Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 9, 1995

The New Pedagogy--Part II: 
Is New Technology Teaching or Entertaining?
Taming Teaching Technologies

Mike Field
Staff Writer

     It was the revolution that was going to teach us how to
think anew. Instead, to many critics and teachers, it became the
rebellion against thinking at all.

     Television entered the mainstream of the public
consciousness during the 1950s, or, to frame it in terms of
university education, just slightly more than two generations
ago. Almost at once, professional educators--particularly at the
primary school level--proclaimed the technology a new and
powerful weapon in the arsenal of pedagogy. 

     In a number of experiments that brought TV, and,
occasionally, TV cameras, into the classroom in the 1960s and
'70s, researchers looked to find the appropriate means of
harnessing the new technology to improve teaching, enhance
education and raise the achievement levels of students engaged in
the learning process. The movement reached its apotheosis,
perhaps, in 1969 with the nationwide premiere of Sesame Street,
an enormously successful cultural phenomenon that was given the
educational seal of approval by virtually every governmental,
parental and professional education association involved in
teaching the young.

     Unfortunately, during this time and thereafter, educational
achievement levels as measured through a variety of standardized
tests--including, most notably, the SAT--continued to drop. Nor
was it simply standardized testing results that seemed to be in
decline. A growing number of faculty across the country
complained that the cognitive skills and overall levels of
academic achievement among students at the university level were
in a state of steady decline. 

     Remedial curricula, aimed at bringing students' basic skills
up to a level that would enable them to participate in
college-level learning, were introduced at many colleges and
universities, including some of the most academically selective
in the nation. Ostensibly designed to satisfy the needs of the
small segment of the student body economically disadvantaged (and
thus often at an educational disadvantage as well), the courses
were in fact needed by a much wider range of student, many of
whom came from typical middle-class backgrounds and, presumably,
from "good" schools. 

     The surprisingly widespread need for such courses and the
increasing lack of adequate preparation on the part of
substantial numbers of students alarmed many, both within and
outside of the education establishment. Soon, a nationwide
"crisis in education" was declared, culminating with the
publication, in the 1980s, of A Nation at Risk, a
government-sponsored report that warned Americans their education
system was failing them badly.

     As the problem in education unfolded, a small but
influential group of theorists and social critics began to point
their fingers at television--the very technology that was
supposed to "revolutionize" education and improve learning--as a
primary culprit in the decline of cognition. NYU professor of
communication arts and sciences Neil Postman summarized the
educational argument against television in the form of an
indictment in his 1984 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

     "Whereas a classroom is a place of social interaction,"
Professor Postman wrote, "the space in front of a television set
is a private preserve. Whereas in a classroom, one may ask a
teacher questions, one can ask nothing of a television screen.
Whereas school is centered on the development of language,
television demands attention to images .... Whereas in a
classroom, fun is never more than a means to an end, on TV it is
the end in itself."

     This idea--that recent generations of students have
experienced education as a passive activity in which they expect
to be entertained--was frequently cited among the Hopkins faculty
interviewed for this series. Said one professor in the Krieger
School of Arts and Sciences: "Education has to change because
students want to be entertained. They've gotten used to TV and,
consequently, presenting information in a coherent way is no
longer adequate; you need to provide additional motivation as

     Little wonder then, that after experiencing the previous
"revolution" in pedagogy represented by television, there are
many among the faculty who question whether the latest
technological innovations will in fact enhance educational
outcomes--or make much of any difference at all. 

     Yet many involved in using computers, CD-ROMs, the Internet
and other new technological tools are excited by the
possibilities they are experiencing in their classrooms; they
claim these new interactive technologies are effective precisely
because they are so different from TV. 

     "Television has always been a one-way medium, but a computer
is different," said Candice Dalrymple, associate dean for
external programs in the Whiting School of Engineering and chair
of the Committee on Electronic and Distance Education. "With the
computer, you have to learn to explore."

     If the lecture, the seminar and the other hallmarks of
traditional university pedagogy are to endure--and there is a
widespread consensus they will--it seems likely that forces both
within the academy and from the outside world will reshape these
methods to reflect the opportunities presented in a new
generation of interactive technologies. 

     One of the first educational impediments to fall to these
new approaches is the distance barrier, a development driven
forcefully home in recent months when Stanford University
announced plans to offer teleconferenced classes in Annapolis. 

     "It is clear that the demographics are changing and the
rules are changing," said Michael Karweit, research professor in
Chemical Engineering and director of the School of Engineering's
instructional television facility. "For an institution to survive
we will want to look at other dimensions of education; if we
don't they will bite us."

     Karweit helped design and install the Engineering School's
state-of-the-art ITV classrooms and teleconferencing facilities
in the early 1980s. With more than a decade's worth of experience
transmitting classes between the facilities at Homewood and the
Applied Physics Lab, he believes the usefulness of such
technologies will reside primarily in their ability to bridge
distances, rather than opening new methods of teaching and
learning. "There is so much hype associated with this, you aren't
likely to know what's really possible and what isn't unless you
are intimate with the technology," he said. "Does this capability
increase learning? I don't believe so. But it does serve a useful
purpose in giving our students an increased access to courses."

     The Engineering School's ITV classroom was recently
supplemented by a second facility on the Homewood campus, located
in the basement of the New Engineering Building. One of three
Bell Atlantic classrooms at the university (the other two are in
the Montgomery County Center and on the East Baltimore Campus)
and 270 such sites planned for development throughout the state,
the new electronic classroom allows instructors and students at
up to four sites to link together for fully interactive video,
audio, computer and fax communications. 

     Sherri Wood, a student in the Master of Science in
Information Telecommunications Systems for Business program at
the School of Continuing Studies, became one of the first
distance learning students to use the Homewood facility beginning
in September. 

     "In this particular case the advantage is it allows me to
overcome time and distance by enabling me to forgo the drive to
Montgomery County," said Wood, who agreed to act as a "test
student" for the course. After some initial bugs, the system
appears to be working smoothly, and both Wood and Virginia
Jenkins, the Continuing Studies adjunct professor who teaches the
course, are enthusiastic about using the classrooms.

     "The biggest challenge is to tear down the walls no matter
where the students are located and make them feel part of the
class," said Jenkins. "I try to speak to the person in the remote
classroom as often as anyone else to keep them involved, but
other than that I don't look at the TV monitors all that much.
You get used to it. As class goes on I see all of us getting more
comfortable with being on TV." 

     Both Wood and Jenkins term the electronic classroom an
"enhancement" that extends the range of the course and increases
the convenience of the students enrolled, rather than an
innovation in the way the subject matter is taught.

     Yet there are others who believe a genuine revolution is at
hand. "I think the way some of us are teaching is changing," said
professor of English and departmental chair Jerome Christensen,
who teamed up with Mind/Brain Institute biophysicist Harry
Goldberg to found the Center for Digital Media Research and
Development (The Gazette, 9/18/95). "We see a project-oriented
approach to education evolving in which students work more
independently and develop more fluid and versatile skills."

     This new approach is similar in some respects to the
research-based education, which was Hopkins' signal contribution
to the development of 19th-century American education. Both
emphasize student initiative and something of a peer-to-peer
relationship between instructor and pupil. Yet Christensen sees
some fundamental differences between the two stemming from the
realities of the research laboratory. 

     "Project-oriented education is not as hierarchial as
research," he said. "In the typical research setting, which is
usually only open to science majors, the student will have a
passing acquaintance with the head of the lab, a closer working
relation with a graduate student or postdoc, and a degree of
expertise in one small area of the overall research. In
project-oriented research students from the arts as well as the
sciences are involved in a more applications-oriented effort that
diminishes hierarchies and rewards innovation."

     These efforts range in scope from publishing an interactive,
subject-focused home page on the Internet to the creation of a
complete interactive CD-ROM. 

     "Learning has always been composed of some mix of seeing,
hearing and doing," said Joanne Riley, a humanities discipline
specialist at Homewood Academic Computing, whose task it is to
help faculty employ the new interactive computer technologies in
the classroom. "In the past, to a great degree, doing has not
been part of the standard collegiate education. The previous
model positioned teachers as funnels of knowledge that stood
between the student and the mass of information and delivered
select pieces, usually in the lecture format. In the future, the
teacher will facilitate more than instruct, and it will be the
students' responsibility to find and arrange valuable information
by using computers and other tools at their disposal."

     The possibility--or, for some, the reality--of a new
pedagogy developing out of new technologies has never seemed more
likely. Enthusiasts talk of a community of teachers and learners
linked electronically if not physically, intellectually engaged
in challenging the boundaries of current knowledge and

     "Ironically, we find ourselves returning to Jefferson's
notion of an 'academical village,' not linked physically around a
common library, but electronically around common interests and
ideas," said Lee Watkins, assistant director of Homewood Academic
Computing. "If you imagine the total absorption and real
challenge provided by electronic games you can begin to
appreciate the potential in these technologies. The test is
whether we can bring the same level of involvement to pedagogy as
to entertainment. Some of that is purely money. If we had the
same kinds of economic resources as the game makers just think of
the things that could be done!"

     What possibilities--and problems--can faculty expect from
the classroom of tomorrow?  "The New Pedagogy" concludes next

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