Stand and Deliver

It was an appropriate title for the movie about Jaime Escalante and it is an appropriate title for the role that teachers continue to play. We all too frequently see our role in both K-12 and in college as an actor standing and delivering. As problematic as that vision may be for our physical classrooms today, it is even more of a problem for digital learning classrooms. It is the reason that the most common refrains we hear about teaching online is how much harder it is, how much more time it takes, how difficult it is to keep connected with students. For we have taken the stand and deliver classroom model and transmogrified it into the online model.

AkenatonStand and deliver teaching puts the educational burden on the teacher. Students are the recipients of the knowledge in the head of the teacher. I am reminded of this old Egyptian image of Akhenaten’s god. In the paper classroom the teacher’s ability to motivate, to tell a story, to organize, and to simplify the textbook’s knowledge was nearly all of the content available to students. Stand and deliver was a reasonably efficient way to bring the content to the student. Eye contact, proximity, raised hand signals, and easy verbal interaction made this model sufficiently flexible, engaging, and rewarding.

But stand and deliver in the digital classroom without eye contact, proximity, or easily recognized hand signals requires us to rely on other means to hold the engagement of students or to recognize their learning signals. A number of tweaks have been tried to make the model work. MOOCs make their video lectures less than 7 minutes long and separate them with student activities. Teachers make themselves available 24/7 to talk online with individual students. New communication and presentation formats have been tried to enable students to engage with each other as well as with the teacher. Teachers have to provide a wide variety of additional materials and different formats to accommodate student needs. But if technology is to enable a more valuable and efficient learning experience then we must think anew about its use and let go of the thousand-year-old stand and deliver model.