Sometimes Innovative Teaching Is Beside the Point

I had great plans for my tutorial this semester. I was going to have them use the class wiki to put together images and passages from assigned texts, using Tom Clark’s post on one of Katherine Mansfield’s poems as a model. I was going to have my students use Prezi to make mind maps and then plan brief presentations using those mind maps as visual aids.

When I asked my students to post tentative bibliographies to a discussion forum, however, only half of them were able to complete the assignment—and most of them had to email me for help first. Some couldn’t find the right forum on the university’s online system. Others couldn’t figure out how to reply to a post once they found it.In the past, I might have stuck with my original plan but tried to add in more instruction about using unfamiliar technology. I would also have tried to explain to my students why I was asking them to do something they found so difficult: IT skills are important, after all.

This time, instead, I took a step back and reconsidered the needs of my students. Learning to use a variety of software may be important, but it is also important to meet students where they are. Disruption may be an important part of learning, but too much disruption leads to chaos and uncertainty. It takes students from good stress to distress. My new approach has arisen in large part because of my experience at Vitae‘s Leadership in Action course last autumn where one of my areas of focus was improving my awareness of others.

So I have scaled back my plans to use technology. Instead of requiring my students make their mind maps on Prezi, I have presented Prezi as one of several options (including making mind maps by hand). I also plan to create a few more assignments using the discussion forum so they can become comfortable with that particular technology.

Using a discussion forum as part of coursework may not seem innovative to me, but as it turns out, from the perspective of some students, it is. And in the end, that is the perspective that counts if I want to succeed as a teacher. I have to meet students where they are and not where I imagine they could be.

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