Teaching Offline

The campus at Marian University College (Maruco) in Bagamoyo.

I’m in Bagamoyo, Tanzania at the moment teaching two summer courses to a group of undergraduate students at Marian University College. This experience is different from my typical teaching experience along several dimensions. I am teaching Complex Analysis to a group of 150 students. This is a course I’ve never taught, and it’s a group of students 5 times the size of my typical class. In order to deliver a message to the entire class at once, I need to write the message on a piece of paper and pin it to the main bulletin board. Moreover, this is an entire room full of non-native english speakers learning a subject full of technically dense jargon. And to take my challenge to the next level, I have one whiteboard that’s roughly…well, it’s small (it’s about the size of what I would have in my office).

As a blogger the internet is obviously critically important to my productivity, and so much of my teaching and blogging inspiration comes from the #MTBoS. And as a professor I am naturally pre-occupied with using technology in the classroom. This is such a hot topic, anyone who has ever applied for a job, or tenure has given it at least passing thought. The AMS blog PhD Plus Epsilon has featured several posts on technology for teaching and here we’ve done a couple of posts on teaching with technology. But this visit has got me thinking about teaching without technology. What does a technology-less classroom look like, and what are the advantages?

Getting ready to learn some Complex Analysis.

While tech resources some almost impossible to get away from in US schools, a few years ago the New York Times profiled a screen-free school in Silicon Valley of all places So it must be possible. Several years ago the Chronicle of Higher Ed published an article about efforts to “teach naked.” That is, to teach without have the power of machines to lean on and hide behind and how this stands to benefit students.

One important incentive for pumping our classrooms full of technology is that technology is like a language and it’s important that students be fluent its the language of technology by the time they graduate. To this important point, the Remind Blog has a post about teaching digital literacy without actually using technology. Students can learn about blogging, commenting, and online etiquette through well moderated discussions, and hashtags on the blackboard can actually work just like #hashtags.

The Flip’d Blog gives several good suggestions for using a technology-less environment to capitalize on student engagement, including several links to studies supporting the merits of good old fashioned pen-and-paper note taking.

I gave my first quiz today in Complex Analysis and without any prior discussion, each student showed up with a pencil, a ruler, and a scientific calculator. I have to say, this warmed my heart, since straight lines make graphing so much lovelier and I often find myself smh at the primacy of the TI-83.

I hope they learn so much! Wish me luck!

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One Response to Teaching Offline

  1. Hamza El Mahjour says:

    Indeed I totally agree with you, even if I use technology to illustrate mathematical objects I wonder if this generation needs all this technology as pedagogical tools.

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