The secret to effective teaching

Once during a job interview I was asked “What does the effective teacher look like”. I paused, stumped – not because I didn’t know what an effective teacher was – that was easy – an effective teacher was a teacher who got results. No I paused because I knew that the effective teacher had many different faces. I knew effective teachers who were back-to-basics traditionalists, I knew effective teachers who were innovators, I knew effective teachers who integrated technology into every facet of their teaching, and I knew effective teachers whose most advanced technology was a transparency overhead projector.

I realized that I didn’t now much about effective teachers after all. Well that’s not entirely true – I could walk into a class and tell almost straight away if what was going on was an effective lesson, if what was going on was effective instruction. Problem was, I could not really articulate what I saw in those effective teachers.

So after a dramatic pause, I said something brilliant like “effective teaching is difficult to pin down to one or a few characteristics – but I know it when I see it”. I’m surprised I got the job!

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MOOCs again

In replying to a blogpost by Clay Shirky I questioned how disruptive MOOCx would actually turn out to be. My main concern is not for MOOCs as designed by Stanford, MIT and others. Rather it is for how we have responded to their efforts and our tendency to treat anything that comes from well branded educational institutions as received wisdom. It reminds me of the wine tasting experiment where the researcher takes one bottle of cheap wine pours it into two cups and labels one of the cups “expensive” and the other “cheap” and asks his experimental participants to participate in the dreaded taste test. Of course the majority prefer the “expensive” wine even though both glasses were poured from the same bottle!

I have no idea what the intentions are behind these new MOOCx – I welcome them myself: the more free education the better. My concern is that because we deify well branded stuff, we may automatically accept their model as the “Right” way to do MOOCs and ignore that this technology is evolving. Moreover, we run the risk of associating MOOCx model as that most appropriate for Distance Education in general.

We should welcome these developments, remembering to view them with our critical eyes wide open. Especially encouraging is Stanford’s new Class2Go project. This project uses all open content, open code and is inviting other universities, schools, NGOs to try it out and to contribute to the project development. Again, I have no idea what the intentions are, but I can only judge based on actions.

This is a huge step in the right direction.