There is a generational divide in learning that has been the root of frustration for professor after professor. Have you ever heard a professor say “students these days have such short attention spans.” Or, “it constantly seems like my students are just staring at their laptop and not listening to me.” Yet, I have personally witnessed college-age students sit down and focus on playing one video game without moving for 15 hours in a row.
Students learn today with many of the root tenants of education still in place, with one big difference. The expectation of delivery of information has morphed. The cause of this is rooted with speculation, but the effect has a dramatic impact on education. To be an effective educator at any level you must have an altering of one of the following once every 5-10 minutes or so:
1) Type of information (switch topics)
2) Person delivering information (panel, student participation, or something else creative-see below)
3) Location of delivery of information (this can be as simple as educator moving around classroom-but also has great impact on online education)
This is what many experienced professors and instructors are not grasping very quickly, it is no longer effective to stand in front of a room (or online even) and talk for an hour. That is, unless you want to lose the attention of the learner after 5 minutes.
For example, I was teaching residentially in person and thought I would experiment a bit. I usually feel that the very sight of me coming to talk about tax is enough to put an insomniac to sleep in an instant, so I knew I had to mix it up a bit. I set up a debate…with myself. I pre-recorded youtube videos for select questions on the topic and had a student come up and be the moderator. I then sat in the debate chair with a screen next to me. The moderator would read the question and I would answer, and the devil’s advocate (I was dressed as a devil in the video) would reply to my answer right after I finished. The help of an IT-oriented person in the back helped immensely! As far as I could tell, no one fell asleep that day and it also accomplished all three of my goals stated above.
Teaching online is ripe with opportunities for optimal pedagogy, much of the time with greater opportunities for students to learn than in residential learning. The three points can be beautifully choreographed to make a special learning environment.