Teaching without Technology

Although I am a strong proponent of technology in the classroom, teaching can still be effective without technology. For over a hundred years or more teachers have used a blackboard and a piece of chalk. They work and they work well, except you get chalk dust all over your suit when teaching. In a small classroom the basic rules of teaching apply. Engage the students in question an answer, and have a discussion about the topic. Inform the students about facts they may or may not know by writing them on the blackboard. Small classroom means 20 students or less. This is unfortunately not reality. In most public schools K-12 there are 32 or more students in a class. In Colleges and Universities classes can range from 20 up to 50. In Colleges and Universities where lecture halls can cram 100, 200, 300, 400 or even 500 in a lecture hall the rules of basic teaching change because of the numbers of students in one room at one time.

I remember well when I went to College we had 400 students in the major block courses, Introduction to Psychology, Survey of World Civilizations, Anatomy and Physiology, and Biology. We took note while the Professor used an overhead transparency machine. That was the technology of the 1960’s. Our Anatomy Professor had the transparency in a roll and he used to write on the transparency and then roll if into the ceiling off the screen. I think he though this was a good teaching method. We certainly did not think it was a great idea. It made note taking almost impossible. We came up with a solution and the women came up with a separate solution. Our solution was to form into groups of 4 or 5 men who would take notes. Two were designated to take the first part of the notes and the rest wrote down the notes at the end of the transparency before it disappeared off the movie screen. The women were more fortunate. They sat around listening and knitting while one woman who knew short hand took all the notes and kept up with the Professor.

The point is basic teaching methods always prevail regardless of what technology you have for tools. The anatomy professor never  tried to engage the students in the lecture all of 400 students. He let the Graduate Assistants do that in the Anatomy Labs. His lectures were the “wham, bam, thank you Mam” approach with no regard for feedback or student engagement. Maybe he thought it would be impossible to ask questions with 400 students in attendance?

Another Professor whom I personally worked for as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Botany had a completely different approach where he engaged everyone in the Lecture hall. What he used was a 35mm slide projector with slides of the plants, ecology, and issues relating to plant life. When he put a slide on the screen he would pick someone out of the audience and ask them what the slide was about? This kept everyone on their toes. Later on he would give quizzes based on the slides he showed in the lectures. During the Quiz he would used a slide as a question and show the slide from previous lectures that month and ask what is this slide about? What are the issues or identify the plant in the slide. What are these cells in a plant?  If you did not attend the lectures you usually did poorly on the Quizzes. As a result the Professor had the highest attendance rate of any of the large lecture hall courses. You had to be there to answer the quiz questions. He engaged the students during the lectures and never got into rote memorizing of facts, rather he always asked solutions to problems or explanations beyond just what a slide was. His only form of technology was a 35mm slide projector.

Fast forward to 2011 where Powerpoint is the replacement for the 35mm slide projector. What has changes in pedagogy? Really nothing had change. The teaching basics are still there. If you don’t engage the students with thought provoking questions then they will never understand the subject. Engaging the students is always a basic teaching fundamental skill that never changes regardless of the technology tools being used.

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