A Farewell to the Lectern or Computers in Schools

Von wl

A blog is supposed to be up-to-date, but where is the newsworthy reference?

In the early 1970ies, we witnessed a very strange approach to pedagogics. Programmed teaching was implemented with quite some success at school. Mathematics and physics was cut up into small units of learning material. Each small unit received a page for presenting the content and adding a practical exercise. Students found the solution on the next page – and could find their own way through the entire material. To be sure, the students managed to learn at different speeds. And their willingness to deal with the stuff all by themselves, too, varied considerably. But the success was enough to invest hugely in this new method. Siemens developed an entire programming language LIDIA (learning in the dialogue) in order to enable teachers to write their own teaching units. CUU (Computer unterstützter Unterricht – computer-supported learning) was born. Bavaria was the world-wide leader. The development was assigned to the central agency for programmed teaching and computers for teaching.

The printouts of the programmed teaching units served as models for the programmes. An ideal student would have been the “autonomous learner” who learns by himself, is self-motivated and sets his own individualized time-frame in familiarizing himself with the material.
The expected exultation among the students, however, never happened. They reacted very diversely and reported a huge variety of success levels with the new teaching method: “students at the screen”.

With the first personal computers, Commodore and Apple II, it did not take long for the chapter CUU to be closed. Learning with the computer was substituted by programming. With hardly anybody noticing, students changed their roles.

Soon the situation was thus that the knowledge of the teacher as being superior to that of the student ceased to play the major role. The media often misunderstood this phenomenon. Students were seen to play a more and more active role during lessons. Blackboards were no longer written on; students no longer copied anything into their exercise books. Logical conclusion: students must be more knowledgeable than their teachers! Incidentally, an enormous amount of insecurity spread among the teachers. Only very few of them were prepared to integrate programming and knowledge about computers and computer languages into their teaching as a major area.

It appears that we can now give a new explanation for this.

If you use computers as tools for teaching, the frontal teaching as instruction phase will only be a small part of the lesson. The student will emancipate himself from the teacher, getting independent and no longer needing him. Along with his fellow students, the learner immerses himself in a project. Instead of by the teacher, the rules of communication are made by the compiler and the other students. A shift of power takes place, away from the teacher, whose work is no longer necessary!? Well, this is what was feared and how the aversions were explained.
An analysis of the communication structure, however, shows that the teacher has to assume a different role as soon as the learner turns to machines: that of coach.

For me, the introduction of project-oriented teaching was a novelty. First and foremost, the social consequences both for the teacher and the student were not easily understood. Students were not used to working on a project. Neither were they used to generating the fruit of their own labour, instead of just copying it from the blackboard and carry it home. All of a sudden the teacher was confronted with a very dynamic area of knowledge that was basically beyond manageable. Moreover, there was the task of coaching separate teams and having to communicate a lot more individually and on a wider scale than before. Unpredicted and unpredictable events, too, had to be processed, which was totally different from what we had been taught about preparing lessons. Leadership, charisma, the ability to discuss problems and giving credit to individual solutions, etc, are qualities needed in project-oriented teaching which you usually had not developed, even if you were a very versed frontal teacher.

Regarding project-oriented teaching today, what you see is: how the teacher moves, how he intervenes, what he does when giving advice, how he evaluates behaviour and achievement. All these observations will show you that the lectern no longer plays a part. This development was pioneered by the personal computer. It also liberated the student from the totally pre-arranged program with its built-in learning sequence.

Today (Thursday, November, 11th, 2008) the headline of an FAZ, p. 31, article is: „Make the teachers the centre of the dispute“. The article discusses the new book by Bernhard Buebs „Von der Pflicht zu führen (The Duty to Lead)“. „A teacher needs flexibility, courage, authority and enthusiasm about the subject he teaches”. D’accord. I would also like to add communicative sensitiveness to the list. Leading today is totally different from leading yesterday. I can think of quite a few remarks on the Buebs’ approach. But the discussion shows that the necessary change of communicative style giving the student self-responsibility, the obligation to organize himself and the competence for team-work is far from finished.

Besides, the style in which young teachers are taught at university is still far from what they will later need in order to perform. But this is another story.

(Translated by EG)

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