Friday, November 27, 2009

Teaching Philosophy / Classroom Technology

Guest Blogger: Michele Petrovsky

I’d like to chat with you about the dovetailing of teaching philosophy and classroom technology.

I’ve designed and implemented software that administers and grades exams; draws exam questions from a single test bank, regardless of question type (e.g., true/false versus fill-in-the-blank), exam type (e.g., quiz versus midterm), or course; and uses randomization to help ensure that no two students receive exactly the same exam. Since I wanted to present the whole package, including graded exams, through the Web, I ended up with a rather extensive web site, of which the test generator makes up only about 20 per cent. The generator was built with MySQL 4.0.15 and PHP 4.0. It runs under SuSE Linux Professional 9.0 (kernel release 2.4.21-99-default), using Apache 2.0 as its Web server and HTML 1.1 as the basis for its forms. The server that supports the generator also provides a variety of administrative tools such as scheduled backups and rotation of log files, as well as a firewall that monitors HTTP, FTP, and TELNET (that is, Web, file upload/download and remote login, respectively) traffic.

That’s some fairly serious tech. I’m proud of it, but no more proud than I am of knowing how to drive a stick-shift car, and being able to hold said car on a hill with a skillful combination of clutch and gas pedals. In other words, I think it’s neat. What’s more, I firmly and deeply believe that it’s neat, that I enjoyed creating it as much as I did, and that it works as well as it has, because of the perspective that led me to the project in the first place.

I’m not trained as an academician. But, I’ve been reading and talking and learning since the age of three. My father was a teacher, who, when I was five, enlisted me as his assistant in grading his middle school students’ papers and exams. It simply never occurred to me until I was well into adulthood that learning was anything out of the ordinary, or anything one needed to work at. Rather, it, like the clutch/gas combo, was something ‘neat’ that was available to anyone.

When I began teaching, it was in a community college. Most of my students were out of work or had never worked, and were attempting not only to
gain a certificate or degree but, also, to embark on a new life. To stand in front of a room full of such folks is a humbling experience. It taught me in no uncertain terms the truth of the saying, “A master is someone who started before you.” For both these reasons, I saw little role then, and see no larger one now, for an ivory-tower approach to education, even when the ivory tower is built in part of silicon and copper.

I hope none of this seems disrespectful of the sincere and strenuous efforts so many of you have made to become and remain effective educators. Those who love teaching and learning have my utmost respect. But, in this as in everything, I feel strongly that individuality and individual means and styles of expression, including the choice of classroom technologies, must be honored. The marvelous tech we have available can make our teaching more effective. But it can never substitute for excitement about the process of learning.

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