The Professor as Trainer
Several months ago an adventuresome colleague with 30 years’ teaching
experience asked a very helpful question: What’s new and different about
teaching in this age of ubiquitous computing? That set me to thinking of metaphors
and Gold’s Gym. By thinking about Gold’s Gym I have come to a more
productive understanding of why and how my approach to teaching can and should
Before ubiquitous health clubs, folks didn’t think much about exercise.
Exercise was the unnoticed byproduct of daily routines. Research on exercise
was rare. Professional training in exercise science was yet to become vogue,
and the limited amount of exercise training that did take place was limited
to school physical education programs.
In today’s health clubs we still have large classes in aerobics, flexibility,
and strength. But an added dimension is 15 different machines, each with seemingly
infinite variations, available to “work out” specific muscle sets
in prescribed ways. In the better clubs, prescribers (i.e., health professionals)
knowledgeably customize routines to the objectives and capacities of each individual.
In the best health clubs, pairs and clusters of exercisers monitor and coach
each other while the health professional intervenes only when correctives are
The evolution of exercise has been pushed by both supply and demand. The sudden
availability of multiple machines backed by research has spawned a whole new
profession of exercise specialists. These specialists are, in turn, creating
one-of-a-kind exercise routines and support groups for each individual. They
are constantly monitoring progress, motivating exercisers, learning about new
approaches, analyzing metadata, and adjusting routines. Because exercisers no
longer view themselves as just “part of the crowd,” they are more
responsible for their success or failure.
It’s fun and productive to extend this metaphor in anticipation of revealing
more about the revolution in teaching. For example, the job the exercise professional
is to help develop habits that may be used later in life, when all the advantages
of multiple machines may not be as easily available.
The power to improve teaching with technology, as with exercise equipment and
“exercise software,” comes not from the superiority of computer-based
learning but instead from increased options. Strategies available before computers
are still available today. If computers displaced these traditional strategies,
it is difficult to imagine that we would be better off than before. Now, there
is a massive increase in the availability of literature, the flexibility in
the time and place of learning, the types of multimedia and textual presentations,
the creation of groups and feedback loops, and the metadata linking cause and
effect. The teacher-learner relationship can, and must, be customized like never
before. The “new age” teacher had best think of the job as counseling,
coaching, and customizing.
Like exercise professionals, college professors must now not only become familiar
with a much larger mass of disciplinary information, they also must become educated
in the spectrum of pedagogical strategies available. They need to spend more
time talking with colleagues about teaching, more time experimenting with different
methods, and recognize that a course plan that d'esn’t allow customization
is not serving each individual student in the best possible way. The new “faculty
practice” is customizing!
David Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president and dean of the International
Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.