As some experts worry that online education will eclipse personal interaction between faculty and students, others argue that digital technology will free up time for more human exchange and effective learning experiences.
The University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center is exploring “Face-to-Face-Education in a Digital Age” this year through a series of workshops and events with guest speakers to consider how to use face-to-face time most effectively.
Higher education is in the midst of a paradigm shift from delivering instruction to facilitating learning, said associate professor Dorothe Bach, one of the center’s two associate directors.
She said this year’s “Face-to-Face” theme continues last year’s discussions on “Flipping the Classroom” by looking at how digital technology changes the opportunities for human interaction between students and faculty. The idea of “flipping the classroom” emphasizes students working outside of class to watch lectures online, complete written and reading assignments and conduct research; professors can then use class time to have students explore and discuss their ideas and different views, helping them synthesize what they’ve learned.
The blended environment with digital tools and enriched class time allows professors to pay more attention to their students learning as whole human beings, Bach said, adding that education could become better than ever.
The theme also becomes a focus for the center’s learning communities, which bring together professors around topics of interest; currently those are contemplative pedagogy, hybrid course design and “Nucleus,” devoted to enhancing large-enrollment courses in science, technology, engineering and math – the so-called “STEM” fields.
Teachers in residential settings can capitalize on the unique potential of unmediated, real- time human interaction. They have the opportunity to facilitate the social, reflective and synthesizing activities that make learning last and add value to the student residential experience, Bach said. They can act more as mentors and coaches, helping students work on roadblocks and misunderstandings or other difficulties – and offer what is often called “just-in-time” teaching.
Bach quoted David Brooks from a New York Times article he published last year, “The Campus Tsunami,” about online education and learning: “People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion.”
That comes across in comments from students the center surveyed in the spring about their thoughts and experiences regarding the benefits of face-to-face education.
“We can learn a lot from students and invite them into the conversations about teaching and learning at this time of rapid change in higher education,” Bach said.
For example, Andrews Inglis, a student in the College of Arts & Sciences, wrote that communicating over the Internet makes it easier to avoid building relationships, but face-to-face interactions with world-class professors “are sometimes the deepest and most thought-provoking ones to be had.
“It is exactly those interactions with professors that make college so special,” she wrote.
A couple of other students emphasized the importance of the professor creating a safe space in the classroom for conversations on controversial topics. “We were able to broach topics like morality, religion, race, class and so on without any major discomfort, because of the openness, trust and fluidity facilitated by face-to-face interaction,” wrote fourth-year English major Eric McDaniel about one of his seminars.
This semester’s first visiting expert, Alison Cook-Sather, devoted her presentation to how much teachers can learn by partnering with students in “Engaging Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning: Principles and Practices for Collaboration Within and Beyond the Classroom.”
Coming up Oct. 10 and 11, Susan Shadle, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and a chemistry professor at Boise State University, will give a presentation and workshop on “Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning” – known as POGIL – described as “a strategy to support both content mastery and critical thinking.” POGIL originated in college chemistry departments in 1994; there are now more than 1,000 teachers using it in a wide range of disciplines in high schools and colleges around the country.
Sponsored by the Teaching Resource Center and the Page-Barbour Lecture Series, the events require pre-registration.