The title will actually make sense by the time you finish reading this. Honest!
Earlier this week I attended the League for Innovation in the Community College’s annual Conference on Information Technology (CIT) in Nashville, Tennessee. I hosted a forum on making audio podcasts more interesting for students by using music, sound effects, exclusive content not found in the textbook, and the element of personality. It was at the end of the day in a room away from the main activities. I was pleasantly surprised when 20 people showed up and engaged in a spirited productive discussion. Many of them teach online and they were looking for ways to get students to “tune in.” I programmed two radio stations in my career, so this was a natural for me.
The buzz at this year’s conference was “engagement”. The recurring message was that today’s students don’t want to adapt their learning styles to the way we teach, so we must adapt to them. I often wonder how the nuns at St. Mary, Mother of Jesus School in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, NY would have reacted to that statement back in the mid-1960s. They probably would have smacked the presenter’s hands with a yardstick, just like they did to my classmates and me when we acted up!
I didn’t have that kind of reaction, but it did leave me wondering who is driving the bus. If students had their say, there wouldn’t be any exams, attendance policy, or grades. Just pay $XX,000 (or $XXX,000 at some universities) and get your degree. It’s true that the days of Professor Ian Cameron, a character in the Mary Worth comic strip, and his disciples are numbered, thankfully so. Those mismatched sport coats with elbow patches never looked quite right. Some of them still grip the lectern, pontificating and prattling on about this and that. They still use chalk exclusively and don’t use any electronic means of course management, not even posting the syllabus on Blackboard. That said, there still needs to be some one-way communication from instructor to student. They come to us to learn, not to decide what should be taught. We are supposed to be the content experts who keep tabs on our professions so we know which topics are important. I use a lot of dynamic two-way techniques, both technical and face-to-face, but make no mistake that I pick the topics based on my research and professional opinions.
The other potentially scary mantra was “games”. A lot of instructors are embracing the concept of teaching subjects under the guise of a game show like Jeopardy or Family Feud. There are software packages that can create modules with templates for plugging in the content. They claim the students love it because they have “fun”, which is one of the outcomes of playing the games. I saw some presentations on this topic, and I interpreted it as “dumbing down.” I thought this was a great way to teach at the elementary school level, but college? I could be wrong about this. Maybe it just doesn’t fit my style.
While in Nashville, I witnessed two social networks in action. One was the professional interaction at the conference, both in the presentation sessions and in the common areas of the Nashville Convention Center. The other was in the honky-tonks of Broadway and 2nd Avenue North. In the former, people drank coffee, exchanged ideas and traded business cards for future communication. In the latter, groups of friends and groups of people who didn’t even know each other did NOT drink coffee (wink, wink), whooped it up and partied together while some up-and-coming singer or band was on stage playing their hearts out for tips. All of this was done in person. Social networking online is great and serves many purposes, but nothing beats a face-to-face exchange.
You can’t escape the sound of country music in Music City, whether it’s wafting out of the honky tonks’ open doors or played over the music system in the Nashville Convention Center. I heard more country songs this week than I’ve heard in the past two years. The same programming techniques that go into radio stations are also in play on the overhead speakers. I am sure that the NCC subscribes to a recorded music service’s contemporary country channel (Muzak, Music Choice, etc.) because every song I heard was catchy. On Sunday, I picked up a new favorite that I first heard covered the night before at The Stage bar by local musician Mitchell Oglesby: Kenny Chesney‘s “Beer in Mexico.”
In a few days, I’ll post some more random notes (sorry, Rolling Stone) about the conference and Nashville: T-Shirts and Rude Behavior. Stay tuned.