Thursday, July 14, 2011

High Tech and High Touch

In the art of teaching, the challenge is to communicate information to the student in such a way that they receive, process, interiorize, apply and retain new knowledge.  To do that the teacher has available to them the seven senses of learning

- Vision, auditory, touch, olfaction (smell), taste, vestibular (movement) and proprioception (position of body in space). The last two are often lumped together under the term 'kinesthetic'.  I've talked about these and other aspects of learning theory in another blog entitled 'Paradigms for Powerful Pedagogy'. 

One of my professors in college advised us that the classroom of the future would need to be high-tech, and high-touch to effectively meet the needs of future generations of students. I've never forgotten those words because as the technology age has rolled on, the balance between those two dimensions of learning is often difficult to maintain as educators and parents and school-board members have sometimes looked at technology as the 'enemy' of teaching, or sometimes as the 'panacea' for all of the problems of teaching. Neither of course is correct.

I am a great proponent of technology in the classroom. I have been asked to speak at various venues around California on my use of it in the classroom to assist, assess, and extend learning. Technology has always been a prominent part of my teaching, and with the 'cloud' becoming ever more pervasive, I suspect that exciting advances for education are imminent.  I plan on discussing my thoughts on some of them in future blogs.  The second part of my professors equation however, the element of 'high touch', is one that doesn't get addressed very much in general discussions about teaching. There is a physical aspect of touch that is important to learning, especially in the younger grades, i.e. holding hands in games, high fives, etc.  I'm glad to see that there is research being done on it, and on the importance of physical activity to learning. It is interesting to see that touch (high fives, touching hands after each free-throw, etc, seems to be the characteristics of the most successful sports players and teams.)

By high-touch however, I understood my professor to mean that there is a personal and very human, one-on-one aspect to teaching that is highly important to each students success. That personal connection between a student and a teacher reinforces learning, rewards achievement, personalizes instruction, and inspires greater effort.  This personal instruction can't be replicated or received from a computer screen. When adults are asked what they remember most or best about their school-years, it is almost always a particular teacher that stands out as someone that they admired, and who inspired them to achieve more than they previously thought possible. In other words, it is the personal qualities of a teacher that make the learning memorable.

In the sweeping advancements in computer-assisted-learning that have come about in the last decade, it is all too easy to overlook or minimize this personal 'touch' that only a teacher can provide.  Maintaining that balance between 'high tech' and 'high touch' (personal contact with a teacher) however, is more important than ever for that learning to be maximized.  In looking at new approaches to education that are not tied to the industrial model or to antiquated mis-understandings of intelligence, many people, including myself have been looking at what new contexts and overall ways of working might be appropriate?  What approaches and strategies will effectively address the needs of students, and the requirements for a 21st century education system that includes the needs of the whole child? Being the arts activist that I now am,  I am also talking about a system that includes the arts as an integral part of that educational system.

Some of the models for learning that are being tried with varying degrees of  success are mastery learning, mixed-age classrooms, single-sex classrooms, online-learning, integrated instruction, home-schooling,  charter schools, and combinations of all of the above.  One of the most successful models that I have seen incorporates online learning with classroom learning, but radically changes the role of the teacher, and that of homework.  In this model, which I will be discussing in future blogs, students receive direct instruction in the subject matter at home, during what previously was reserved for 'homework'.  Then, the next day in the classrooms, the teacher helps students individually with their 'homework', or with the parts of the instruction that they did not understand or with problems they are having.  In other words, the role of the teacher changes from impersonal disseminator of information at the front of the class, to coach, helper, assistant, and resource.  Rather than being someone who is distant and aloof, the teacher becomes someone is who is sought out by the students because they are knowledgeable and available for personal (high-touch) guidance and suggestions.  Much like a medical doctor, the teacher diagnoses difficulties the student is having, and finds solutions that enable the child to develop his abilities.
Since 'mastery' of each subject is part of this learning model, grades are not a factor.  Students progress only after they have demonstrated a mastery of each level of understanding. The more help they need in understanding the material to progress, the more they rely on the teacher to personalize instruction in such a way that they can achieve it. 


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