If I Taught Today …

It’s only been four years since I taught a course in science, but I already feel that the research and lesson planning component of course preparation would be qualitatively different than it was then.

First off, I would have a much richer collection of web resources to use in the course. The Savvy Technologist considers the same question, reminding me that WikiBooks maintains a collection of freely-editable MediaWiki based textbooks. However, these have some way to go before they will serve as quality first sources for a student new to the subject. Currently, they read like summaries and are too text-heavy to assist first-pass instruction.

I would maintain a “flexible” syllabus and teaching resource in Moodle. It would serve as the starting point for student coursework and allow for rapid growth (or contraction) of learning units as they proved to be more or less rich than expected.

Research projects would require a heavy information literacy component. In the past, I could take basic research skills for granted. Now, as the nature of web research has changed dramatically, students need more overt instruction as to how to find, evaluate, and cite good information sources on the web.

Students would read different sorts of primary materials, including the blogs of students at slightly higher stages of proximal development. For example, undergraduate or graduate student writing could be appropriate for high school seniors. Some scientific journals might also produce work at an appropriate level.

Students would produce and share work much more than before. Old tools like ChemSense would become easier to use in today’s more computer-rich environment. Students would produce different kinds of written work on an ongoing basis: weekly journals, reading reflections, research papers — some shared with the entire class, others private with the teacher. I would avoid feature-rich technologies (such as PowerPoint) and stick to simple tools (like Moodle journal assignments).

Information would be placed in firmer contextual footing than before. For example, any scientist would be linked to a biography. Any place linked to Google Maps. All knowledge is constructed within social, temporal, and physical spaces, yet traditional instruction often omits the details of these spaces, making course content seem objective and immutable.

If I can make enough time to return to the non-tech classroom, I will probably have the opportunity sometime in the next few years. I’m not exactly sure when.

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