Making Education Technology Translucent
We always see through
a glass at least a little darkly. There has never been a truly transparent
medium, especially for teaching and learning. And there never will be. Educators
and learners always make choices about the media in which teaching and learning
are attempted. Every choice has consequences.
When a professor steps out from
behind the lectern, he or she changes whatever happens next. When a student
approaches a faculty member with a question just before or after a class, he or
she changes whatever happens next.
The TLT Group
has been offering a weekly series of Web casts this year in which we
simultaneously offer the audience audio presentations or discussions, centrally
controlled display of PowerPoint slides and Web pages, and real-time brief
surveys. There is also a chat room or live discussion board built into the
interface so that all members of the audience can hear the conversation, see the
slides, and see the chat room simultaneously.
first used this combination, I found the chat room irritating and distracting. I
couldn't comfortably note the relevant questions and comments in the chat room
and pay enough attention at the same time to the oral comments of my guests to
guide the interaction effectively.
another series of Web casts, Trent Batson of the University of Rhode Island
initiated the practice of assigning a 'presenter' to focus primarily on the chat
room, and voice selected themes, comments, or questions from that discourse.
This served to encourage the audience to participate more actively in the chat
room, because they knew someone would be linking their efforts to the leaders of
More recently, we took two other steps
that have changed the character of the sessions. We begin every Web cast by
explaining carefully and assertively that we provide a different option for
getting help during the Web cast- one that will get a rapid response- instead of
having people use the chat room for this purpose. We have also begun inviting
one or two people who have some expertise in the topic of the Web cast to
participate entirely as 'chat room discussants.' We ask them to participate in
the chat room as if they were members of the audience and to set an example of
model chat room behavior.
Our Web casts now
function effectively in three ways- via audio, text, and slides- and
participants can choose to follow or actively participate using any combination
they find comfortable and useful.
We believe we are
now using this media combination much more effectively because we are attentive
to its characteristics. We also believe we have enabled our audience members to
participate much more effectively and with greater satisfaction because we offer
guidance and examples of how to do so.
alternative is perilous. By ignoring the implications of any medium, you may be
subject to unintended consequences and its abuse. By striving to make it
invisible or transparent, you are likely to be punished if you fall short of
Many of the new media options offer
ways of personalizing communication between students and faculty, enabling all
involved to connect more fully as human beings, not just as those who deliver
and receive sterile information. This is most often achieved by increasing
awareness of each medium's characteristics, rather than letting it disappear. Of
course, the goal is to achieve some balance between ignoring the medium and
spending too much time and energy on decisions about it. In education,
technology should be neither transparent nor opaque. It should be translucent.
Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.