Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 2, 1995

The New Pedagogy--Part 1:  Teaching in the Brave New World

Mike Field
Staff Writer

     When assistant professor of nursing Susan Appling looks out
from the lectern in her Principles and Applications of Nursing
Technologies class, the brave new world of education looks back
at her. 

     In each class, she faces young students not far out of high
school seated beside older students with a previous degree and
often a former career or two already on their resumes. Men and
women, Hispanic, African American, Caucasian and Asian, they come
from many backgrounds with many different life experiences. Some
are former Peace Corps volunteers. Others have their master's
degrees, or even their doctorates. Many are parents, with young
children awaiting them at home.

     "I was a Hopkins nursing student within the diploma program
from 1970 to '73," said Appling of her own educational
background. "Back then, we were all fresh-scrubbed 18-year-olds
right out of high school without any real life experiences and
little we could offer in terms of our own practical knowledge.
Today's students are a vastly different lot."

     Although nursing education--once the near exclusive domain
of younger, mostly single women--has changed tremendously, its
transformation into an educational milieu of many people from
many backgrounds is hardly unique among university disciplines.
In fact, nursing may be the perfect model of the new reality on
the nation's campuses, where the "traditional" student--young,
white, studying full time, living in a dorm and filling the time
between youth and adulthood--has given way to a new mosaic of
many different students enrolled for many different reasons.

     Statistics show that only 43 percent of the nation's
undergraduates are under the age of 25 and attending a four-year
college on a full-time basis. According to the August 1994 issue
of Educom Review, students 18-22 years old, attending full time
and living in college housing account "for less than one-fourth
of all students in higher education today. Adult students, who
are primarily part-time and nonresidential, now make up
education's new majority."

     Those statistics are borne out at Hopkins as well, where
more than half of the student body is now composed of part-time

     As the demographic earthquake in student populations
continues to shake the foundations of higher education, many
observers have begun to question if this change--coupled with
startling advances in new technologies and sometimes radical
reappraisals of the curricula of many liberal arts disciplines--
will affect not only the composition of classrooms and the
selection of classics, but the very ways in which the art and
practice of teaching occur.

     Many of these new students, say educational specialists,
have come to school with different aspirations than their
predecessors of 20 or 30 years ago. Often, they are not looking
for life-building experiences for fulfillment, but
career-building opportunities for advancement. Their approach to
education and expectations of its rewards are distinctly
different, more frequently like a consumer purchasing a product
than a spirit in search of knowledge or a soul thirsting for
intellectual fulfillment. 

     Certain statistics--record enrollments in part-time business
management courses, for instance--would tend to bear this out.
Yet many programs, such as Hopkins' ground-breaking Master of
Liberal Arts degree, now in its 33rd year and copied widely at
other universities, suggest a more complex picture of the
educational aspirations of today's diverse student body.

     Real or not, the change is being noted in universities and
in academic circles across the country. "Are our faculty ready,"
asks the Educom article, "to respond to students who regard
themselves as equals of faculty and as purchasers of their

     Or, for that matter, are teachers ready to use electronic
reference rooms, on-line discussion groups and interactive
digital CD-ROM technology to expand and supplement more
conventional classroom methods? How has teaching changed, and how
much must it continue to change--if indeed it must--in order to
keep pace with the future? Is a new pedagogy in order? Or even

     "I think we--the universities--will have to invent a new
pedagogy," said provost Joseph Cooper, a champion of electronic
innovation at Hopkins. Among many other new measures, his office
has sponsored grants such as the Provost's Educational Technology
Awards (The Gazette, 6/26/95) and the SEDE program to support
innovations in electronically enhanced education (The Gazette,

     "These new technologies have opened an expanded set of
opportunities," he said. "No one knows the exact form this new
way of teaching will take, but I can't fathom continuing
indefinitely along the same old path when our ability to mobilize
and present information has dramatically expanded in terms of
volume, format and context. The challenge will be to use the
technology to customize education, not to routinize it; to
preserve the benefits of the old pedagogy of lectures and
seminars while enhancing its flexibility, power and reach."

     If a new pedagogy is in fact arising--and some faculty
members flatly reject this concept--it is likely to appear in
different guises within different academic disciplines. "We can
talk about using different approaches to teaching, but the fact
is, it's difficult if not impossible to use the Socratic method
to teach engineering," said associate professor of chemical
engineering Tim Barbari. Recently, Barbari was selected to
receive the W.M. Keck Foundation Award for Engineering Teaching
Excellence in recognition of his often innovative approach within
the classroom.

     Like many faculty, Barbari believes teaching must change,
not to keep up with new pedagogical technologies, but to keep up
with new realities in the classroom. Although the demographics of
the engineering undergraduate student body have remained more
constant than in some other schools, it is the students
themselves, said Barbari, who have changed. 

     "I think that our Hopkins students are as well prepared as
always," he said. "But the motivation level is different. These
students grew up with computers and related technologies, and as
a result, they are less interested in learning how to do things
by brute force when they know the same results can be achieved by
the push of a button. Unfortunately, understanding the physical
phenomena underlying a problem often only comes from brute

     Nor are engineering students the only ones affected by the
new realities of facts-at-your-fingertips through the miracles of
computer science. A single interactive CD-ROM that can slip
unobtrusively into a shirt pocket is capable of containing more
detailed information than most faculty can hope to impart in a
full semester of teaching. Names, dates, theories and events can
be recalled on a personal computer as easily as a quadratic
equation can be performed on a handheld calculator. 

     With push button recall and computation now commonplace
realities, some educational theorists claim it is not surprising-
-or even necessarily unhealthy--that today's students evince a
certain reluctance to spend time and effort in simple
memorization. They suggest these new, technology-based
information aids should reshape the way in which faculty teach.
Is it even necessary, they ask, to continue to transmit simple
factual information in person through that most venerated of
university traditions, the lecture?

     Others are quick to disagree. "The lecture was invented
around 1200 A.D.," said Robert Kargon, the Willis K. Shepard
Professor of the History of Science. "It remains the most
efficient means of transmitting a body of information from
instructor to student. I don't think you'll see it disappear."

     But that doesn't mean there aren't profound changes on the
horizon. Kargon is himself one of a handful of pedagogical
pioneers at Hopkins, charting new directions in teaching through
the development of a unique undergraduate course, The City, which
will employ computer resources such as electronic reserve
materials, online discussion groups and a World Wide Web home
page in a multidisciplinary team approach.

     "The purpose of using these new technologies is to enhance
what we now have, not only to substitute new methods," Kargon
said. "We will still be based in a class with a real teacher and
real students. Technology can fill the gaps, but the basics of
teaching remain the same."

     Yet there are some who see a new--and nearly unrecognizable-
-pedagogy evolving. "I think the analogy that fits best is recent
research that suggests electricity didn't appreciably increase
productivity when it first became available," said Lee Watkins,
assistant director of Homewood Academic Computing and a proponent
of the university's distance learning initiative. "If you have a
19th-century factory organized around a central steam plant you
will achieve 19th-century levels of productivity. It's not until
the buildings, the infrastructure and the approach are changed
that you begin to realize the benefits of new technology. I
believe education is no different."

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