Friday, October 3, 2008

Can technology enhance decorum?

I read an interesting article this morning (linked above) about a faculty member at Lewis & Clark College that has had an interesting experience in her courses.  She is hearing impaired and has had a difficult time hearing her students in the past.  It was especially problematic in her seminar courses because they are discussion-based; she couldn't hear what was being said, which prevented her from facilitating meaningful discussions.  After trying a number of different approaches (special rooms, changing the format of the discussions, working with acoustics specialists), she was getting frustrated and decided to try one last thing, a "sound field system".  That term didn't mean anything to me, but from the article it seems that there is somesort of FM system within the classroom that includes 2-3 handheld mics that can be passed around among students.  This faculty member reported that, although she could hear and follow the discussions more effectively, there were some even more important unintended benefits to using the system.  Because the students made all of their comments into microphones (there were only 2 for her class) the discussions were a lot more civil and organized.  The students listened to each other, paused in between comments (as the mic was being passed to the next participant), and articulated their thoughts more clearly because they were "hearing themselves speak".  In the end of semester feedback that was provided by students they mentioned the fact that the microphones helped them be more reflective, more respectful, and ultimately learn more from the course.  They didn't use this term, but it seemed like this particular technology promoted metacognition among the students, which I think was a big reason that their learning was enhanced.

I just thought this was an interesting example of how technology can often open up new avenues or ideas that we wouldn't expect.  In this case, I would imagine that both the students and the faculty member will be more thoughtful about the way they participate in discussions in the future and that their personal learning theories have adapted.  So, in some cases it seems that technology does drive science or theory.  The use of these sound systems will probably lead to an enhanced understanding of metacognitive processes.  Technology isn't always the step-brother of science.

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