Go Fish

I often encounter the following Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for lifetime.” But I’m not always certain that I live by it enough in the classroom. As we often say in education, our job as teachers is not to give students the answers but to show them how to find the answers. We are not encouraging them just to learn for our test, but to be a lifetime learner. Whenever we create a special resource for our students, we may be denying them a profound learning opportunity.

An educational technology expert recently introduced me to a wonderful iPad app called ScreenChomp. ScreenChomp allows iPad users to create video tutorials from interactive screen shots with full annotation capability. Primary and secondary education teachers already engage with this application to archive video demonstrations of math calculations, verb conjugations, and other resources on course management sites.

I immediately began experimenting with ScreenChomp, as there are several complex demonstrations I often repeat for students after class and during office hours that could easily be uploaded to MOODLE. As I drafted a list of videos to create–“How to find the thesis statement in a scholarly article,” “How to invert a dominant seventh chord,” How to complete a Babbitt, 12-tone matrix, “How to distinguish members of the saxophone family,” etc.–I thought about how much my students will love me for such an extensive body of resources.

Yet, as the fog of self-absorption dissipated I began to have second thoughts. Why do I need to demonstrate these abilities? Aren’t students supposed to demonstrate these outcomes? Bingo! I’ll have the students make the videos. Although having students create peer learning resources is not new, this seemed to provide a better model. Furthermore, making instructional videos adds a bit of permenance to student presentations. Unlike live presentations, videos will remain in circulation. The performance doesn’t end.

The transfer of responsibility from the professor to the student is a good thing. My students have occasionally asked me to pronounce a word on their Powerpoint slide during a presentation. Why should I answer? Aren’t they in the position of expert? Did they not seek resources online and in the library to learn how to pronounce it ahead of time? And most importantly, would they be able to ask me in the middle of an instructional video to pronounce a word for them? I think not. Cue resourcefulness, preplanning, and revision. The work that goes into a video with unknown distribution far exceeds the minimum requirements for delivering a single performance to a finite audience. Any engaged learning activity should develop transferable skills, skills rooted in the liberal arts and applicable to a variety of disciplines and careers. When we catch fish for our students, we deny them an opportunity to master these skills.

One response

  1. […] courses, including peer analysis, campus/community fieldwork, performance simulation, and tutorial production. The rapid expansion of tablet use in primary and secondary education is already shaping the […]

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