This is How Technology Can Undermine Learning

1/26/2015 6:07:00 PM
By Margot Douaihy
"When Michael Henderson is grading his students’ final assignments," according to this Chronicle blog, "he likes to skip the written comments." Mr. Henderson, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University, explains how instead of a red pen, he takes out a video camera. "He records a five-minute, unscripted critique for each student. He doesn’t bother editing the videos, even if he says 'um' a lot or has to rephrase a sentence or two," the Chronicle blog stated.

Red-ink feedback on a paper? How quaint. Why should professors spend fifteen agonizing minutes sharing comments on a student assignment when we can record our thoughts in five minutes? Why waste precious hand strength writing longhand when I could simply speak into my phone or camera? Who needs to read more than is mandated, especially in college? Reading...ugh. 

The professors interviewed in this Chronicle story say that students "prefer” a video critique, "finding it clearer and seemingly more sincere than written notes.” Video responses to video assignments might make sense, but it seems obvious that students prefer video feedback because it means less work for them. As an erstwhile college instructor, I understand the need to save time, especially grading work in larger classes. Video is as tempting an alternative as it is a slippery slope. What precedent is a professor setting when a paper receives an unedited video response? Does it serve to devalue the writing process, or weight it differently? Are students digesting video critiques and applying them successfully? Integrating feedback is a critical component of academic research. It takes work. It takes time. Spatial interplay lives in the strike-throughs, question marks, margin notes, and circles of written feedback; does this interplay survive in an impromptu video clip? Is there cogent research to contextualize this trend? 
In the past decade, video has helped transform higher education. The classroom is no longer a four-walled room; it's anywhere with Wi-Fi. Flipped-learning, distance-learning, real-time collaboration, and lecture-capture offer flexible modalities for teachers and students. But video on campus, if leaned on too heavily, might serve to demote an active learner to a passive one. We must be careful of tech short-cuts. Just because video is faster, easier, and "more fun" than written feedback does not mean it is qualitatively better for long-term learning goals. I am a technology advocate; I frequently beta-test devices and apps. But when it comes to higher education pedagogy, I approach new tech tools with cautious curiosity.

Read the rest of the Chronicle blog here:

Margot Douaihy is the Editorial Director of AV Technology, EDUwire, and Tech Manager Today. She has a staggering supply of red pens.

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