Teaching comes first, says US author

Pedagogy should focus on principles first and technology second. Sarah Cunnane reports

September 9, 2010

Traditional teaching methods are failing today's students, according to the man who coined the term "digital native".

Marc Prensky, the US author of Teaching Digital Natives, who is giving a lecture on the subject at Bournemouth University next week, called for pedagogy to become a partnership between students and educators.

"In order to teach effectively, we need to use a different pedagogy than in the past," he told Times Higher Education.

"Students should do the things that they do best, like finding things and using technology and creating, and teachers should do what they do best - asking questions, ensuring rigour and context," he said.

His comments came as Martin Hall, the vice-chancellor of the University of Salford, criticised those who used the term "digital native" - a common label for the generation that has grown up with technology - "as if everyone born after 1980 deploys new technologies in characteristic ways".

In a lecture at the Association for Learning Technology conference in Nottingham this week, Professor Hall asked academics to "put aside the lure of new technology and to go to the underlying issues", which centred on pedagogy, rather than technology.

"It is important to put the examination and understanding of ways of knowing ahead of fascination with new technologies," he said, observing that "some commentaries imply that the entire world of learning will fail unless we adapt to (digital natives') needs".

Work would become impoverished and opportunities would be lost if technology were to become the sole focus of the academy, he said.

In his lecture entitled "When worlds collide: revisiting experiential learning", Professor Hall also argued that it was wrong to see informal and formal learning as "inherently opposed to one another" and social networking as "a distraction and a danger".

"The sea change (in the use of technology) ... should not be seen as the old world of the university in collision with the new world of social networking," he said.

Both men agreed that it was necessary to have at least an understanding of the latest technology in order to keep up with students.

Mr Prensky said that understanding technology was essential in helping students to learn, but lecturers should not be expected to use new technology themselves unless they wanted to.

Teachers must focus on what students need to do first, and then on the technology available to help them to do it.

He called on educators to "focus on the verbs" of education.

"The verbs don't change, but the nouns that are used to make those verbs happen, they're changing very rapidly," he explained.

"At the moment PowerPoint (noun) is used to present (verb), but this might not always be the case. The idea is helping your students using the latest and the best noun to learn that verb," he said.

"The big carrot is that the more you know about technology and the more you use it, the easier it is for your students and the easier it is for you."

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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