Personalizing Pedagogy

New applications of information technology have provided a variety of choices in higher education, not only about what is taught and learned, but also about how it is taught and learned. During recent years, there has been a lot of excitement about new ways to use information technology to meet the needs of learners more effectively, including new pedagogical techniques in individualization, learner-centeredness, and anytime-anywhere education.

But there has been a fascinating oversight at the center of this movement. While it has taken individual differences among learners as its core premise, it has largely ignored individual differences among faculty.

Yet weren’t most faculty members students earlier in their lives? D'es the aging process diminish differences among us? Are faculty members self-selecting to such an extent that variety among them is negligible in most important dimensions? I doubt it. Consider some of the many ways which faculty members can be effective teachers. It would be absurd to expect anyone to be a highly skilled teacher in more than a few of them:

Connect with students. Enable students to feel more fully a part of the institution or community. Reveal enough of themselves to engage students’ interest and energy on a personal level. Demonstrate care about the students as learners and human beings.

Organize information. Organize subject matter within an academic discipline so that learners new to the field or topic can rapidly encounter and understand important issues, and identify with the most important knowledge, skills, and information.

Use media. Use different media to create and offer effective speech, written materials, graphics, animations, laboratory experiences.

Create a “safe” environment. Help students overcome their fears of learning, of school, of teachers, of competing for attention in a classroom, of failure. Convey and engender confidence in students’ abilities.

Be an attractive role model. Serve as a role model—personally or professionally—by demonstrating depth of mastery, wisdom, knowledge, skill, character, and enthusiasm for the subject and profession.

Work with different-sized groups. Work effectively with students in small, informal groups or one-to-one. Skillfully generate and guide discourse with and among learners via face-to-face or online sessions. Ask provocative questions that engage learners intellectually.

Develop self-study materials. Create self-study materials that enable learners to progress at their own pace. Use a combination of media that matches their own learning styles, assesses their own progress, and demonstrates their achievement of a specified level of mastery.

Select cost-effective teaching combinations. Understand enough about teaching, learning, and technology to decide when and how to use the following techniques most cost-effectively: face-to-face time; synchronous interaction at a distance; synchronous interaction at a distance; and independent learning options.

Most faculty members have already begun using technology in their day-to-day correspondence, research, and course preparation. In addition to matching learners with teachers, and learning needs with teaching abilities, we can use new technology to engage each other more meaningfully and with greater mutual satisfaction. By examining and respecting differences in both groups, and finding technology applications that fit, we can achieve more cost-effective education.

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