Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below is an opinion piece on how great teaching and great learning can take place online under the right circumstances. It is by Michael Hunter Schwartz, interim provost and professor of law at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Copyright Michael Schwartz, 2020. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning
---------- 710 words ----------Good College Teaching Does Not Require Sharing Air with Students
The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to reconsider some of our assumptions about the world. Maybe it’s time we also reconsider our understanding of good teaching. I write from the perspective of having taught law for more than a quarter century and having both taken an online college class (about 20 years ago) and taught one (last spring).
Ask your friends to tell you about their best teachers. They likely will describe people who were passionate about their fields and student learning, knew their subjects cold, communicated great faith in students’ capabilities and insisted they live up to those expectations, were excellent explainers, and were caring, authentic, respectful, and well prepared for class. For the past 20 years, I have been publishing books and articles about effective teaching approaches; the qualities your friends would name are typical of the best teachers.
Poor in-person teaching happens every day at every university. Any student who has sat in a lecture hall while a professor read his PowerPoint slides aloud knows lectures can be mind-numbing. Any student who has witnessed a professor publicly belittle a student knows in-person questions are not always welcomed. And any student who has tracked a professor’s lecture, word-by-word, using 20-year-old photocopies of a prior student’s notes, knows that some professors may be phoning it in.
Poor online teaching also happens every day. It may involve little more than posted assignments and PowerPoint slideshows or, perhaps, an overly long video of the professor’s standard lecture.
But great teaching and deep learning also happen online. Most professors are devoting more time to their teaching now than ever before. Even though they may never have taught an online class, many already have branched out beyond Zoom or WebEx to use the array of digital tools to enhance student learning. They regularly meet one-on-one with their students remotely, and they keep their Zoom classrooms open after class ends so students can continue the conversations they have come to enjoy and that enrich them.
A fundamental misunderstanding of good teaching is lurking in the assumption that high-quality teaching is impossible in online classes. Some assume that teaching students is like filling water glasses: the job of teachers is to pour knowledge into their students’ heads by speaking it. However, anyone who has mastered a challenging subject knows that understanding a lecture is, at most, the start to the learning process. What matters are active learning experiences that cause students to practice recalling and applying what they heard. The most effective teachers, whether they are teaching in person or online, plan their class sessions so that students devote the bulk of their time to using what they are learning.
Likewise, some bemoan online professors’ inability to read their students’ faces to assess students’ understanding. Reading faces actually is one of the worst ways to assess student learning. Students may frown because they are confused by a lecture, smile when they feel good about what is happening in class, or nod their heads when they are learning. They also do all those things in response to text messages they receive on their cell phones. The best way to know whether students are learning is to do something to find out, such as asking students to write, in their own words, the three key points of the day. Similar assessments are easy in online classes because online systems can facilitate and automatically score daily quizzes.
Of course, there can be critical access problems in online learning, although University of the Pacific and many other universities responded quickly this semester by providing laptops and hot spots for students in need. I still see the in-person experience and overall campus culture as essential parts of students’ learning and growing, and it would be terrible if those opportunities were lost. But for emergencies such as the one COVID-19 created for higher education, online learning has been essential and, overall, of admirable high quality.
The bottom line is that neither in-person nor online teaching is inherently good or bad. Teachers matter. The online class I took 20 years ago was the most transformative class I have taken, and I use what I learned in that class every day. It doesn’t matter that I never met with the professor in person.
Michael Hunter Schwartz is interim provost of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, San Francisco and Sacramento and dean of Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law.
Michael Hunter Schwartz
Chosen Pronouns: He/Him/His
Interim Provost and Professor of Law
University of the Pacific
3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211
Phone: 209.946.2551 | Email: email@example.com