Wednesday, 19 October 2011
lock, stock and barrel
Professor Lock is an eminent German physicist at MIT, and the first video shows him explaining some fundamental concepts in electricity while drawing diagrams and writing formulae on a blackboard. Although he does turn to face his audience from time to time, usually to ask a question that he immediately answers himself, for much of the time he is scribbling on the board and talking simultaneously. He jokingly suggests that everything he is explaining is so simple that his audience will wonder why any explanation is necessary.
Dr Stock is an economist at the Harvard Business School. He is seen using all the latest multimedia gadgetry to augment his performance. Assessing the three teachers, Dr Stock’s style is most akin to that of a business presentation, and, like a typical businessman, he reads his PowerPoint slides aloud rather than using them as an aide memoire, something to be developed in greater detail.
Dr Barrel is a Chinese lecturer at a Hong Kong university who is seen addressing his students in heavily accented English. He is reading from a prepared script, and unlike in the first two videos there are shots of the students, all Chinese, who are writing furiously in an attempt to get everything down.
Alert readers will have spotted that Paula had set a deliberate snare here. None of the three represents a paradigm of good teaching, because what is missing in all three clips is any form of interaction between teacher and students. In the video of Professor Lock, at one point a small window opens in the corner of the screen, and the professor, apparently watching himself in action, suddenly realizes that he has made a basic error.
“Oh my God!” he exclaims, “I’ve got Ohm’s law wrong.”
And so he had. Instead of writing that the voltage in a circuit is equal to current multiplied by resistance, he had written that voltage is equal to current divided by resistance. The interesting point to make here is that no one in the audience ventured to point out the error, although whether this was because no one was aware of the mistake, or because, out of deference to the professor’s status, no one dared to challenge what everyone knew was incorrect, can only be guessed.
Two years ago, Paula ran this same series of workshops in China on behalf of an international NGO. Students there unanimously selected the professor as being worthy of the hypothetical award, because, they said, he was knowledgeable. As an aside, the NGO decided to dispense with Paula’s services and instead place all the materials online, thus missing the point of the exercise, which is to provoke discussion.
The students in China were clearly unused to being asked for their opinions, but one student did point out that the professor had started with a simple example and worked towards greater complexity. Hong Kong students are much more analytical, although they are invariably taken in by the deliberately misleading inclusion of examples from prestigious American institutions like Harvard and MIT.
The problem, as Paula encourages her students to work out for themselves, is that the majority of teachers in higher education do not understand the other side of the coin, the learning process, so they follow the worn-out paradigm of the ‘sage on the stage’, and the majority of students fail to notice that they are being short-changed, lock, stock and barrel.