That the education standard was sometimes better last year was not because of fashionable digital means, but because of good teachers, writes columnist Bob van Vliet.
Bob van Vliet: “With every new communication tool, the prediction has been that it would completely revolutionise education.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

That the education standard was sometimes better last year was not because of fashionable digital means, but because of good teachers, writes columnist Bob van Vliet.

Lees in het Nederlands

Now that everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s raining webinars, meetings, and other events that ask what we want to keep from our online experiments for when everything is back to ‘normal’ again.

I could name a few, myself. After all, after a year of forced experimentation, it would be odd if you would not do anything differently. Yet I often feel uncomfortable with these discussions. The familiar buzzwords that inevitably come up like blended, flipped and, more recently, hybrid, are all too often discussed as if they are inevitable or ends in themselves rather than means. And I don’t always get what, exactly, is so revolutionary about them.

Since Collegerama recordings became standard practice, our teaching has been hybrid, hasn’t it? Blended learning is such a broad term that it can include almost anything. And at least half a century ago, flipping was already nicely described as ‘the Gutenberg method’.

With every new communication tool, the prediction has been that it would completely revolutionise education. And for practically a century now, people have dreamed about automating education ‘by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines.’

‘Painful to see the high number of newly appointed educational advisors’

What is new and relatively recent is that over the last few decades, there is ever more and better scientific knowledge of what works, what doesn’t, and why. Unfortunately, the research into the effective use of video in education and the science around cognitive load, dual coding, and/or Mayer’s principles of multimedia learning, appear significantly less often in meetings about our education.

During presentations by teachers who have done nice things over the past year, I often think “This has little to do with technology. These are simply good teachers who have thought carefully about what their goals are, and what resources they can use to reach those objectives.” This is reflected in the fact that they all did different things. Each course has different goals, different students, and a different teacher. And so, for each course, a different form and a different mix of tools is most effective.

This applies to my own teaching too. Where my courses have improved, this was mostly because the switch to online teaching forced me to really think about what, exactly, I wanted to achieve with my students and what my students needed to achieve it. That some things were better after the switch to digital tools does not mean that they were better because of those online tools.

More important than fashionable teaching methods  are teachers that have the knowledge, the time, and the enthusiasm to consciously and critically design their teaching, whatever the circumstances. This makes it painful to see the contradiction between the high number of newly appointed educational advisors and the responses that I received to my last column from good and dedicated young teachers who don’t have to count on a permanent position at TU Delft.

Bob van Vliet is a lecturer at the 3mE Faculty and is specialised in design education. Reactions are welcome via B.vanVliet@tudelft.nl.