Registrar’s Report

Technology and the human touch: Today’s teaching at its best

There’s a world of wonder in online learning, but it’ll never replace the power of face-to-face dialogue. A blend of both worlds may be best – for teachers and students alike.

by Michael Salvatori, OCT

If you’re like me, you follow electronic breadcrumbs.

When I’m online looking for information, conducting research, I like to follow the links to additional data. I’ll click on those highlighted, embedded directional paths every time to look for more insights and deeper understandings.

As teachers, I think that’s in us. At least, the feedback from our most recent member survey seems to support that premise.

We conducted our survey online for the first time. We sent 25,000 electronic invitations, and more than 6,000 members answered. Up until now, we’ve always conducted our survey through an outside party and by phone, speaking with 1,000 people.

Although the participation has multiplied, the results are consistent. What we’ve learned (or confirmed) is that, by and large, Ontario educators are fast becoming hard-wired to the wireless world.

Teachers use hand-held devices and computers from home, at school, at friends’ homes and in Internet cafés for hours each week. Why? We’re after lesson plans. We’re seeking news about education trends. We’re looking for professional development. We’re tapping keyboards to tap advice from colleagues around the corner and across the world. Up to 8.3 hours per week on average. Remarkable. It is a testament to the ongoing professionalism of today’s teachers.

Sure, the numbers skew toward those newest to the profession. Young teachers have grown up in this all-electronic information (overload) age. They’re comfortable in the environs. They know their way around the keyboards and message boards. But experienced teaching professionals are also net savvy. Almost one in seven respondents who had more than 30 years’ experience said they were heavy users of the latest technology.

They’re getting their news electronically. And they’re socializing, using media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Almost half have two e-mail addresses. One in five have three.

A revolution is well underway. New technology is rapidly transforming the way we teach and the way we think about teaching. But despite a growing appetite for technology, its value in the learning equation will never be complete without face-to-face interaction. Teaching is a human dynamic.

Think of the best instruction you’ve ever had. What made it special? Why was it best? Did it occur online through distance education? Ever?

Teaching is a human dynamic.

To borrow a phrase from futurist John Naisbitt, what’s needed in education today is a blend of high tech and high touch. It’s that human side, the personal interest in student’s individual achievement, the nurturing, caring and mentoring of them that makes all the difference.

While teaching at a faculty of education, I had a first-hand opportunity to see the benefits of blending distance and face-to-face learning. One example: Initial online discussions and exploration of web sites served to whet the appetites of teacher candidates on certain topics and resulted in greater in-class engagement and discussion.

As educators, we’re still finding our way. And we’re doing it at the same time as our students. The rules are changing. We’re not pouring the information in. They can get it on their own. They do. But it’s the wise teacher who can show them how to think about that information critically, what to do with it, how to apply it. Teachers model learning. They set the example.

Right now the web is a research mecca, a candy store of data to help you expand your knowledge and expertise, seek out learned colleagues, track trends and discover new modalities of curriculum delivery. It’s a powerful, ever-expanding bank of information to draw upon.

But the best education isn’t one that’s a point and click away. It’s one that melds new media with hearts and minds in face-to-face dialogue with a caring, committed teacher.

I’ve lived it and I’ve read about it. Likely following a breadcrumb.

Michael Salvatori, OCT