Blended Learning, College faculty, Education Quality, Flipped Classrooms, High school / Secondary 2, International, Private education, Public education, Required, School teachers, STEM / Science, Technology, Education, Math, Students, Technology, University & College - Written by on Thursday, December 1, 2011 17:30 - 0 Comments

Online Educa Berlin: One Prof. Says Focus On Teachers Not Technology

Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland

By Paul Glader

BERLIN – Here at the Online Educa Berlin conference, a big topic of discussion is how the European Union should accomplish its 2020 Strategy of improving digital literacy for all. The EU is funding a host of research about the future of classrooms, teachers and new methods for digital learning.

Frankly, as outside observers, we find the research a bit slow-moving. That’s why one session presenter at Online Educa, Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg, caught our attention Thursday afternoon. Prof. Dillenbourg teaches at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. A former elementary school teacher and a PhD in computer science, his research and advice runs counter to most of the other research and experiments taking place on digital learning.

He showed a picture of a classroom full of computers.

“Have you tried to teach in such a room?” he asked the audience, rhetorically. “It is such a joke.”

He shows another photo of students on iPads in a classroom, then scoffs with his French-accented English.

“An iPad? It is a nightmare for teachers!” he says. “Imagine you are trying to get attention of many kids. It will take you 20 minutes. Part of your life is fighting against this technology.”

He continued to attack sacred cows in the digital learning establishment.

What is a stupid slogan that is over used in the online learning world? “From a sage on the stage to a guide on the side.”

He suggests that instead of loading classrooms full of computers that distract students from a teacher and into a computer program, he wants to analyze the classroom and learning process to find other simpler solutions that create more efficient learning opportunities and give teachers more control.

For example, he showed a device that looked like a lava lamp, which he calls “an interactive lamp.” Each student in a classroom has the lamp on his desk. When he has a question, the student taps the LED lamp and continues working. The lamp slowly flashes until a teacher arrives in flight attendant fashion. The lamp also changes color to show teaching assistants where the students are in the progression on coursework or an exam.

“People waste time logging in to computers,” he says. They also waste time raising hands in class and waiting for a teacher to arrive or call on them. He said the LED lamp has reduced wasted time in a classroom to 6%, down from 62% from their observations.

Another device involves a camera/interactive lamp (pictured below) that overlooks diagrams or models on paper and helps students chart logistics or physical problems. Prof. Dillenbourg argues that “Paper is the future. It is easy to see. It’s a great invention.”

At a conference full of sponsors like Pearson, Blackboard, online colleges and technocrats, Prof. Dillenbourg has a message: Modest computing. 

“We are tired of intelligent devices,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “This is not smart. I like very simple technologies.” Holding up the LED lava lamp prototype, he notes “it is physical. We dramatically reduce the information. It is in the background. It is there. It is almost poetic.”

“I propose to focus more on teacher-centric technology,” he says. “In terms of computer science, this is my message.”

Our view: Prof. Dillenbourg may be going overboard a bit on the anti-computer kick. But he also has a valuable message of not always going for technology and computer over human being and physical tools. A truly blended learning approach means finding simple technologies to improve learning, which means simple technologies to improve teaching.

What do readers think of the balance? And how should the EU be spending money to reach its 2020 digital literacy goals?


From the web site of Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg

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