There is more to the media of teaching than meets the eye (or ear...). For present purposes let us look at two issues: preferred "modalities" of perception, and the social message of the medium.
The argument, stemming from the work of Bandler and Grinder in the late '70s (search for it if you are that interested: I find it too difficult to winnow the wheat from the chaff, but at least look at this site) is that we have preferred or privileged perceptual channels; some people are allegedly more visual, some more aural, some more kinaesthetic. The latter involves movement, and according to one "learning styles" site, is dominant for 40+% of the population. Of course it is, given their test items. OK; while this seems to make good sense, and used to seem, like the Earth, mostly harmless*, I can now deny that there is any rigorous research to suggest that it is actually matters much. Note that most of the material on the net, particularly that which makes naive connections to crude neuro-science, is both unreliable and self-serving.
The last word on the perceptual version of learning styles really must go to Daniel Willingham.
* ...but the latter part of Coffield, Moseley, Hall and Ecclestone (2004) argues that the political use made of the idea has been pernicious, as the failure of students to learn is blamed on the failure of teachers to pay attention to these spurious notions. So take it all with a dangerously large pinch of salt.
But, entertaining the idea for a moment: as a quick test, just think about reading the newspaper and listening to the news on the radio at the same time: which commands your attention? I block out the sound and concentrate on the text, unless I make a conscious effort to do otherwise, so I have some preference for the visual channel. (It is not as easy to demonstrate the "practical/kinaesthetic" channel.)
You can see where this argument is going. Proponents emphasise the need to provide something for everyone in your teaching. "Inclusivity" is the buzzword, and this is a minor aspect of it.
- Lecturing is auditory: so what is there for the other learners?
- Visual aids, handouts and set reading are visual
- Writing notes (?), practical exercises, lab work, and helping others are practical
Most effective learners have a versatile approach, but that is not to say that they do not have preferences. Effective teachers, on this argument, make their point by using several channels of communication to reinforce them. OK, that is trite, but... If you do have preferences, you may well forget to pay attention to offer material through the other channels. I know I have to pay conscious attention to doing so. (And that is about as much as might be said for this argument.)
What you say by how you say it
Marshall McLuhan famously declared that "the medium is the message". In teaching, at least, the medium is certainly a message: the use of any adjunct to the voice sends a message to the students which will be received and understood at least out of consciousness, and perhaps explicitly.
- Using prepared slides and handouts sends,
"I am prepared". It indicates both that you have thought about what you are
teaching in advance (remember the students are not aware of your behind-the-scenes work),
and also, usually, that you are in control. Consider how control of the data projector
is a symbol of authority in the classroom.
- Being able to turn to a slide to illustrate a point asked about in discussion, from a set you "just happen to have with you", can do wonders for your credibility. It indicates that you anticipated the possibility of the question, and that your knowledge of the topic extends beyond your set spiel. (Unfortunately the faff of navigating to a slide out of sequence can negate the advantage and lose the moment; do learn how to do it seamlessly!)
- Using the whiteboard or flipchart sends, "I am being spontaneous" or possibly "I hadn't thought about this session until I walked in through the door". It is a useful way of giving value to students' responses and comments; taking the trouble to write them up shows that you are listening, enables students to check that you have understood their point, and also provides a list of points to which you can refer to ensure that they have all been covered.
- Using someone else's prepared video material sends, "I am prepared, but I want to add authority to what I am saying by drawing on the work of someone who has put time, money and effort into saying this." (Unless, of course, you are just using it as material to evaluate critically, rather than at face value.) Or, of course, it could send, "I can't be bothered to do this lecture, and here's something which will fill up the time nicely!"
- Unless carefully handled, using prepared material after spontaneous material can devalue the contributions from the class, and tell them, "OK, that is what you say, but here is the official version..."
This merely touches on the complex and sophisticated issue of hidden messages in teaching, but it is worth checking to ensure that your medium supports your message, rather than undermining it.
Media in Practice
"Media" is a term interpreted broadly, because not everything fits into neat categories!
|Whiteboard||Overhead- and data-projectors||Handouts|
|Physical classroom layout||Yourself||Humour|
|Dialogue||Concept- and mind-maps|