this actually allows the college to produce little “chunks of knowledge” which don’t need being updated. It’s the perfect deal:

“Because everything that the professors say [in the snippets -my note] is essential to the student’s learning experience, the micro-lectures are never outdated,”

If this was a pedagogically sound and serious initiative, I would buy into it. However, if they were serious, wouldn’t they better give grants to faculty to produce deep materials, books, multimedia?

So the article concludes with another little gem:

What micro-lectures don’t do, said Penrose, is undermine in any way the value of good quality instruction. “Despite advances in educational technology, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on learner participation, and its effect on the success of any instructional content,” said Penrose. “With micro-lectures, instead of trying to cram an entire textbook into 16 weeks, professors can link the content they’re teaching more closely to specific learning objectives, thus creating a more focused learning experience.”

Meaning? “Instead of trying to cram an entire textbook into 16 weeks,” which I agree is a good thing to avoid, professors link what they say –not to books, journals, or formal authoritative content that would need be studied formally and discussed in class– to these “knowledge bursts”. So, we’re giving up all hope and saying to students: “Look. Listen up to these snippets… you don’t even have to read. You can listen to them through your iPod while driving… This is enough to learn.”

This is enough to learn. This is what you’re saying.

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About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
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