By Marcus Wilson 21/03/2012

I think it’s reasonable to say that technology (by which I mean computers, software, mobile phones, video projectors etc) has greatly changed the way that teaching is carried out. One even might say ‘revolutionized’, though that might be taking things too far, since the fundamental principles, such as linking assessment with what you want students to learn, hasn’t changed.

YouTube is a great help for a science teacher. When there’s a demonstration that you want the class to see, but is rather too time-consuming or expensive or dangerous for you to set up yourself, you can usually find it on YouTube, often with a great commentary attached. The same is true for animations. Often in physics we talk about things changing with time – and graphs go only so far in getting the message across. Seeing something change ‘for real’ in a video can be a great help to a student.

So, for this afternoon’s lecture on Electromagnetic Waves, I had some nice animations prepared to show the students. Alas, the data projector threw a wobbly. So I was back to ‘old technology’, namely a whiteboard and pen. I think I coped well with the situation, though the whiteboard afterwards looked something like an Andy Warhol – lines and symbols going everywhere, in three different colours.

I can of course put the links to the relevant videos onto our on-line learning environment, Moodle, and the students can have a look at them in their own time. Unfortunately, Moodle is not 100% trustworthy either – earlier this semester it became a victim of its own success and became overloaded with users, resulting in people like me being chucked out of it mid-lecture.

So, in summary, it’s always worth thinking about how to teach without all the latest techno-props. Often we need to.


0 Responses to “Techno-failure”

  • & in fact I think some of the best lectures I’ve been to have been delivered by someone who’s simply stood up & told a story in a really engaging way, with no aids other than their voice & the power to conjure images with their words 🙂

    Probably wouldn’t work for the sort of physics you do though!

  • Yes, I’ve heard Alison do a talk like this – despite having a cold and limited preparation time she delivered a captivating talk on teaching evolution.
    As chemist, however, I like to use power points as I love people to see the structures of molecules, but I have started to teach myself how to talk abut chemistry without the need foe structures
    There is a saying in radio, that radio is the theatre of the mind. All you need is a good story and the audience can create their own pictures to go with your story.
    Harks back to human beings sitting around a fire telling stories I guess.
    However, it is worth noting that in terms of learning some of us are very visual learners – I like pictures and diagrams because that’s how I learn and understand best. Usually I struggle to pick up information aurally unless it is very very interesting.

  • For it’s worth the book I’ve just reviewed (Seduced by logic) has descriptions of various physics experiments and whatnot without any illustrations or maths. It’s good when people are able to describe something clearly in works – harder than it may look as us who have tried our hand at writing know 😉 Mind you, the physics there are ‘classic’ works and the intervening hundred-plus years will mean there are plenty of attempts to describe them to draw from.