Connectedness and Self-Revelation

As forms of distance and online education become more widely used, pressure increases on educators to take advantage of the unique benefits of face-to-face interaction. Consequently, connectedness and self-revelation are becoming even more important. Certain approaches to instruction can be combined with appropriate uses of information technology to improve teaching and learning via the four principles of "personalizing pedagogy." Those principles are:

Variety in teaching and teachers. No learner can be equally adept at every kind of learning. And no teacher can be equally adept at every kind of teaching. Just as most learners can be served best by an individually tailored combination of materials and instruction, most faculty can teach best with a tailored combination of materials and strategies.

Connectedness. Building more connections, more personally meaningful communication between and among faculty and students, is usually possible and helpful for many kinds of teachers, teaching, learners, and learning.

Self-revelation. Revealing unique characteristics of oneself as a professional and a person is usually possible and helpful for many kinds of teachers, teaching, learners, and learning.

Technology. Technology, especially information technology, can be used to undermine or support each of the above—in order to personalize pedagogy.

However, valuable instruction can sometimes be quite impersonal and disconnected. Increasing the quantity and quality of the relationships between faculty and students is not necessary for every faculty member or student. Nor is revealing their individual characteristics. For example, a faculty member may have excellent skills at creating written materials to be used independently by students; and there may be students equipped with the motivation, self-discipline, and learning skills needed to make use of those materials. These faculty members and students may never see each other, meet each other, or even correspond with each other. While each is quite dependent on the other and the relationship is valuable to both, it is not personal at all.

When facing the almost over-whelming number of combinations of technology and pedagogy, remember that most education still involves both. That includes interaction between teacher and learner—most commonly face-to-face in a classroom—and independent work by students using materials carefully selected by the teacher—most commonly, parts of a textbook.

For the latter, especially in courses taken by large numbers of students, there may be resources and time available to reproduce those materials with as much skill and polish as a modern commercially published textbook. For some topics and learners, the invisible professionalism of the authors may be an asset. But that is not so if the goal is more in the direction of enhancing or replacing classroom discussion among people who are in the same place at the same time.

In contrast to giving faculty members the training and support needed to take on the characteristics of professional commentators or talk show hosts, a faculty member can acknowledge his or her own distinctive characteristics—voice quality, speech pattern, etc.—and use them to help learners distinguish this experience from commercial television or radio.

Using personal rough edges to make it obvious that what is being presented is not television or radio may be valuable in getting students to avoid falling into traditional behavior when watching or listening to those media. That means paying more attention, engaging more actively, demonstrating more respect, and not thinking about changing the station if what is happening in the last few minutes is not immediately interesting or useful.

The other major reason for taking a more translucent approach—hiding neither the media used, nor the personal characteristics of the teacher—is to foster connections between faculty and student. The motivational benefit for both can only be achieved when each can perceive the other as an individual, one who is in many ways like everyone else and in some ways quite unique.

The special qualities of the faculty member can be communicated in many ways. The intellectual ability of the faculty is reflected in the choice of instructional materials and the organization of the content.

It is healthy for both faculty and students to realize that being able to speak glibly and continuously over some sort of telecommunications medium is not an essential characteristic of thoughtful people, good teachers, or conscientious learners. But it is important to learn to communicate clearly in a variety of media for a variety of purposes. This includes the ability to let others hear and see enough of our personal characteristics to be recognized as unique individuals

I hope the increasing attractiveness of using new media and new technologies for telecommunications will encourage more faculty members to reveal more of themselves not only in these media but also in their face-to-face work. By doing so, faculty members can connect more frequently, deeply, and meaningfully with more of their students.

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