North Wind And Sun

When technology competes with teaching

Posted in College, learning by Ricardo Bilton on 23-August-2008

The interaction between technology and teaching tends to skew towards either academic augmentation or destructive interference. Academic augmentation typically occurs a professor and student jointly embrace technology and create a novel implementation of it, thereby improving the learning atmosphere. Destructive inference is far more one sided, rearing its head when the student/teacher engagement is absent and technology, usually in the form of a laptop computer takes its place.

An article in the New York Times underscores some of the nuances of this interaction. A number of American Universities have taken a step towards supersaturating the already-striking device-to-student ratio, gifting their first years with one of the more desirable products on the market – the Apple iPhone.

The portability of the iPhone, as well as its ability to be built upon, say these Universities, makes the iPhone the ideal device in the effort towards enhancing technological learning. Of course, that very same portability will inevitably inspire – as it already has with the iPhone’s spiritual precursor, the laptop computer – students to enhance their learning by bringing the device to class.

That ability carries with it a number of drawbacks. A dull lecture by a professor coupled with the presence of a laptop computer or iPhone will inevitably give way to temptation, and a few seconds of casual browsing or email checking adds up over the course of a class meeting or a semester. While lost in their computer screens, students miss classroom questions and announcements. Multitasking is problem enough outside of the classroom environment, and it is certain that professors face an uphill struggle in competing with computers in the classroom.

But as with most new technologies, the worth of the iPhone in the classroom lies in its ability to augment the learning experience. The iPhone’s potential as a learning device certainly there for a plethora of new teaching techniques and applications. Right now, it’s simply a question of whether those applications will actually be developed and whether professors will be able to keep up with them.

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Super Smash Brothers and experimental teaching

Posted in College by Ricardo Bilton on 21-August-2008

Oberlin College, it seems, at one point offered a course called Super Smash Brothers Melee Theory and Practice. Here the course description:

This course will teach students the basic, intermediate and advanced combat techniques in the video game Super Smash Brothers Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube. This course will also provide in depth lectures and discussions involving many controversial issues concerning video games in our society today such as censorship, stereotyped characters, addiction, and gaming as an evolving art form. Gamecubes, televisions and controllers will be provided by the instructors. Gamers and non-gamers are welcome and encouraged to take this course. Classes will meet for two and a half hours each week-one and a half hours during regularly scheduled discussion and class time, and one hour outside regular class time as a practicum to practice and refine skills.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, Ohio, offers the course as a part of its student-run Experimental College program, whose goal, according to its charter is ” to provide members of the Oberlin community with the opportunity to share in educational alternatives not available in the area.” In order words, ExCo, as it’s called, gives students the chance to teach courses that are are a bit too unconventional (or, say, absurd) for the traditional teaching curriculum.

It’s easy to scoff at the silliness of it all, but there is certainly some merit to the experimental teaching approach, especially when it gives students themselves the ability to teach something they are comfortable with. Teaching any skill, even something as seemingly-wasteful as video games is as much of a learning process as taking any kind of class.

Other notable past offerings include (but are surely not limited to) “The Simpsons: A Cultural and Philosophical Perspective, Calvin and Hobbes ExCo, and Love is Understanding: The Truth About the Monkees.”

A listing of the ExCo’s offerings up to Fall of 2007 can be found here.