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A Socrates Redux in the BYUI Learning Model

Teaching when students haven’t read the homework is strenuous and frustrating. Brigham Young University Idaho has found a way to combine a Socratic approach with simple technology to create a hybrid lecture that guides students to teach each other. With this learning model, students are always prepared.

The technology-based revolution in the mediation of all knowledge is now entering its fourth decade--the Apple II microcomputer was introduced in 1977--and is transforming everything we do partly because of the new opportunities for teacher-student interaction these technologies present. Technology is becoming omnipresent, and so faculty members are becoming freer to create methodologies in their teaching that assume students can connect to the Net. One of the best examples I’ve heard about is at BYUI.

Here’s how it works: Between classes, students work on a case--a current problem relating to the topic of the course. The case is available on the Web so all students have access to it. For homework, after reading the case, the students must write questions they have or write their thoughts about the case online. The teacher and all students see each other’s comments.

All students must make comments electronically before they arrive at the next class. The teacher, having read the comments by the students before class, then calls on students (all students get called on every day) to explain more about the comments they’ve already made electronically. The teacher stands as always and students sit in rows, but the entire lecture is a series of questions. The students are therefore teaching each other.

It is actually possible for you to see this in action via the BYUI Website,, which has videos with sound taken during classes where the newly tech-savvy Socrates once again lives and breathes. Follow the various links related to “preparation” at the site and be patient through the early promotional video clips.

When I was actively teaching, I dreaded those days when it slowly became clear that few students had read the assignment. What could I do? Have a quiz every day? Hand out copies of part of the assignment that we all read together for 5 minutes at the beginning of class? I was stuck in the prevailing learning model and it seemed impossible to avoid the silences during classes when the students hadn’t done the assignment. But, today, I wouldn’t have to be stuck in that way. The BYUI model seems to be one viable way to get much more student engagement in their own learning.

For those who still like the classroom as it is, still want to be present every moment of learning while class is in session, or believe they can best assess their students when they are constantly interacting with them during class, but want to get away from straight lecture, the BYUI model is worth investigating. The simple presence of a campus network and something as simple as a class e-mail list can support this learning model.

The grand days of “this new technology will change everything” may be over. We may instead be in the slow part of the revolution, but also the achingly critical part, when tiny changes using existing technology actually can change everything. It’s people deciding to make a change within their comfort zone that is the true technology revolution in higher education.

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: E-mail: [email protected]

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