29 October 2009

Earning it versus enforcing it

I wonder if students realize how deflating it is for their instructor when, in a class with 20 registered students, only three students show up on time for the start of the class after a couple of months.

Some would say that I haven’t earned the student’s attention, and that I haven’t put in enough effort to make the class so completely engaging that my students couldn’t imagine being any place else three days a week at 8:45 am besides my classroom.

Juggling chainsawsBut you know, I can only juggle chainsaws for so long.

Laura Bergalls, over at More Than PowerPoint, talked about the need to earn attention:

A modern audience uses modern tools. As a presenter, I need to learn to adapt my style to fit their needs. Why should the audience have to pacify my selfish needs for their attention? Why should I force my audience to stop using tools that let them learn and share information?

Indeed, Olivia Mitchell encourages presenters to embrace things like Twitter.

As a presenter, I agree. As an educator, I am torn over this.

On the one hand, I do try to make a talk something that is enjoyable rather than painful, and I do want to earn that attention.

On the other hand... What if I have evidence that laptop use in class hurts student performance? (There is.) That multitasking hurts learning? Should I just let them have their laptops running (and let everyone fight over the two or three seats in the room near a power outlet)?

I think doing nothing in that case is irresponsible of me as an educator. It makes me feel that I have given in to the wasteful “sink or swim” teaching technique, where absolutely everyone is on their own for everything at all times. As an educator, I don’t think it’s selfish of me to make a student aware of behaviours that are not productive to their learning. “I notice you haven’t been in class much” or reminding students to turn off their phones or even banning laptops are ways to try enforcing attention. I wonder if they are occasionally necessary to use in an educational setting, even as I try my damnedest to earn their attention.


Sarah F. said...

I suspect that the meeting time for your class is the primary source of your problem. I insist on teaching in the afternoon, and attendance is pretty well maintained throughout the semester.

Olivia Mitchell said...

Hi Zen

I think there is a big difference between conference presenting and teaching/training.

I advocate embracing the use of Twitter in conference presenting, because in that context it's not an option to tell people that they can't use their laptops or phones. So as presenters, we have to adapt.

This doesn't apply in teaching and training. In this context, we can make strong suggestions as to what works best for learning (and back up our advice with evidence). As I work with adults, I make suggestions and then leave it up to them whether they take my advice (but if they don't and so miss something important I don't rescue them).