Teaching Backwards

Photo by Patrick Haney

Something that Alan November said last summer has been resonating more with me recently.  I can’t remember the specific quote but he essentially said that school work should be done at home and homework should be done at school.  Technology allows us to rethink how we work with students by allowing us to remove the traditional constraints of time and location.

As a student, how many times have you come from a lecture and known that you missed taking down some important bit of information?  The speaker was saying so much that you couldn’t possibly get it all in your notes, or you got distracted at a key moment or, more likely, drifted off and later heard others talking about something you missed.  Likewise, have you ever got stuck trying to complete homework only because you realize you don’t quite understand what you thought you did and it’s three in the morning and there’s nobody to help?

The reality is that lectures, which can be an important part of the transfer of knowledge, are easily recorded and disseminated via digital means.  A teacher can record not only the words, but also the images, of almost any topic that they need to speak on and post these lectures on a web site for easy retrieval.  The student can listen to the lecture (or parts of the lecture) as many times as they want.  If they drift off because the teacher’s voice is about as exciting as Ben Stein’s, no sweat, they can go back and pick up where the snoring drowned out the teacher’s voice.

This allows the students to be more active in class and allows the valuable time and location dependant material to be dealt with when the student and teacher are together. The students and teachers then spend their valuable time together in class working on application of the knowledge.  Application makes knowledge relevant and helps it to stick.  When the teacher and other students are in the room to help each other, there is immediate help then when disaster strikes and the student gets stuck.  Less frustration.  Teachers can monitor the work as it’s being done and help understanding immediately. More opportunities for students to teach students.  More meaningful interaction between students and teacher.  Good all ’round.

Will every teacher do this?  Of course not.  It’s more effective to do a demonstration in science when it is live, rather than recorded (mind you, there might be an argument for filming those explosions coming out of the chemistry lab!)  There are certain courses that are all about application and an in class demonstration of a concept that can immediately be applied is perfect.  Sometimes concepts are complex enough that working through them together is a better approach.  But even then, wouldn’t a pre-screening of the topic the night before the class make the work in class more effective?

What are the down sides to pre-recorded lectures? It takes prep-time to do it.  Don’t teachers have enough on their plates?  Sure.  But there are multiple approaches and ways to think about this.  #1 Once you have the lectures done, it makes the following year much easier.  And class time then doesn’t need to be as teacher-centred.  #2 Who says that the teacher has to record all of the lectures?  What a great learning experience for the students to have to teach each other!

More and more teachers seem to be moving to this model.  You can see the evidence on elementary school, high school and university web sites.  Do you teach this way?  How do you make it work?  What are the positives and negatives for you?


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